Nature & Spirit

Virtual Symposium Series

Sundays, May 9 – June 30, 2021Full Series Access Tickets available here.

Join us for this very special virtual symposium in which we’ve gathered a diverse array of presenters to offer insight into our evolving and essential relationships with ourselves, each other, and the natural world. 

In this mix-and-match series, each week two presenters will discuss related topics from different perspectives and experiences, showing their path of exploration and discovery. Registrants will be able to watch each presentation for several days prior to a live, moderated Q&A with the creators and select panelists on Sundays from 7:00-8:00 p.m. PDT via Zoom.

Revisit the full series before June 30th! Consider full access tickets available on Eventbrite here!



Week 1 – May 5-9, “Ineffable Nature”

Two men who lived a century apart experienced a deeper connection to the natural world which changed their lives and countless others.

Exclusive classical guitar concert by Xavier Jara, performing “In the Woods” by Toru Takemitsu, and film screening of “The Unruly Mystic: John Muir” followed by Q&A with Jara and film director Michael M. Conti. Presentation streaming begins May 5, live Q&A discussion Sunday, May 9.

Before John Muir, California’s wilderness was seen by many as a place meant to be tamed and developed by man. He founded the Sierra Club to preserve rather than destroy the beauty of California’s natural landscape, insuring future generations could behold its wonder.

A century later, acclaimed composer Tōru Takemitsu, whose many works were inspired by gardens both real and imagined, visited Muir Woods near the end of his battle with cancer. He then composed his final piece, now considered to be one of the most challenging and beautiful songs ever written for guitar.

Join us as we explore the giant legacies left by these two men after their experiences with the Woods, and what they can teach us about the divinity of nature through two films: a performance of “In the Woods” by acclaimed guitarist Xavier Jara, captured and prepared exclusively for this event by director Ian Carr of Goldilocks Studios; and the documentary “The Unruly Mystic: John Muir”, directed by Michael M. Conti.

Both films will be made available to stream for ticket holders May 5th, ahead of a live moderated Q&A with Jara and Conti streamed Sunday May 9th at 7pm.

  • American classical guitarist Xavier Jara is the 1st prize winner of the 2016 Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist Competition. A native of Minnesota, he studied under guitar masters at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. After receiving 1st place in a number of international competitions, including the prestigious GFA’s Rose Augustine Grand Prize, Jara performed throughout North & Latin America. In 2020, Mr. Jara earned his Master’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He continues to perform around the world and maintains a vibrant studio as Adjunct Professor of Guitar at California State University Fullerton. Jara is fascinated and inspired by Takemitsu’s works, noting, “Takemitsu sees sound and silence as forces of life and death. You’re not just playing notes.”
    • Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) composed several hundred independent works of music, scored more than ninety films and published twenty books, and was a founding member of an avant garde collaborative that is regarded as among the most influential of the 20th century. Takemitsu was admired for the subtle manipulation of instrumental and orchestral timbre. As he approached his death from cancer, he composed a suite of works for three of the most renowned guitarists of his time based on visits to three wooded reserves in America, the last of which was Muir Woods near San Francisco.

  • Michael M. Coti is a globally-recognized filmmaker based in Boulder, Colorado. He has thousands of hours of production experience and spent nearly a decade in Hollywood learning the ropes as he honed his craft of filmmaking. Growing up and studying film in Colorado, nature is an important subject in his work. His latest independent film “The Unruly Mystic: John Muir” premiered in Yosemite National Park, and was screened theatrically over 60 times since 2018.
    • “The Unruly Mystic: John Muir”explores the remarkable life and influential works of a patron saint of environmental activism. The film discusses the connection between nature and spirituality, using the life and wisdom of John Muir, ecological preservationist and founder of Yosemite National Park, as a catalyst for how being outside in nature affects the lives of everyday people right now.

Week 2 – May 12-16, “Inspiration, Preservation, and Paradox”

The movement to reflect nature in spaces we create.

Come ponder the philosophical ideals of the Arts & Craft movement with Architectural Historian Leslie Freudenheim and Author and Lecturer on the Arts & Crafts Movement Edward R. Bosley, Jr.. Presentations stream beginning May 12, live Q&A discussion Sunday, May 16.

  • Leslie Mandelson Freudenheim presents “Architecture in Harmony with Nature: JW’s Passion.” Freudenheim is the author of three books: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Man Who Played With Blocks, A Short Illustrated Biography (co-authored with Pia Licciardi Abate), Royalston Books 2015; Building with Nature: Inspiration for the Arts and Crafts Home (Gibbs Smith, November 2005); and Building with Nature: Roots of the San Francisco Bay Region Tradition (co-authored with Elisabeth Sussman, Peregrine Smith, 1974). She also contributed to Capital Drawings: Architectural Designs for Washington, D.C., from the Library of Congress, edited by C. Ford Peatross with the assistance of Pamela Scott, Diane Tepfer (The Johns Hopkins University Press, October 2005). Leslie lives in Manhattan and is currently a volunteer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Education Department. Recently she presented an illustrated lecture on “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Passions: Blocks, Buildings, Gardens & Japan” and plans to turn this into a book.

