Guest column: Celebrating and understanding Dr. Schweitzer’s ‘Reverence for Life’ at Aspen Chapel

Gregg Anderson
Guest column

“Reverence for Life” is a phrase from Dr. Albert Schweitzer and it became his axiom for living. He said, “Reverence for life affords me my fundamental principle of morality. What we call love is in its essence reverence for life.”

Exactly 70 years ago in July, Dr. Schweitzer spoke at the tent in Aspen for the Goethe Bicentennial, “Looking with the eyes of the spirit upon nature, as it is within ourselves, we find that in us also there is matter and spirit. Searching into the phenomena of the spirit in us, we realize that we belong to the world of the spirit, and that we must let ourselves be guided by it.”

Perhaps this was a seed planted for the origin of Aspen’s axiom of “Body, Mind, and Spirit.” Three years later, Dr. Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Exactly 50 years ago in August the Aspen Chapel of the Prince of Peace was dedicated. Bishop E. M. Yost, founder of the Aspen Chapel, stated then: “We hope to see theologians from throughout the world — leading thinkers of all faiths — participating in seminars and dialogues to be held at the Aspen Chapel. We are in the midst of an exciting era for religious thought. We are observing a renaissance in which old values are being subjected to critical scrutiny. This thrust for renewal is a vigorous challenge to our Judeo-Christian ethic. The era holds bright hope for a bewildered humanity seeking relevant answers in a complex 20th century world. It is within this context that we propose to dedicate the Chapel of the Prince of Peace at Aspen. We hope this Chapel will make a contribution to religious understanding and will, in its own way, bring us closer to personal and world peace.”

Bishop Yost was familiar with Aspen and it was intentional to locate the Chapel here as a place that now attracts people from all over the world and has established community values as initiated in the Goethe Bicentennial, which, in many ways, became the rebirth of Aspen and origin of the Aspen Institute and Music Festival. The theme of Body, Mind, and Spirit had been established. It was and is aspired that the Chapel could share and contribute toward this vision.

Earlier this month, the Aspen Chapel celebrated the 50th anniversary of its dedication. The Service included a message from our current Chaplain Nicholas Vesey and myself.

Cameron Yost, great nephew of Bishop Yost and son of Lyle Yost who financed and became Chairman of the Board, was present to read a liturgy of dedication. Celebrative music was led by Susan Nicholson, Ellen Stapenhorst, Mack Bailey, Barbara Bloemsma and an inter-generational choir. The last hymn included the affirmation, “This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands a far and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine; but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.”

The purposes and goals expressed 50 years ago are still in place. There are thousands of people who, over the 50 years, have made progress toward the purposes and fulfilled many of the goals. In many ways the Aspen Chapel has become Aspen’s Chapel. It has created a more universal spiritual approach of being inclusive of diverse progressive perspectives. It is the Aspen Chapel’s intention to further the principle of “Reverence for Life.”

Aspen Chapel is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is writing a monthly column in 2019. Rev. Gregg Anderson is the Chaplain Emeritus.