Let's talk about your need for holy leisure, interior freedom, poetic education, creative expression and cultural engagement. Authentic, joyful, humorous...many talks to choose from...custom crafted presentations...workshops, retreats, group facilitation...let me help you!
The Catholic Creatives Salon just hosted a viewing of St. Pope John Paul’s play, The Jeweller’s Shop. This is my introduction to it for guests who had not been reading Cat Hodge’s great article, Theodrama in Mid-Century Poland, from Second Spring volume 18.
Pope John Paul II once said we could know him best by studying his plays. His understanding of the role of drama, of the spoken word, in proposing truth to the world is at the core of all his writings about human freedom and human destiny.
In Nazi-occupied Poland, during WWII, young Karol Wojtyla considered how theater might be a means to restore man to himself. He was opposed, in principle, to a school of thought in which theater becomes a quasi-liturgical event, and where actors so strip away the elements of self as to become empty transmitters between impulse and action, drama and audience. Believing that the actor’s gift of self must not be a complete negation of self, Wojtyla emphasized the primacy of the spoken word over emotive gesture in his plays.
His Rhapsodic Theatre was a form of cultural resistance to the Nazi suppression of national identity. Stories that help us hold onto the narrative of our people help us hold onto our individual sense of self. Naturally, Poland’s masterworks of literature and her history were not welcome under German occupation.
Wojtyla and friends presented their adaptations of these essentially Polish stories in cramped spaces, in secret, in real danger, with few props and no lighting or sound technology. The actors wanted to so lift up the words as to convey idea most purely and emphatically. Just as an icon points back to the viewer for its full realization in his own being, their plays created a sacred space of encounter between audience and idea. As the viewer is moved, is provoked to come to a judgment, is challenged to respond, that space opens to God’s action within him.
Instead of propelling a wave of emotional stimuli, and initiating a thoughtless movement of gestural imitation in an audience, Rhapsodic Theatre, with its ‘words like a song’, sought to serve idea by proposing it well, and serve listeners by respecting the boundaries of their personhood. The Theatre of the Word demands more from us than to sit still while others act, vicariously experiencing action while atrophying in our own capacity to act. Instead of a bath of emotions, ‘free’ of intellectual analysis, reason, and judgment, we are involved in a questioning, and not supplied with a simple answer. Such a production isn’t complete until each of us then acts, freely, in response to the idea we have met through dramatization.
After Wojtyla became a priest, he continued to write plays, and The Jeweller’s Shop is his most famous. In it, he meditates on the Sacrament of Matrimony, through the lives of three different couples. In the third act, we meet the children of the first two couples. There are two spheres of action: the shop where they buy their wedding rings, and each character’s interior landscape. The Jeweler stands for the durability of marriage, as the couples reflect the pain and struggle in tension with that ideal.
We loved the movie, and had a great discussion of the ideas it placed before us – the importance of community to marital strength, the beauty of the Lover claiming his Bride, the way our response to the dissonance around us shapes our lives, the reality of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ that surrounds us, our longing for priests with time to be part of our families’ lives, and more.
In an amazing ‘God’s instance,’ The Jeweller’s Shop was also picked for this year’s readings by the Well Read Moms. God must agree with them that this a good time for the ‘year of the Spouse’!
The Race gives us a glimpse into the endless round of self-neglectful business that is robbing a woman of the peace of resting in her Lord. She wakes, with the jolt and intensity of a runner at the starting block, having anticipated and rehearsed the day’s demands to the point of near-sleeplessness. We feel sorry for her, hurting herself as she is by the hyperactivity that clearly is leading her to physical breakdown and, possibly, to the point of madness. But, we see in her mania an element of free choice that prevents our interpreting her predicament as inevitable, or unavoidable.
The poem is full of choice words with several layers of meaning that combine to place the characteristics of such driven-ness into relief against a background of love – of self, and of God. Here are just a few examples:
Writhe: twist in pain, twist into coils
Compress: press hard, condense, contract
Mania: ungovernable frenzy, excitement manifested by hyperactivity and elevation of mood
Design: mental scheme in which means to an end are laid down
Restive: stubbornly resisting control, uneasy
Heady: willful, rash, head-first, intoxicating
Coil: tumult, trouble
These images all fight – as the woman fights – against relaxation, and true rest. This woman’s coping, or self-defense mechanisms have gone horribly awry and are now destroying her. She is doing violence to herself, to the day, and to those around her, whose needs and humanity she speeds past.
The Race speaks of the subtle seductive power of ideas. Unless they are translated into reality – dull and tedious as that process may be – they may lure us into a world of imagined virtue, imagined freedom of movement, imagined rest that undermines the very things ‘vain imaginings’ represent. We may lose our footing in the imagined future if we dissipate our energies by grappling with virtual problems. Grace does not, cannot flow into virtual life. That territory – for all our work to know and control it – is an unmapped waste: “ungraceful and uncharted time”.