  • Edward “Ted” R. Bosley, Jr. presents “Return to Nature: From the Enlightenment, through Ruskinian Ideals, to an Arts and Crafts Legacy in San Francisco.” Bosley is James N. Gamble Executive Director and CEO of The Gamble House Conservancy. He has served The Gamble House in various capacities since 1990. He publishes and lectures on architects Greene & Greene and the American Arts & Crafts movement, and teaches historic-site stewardship at Claremont Graduate University. His full-length book, Greene and Greene, published by Phaidon in 2000, is the premier study of the architects’ work, and he has published on architects Bernard Maybeck, Sylvanus Marston, Frank Furness, and the leading lights of the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church. A native of San Francisco, Bosley holds a BA in Art History from the University of California at Berkeley, and an MBA from the UCLA Graduate School of Management.

Week 3 – May 19-23, “Data: Art Informing Science & Life”

Seeking a collaboration of heart and mind for our future.

Obi Kaufmann, author and illustrator, integrates mathematics and an academic discipline into his own brand of storytelling. These “systems stories” meld analysis and aesthetics, presenting a new vision for the conservation of California as a single, integrated body of globally-important biodiversity.”  Presentations stream beginning May 19, live Q&A discussion Sunday, May 23.

  • Obi Kaufman on Natural resource systems of life, balances and harmony. Kaufman is an artist, author, naturalist, and forthright environmental advocate. Trained as a mathematician, he integrates an academic discipline into his own brand of storytelling which melds analysis and aesthetics, presenting a new vision for the conservation of California as a single, integrated body of globally-important biodiversity. He is the author and illustrator of three widely popular books: The California Field Atlas, The State of Water: Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource, The California Field Atlas,and The Forests of California. Growing up in the East Bay, Obi spent most of high school practicing calculus and breaking away on weekends to scramble around Mount Diablo and map its creeks, oak forests, and sage mazes. Into adulthood, he would regularly journey into the mountains, spending more summer nights without a roof than with one. For Kaufmann, the epic narrative of the California backcountry holds enough art, science, mythology, and language for a hundred field atlases to come.

Week 4 – May 26-30, “Balance, Harmony, and Conflict”

Our relation to nature reflects our relation to each other.

Lisjan-Ohlone Tribal Spokesperson Corrina Gould discusses responsibility and reciprocity on stolen homelands by asking what it means to be in a right relationship, how we can contribute to the restoring and re-storying of the land even through small acts. Presentation streaming begins May 26, live Q&A discussion Sunday, May 30.

  • Corrina Gould is the spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone, one of the original peoples and stewards of Huichin, or the land that is now known as Oakland, California. Gould is a nationally and internationally acclaimed leader, activist and speaker and her work centers Ohlone sacred sites protection and preservation, as well as cultural revitalization projects for Ohlone peoples. She works within the intersections of multiple and diverse communities here in the Bay Area, California to create partnerships for building sustainable futures.
    Gould discusses responsibility and reciprocity on stolen homelands by asking what it means to be in right relationship? How can we foster integrity in conservation and land restoration work amidst a world that continues to peddle scarcity, greed, and extraction? How can folks contribute to the re-storying of the land, even if through small acts?

Week 5 – June 2-6, “Architecture as Esotericism in Wood and Stone”

Spaces that reflect spiritual aspirations here and around the world.

How are spiritual values and truths reflected in the architecture of places of worship and teaching, and how did it reflect in different cultures? Colette Walker will examine the history and legacy of artistic interchange between Hindu-Buddhist India and Colonial Christian Britain. Dr. Paul Ivey will look at the varieties of styles in New Church architectures over the years. Presentation streaming begins June 2, live Q&A discussion Sunday, June 6.

  • Dr. Paul Ivey presents “Church Architecture and Correspondences: A Contrast of Inspirations and Styles”. Walker is Professor of Art History teaching Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Arizona. He researches the built environments of esoteric and alternative American religions and communal groups. He is the author of Radiance from Halcyon, Prayers in Stone, and his upcoming work, Building Respectability, studies the international building movement and issues of church preservation and reuse in the 21st century.
  • Colette Walker presents “Global Utopian Architecture: Ruskin, Morris, and Rabindranath Tagore.” Walker is a PhD candidate in Art and Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley who has written and taught on the mystical in modern art. She wrote an article comparing the aesthetics of Rudolph Steiner and Vassily Kandinsky in charting a new direction for society. Her PhD topic is “The Mystical-Utopian Turn in Modern Art: Spiritual, Social and Transcultural Dimensions in the Work of Arthur Wesley Dow, Johannes Itten, and Rabindranath Tagore.”


