This is the story of The Trees Community, a semi monastic Christian group that left NYC on a bus in 1971 on a journey of faith. When most of our money burned up the first night, we relied on God for all our needs and he provided! We traveled the United States growing in our new faith, finding a ministry in music and eventually becoming artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Seven years, seven "stories" are woven into this amazing journey.

An Unusual Religious Order

Cathedral Concert Series Poster

It took most of the month of March to revive our sagging spirits and regain our strength. As always, the tour and the previous month's struggles had drained us both physically and emotionally and left us completely exhausted. I wrote a poem about what we had been through:

Time for reflection.
Peace washed with silence
healing the torn and broken
fragments of our lives
worn so thin with talk, anxiety,
anger and misunderstandings.

Each day approached with quiet thoughts
the hours hemmed in with prayer;
the struggles of our untamed wills,
the discipline of love bending and molding
the untrained heart.
The dead, heavy weight of failure
peels away.
A hope grows - tender, breaking the soil.
A Rule slowly is born.
The strains and groans of labor
fill the air.
With patience and love,
with self control and obedience
a Holy Order is born, stretching long roots
deep into the ground,
twisting around a solid rock
then settles down into history.

It took some time to settle back into the familiar routines. We focused our energy into the new daily order with seven religious offices a day. We attacked the apartment with vigor. David Lynch worked on the floors and woodwork. I took a blowtorch to strip paint off the oak trim and windowsills. Steven spent days hunting down promoters, scheduling concert dates and arranging for us to perform in the upcoming Off Off Broadway parade. David K. scraped the chapel ceiling and gave tours. Meanwhile Shipen took a much-needed three-week vacation in Florida with his parents. He had been so negative, withdrawn and depressed. I suspect he confessed his concerns and feelings to Canon West, but I was clueless about what was wrong. I hoped that his vacation would revive him and renew his spirit.

On March 30th we picked Shipen up at the airport and had a “feast night” together. I was greatly relieved to see Shipen seemed happier, tanned and relaxed. We didn’t have too much time to kick back because we had to give a concert for a tour group at the Cathedral, then pack up our instruments and zip off to Stanford, Connecticut to perform a weekend of concerts, then back to New York to attend one of Canon West’s lectures.

Maundy Thursday began an amazing weekend at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. On Christmas and Easter the Cathedral was always packed and this weekend was no exception. However this time I felt that I wasn’t just an onlooker but rather I was part of a powerful, moving expression of the Christian faith that I hadn’t experienced ever before. It all began on Thursday when Steven and I shared a day of fasting in support of the monks that were fasting in Saigon. The “work” we did that day was to completely empty the small bedroom that would be our new chapel in the apartment and finish scraping, plastering and sanding the walls.

At 5pm, for the first time, we dressed in our newly finished dark green monastic robes. I felt a little self-conscious as we walked over to the Cathedral for a special Lenten service. First Canon West completely stripped the altar, and with great pomp and ceremony, the Bishop blessed everyone. One by one the candles on the main altar were snuffed out and all the lights were turned down in the Cathedral. The sacrament was put in reserve and then slowly and dramatically, Canon West turned and led a solemn procession of the clergy and choir down the aisle and into the nave. This was the beginning of an all night candlelight vigil, attended by our group as well as many others. We participated in three-hour shifts. I took the first one beginning at 7pm, meditating and praying silently alongside many others inside the Cathedral. Steven, then Shipen, then David K, then David Lynch, each took turns praying quietly alongside hundreds of others.

At each hour throughout the night, a gong sounded, echoing into the depths of the cavernous structure, resounding against the gray stone walls. Then people would come silently from all over the Cathedral, quietly leaving the chapels and pews until everyone had gathered at the main altar to hear a reading or listen to our music. I was deeply moved by the power of so many penitent and prayerful souls filling this huge holy place. Each time I heard the gong and people gathered around me, I felt a deep peace and an unspoken bond with them, knowing all of our prayers were flowing together into a river of compassion and love.

At midnight we performed Psalm 42 and again at 4:00 a.m. we sang, “How Long is a little while Jesus Christ?” At 5:00 a.m. the final gong sounded and after the last scriptural reading, we walked home in the darkness. We gathered for Vigils and then started our normal day in Greater Silence, each of us cleaning and doing chores. After breakfast, the men stayed awake to finish painting the chapel but I crawled into my bunk, bone tired and rested for a few hours.

