|photo from blog "liturgical time"|
Growing up, I spent most of my time attending "non-denominational" Christian churches with my mom and missed out on a lot of the the more ancient church-calendar practices of the Catholic and more traditional protestant churches. As an adult, I've developed a sense of curiosity and respect for the mysticism and tradition of these practices and am still learning a lot about what's behind the thinking of something like Lent, for example. Today I discovered Liturgical Time, a blog that tracks and illuminates the church calendar. There's a great deal of peace and reassurance for me in following the footsteps of this cycle of meditation, grace, and mercy.
There's something artistic and uncanny about Lent, and the church calendar, and indeed about church. But Lent in particular, for me, is a creative act; a time of gestation and preparing the soul to be receptive. For me, the season of Lent is a sense of smouldering embers, suppressed desire, boiling water stirred up and seasoned tightly under a lid (as my acting teacher might say), and of really facing truths that might be hard to look at.
A friend of mine recently told me that one reason he no longer participates in the church is because of an involuntary epiphany he had one day. Already an actor, he attended service and found himself looking at it from a professional theatrical point of view. Like always, he saw priests and volunteers wearing costumes, standing on a stage, following a script, using music and cues, telling a story based on a book. With a sudden, life-altering smack, he concluded that church is basically the same as the theater - all a big show. He went on to conclude, differently than me, that it must be a fiction.
I see his point, I really do. There's an element of religion that's mass manipulation (pun intended), where church assumes the role of a big business playing and preying on peoples' senses of conscience and dignity, family and guilt to take advantage of them financially and, worse, spiritually. I do see what my friend means about churches seeming an awful lot like theater - there's music and performance, the leaders use public speaking techniques to manipulate their audiences (sorry, I mean, congregations), and the entire teaching and message is part of a narrative/story that some argue is created, not divine. I get it. Sure. A good church service - or any public event - will most likely follow Freytag's pyramid of dramatic structure, just like a good play or a good calendar year. And I'm not going to say it's always a great thing that churches put on a show, but for me, in general, the theatrical elements of church can make it all the more beautiful. Indeed, I go to theater for much the same reason that I go to church - to experience the truth, to enter a no-bullshit zone where I can make some sense and possibly even some joy out of being human. We can know God (I believe) as easily in a black-box or the subway as in a pew.
And if church is like theater, the church calendar spells out it's dramatic structure. Lent is sort of the climax. In Christian terms, it's the crucifixion - and now, everything is waiting for the denouement, the surprise reversal of Christ's resurrection. But for now, the shit has hit the fan in Lent. We have to deal with being human. The beauty of believing in God is that our story doesn't end there. Being human isn't limited by our humanness, but rather transcended and set free in infinity. All of it is building, building, building....waiting, waiting, waiting...
"Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return." It's theater at it's best. And then some.