Theological Performance Art

Performance Art– non-theatrical, revolving around body, space, and time

Theological Mosaic– a theology course addressing a vast plane of concepts, theologians, eras, divinity, the text etc.

Final Paper in conjunction with creative project– the Eucharist; the local, universal, inclusive, movement of God towards humanity

Thoughts expressed prior to piece– Performance Art has a skeletal structure that the artist has plotted out, although there is an element of spontaneity, in which the artist is to not cover up or redeem it to the original plan, rather she is to flow with the direction at hand.

Skeletal Structure

Over the course of my life I have approximately taken communion 250 times and it has been done alone, every time. So I found what my old mega church used as parceled Jesus’s, his “blood and body”. They are prepackaged plastic mini cups with juice and a minuscule wafer on top. I bought 250 of them.

I would attempt to partake in all of the parceled Jesus’s in front of my class.

I had a white sheet that draped a long table where I sprinkled all 250 communion packages on and then I had instructed a man to read these words until I finished, “This is the body broken for you and for your sins. This is the blood shed for you and your sins.”

The happenings– As I embarked on this task, I quickly grew anxious by how much I was to consume. After 5 minutes of shooting back the juice and swallowing the wafer whole, I realized that this could be a horrible performance piece. I wanted to leave and hide, ridiculing myself for creating such an insurmountable performance. And, at the moment of despair, I looked up to see two individuals make their way towards the table, towards me. They began to open the packages as well as partake with me the body and blood. Relief. Reinstated hope. Yet, it was still a huge feat. Then, two more came up and did the same thing. Yet, it was still a huge feat. So, I decided I would take these plastic, wretched, unpalatable things to the rest of the class asking for help and by that moment I really needed help. The ensuing nausea came as I barely could finish the last few. It was similar to maxing out in the weight room, though I’ve never maxed out before, unless getting tired of using 8 pound bar bells on my biceps count. Either way after my last one and the man’s last looping of words, I paused and felt, maybe I was actually consumed, by the somber and sober atmosphere of the classroom. It was palpable, it was like humidity–unseen but drenching the climate.

Then I read this, a stream of Eucharistic consciousness:

22 years ago, inside my head, I invited Jesus into my heart. From that point on my experiences with him were of many alone and esoteric moments. Whether it was in my room, outside, or during the monthly communion at my church I had a very abstracted relationship with God. The Eucharist had minimal meaning for me as many clean cut, dressed up male leaders stood in front of the congregation and attempted to invoke the nature of my sin, and following the invocation was more loneliness as I shared the body and blood of Jesus Christ apart from others. Maybe there was a glance to another, signaling a “yeah, my sins are profuse”, but it always lacked an energy and liveliness of what this meal represents. And, here is where the consumption of Christ became a swallowing of hardened guilt and irritating shame as it anchored me to the ground. How do I change myself? How do I become better, so these feelings refrain from causing such depression? How does one abstractly solve their standing with a God that only exists inside one’s head? And, why, why this meal?

Little did I know the genius and luminosity of the Eucharist until recently.

My ecclesial community today, snugly fits inside an Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous backroom of a slightly shady café, called The Sweet Spot. Here is where the names of recovering addicts surround us, Jim 10 months clean, Susan 6 months clean, Rachel 1 year clean, as we break bread and pour wine weekly. We share the meal with one another, looking into each other’s faces as we say “This is the body, broken for you” and “This is the blood shed for you”. God is really coming towards me, towards us all as we struggle and crawl through life. Your particular face reminds me of God, those names on the white boards remind me of God. The God that wants to break into our lives. Your gesture of kindness comes alongside of me as we consume Jesus together. This tangible and insistent act of mercy and grace interrupts those deathly and condemning thoughts that hide inside my head. God consumes the darkness, consumes us as we consume him—thus, binding us to Love that is not static, but active and mobile; creative and receptive. The Eucharist invites us to participate in something that offers nourishment, community, and hope for what is to come.

Again, the solemn weightiness of the moment blanketed the room.  I sat there astonished. Personally, I have never had such an effect on a large group of people before and it was far beyond what I expected this performance to be, yet it was largely, largely due to the communal participation that allowed for such movement and receptivity to occur.

Then, I had a woman come up and recite the traditional story of Jesus’s last supper and lastly she repeated (until all had received) these words,”this is the body broken for you, this is the blood shed for you” as 5 other women came up with me to share with the class the actual broken bread and poured wine…do this in remembrance of me, do this in remembrance of me.

I, too was offered communion. Truly, what an offering this woman gave me, her eyes of compassion (she was one of the four that ventured to help me finish the juice and wafers) and her recited words pointed to the particularities of me, but also the universality of us, in which she in all her differences could partake and comprehend this meal of love just as I could.

Afterward we had a group discussion about the piece and there were tremendous insights and experiences–the consumptive nature of American Christianity seen in the hundreds of plastic cups spread all over and the spilled juice on the white sheet; it looked like I was taking shots, numbing myself; many classmates wanted me to stop and stomp on the communion packages instead; the civic dilemma of helping me or staying situated in their seats; there was no liberty in my partaking, only heavy darkness; the act of the women going into the audience to share with words of meaning–Christ’s body and blood for us–was unlike the exclusive table that many ecclesial communities cherish; the wonderment of God breaking into our lives…

It was a beautiful, full, astonished day where so many other classmates shared their vested efforts to see the world and God differently, more wholly.

My partaking in cheap Jesus’s led to constipation. No, seriously. And, how fitting, right? This life is not meant for aloneness, exclusivity, esoteric encounters with Mystery, rather, it is to be shared, communed with, and expressed–whether it is through lament, anger, joy, or drunken unrestraints. May we understand the locality of a person, culture, and world as well as the universality of a meal that unifies and beckons us to turn towards life.

Thanks to Chelle Stearns for deeming a Creative Day for theology. And, it was good, real good.

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1 Comment

Filed under art, memento vivere

One response to “Theological Performance Art

  1. Ben

    glad you took the time to write down your experience and reflections. Wish I could’ve been there!

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