From the editor: February 6, 2015

Our Theatricality

The Meaning of Blue
by Luke Bell

Among several books I am reading is The Meaning of Blue: Recovering a Contemplative Spirit, by Luke Bell, OSB (Second Spring). It is intended to help readers recover a lost way of seeing not only nature but the world and its reflections of divine truth through a Christian framework. In chapter 6, Liturgy & Sacrament, Bell writes:

Before the Fall, ordinary language and behavior praised and honored God. Now we have to do it specially. There is a parallel with theater, which (at least in its ancient Greek origins) in the beginning had a liturgical import. Dramatic discourse and interaction highlight aspects of our life so that we can better understand their value and importance....

...It is not fiction alone that conveys meaning. Life as such has it, but on the stage we can through the dramatist's art contemplate it with special clarity. Similarly, life is to the praise and honor of God, but in the liturgy that ultimate meaning of our lives is realized with particular emphasis.

The significance of a man's life, as it were, is often laid out for us in a series of stories or a dramatic tableaux. We do something like this when we eulogize him, summing up his life, now past, in the best stories that reveal the significance of his life to others. It could be presented theatrically.

The Gospels are theatrical in that sense, a dramatic arrangement of a Life that otherwise told in every empirical and spiritual detail could not fit in a world full of books. Here, we have 4 dramatists, with their own take on the Greatest Story Ever Told.

The Christian Liturgy, centered on the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, is theater on a cosmic stage, with angels for ushers and stagehands, where we come to "Mount Zion, the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, ... angels ... the assembly of the first born.... (Heb. 12:22-23)

But the problem is, after the Fall, "ordinary language and behavior" no longer "praise[s] and honor[s] God." We know the script, sort of, but it really doesn't grab our attention as does the last two minutes of the Super Bowl. We often seem tone-deaf, clueless, like 5-year-olds forced to watched a performance of the Merchant of Venice, when we'd rather watch Punch & Judy.

So, it's a struggle. The mind wanders. We disconnect or fail to connect. One aid is to daily embrace and learn from the Psalms, the true language of prayer, as Bell notes, "the daily bread of the liturgy." The Psalms are "Christ's prayer to the Father ... in the sense that in Him all of humanity is summed up, and the psalms offer to God the whole of human experience."

But it is important also that "we not edit our humanity when we bring it before God." God knows everything! The Psalms are honest before God, whether in praise, despair, anger, joy, or hope.

The Psalms also give us spiritual direction: "Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul!" Augustine comments, Bell notes:

Our hearts will not go moldy, if raised up to Him. If you had grain down in the basement, you would move it up higher, lest it rot. You find a better place for your grain: will you allow your heart to moulder on earth? If you think it right to take your grain upstairs, lift your heart to heaven...."

"Lift up your hearts" is an angelic stage direction. The final performance for all of us will begin sometime in the not-too-distant future, on a stage where the Liturgy never ends, happily ever after. This Sunday is dress rehearsal.

Yours for Life, Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner