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Sometimes, my heart is breaking for a friend, or I have pain of my own to bear. Often, the tears are joyful. The sight of a baby can bring me to tears, or of a dear friend. My tears may be both sorrowful and joyful at once.
More often, though, my weeping begins and ends in the Mass itself – without reference to the circumstances of life, or the people around me. I’ll just be heart-pierced by the reality of the Real Presence of Christ, or the nobility of the priest as he reaches up to bear the Unbearable Beauty for my sake. The words to a hymn, or psalm will pierce my soul. The beauty of Christ’s people – His Body in the world – often breaks my heart wide open. I’m struck with affection for all these people, in every sort of ‘distressing disguise.’ Size, age, handicap, crummy clothing, beauty and finery, tattoos, attitude – none of it hides the glory that seems to shine through in those first moments after they receive Christ in the Eucharist.
Sometimes tears begin with contrition for my sins, or with a particularly urgent prayer request, but for the most part, they signal that I am deeply affected by the actual people with whom and through whom I’m to realize Christ in the world. He remains in me, within His Church, and I remain in Him by building community with these people. It’s an amazing reality that moves me to tears!
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 truth is that when people are…really wild with freedom and invention, they always must, and they always do, create institutions.” G. K. Chesterton
I love this quote, and include it in the first Manifest (news and literary journal of Epiphany…a liberative arts university), because the question came up at a faculty meeting.
“Epiphany had hardly existed an hour before new institutions were springing up on the campus: Epiphany Press, the Blessed Order of Elizabeths, Incipe – a foundation dedicated to the beginning of good works, Euphonium – Epiphany’s chorale, and Manifest – its news and literary journal.” For myself, this story had hardly existed a week before I created the Joy Foundation. What I saw through fiction helped me to understand why free men always create institutions. [Read more…]
Update: Since this was first posted, I’ve learned that cancer researchers are learning to spot cancer earlier. Guess how?? By looking for knots! Characteristic tumor vasculature is tangled and knotted, as opposed to the lovely network of blood vessels that supply non-cancerous organs.
I love this thought from a poem by G. K. Chesterton: Gloria in profundis. Glory to God in the depths, in the lowest things, at this time of year when we sing, “Glory to God in the highest”! Since most of life is spent doing the lowest things – diapers, scrubbing toilets, changing oil and brake pads, filling in new planning calendars… – what a great thing it is to learn to be amazed by them! [Read more…]