A cannabis church flipped me from skeptical to spiritual in 6 seconds flat
The International Church of Cannabis? I must admit at first mention, and without the context, I was skeptical that cannabis and religion were even compatible. It wasn’t until I was finally let inside that I realized this new establishment in Colorado is the Sistine Chapel of our generation.
Located at 400 S. Logan Street in Denver, the church was originally built in 1904 and was most recently inhabited by the Mt. Calvary Apostolic Church. The building was purchased in 2015, and sat empty for about a year thereafter until Elevation Ministries was conceptualized and construction began on what would become one of the most stunning and imaginative masterpieces in the state, if not the country.
Members of the International Church of Cannabis, known as Elevationists, believe that “Through ritual, guided by spiritual practice, church members use the sacred flower to reveal the best version of self, discover a creative voice and enrich their community with the fruits of that creativity. Unlike other belief systems, there is no need to convert to Elevationism. It claims no divine law, no unquestionable doctrine, and no authoritarian structure.”
For me, the most interesting part of the Church is the building itself, as the entire room of worship has been painted by internationally-acclaimed artist Okuda San Miguel. A master of Pop Surrealism, Okuda’s work uses multicolored geometric shapes and abstract images of animals and people. His art graces streets and galleries in India, Mali, Mozambique, United States, Japan, Chile, Brazil, Peru, South Africa, Mexico and Europe.
Although I was intrigued by the images of the incredible artwork inside this place of worship, I still struggled to see the correlation between cannabis and religion — especially since I consider myself an atheist. But I've always attempted to be open-minded about new religions. In my opinion, they're all made up, so I'm not opposed to the creation of a modern religion coming to light that I may, for once, identify with. However, a faith that worships the sacred flower of cannabis didn't seem like something that could make a believer out of me — despite its many curing properties and the fact that I consume cannabis myself.
And then, finally, I was invited to come inside.
The Church was filled with people busily preparing for the week’s event — the grand opening timed to coincide with 4/20. The energy was hectic and the air was buzzing with excitement (meanwhile, the addition of a curious puppy named Munchie was a delightful surprise). I wandered around the first floor for a while, checking out the vintage collectibles, arcade games, unique furniture (more like a work of art than for daily use), and fun toys and treasures that will be sold at their opening.
I could have played around in that room for hours, but that wasn’t why I was there.
Not wanting to interrupt these busy bees, and by no means leaving without a tour of the space everyone has been buzzing about, I searched for the main event, so to speak. I climbed the creaky stairs to the second floor, eager to finally see this epic (I truly cannot stand the overused word “epic,” but in this case, it's incredibly accurate) installation.
As I slowly pulled open the door and started to approach the room, I spied hints of bold color out of the corner of my eye. I almost felt possessed, like I was being pulled inward by an unknown force leading me to the pièce de résistance. Facing the pulpit from about 35 feet away, my first response was to gasp; my body tingled from head to toe and I felt light headed. I then squealed out "OH MY GOD!" in an unparalleled moment of mind blowing ecstasy.
Mouth gaping with wonder, I had trouble catching my breath. The air felt thick and hard to inhale, if I was having a panic attack. I threw my head back — eyes boggling with amazement — and slowly wandered through, taking in every square inch of this overwhelming, all-encompassing opus. The walls were shrouded with the most electric, vibrant colors I've ever seen, coming together to create abstract geometric designs. The lighting made the animals come to life. My voice trembled as I whispered to myself, "This is the most incredible thing I've ever seen."
I felt overcome with emotion, inspired by the majestic vibes in the air, and baffled by the beauty. Tears welled up in my eyes as I took a few pictures and made my way back downstairs — taking long, deep breaths to try and calm myself. I can't believe I was able to absorb the passion and power in room all by myself for a precious five minutes. I wanted to lay down, look up, and never leave. It's like that feeling you get when you visit a faraway land and never want to come home, but this is clearly where I was meant to be.
As I came back down to the crew on the first floor, all engaged in timely tasks a mere two days until the grand opening, they looked up at me as I sighed heavily and I choked out the words, "That is the most powerful and moving art I have ever had the privilege of witnessing." Tears started flowing uncontrollably as I tried to articulate my feelings to them. I was almost embarrassed at how I couldn't contain my emotions, but at the same time so filled with love and hope and inspiration that I wore my tear-stained cheeks as a badge of honor. Two hours later, writing my thoughts about the Church, tears were still streaming down my face. I am wonderstruck by what is now adorning the walls constructed 114 years ago. If these walls could talk, they would now belt out ballads.
I still don't know how I feel about worshiping cannabis as a religion, but I'll tell you this: I felt a spiritual connection in that room than I have never experienced in my entire life. The only other time I have felt that connection was during a quiet, misty sunrise in Lake Powell while a dragonfly circled my head. I have never been interested in organized religion and the only things that have stirred up feelings of spirituality in my life is beauty found in nature, a connection to the planets and our moon, and, now, the most stunning piece of art I have seen in my entire life. In fact, the word “art” doesn’t seem to do it justice.
I will attend the 4:20 service on 4/20 and, with an open mind, listen to their beliefs. I’ll also try to be respectful of others by not sobbing like a baby, sitting in a room cloaked with the most bright, beautiful and vast creations I have ever seen.
I admire the audacity of these creative souls to take an old place of worship and give it a modern and monumental makeover amid criticism and concerns. I feel confident that just sitting inside this holy place will help those in opposition open their minds to the concept of modern spirituality, or in the very least it will — hands-down — make their hearts flutter with adoration. Will I become an Elevationist? Who knows, but I certainly found my happy place in this tour de force. And, although it didn’t cure my case of the munchies, it certainly fed my soul.
The three-day launch of the International Church of Cannabis begins on Thursday April 20th and includes daily ceremonies, live music, NPR One live panel discussions, comedy, film viewings, and more. To attend the event, visit www.elevationists.org and sign up as a member.
[photos courtesy of International Church of Cannabis]