I went to see a show last night called ‘Spring Awakening’ with a friend from college. We had both come from a day in the prison as part of our ‘Faith Sharing Weekend’ (see Any Given Friday (part IV) post) and had both found it really tough. As I sat in the auditorium (which was a converted lecture hall in our college) I tried to search my memory as to when I have seen this play before. I couldn’t, and still can’t, remember but I remember finding it hard to follow. The play is a typical Germanic text of the 19th century. I say this because it was like watching Woyzeck by Buchner or a Brecht play done in a naturalistic style. The Germans in the 19th century and beyond produced work that wrestled with ideas and intellectual rationale. To translate these texts and to keep the poetic nature of the original is extremely hard because the ideas are confusing enough without having to deal with translation.
I reflected on the way home on my day in the prison and in particular a conversation I had with one of the inmates there. We discussed at length our different beliefs and he strongly believed in honour and protecting your own. He was a religious man and his faith believed in ‘a brotherhood’ As we discussed and wrestled with ideas I became increasingly aware that we were flinging hypothetical ideas around and trying to find the rational and concrete.
‘Spring Awakening’ is more like watching an argument being set out than a play about characters. Each character comes to represent a certain view point and they are all shown on stage and, as an audience member, you need to pick a side. The Germanic plays of the past have often erred on the side of the Brechtian ideals of being separate and rational from the story, even before Brecht came along. It meant that the characters weren’t having normal conversations people questioned and argued their view of the world and engaged in huge topics. This is well and good but there comes a point where you end up going round in circles.
I found myself in this conversation with a prisoner and we were going round in circles trying to understand in our heads. He talked about how to ‘survive’ prison. He believed it was done by a strong mindset and focussing your mind. I’m sure this is true and he finds that useful but there will come a point in all our lives when we a pushed to the edge and we’ll crack. We’ll all get to our Calvary when everything is too much and we can’t rely on ourselves any more. It’s at this moment when Christ is at His most powerful. This is the moment when He says “I’ve been here and I’ve got through this. Only me. Come and I’ll give you strength to face up to this.” This is the moment when all words fail, when all rational argument and well thought out philosophies fail and it comes down to experience of grace. For the moment this prisoner can handle life with his philosophy but the Christian faith tells us that philosophy is great to a point but there are moments in life when those need to be tested and all fall short. The only thing that can stand is glory of God. Philosophy, ideals, structured arguments all of them are man made and none will defeat the pain of death only God can do that.
The play is a mish mash of arguments and I’m not sure what the playwrite was siding on. I left the play feeling confused as to what I was to think or feel. I felt depressed about the nature of the world as we saw it, everyone trying to argue their point of view and each one failing. I walked through the streets on a Saturday night, came across fights outside pubs, drunks vomiting in alleys, I was reminded of the stories in the prison and wanted to scream “All have fallen short of the glory of God.”
More and more I think of the words of my monastic ball of intensity who I shared this play with and the meal last week (see Wrestling With Truth (part II) post)
Claim innocence and worship God.
As for my ministry in the theatre… I’d love to be able to create a space where we come to realise that arguments are nothing compared to the experience of God’s glory and power in the face of death. I don’t want the worship/ workshop room to be a place to sit around and argue (it has been found wanting) rather to sit around and tell the stories of how we found our Calvary and discovered the only hope for salvation is the risen Lord.
Here endeth the lesson.