The next morning was Good Friday and we continued another day of fasting. At noon we once again donned our monastic habits (robes) and attended a special service at the Cathedral, which lasted for three hours. Canon Johnson led various meditations on the passion and once again I was drawn into the power and significance of Jesus’ final days and his crucifixion. This was followed by prayer, reflection and silence. We returned to the apartment for Compline at 8pm and then all of us retired to bed.

Holy Saturday. Steve commented that this seemed like the most intense Easter we’d ever experienced – and it was! Shipen had dyed our white Indian costumes so they were a soft rose color. At 2pm we changed into them and then entered St. Savior’s Chapel in the Cathedral, processing in as we sang The Shepherd’s march. After this, we moved to just outside the gates of the chapel and sang the annunciation song. This was followed by Wilderness, Koto improv, Baptism, Psalm 42, Daughters of Jerusalem and How Long.

After performing, we shared dinner at the apartment with Caroline, a student of Rudi’s who was a former Kundalini disciple, along with a visiting priest and his wife who were from England. We talked about the possibility of doing a tour through England – wouldn’t that be nice! At 10:30 p.m., we hopped into a gypsy cab and sped off to a Russian Orthodox Easter Service at the nearby church at 98th Street on the east side. Curiously there were two services, one upstairs in Russian and one downstairs in English. We attended the Russian version with its beautiful, mysterious language that enveloped us in wonder and awe the moment we entered. At 2:30 a.m. it was still going strong (we were told the liturgy was barely at the halfway point) so, weary but feeling uplifted, we left taking with us the rich memory of the night… the cheek kissing, smiling faces, candles, blessing, vibrant colors, icons, processions and reverence that filled us with a sense of heightened mystery and awe in the Presence of God.

Inside the Cathedral

Easter Sunday April 14, 1974. This was the most glorious day of all. We must have made quite a picture, dressed in our full-length green habits, sitting directly behind two rows of nuns in their long black habits. The nuns were from our “sister” Order, the Community of the Holy Spirit, another monastic order that was under the direction and guidance of Canon West. As we sat quietly praying, there was a loud booming knock on the Great Bronze doors of the Cathedral, followed by the beautiful voices of the Cathedral Boy’s Choir’ singing in response. Suddenly there was a trumpet blast from the organ and the huge doors swung open and in marched the Bishop followed by a long procession, all dressed in heavily brocaded satin robes. The choir sang, “Jesus Christ is Rise Today, Alleluia” and the music steadily crescendoed until at the final chorus it seemed every pipe of the Cathedral organ was swelling around us. I truly felt Christ had risen! He is risen indeed! Completely awe-inspiring!

After the service, we hugged and visited briefly with the sisters, then made our way home for a huge Easter dinner with many guests including: Keith, Rob, Chuck, the Karasek family, Caroline Eddy and John Fischer. We feasted on turkey, dressing, potatoes, salad, asparagus, homemade bread, pies and cookies. Hallelujah, what a wonderful day! It was an intense and powerful weekend.

It was mid April and once again we focused on our music. Steve and David worked on arrangements for a summer and fall tour, as well as planning for the Off Off Broadway parade, and our upcoming two-week tour of Maine and Vermont. I was quite disappointed when, for some reason, Madeleine decided that it would not be appropriate for us to perform or be in the parade at all. We began our weekly Saturday afternoon concert series in St. Savior’s chapel. To advertise the performances, we papered the area with yellow flyers.
In anticipation of our two week series of concerts in Maine and Vermont, we scrubbed and cleaned the bus, built a new platform and attempted to make sure the bus was ready and in good running condition. (If that was possible!)

April 20, 1974. Prior to leaving, we had a long meeting and discussion with Canon West about a wide range of topics. First, David and Shipen met with him privately to work through their “issues” and power struggles over leadership. Then the rest of the “family” arrived sharply at 9:30 a.m. in Canon West’s office next to the Cathedral library. He was in good spirits and we talked about everything from the new standards in sports and athletic events to the phenomena of change in people’s stature from the 1700’s when people were much shorter and smaller to the modern day person who in 1974 was much taller and bigger boned. After some friendly nattering, Father West zeroed in on the creation of our Rule and advised us that we needed to have more women in the community in order to balance things out. We agreed but wondered how? The meeting ended with his giving us a general absolution and blessing for the upcoming tour.

After our 2:00 concert in the Cathedral, we loaded everything onto the bus and headed for Maine for a two week spring tour.