Nature & Spirit

Virtual Symposium Series

Sundays, May 9 – June 20, 2021Full Series Access Tickets available here.

Join us for this very special, seven-week 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.

All events require donation-based ticketing through Eventbrite, links in descriptions below.

Full access tickets for the entire 7-week series available 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. Tickets on Eventbrite here.

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. Donation-based tickets available here.

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. Tickets on Eventbrite here.

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. Donation-based tickets available here.

  • 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”

A collaboration of heart and mind for our future. Tickets on Eventbrite here.

Naturalist,  painter, and author Obi Kaufmann and NASA engineer and origami artist Robert Salazar combine love of nature and engineering into tangible art. Presentations stream beginning May 19, live Q&A discussion Sunday, May 23. Donation based tickets available here.

  • 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.

  • Robert Salazar, on Origami for an interdependent world: Social and environmental harmony. Salazar has been practicing the ancient art of origami for over 20 years. He is a master at turning the ordinary into extraordinary, requiring only a single sheet of paper to create a work of art, a practice that has brought him deeper insights into the interrelation of many fields. As an engineer with NASA, Robert has put his artistry to work on several extraterrestrial projects, but he also plans to use the skills he’s learned to make the earth a better place for others by addressing problems like lack of access to clean water and raising awareness about other environmental and social issues.

Interested in attending more than one or two events? Consider full access tickets available on Eventbrite here!


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

Our relation to nature reflects our relation to each other. Tickets on Eventbrite here.

Lisjan-Ohlone Tribal Spokesperson Corrina Gould speaks on responsibility, reciprocity, and what it means to be in a “right relationship”; and peace activist William Berger tells the inspiring journey of post-genocidal Rwanda towards reconciliation among its former combatants. Presentation streaming begins May 26, live Q&A discussion Sunday, May 30. Donation based tickets available here.

  • 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?

  • William Berger presents “Cake or Pie? – Human Conflict Sources and Resolutions” on building mutual social trust in post-war Rwanda, Africa. As a peace activist, William Berger’s mission is to introduce hope and peace where the horror of war has raged. Recognizing that despite widespread intentions that it happen “never again,” it still does. Berger believes that we don’t have to accept it as inevitable and that it doesn’t have to be difficult. Towards that goal he has partnered with The Aegis Trust to prevent genocide and mass atrocities worldwide.
    Berger is a Leadership Consultant with McCarron & Company’s professional development program for people who are responsible for leading and managing people. He has successfully delivered world-class training to some of the county’s largest and most demanding organizations for more than 20 years. His experience includes the sectors of Banking, Medicine, Manufacturing, and Education, as well as State, Federal, and Local Governments, and the US Military.

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

Spaces that reflect spiritual aspirations here and around the world. Tickets on Eventbrite here.

How is the better side of humanity reflected in interior spaces, physically and spiritually? Featuring Scholars of Art, History and Religion, Dr. Paul Ivey and Colette Walker. Presentation streaming begins June 2, live Q&A discussion Sunday, June 6. Donation-based tickets available here.

  • 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. Tickets on Eventbrite here.

Exploring the juncture of art & spirt, Architect Dr. Kristen Schaffer discusses the heavenly spaces of Daniel H. Burnham while Art Historian Holly Mitchum 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 Mitchum presents “From Britain to New York to San Francisco: Influences on Bruce Porter’s Liturgical Stained Glass.” Mitchem earned her PhD in Art History and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union in cooperation with the UC Berkeley. An Accredited Senior Appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers (ASA) with over 25 years of fine art appraisal experience, having developed and taught courses in the valuation of fine art for the ASA, for whom she has served on the governing board and the board of examiners. She is qualified as an expert witness on personal property valuation issues and regularly brings her knowledge of fine art and its markets and professionalism to the courtroom. Mitchem often manages large projects involving a variety of personal property disciplines, for which she assembles and supervises teams of appraisal professionals with expertise in these disciplines.

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 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.” 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, and is currently working on a critical study and exhibition entitled, “Charles Caryl Coleman in Gilded Age Italy.”

  • Jim Lawrence presents “Inscribing Intangibles: William Keith’s Subjective Turn”. Rev. 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.