Week 6 – June 9-13, “The Heavenly and the Worldly”

Inspirations, movements, and plans for the useful and beautiful in civic and liturgical life.

Exploring the juncture of art & spirt, Architect Dr. Kristen Schaffer discusses the heavenly spaces of Daniel H. Burnham while Art Historian Holly Mitchem describes the worldly appeal of Bruce Porter’s stained glass. Presentation streaming begins June 9, live Q&A discussion Sunday, June 13. Donation-based tickets available here.

  • Dr. Kristen Schaffer presents “The Laws of Spiritual Correspondence were often in his Mind: Daniel H. Burnham and his Earthly Plan.” Dr. Schaffer, associate professor of architecture at North Carolina State University, is a noted scholar of modern American architecture and city planning. She has written extensively on the architect Daniel Burnham, including Daniel H. Burnham : urban ideals and the “Plan of Chicago,” The beautiful and useful laws of God’: Burnham’s Swedenborgianism and the Plan of Chicago, Chicago 1890: The Skyscraper and the Modern City, Heaven on Earth: Swedenborgian Correspondences in the Plan of Chicago. In 2010 she appeared in the PBS documentary “Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City.”

  • Holly Mitchem presents “Transforming Tradition: Influences on Bruce Porter’s Window Designs for the Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco.” Mitchem earned her PhD Art and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She holds a Master’s Degree in Art Education from Stanford University and a BA in Art History from Mills College. Her research interests include religious art in support of American nationalism; vernacular Christian sacred art and architecture including pilgrimage chapels and roadside shrines; art and architectures of utopia; and colonial art and architecture in Baja and Alta California.

Week 7 – June 16-20, “Capturing the Transcendent in Nature”

Artists who sought to show on canvas what is intangible in nature. Tickets on Eventbrite here.

Art Historian Dr. Adrienne Baxter Bell explores the landscapes of George Inness and William Keith while Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence looks to the deeper meaning in Keith’s art. Presentation streaming begins June 16, live Q&A discussion Sunday, June 20. Donation-based tickets available here.

  • Adrienne Baxter Bell presents “Transcendent American Landscapes: George Inness and his Influence on William Keith.” Dr. Bell is Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, NY. She is the author of “George Inness and the Visionary Landscape” (2003) and “George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy” (2007). She is completing “Charles Caryl Coleman in Gilded Age Italy,” a critical study on the artist that will contain the first catalogue of Coleman’s work. Dr. Bell has delivered lectures and participated in symposia on American art throughout North America and Europe.

  • Jim Lawrence presents “Inscribing Intangibles: William Keith’s Subjective Turn”. Dr. Lawrence is Dean of the Center for Swedenborgian Studies and Assistant Professor of Spirituality and Historical Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He spent 17 years in parish ministry in rural, suburban and urban settings, including Senior Pastor of the SF Swedenborgian Church. He also worked simultaneously in publishing ministries, contributing along the way as publisher, editor and author to more than 30 works. In 2001, Dr. Lawrence was inspired to return to academia to immerse again in the cutting edge of spirituality studies. He has special interests today in inter-religious dialog and comparative spirituality.

Bonus Week 8 – June 21-30, “Bathing in Light and Life: Discovery, Appreciation, and Renewal”

Self-renewal through discovery, mindfulness, and appreciation. Tickets on Eventbrite here.

Join Lila Higgins as your guide on a virtual Forest Therapy Walk to deepen your experience with a mindful saunter in nature. Songwriter and fingerstyle guitar champion Muriel Anderson enchants with a performance on harp guitar and a multimedia virtual concert celebrating joys and wonders of life. Presentation streaming begins June 21, live Q&A discussion Sunday, June 24. Donation-based tickets available here.

  • Lila Higgins presents “Discovering Nature and Forest Bathing”. Higgins is a museum educator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles with 13 years of experience in museum education and community science programming. “My life’s work is to help people connect to nature – whether it is the beginning of their nature journey or deepening it wherever they are.“ Her fascination with nature started early; she grew up on a farm in the U.K. where she spent her time chasing butterflies, playing in hollow trees, and pretending to be a badger. She holds a bachelor’s degree in entomology from UC Riverside and a master’s degree in environmental education from California State University, San Bernardino.

  • Muriel Anderson, fingerstyle virtuoso on classical guitar, harp guitar, and singer-songwriter, performs many of her original works in an exclusive multi-media virtual concert for this event. The multimedia show brings you on a planetary tour of tastes, images, and music with a backdrop of stunning visuals by photo-artist Bryan Allen. Anderson embraces music from all over the world. Her playing reflects a sense of wonder, grace, and joy, infused with humor and she is the first woman to have won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship. Her CD, Nightlight Daylight, was chosen as one of the top 10 CDs of the decade by Guitar Player Magazine, and her “Heartstrings” recording accompanied the astronauts on the space shuttle Discovery.