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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’!
Members of the Catholic Creatives Salon spent Season Ten considering the beauty of festival as a preparation for the Eucharistic Feast. Together, we created a Feast of St. Joseph that was a miracle!
It’s a miracle when friends spend Real Time together…a miracle when ten friends spend four long hours together around a dinner table…a miracle when those four hours are so rich and full of life they feel like kairos – time out of time. It’s a miracle when wine is present to symbolize that a spirit of prayer and joy pervades a time of fellowship.
I spent last night experiencing such a miracle. After a lovely St. Joseph vespers with hymn and chant-tone psalms, we ten sat down to hear food blessed and recite the St.Joseph Memorare before digging in to the salad course, served on fine china, amid candles and lilies.
Between the salad course and the soup & bread – minestrone, full of goodness, and hot-from-the-oven sheaves of wheat – we listened to readings about St. Joseph’s role in the life of Christ, and his patronage of all we brethren of the Lord. Likewise, before the main course, readings about the miraculous St. Joseph staircase and St. Teresa’s statue – the ‘tattletale’ St. Joseph.
After Sicilian meat roll, creamy garlic & cheese potatoes, basil carrots and asparagi al forno (oven roasted asparagus – heavenly!), we learned of St. Joseph’s patronage of families, fathers, expectant mothers (pregnant women), travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people…and that San Jose is the most used place name in the world. No wonder!
As the cheese and fruit were passed, we heard a beautiful prayer to St. Joseph in Italian. It’s hard to express how perfect Italian felt in this place, at this particular time, for all of us whose hearts all long a bit to go home to Rome. Talk turned to Blessed Pope John Paul and our various visits to the blessed city. Mmmmm….delicious, in so many ways. Two poems – my own St. Joseph Carpenter, and one by Paul Claudel (I surround her on all sides, Joseph says, of Mary….) – served as literary dessert.
It’s a miracle when you can eat all that and still have room for dessert! But then, the whole evening was an experiment in miracles. How fully is it possible to in-fill time…to layer meaning upon moment in a densification of time…to place eternity within the negative space of agenda, content, activity? Chocolate-almond biscotti and, traditional for tavolas di San Giuse, ricotta-filled, chocolate-ganache-topped cream puffs…we found room!
It’s a miracle when friends pull together a drama like this and then stay together to strike the set. But stay they did, until the loaded table was cleared; until every dish was washed, dried and put away; until the spilled wax was scraped up and the floor swept; until everyone’s prayer request was in the basket destined for a Mass in honor of St. Joseph; until the borrowed space was as though we had not invaded it with our merrymaking and solemnity. Just as we stay until Father cleans at the altar, we stayed.
It’s a miracle when, tired and busy-tomorrow and facing long drives home, friends stop for one more moment in kairos together – a sung Litany of St. Joseph and a closing prayer. Our desire had been to learn, to experience, to realize, “What is a feast, a festival, festivity?” “How does our capacity for festivity relate to our capacity for Christ?” “What kind of miracle is made by human effort that forms a vessel for the infusion of grace?” And we had. Thank you, St. Joseph, and thank you, my friends, for the miracle of this feast!