People from around the world gathered in Riverfront Park on Monday, pouring water from their native lands into the Spokane River.
The opening ceremony of the Subud World Congress - which began with the wail of a didgeridoo and ended with the singing of “Here Comes the Sun” - symbolized the blending of cultures that defines Subud.
“I can’t imagine a more peaceful place,” said Sjarifuddin Harris, a Realtor from San Diego.
“People can really be relaxed.”
The World Congress is a chance for Spokane to see itself from a fresh perspective.
Even under the scorching midday sun, visitors marveled at Riverfront Park, the Spokane Falls and the clean downtown.
“We from L.A. wanted (the congress) to be in L.A.,” said Howard Roth, a teacher. “But here the air is nicer, the people are nicer and it’s a cleaner atmosphere.”
Subud is a relatively small spiritual movement that reaches around the globe.
Members gather every four years to vote on policies for the organization, socialize and worship together.
About 2,700 adults and children are in Spokane for the 10th-annual World Congress. They come from six continents and 64 countries.
The World Congress opened Monday night with a ceremony that celebrated the world as seen by Subud members.
Dancers and other participants took turns representing the various realms of the world, including the material, rock and mineral, vegetable, animal, human and spiritual kingdoms. They brought water with them from their native countries to mix with the Spokane River.
Even more spectacular than the kickoff event was the smoothness with which the World Congress seemed to come together. Roughly 2,000 travelers arrived in Spokane on Sunday without a hitch, said Rifka Bullen, site coordinator.
She watched the crowd eat lunch Monday with an air of satisfaction.
“People are complimenting the food. Everything seems to be going great,” said Bullen, who moved to Spokane two years ago to plan the World Congress.
In fact the luncheon, which featured vegetarian and meat entrees, had the feel of a meal at an international airport. Hugging and kissing marked reunions that took place every few minutes. In the background, announcements were rattled off in English, Spanish and German.
“This would be a very difficult event for Germany,” said Roswitha Wilkecke, who arrived Sunday from Germany with her husband and three children. “There is a very warm and friendly feeling here. And even if it’s superficial, it’s so much better to be friendly in this way, to hear someone tell you, ‘Have a nice day.”’ Wilkecke embraced a fellow countrywoman, Hilma Wolf Doetincher, and immediately began talking about the excitement of the coming two weeks.
Wolf Doetincher said she was eager to see more of Spokane, once she adjusted to the time difference.
“So far, I’ve seen your wonderful sunrises,” she said.
Marcia Coleman, of Indonesia, herded her five children, ages 13 to 6, to a corner of the dining room to feed them lunch. She was in the United States for the first time and arrived in Spokane after visiting New York.
In addition to worshiping with thousands of people who share her beliefs, Coleman was interested in attending several workshops on holistic health.
“It seems really idyllic here. I want to see more,” she said. “Especially after New York. That was overwhelming.”
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