Sedona, Arizona is a place with mystical charm surrounded by red cliffs that shimmer in the bright sun. It was to Sedona that a group of Americans and Canadians gathered to bare their souls in a new age spiritual journey that was intended to bring them to a state of renewal and rebirth.
But it went horribly wrong and this week many of the “enlightenment” participants are in a small courtroom in Arizona where their spiritual guru James Arthur Ray is on trial for manslaughter.
Mr. Ray, a motivational speaker with a new age slant, ran a five-day seminar that promised to change a person’s life. His fee was $10,000 per person. After journal writing, a lecture and a viewing of the movie “The Last Samurai”, a 36 hour meditation without food or water began. The final ritual was the sweat lodge ceremony, a First Nations tradition with deep historical roots intended to purify and cleanse the mind, body, emotions and spirit.
A fire pit in the centre of the lodge is the focal point around which the ceremonies take place. Prayers to the ancestors, silence, dancing, drumming and chanting are all part of the ritual.
Mr. Ray replicated the traditions, however, in the small space created for the ceremonies with willow sticks and tarps and with more than fifty people inside the structure, the heat overwhelmed many of Mr. Ray’s followers.
In their desire to meet Mr. Ray’s expectations and their goal to complete the process, two people died in the lodge, one died a short time later and at least nineteen people collapsed, vomited, foamed at the mouth or became unconscious.
A successful prosecution could result in a 30 year prison sentence. Mr. Ray’s lawyers claim the deaths were accidental and were likely caused by pesticides in the desert sand or poison from the tarps. They say the participants understood the risks involved.
I say people seeking truth and peace did not expect the death and devastation they received.
Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…”