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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Forming new spiritual communities: the church that could be

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Martin is working intensely on Antigone. Yesterday, he was excited for me to have a look in the studio.  One dancer, very,very tall..eight, nine feet? in height,  was standing at one end of the studio. A long flowing back dress stretched all the way the length  of the studio. All of the sudden,there is a stirring at the base of the dancer. Under the long stretch of dress, a figure is moving  forward. Strange and eerie. And then Marina’s head pops out. Slowly she frees herself and proceeds to move through an anguished dance.
Strong effect, right? Martin asks.
Great, I say, mesmerizing. And it is. I’m blown away and not sure what to say.

I look in today and now there’s a guy standing there. And the body is not Marina.

I go in to my meeting. Ask Jeremy and Katherine, did you look into the studio? Both nod yes. Both have eyes very wide, very wide indeed, like they can’t believe what they have just seen.

Katherine and Jeremy are soon joined by Felicita and a young woman from Greece by way of Toronto to who has just arrived and hosted the work center. Katherine and Felicita have been in email exchange.  It’s an important conversation. First and simplest, Katherine’s issues around the simple clarity of their performances. How hard the words are to understand.  If I hadn’t told her that it ws Ginsburg poetry she’d have  never known.

More important is the issue of context. Their work clearly has spiritual content but what is the context? Any performance seeking to create a spiritual experience must come from some place unless we’ve happened into a post-modern derridaist construct. What is the spiritual place they understand themselves to be coming from? Where do they seek to take us? As Katherine puts it, what kind of experience are they trying to decant?

Felicita agrees that they are good questions. Doesn’t necessarily have answers. They need to reflect on these things.  Any performance that seeks to create a spiritual experience is essentially a liturgy. That liturgy has theological content and ultimately a theologic, that is an intentional progress from one point  to  another with a conscious intention behind it. What Katherine refers to as a scaffolding. What our former music director, accordionist extraordinaire Bill Schimmel (Dr.William) referred to as the architecture of the liturgy. To this analysis the young woman from Greece adds the category of dramaturgy, that is the inner dramatic logic and structure of any particular theatrical performance. All agree that this us an important conversation. When  asked why it hasn’t been doe before, Felicita says that she hasn’t wanted to distance herself from the experience by dissection, even vivisection, of the work.  Which leads to a discussion of the process of action (or experience), reflection and revision leading to new action. An ongoing cycle.

I have  a different but connected concern. Much of  Mario’s work connects with existing spiritual communities. According to Felicita, Mario is looking for particular competencies.It is essentially  a dialogic process, two communities sharing their gifts and understanding together.

I am concerned for that growing circle of people who call themselves spiritual but not religious. And that when they come to open choir, say,they’re coming in a search for community. That community in formation must not only look inward but outward, transformation of the self and the world around us. That the music they are using from the American south, whether plantation work song or spiritual or Appalchian white mountain music is music of communities of struggle and that apart from engagement in the world the music becomes abstract aesthetic.

We want to talk about who comes to the open choir, and why. What are they looking for. And can we provide the space and support for building an ongoing community and how does that connect with the existing church here. We have open space and time now to do that. My experience tells me that this is the direction that the future of church lies, the creation and formation of new spiritual communities of shared experience, mutual accountability and commitment to building a more just, humane and sustainable world. That is what young people see in Bread &Puppet, Dzieci, Work Center. That’s where we need to go.

Katherine stays as our meeting breaks up. Almost screams as little mice scramble across the floor. (Yesterday in my office, Felcitia kept looking towards the closet. Is there an animal? She asked. I smiled and said yes.  The exterminators are coming next week.

Leaving, late, it’s freezing. Outside the door, there’s Rachel. I tell her you can’t come in, no one’s there. She holds out her gnarled hands, my hands are freezing, she says. I hesitate a minute, I’m sorry you can’t be here. No one is here. I can’t stay here. You’ve got to go somewhere….

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