“We are stardust, we are golden/We are billion year old carbon/And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
Certain images are so embedded in our collective psyche that they transcend place and time. When Joni Mitchell penned her tribute to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair her lyrics embodied the idealistic belief that such events could usher in a new Eden of peace and love, of social and environmental concern.
Woodstock took place in August of 1969, and hosted over 400,000 people over a four-day period. As far as such an event could, Woodstock accomplished what it set out to do. It put down a marker telling the world that young people saw things differently and that their way might just be a better way.
Sadly, by the end of the year that “better way” had begun to look more like The Lord of the Flies than the first several chapters of Genesis. In December the “Woodstock West” took place in Livermore, California. The Altamont Speedway Free Festival attracted around 300,000 people for a one day mega-concert on Saturday, December 6, and was later described by Rolling Stone magazine as “a day when everything went perfectly wrong.” Maybe hiring the Hell’s Angels as security and paying them in unlimited beer was a hint that things might not end well. That is especially true for Meredith Hunter who was stabbed and beaten to death by “security.”
The lightning-quick movement from “peace and love” to “violence and hate” should be for us a continual warning of what happens when our desire to make the world a better place has no mooring in the One who placed us in the Garden in the first place. When the fourth of the Universal Apostolic Preferences (AUPs) of the Jesuits states that we are “to collaborate in the care of our Common Home” the assumption is that God, the Master of our Common Home, is the head Collaborator.
The Logos of God - Jesus Christ, God Incarnate - was sent to show us the way “back to the garden,” and it had nothing to do with the ephemeral peace that sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll brought to those who attended Woodstock. Separated from the Logos, these short-term fixes always turn dark. The festivals of Dionysus, the god of (among other things) ritual madness, always end in death. To read The Bacchae - Bacchus being another name for Dionysus - by Euripides is to see the ancient version of Altamont.
In Genesis God gave Adam the commission to “cultivate and care for” the Garden, and as such He created what became known in the 1960s as “ecology.” Ecology is literally “the study of the home,” and in this case the home is our Common Home. From a Christian standpoint, to cultivate and care for this Common Home means finding the balance that was lost when Adam and Eve chose the “ritual madness” of following the lure of the serpent, who promised what Dionysus always promises: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods.”
Our world is one where the temptation to “be like gods” prevails. The opportunities to control nature rather than “cultivate and care for” it are almost boundless. From genetically modifying food to contracepting children, we have become “like gods” controlling nature and life itself. What Heiddeger called technik - the attack upon nature as a way of harnessing its power - has replaced ecology. Technocracy offers humans the illusion of being in control, of being like gods.
The last months of 1969 were a warning of what the future held if Dionysus rather than Jesus was our collaborator in overseeing our Common Home. The past half-century has made us look back wistfully at the “mostly peaceful” events at Altamont, as our Common Home has become merely a house inhabited by a dysfunctional family. The time has come, especially as we dive into this Ignatian Year, to leave behind the ritual madness, to adhere to a true ecology, and to follow Jesus back to the Garden.