As you can see, there’s a whole lotta drama going on around here! And it’s the good kind!! For the past two weeks, a cast of 15 actors, along with 10 child-campers, a 7-member production team, and countless helpers and volunteers, have labored in love to tell you the story of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Yesterday – during record heat! – we enjoyed two successful performances, along with an inspiring justice faire, with partner non-profits who collaborate with our Thrift Store and Outreach Office. What a great way to connect to our community!
The connection in my own life between the creative and the religious– like the history between Theater and Church – has enjoyed a long and varied relationship. Many of those connections happened in seminary; among them, the class I took in “Bibliodrama” taught by Rev. Dr. Andrea Bieler. You may be, like I was, a little skeptical about a class with that title. However, I learned many surprising things by studying scripture in an embodied and creative way, rather than just sitting at a desk. One of the best examples for this can be found in today’s Gospel story of the woman bent over for 18 years. It’s one thing to study the words in this reading: Sabbath; crippled; bent over; synagogue leader; set free. It’s quite another to explore them physically: to discover how the world feels and looks to not be able to “stand up straight”, or to become indignant over the Law.
One of the first things we noticed when taking on the “character” of this woman is her point of view: she is looking at the ground, and no one is making eye contact with her. For Jesus to truly “see” her, he would have had to bend over as well! This teaches us empathy. When our class embodied characters like the synagogue leader, or even the Sabbath itself, we discovered that, from their perspective, they were just trying to keep things safe and running according to plan. Jesus is constantly changing the plan! No wonder they were upset!
I’ve heard people describe actors as “professional liars” – which may explain why sometimes actors and extroverts are met with skepticism. In my experience, just the opposite is the case! Like other artists, actors look for the truth, and bring it to audiences for them to see, feel and experience. With our production and cast, even though we are working with limited time and variable resources, the goal is to tell a truthful story. Not “true” in that there really are talking animals somewhere through an English closet, but rather that the heart of the story is true: the way warfare upends the lives of children; the conflict between siblings and also the love that abides; God’s love and sacrifice for us; the real danger of evil and fear in the world and how courage and solidarity can overcome it. Rather than being viewed as “liars” I would describe actors as “truth warriors!”, willing to take risks and tell true stories that move the hearts and minds of others. To act is to stand up tall with Jesus, and to encourage others to stand as well.
Jesus beholds the bent woman as the best version of herself: strong and whole, tall and free. And Jesus sees each of us as he did when God created us! In today’s Hebrew Scripture, Jeremiah is reminded that God knows us, God always knows the best story of our lives. God sees Jeremiah as a prophet: as one who speaks truth to power, one with the courage to stand up and speak up for others.
My favorite moment in this week’s Sacred Arts Camp happened on the last day, when our children embodied what it is to stand up for others: for dignity for all creatures, for equality, for justice. These twenty children, ages 4 to 12 (along with their youth-led team of teachers) made rhythm instruments and sang “If I had a hammer!” (you remember that song from the 60’s?) They took turns physically “standing up” for causes they believe in: caring for animals and trees; family; dignity, equality; love as love; and Jesus. They put on crowns! Then they paraded around our church, marching for justice and freedom and “love between (our) brothers and our sisters all over this land!”. It made us laugh and it made us cry!
One of the reasons that children inspire us so much may be that they have not yet had their spirits bent or broken. They have not, hopefully, experienced deep shame, or prejudice, they have not been hindered by debilitating fear or stiffness of attitude. Children – sometimes even those, like Ann Frank, who have witnessed the horrors of war — are still flexible and hopeful. If we, as Jesus commands, “become like them”, can we too begin to stand up with Jesus?
Today, this morning, let’s think about what is holding us down. Are we bent with the weight of shame, or taking on the burden of the sins of others? Have we looked “down” for so long – either afraid to look up in hope, or else avoiding making true connection with others that might prove painful – that we have gotten stuck in that position? I’d like to invite you, in the spirit of embodied spirituality, to notice the way you are sitting right now; to lift up your heads and your hearts a little higher; to look around the room and behold the truth and beauty of those next to you. If you came to the play yesterday, invite someone to come again with you today; if you haven’t attended yet, think about being flexible enough to come back after lunch and be part of this special story; to follow our children into Narnia. Let yourself be set free on this Sabbath day!
Whenever we create, or think creatively, we connect with God, the original artist! With God whose vision for us, for our lives, and for God’s created world, is “abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine”. God’s vision for us began even before we were born, and it continues today, and tomorrow, and every day.
I invite you, therefore, to participate in God’s powerful, unfolding process of forming you into the very best version of yourself. A process sealed in your baptism, and nourished at the Eucharistic table. Standing or sitting tall, Kings and Queens, Christ’s own, forever! And let all of God’s creations say, AMEN!