Thursday, December 29, 2011

Making Room: Mary and Joseph

I ministered with movement as part of the sermon at the Community Church of Barrington in Advent this year and last year. This year I portrayed Mary; last year, I portrayed Joseph.

Last year, I danced Joseph and the Angel from Matthew 1:18-25: the story of the angel advising Joseph to marry his betrothed, Mary, even though she was already pregnant. Here's what I wrote but didn't post:
The whole experience was such a gift. So much talent coming together. First, the Pastor Zina Jacque had a vision of a dance expressing Joseph's struggle. She said Joseph doesn't say anything in the story but we know he must have been tormented with the whole situation. She began her sermon by asking us to imagine that struggle and then suggested that we'd have an opportunity to see it. That was the incredible pianist Natallia Revinskaya's cue to begin playing the darkly dramatic introduction of the 1st movement of Sonata #8 by Beethoven as I came down the center aisle in visible anguish. The chancel of this church is very small. There isn't a lot of room for movement, but there, as Joseph, I writhed in disbelief of my predicament finally coming to the conclusion to send Mary away. At that moment the music shifts into "All Is Well With My Soul" by Horatio Spafford in 3/4 time, and I pick up a white scarf and become the angel. When the angel leaves, the song the congregation had sung earlier in the service, "Emmanuel" by Bob McGee, begins, and here is where I had a lot of revelations. I had originally thought that Joseph would walk out alone but no he walks out, of course, with Mary. But, I also realized that after the angel appeared, he must have felt awful that he was going to abandon her. He would ask her for forgiveness. I have such reverence for Mary but it was a gift to embody her husband and imagine how he might have felt. The reverence and pride and fear that he would have had for her. To embody that male love. At the end, as I was walking out down the aisle, Zina invited the congregation to sing a verse of "Emmanuel."

The theme for Lent this year was making room, and the title of the sermon in which I ministered was: Making Room: The Innkeeper's No from Luke 2:1-7: the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph being refused accommodations in Bethlehem. Working with the pastor, Rev. Zina Jacque, and the church organist and pianist, Natallia Revinskaya, is a liturgical dancer's dream: Zina understands the importance of integrating the movement seamlessly into the service, and Natallia is a gorgeous pianist.

Let me share with you the evolution. Originally, Zina asked me to dance Mary's response to the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38). The Annunciation is my favorite gospel passage, and I realized that I had never danced it. So, I was excited (and daunted) by the task. I went into the gym to move the passage, and I got into the idea of throwing stuff out to make room. I tossed and dug and tossed some more. (I can really identify with the need to get rid of stuff!) But, then it occurred to me that Mary may not have done that. She didn't have any time to throw anything out before saying yes. She just expanded herself, was just more of her beautiful self. There are two different ways to make room: in a fixed pie, you've got to throw out something, but if you can enlarge the pie, you can keep everything. That's what Mary did.

Then, I realized that the Christmas story about making room is the innkeeper who did NOT make room. So, what a contrast: Mary unquestioningly making room, intuitively knowing she could do it, and the innkeeper just not getting it at all. This contrast, I recognized, could be powerful in a dance.

So, the next time I went to the gym, I brought my double-sided cape: one side is dark olive and the other, shimmering silver.
    Part I: I walk in down the center aisle. Very tired. very pregnant (cape is under my dress making a pregnancy puff). It's been a long journey. Music is dragging. I can hardly get to the front of the church. Natallia later chose "Bethlehem Road" by David Paxton for this section.
    Part II:  I pull the dark green cape out and become the Innkeeper. No. NO. No. No. NO.  The music is crashing chords. Angry. Dark. Natallia chose Prelude Opus 32 No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff
    Part III: I become Mary again, and the silver side of the cape becomes the swaddling clothes. The music morphs into that beautiful "Emmanuel" by Bob McGee. I am the happy mother cradling my infant, fussing over him, letting people in the congregation take a peek as I walk him out down the center aisle.

So, I sent Zina a note with this new outline with a bit of trepidation: The gospel had morphed into the Navity (Luke 2:1-7). I somehow managed to skirt around dancing the Annunciation. To depict the Innkeepers response, I needed to establish the exhausted, very pregnant tired Mary: then, I could show how awful the "No" really was. Zina said she's learned that when she asks someone to co-minister with her, she needs to trust where the spirit leads.

So, a week and a half before the Sunday, I went out to Barrington to rehearse with Natallia, and on the Metra train back from the rehearsal, I realized that the "Dong. Dong" of the recorded message: "Dong, Dong. The doors are about to close." are the first two notes of "Emmanuel." I was singing it all the way home: "Emmanuel, Emmanuel. His name is called Emmanuel. God with us. . . "  I often, for some reason, have trouble remembering the next line but then it came to me: "revealed in us." And, it just gave me the shivers. I'm making Jesus out of the negative innkeeper's cape: Jesus is revealed even in our "no"s. He can find our essence in our darkness. How powerful that that is the song Natallia played as I introduced the infant Jesus to the congregation.

Reading Luke 2 a couple days later, it hit me that the birth is in a different physical location than the inn. One of the gifts of liturgical dance/movement is being able to show the movement, the traveling from place to place: that there are distinct locations where the events of a story take place. (Showing the locations for the Passion story, for example, is particularly powerful.) At any rate, the sanctuary is very small, so the only other place I could think of that would provide decent sight lines for the congregation is the pulpit, which became the innkeeper's inn. Then, Mary went over to the center of the chancel to give birth.

And, then the night before the service, I read the gospel again. (It's amazing how much information is packed into a few sentences.) I had been making the innkeeper out to be the villain, not wanting to put up lowly people, but then reading the gospel, it struck me: There were lots of people going to Bethlehem to be registered. The inn may have truly been already beyond capacity. In addition, it was the first registration, and we all know how chaotic the first time for anything, especially something large scale like that, can be. So, the innkeeper may have truly been at wits end before this pregnant woman and her husband showed up.

This dance (and I use that term loosely - it is probably better described as physical theatre) was the most emotionally exhausting I've ever done. Zina had the inspiration to change the closing song to "Emmanuel," which gave everyone a chance to participate in reinforcing the message. Many in the congregation were moved to tears and thanked me afterwards.