As one whose own life is the stuff this poem was made of, I can speak firsthand about the antidote for this woman’s – for my – impotent, cramped, pragmatic, heedless life. The cure is, pure and simple, real rest. The Source and Summit of this elixir? The Eucharist. Christ, fully present, waits for the soul to turn, simply, to Him for refreshment, for new life.
The poem echoes Christ’s words (in a vision) to Bl. Angela of Foligno: “Make yourself a capacity, and I will make myself a torrent,” and alludes to the last line of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 (“Nor ever chaste except you ravish me.”) I include a discussion of The Race in my talk, A Prayer, A Poem, A Person, a Place, to illustrate both poetry and the poetic person – one whose very being is, like a poem, a place of encounter with Reality.
It is my prayer that, by winning people over to the practice of true Sabbath-keeping – Eucharistic Sabbath – I can help restore the calm, surrendered, interior spaciousness that will invite Christ’s torrential grace, more and more, into the world. “Slowed to a singleness of soul,” the double-minded man can become whole, and participate in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Note: Since the poem is a bit longer than usual, I’ve got a pdf of it for you, here.
Here, also, are links to every one of my posts that mentions placenta! [Read more…]
This is a shameless plug for my own book! I’m so excited that Angelico Press has published Souls at Work, and I have high hopes that it will be a blessing to readers. Someone has asked “What kind of book is this?” and it’s hard to put it into a typical category.
It is ‘self-help,’ because I enjoy talking to people who enjoy self-improvement. It is ‘educational,’ because I look at the world through the lens of the classical Trivium and suggest this as a model for self-educators and for teachers. It is ‘Catholic spiritual direction,’ because I strongly believe that your interior life will be much improved by taking on reality in all its forms – art, persons, subjects, buildings and more.
It is ‘poetic,’ because it is meant to give you entrance into my own lived experience, and so is written with a richness of vocabulary and diction that is sadly missing from many 10-bullet-point books. It is ‘hard,’ because it invites you into the adventure of working out your salvation in the rough and tumble tensions of things that are difficult for you. It is a ‘workbook,’ because I ask you to do the work of writing it for yourself (!), or, at least, responding to its questions to make it truly your own.
It is ‘dangerous,’ because there is no true growth or education possible apart from venturing into the unknown territory of the Real World with only our imperfect realization of Christ to guide us. It is ‘Catholic,’ because it is deeply indebted to and respectful of the Faith, and is predicated on my own love for Christ and His teaching magisterium…without being at all a work of theology.
What else? A fountain of youth? Yes. A great conversation starter? Yes. A fun romp through science, art, literature, architecture, and more with, not an expert, but an interested fellow student? Yes. A help in understanding relationship dynamics? Yes. A new perspective on the new evangelization? Yes!
So, as one who is obviously totally unbiased about this book, I highly recommend you get a copy and share the news that it is available. THANKS to all who take the plunge and wade into this ‘invitation to freedom’. Together, Catholic writers and readers must discover what it means for an artist to be, not a law unto herself, but a member of the Body of Christ. I so look forward to your response to this book. Please tell me what kind of book it is when you know!
How can I become small enough to ‘fit’ the narrow range of perception of a person with whom I share so little experience, philosophy, language, or understanding. Only love can make a way where there seems to be no way, no bridge of commonality. And what does that look like?
I often say, “Love condescends,” as shorthand for this process of smallifying the self in order to be in unity with someone younger, or with less receptivity for what is being given, being communicated. Our example? Christ’s own condescension when He “emptied Himself of all but love” on the Cross.
Chiara Lubich and her Focolarini had a huge influence on this teaching, for which I’m grateful.
- First, I love because God first loved me. I cannot go into a ‘tight spot’ without awareness of my dependence upon His loving mercy to carry me, to make up for all that is lacking in me as I try to communicate with and engage them.
- Second, I must do only what I can do in true freedom, otherwise my gesture may violate the other person and will not be an invitation to freedom. If I do what I feel I must, do it with an interior demand for a response, or act without consideration of my own reality (limits, aspirations, resources), I may (sigh…how often have I done this!) clunk in like a bull in a china ship instead of slipping gently through the crack in their defenses.
- Third, I need to empty myself of contempt, resentment, irritation toward this person. I must erase all the mental labels by which I have distanced myself and protected myself from identification with him. I must open myself to the mystery of this person and approach his delicate being with reverence. Loving condescension is not looking down my nose at him, but descending toward him in love, believing I will see Christ through this encounter.
- Fourth, present and attentive toward this person, aware of but not impatient about my hopes for him, attuned to God’s love for me that wants to pour itself through me into this ‘smaller’ vessel, I wait (Yes, actually stop and wait; be still and wait upon the Lord!) for the dawning of creativity. When the Spirit moves upon the whole of the factors I am embracing, some form will take shape as a response, a gesture, an act of freedom by which I can love this person and, thus, invite him to freely respond.
- Fifth, I will know the mot juste, the Right Thing, the perfect gift, the path to take, because it will be beautiful!