Ceremonial Theater

These performances are pedagogical experiments heavily influenced by the Jewish practice of midrash, a millennia-old tradition that fosters creative dialogue around biblical texts. Growing out of the fertile soil of much scholarship, and utilizing the blazing poetry of Jim Perkinson as well as other poets, these theatrical offerings focus on the voice of an element (earth, air, fire or water) as it whispers wisdom from the past and warnings for the future. These are stand alone presentations or cultural events, or they can fill a sermon slot or be supplemented with a bible study or group reflection.

Out of the Whirlwind

The Air show (below left) centers around a conversation between loud-mouthed “Raven” and mute “Dove.” Raven, a trash picking trickster and prophet of doom, first enters the scene cawing “Ruach!”—a warning that air, breathe, and spirit are all one. He then reunites with Dove who, communicating solely through dance, melts his corvid heart. These two remember the last time the world was destroyed by flood, and their portentous roles on the Ark (Gen. 8:6–12). They recount old stories in which Raven fed Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kg 17:4–6), and Dove descended on Jesus at baptism (Mt 3:16). And they argue over the appropriate response to the destructive ways of the two-leggeds. “Let it burn,” says Raven, but Dove hovers over her threatened brood, hoping for humanity’s survival. This piece was influenced by Mark Wallace’s Finding God in the Singing River and Ched Myers’ teaching on the theatricality of the wilderness prophetic tradition.

Blood on the Cedars

The Earth show (above right), drawing on language and ideas from Ched Myers, brings the call of the wild alive in ancient and contemporary stories of resistance. A woman shape-shifts, dances, and claims voices of the prophet, the poet, and the professor. She encounters the “Green Man,” the spirit of the wild once memorialized by our European ancestors in medieval cathedrals. Together, they spout litanies that paint pictures of the prophets’ connection to the earth, of various cultural expressions concerning the sacredness of trees, and of modern activists around the globe who have suffered and been killed for the sake of the forest. They tell how Hebrew prophets railed against deforestation, and indict Solomon’s massive templebuilding project as part of an imperial pattern conquest and ecological destruction (Zech 11:1–3; Jer 22:13–17; II Chron 2:1–18). The Green Man passes out green branches and the woman embodies the cedars as they rejoice in the fall of Babylon and drink in the peace of quiet and rest (Isaiah 14).

Wade Through Deep Water

The Water show (below left), using poetry from Thomas Merton and Jewish feminist Alicia Suskin Ostriker, introduces two prophets, Miriam and John the Baptist, whose water-logged lives kept them swimming in transformation. Miriam remembers scheming by the Nile in a conspiracy of women that saved baby Moses (Ex 2:1–10). She tells how she delivered her people through the Red Sea to freedom, but laments her fate to “die in a dry place” (Ex 15:20–21, Num 20:1–2). Miriam’s drumming and bodysong speak to the dangers of privatizing water, of desertification, and of ignoring the voice of the divine feminine. Meanwhile, John the Baptist calls the audience to a “dirty baptism,” because we have poisoned the wells and dammed the rivers. With fierce love, he calls for repentance, challenges us to abandon false hopes about technological saviors, and asks us to feel the pain of the water until we’re drawn back to the Source. The show culminates in a water anointing for every audience member, and a communal dance to “Gidamba,” a traditional West African rhythm played at baptisms.

Clothed with the Sun

The Fire show (above right) features the voice of “the fire that burns in the bones of the prophet” (Jer 20:7–9). A fearsome talking skull wields a flaming wand and groans warnings of rage and doom to an already burning planet. He asks us to remember the stories of a God who lives in a bush that burns but is not consumed, who calls people to liberation in the wilderness. Hope is brought from the beautiful pregnant Woman Clothed in the Sun crowned with twelve stars (Rev 12:1-17). While spinning fire on stilts, her singsong tales take us to our solar origins. She dances in mystical triumph with the spirit of the Phoenix, encircled by fire dancers flaming props and fire-breathers.

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