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Friday, July 24, 2015

Godspell as Transformative Experience

There are a few journals and things I routinely read.  They inform me of things happening that I probably would not know about until much later.  And they touch on subjects I likely would have said have no interest for me and I get interested!  They alert me to things that I want to pursue---perhaps a book to read or a person to meet.  These things are like regular friends to me.

One of the pieces I read on a regular basis is the National Catholic Reporter.  I know its reputation as a liberal Catholic periodical, but that does not bother me.  I am not reading it for the particular political perspective.  I read it because it helps me stay in touch with people and things in the Catholic world.  The Catholic world is personally interesting to me.  And I figure, any group with over one billion people is worth charting.  I keep up with China and India, too!

Recently, I was drawn to an article entitled, “Author traces lives touched by ‘Godspell,’” by Retta Blaney.  I never heard of Blaney (and she probably never heard of me!).  Blaney’s piece is really about the pilgrimage of Carol de Gierre, who wrote a book about the play, Godspell.  I am sure I was drawn to this article, in part, because I recall seeing Godspell more than once and loving it every time.  I was eager to see de Gierre’s take on the play.

I learned that Godspell opened off-Broadway in Spring, 1971.  I knew it had to be around that time, since I know I was living in Boston at the time.  Intriguingly, de Gierre did not see Godspell in its original period.  Now 63 years old, de Gierre said she did not see the play until her late 40s when she was living in Fairfield, Iowa.  I have been to Fairfield and on Broadway.  The two would not be confused with each other!

de Gierre was so smitten, she moved with her husband to southern Connecticut so she could be close to Broadway, where so much of theater creativity happens.  She discovered Steven Schwartz, who wrote the music for the play, and other cast members who began sharing memories of their early experience with the play.  This led to a book, Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked, which I would like to read.

The Blaney had a quotation from de Gierre that I found amazing.  "I like writing behind the scenes," she said. "Rather than write about a musical, I like to recreate the experience of being present at the creation."  I loved that idea of being present at the creation.”  Outside of the context, I would immediately have thought of the Genesis creation some 13 billion years ago, according to scientists.  That certainly was transformative.  But de Gierre meant present at the creation of the play, Godspell.

Her words provoked me, however, to think about the creation of worldly things---like Godspell.  She wanted to get back to the Genesis of Godspell---to go to the beginning of what would be a transformative process that, in turn, transformed so many audiences who would see it.  I can count myself among those folks.

Reading this article put me into my own thoughts about transformation.  It was easy to conclude that any transformation is creative.  By definition transformation changes one form into another---one form trans (crosses over) to a different form.  I begin to think about this in spiritual terms.

No doubt, one of the more dramatic experiences of spiritual transformation comes with a conversion experience.  I know many folks who have had rather dramatic conversion experiences.  They fascinate me, because that has not been my own spiritual experience.  As we know, a dramatic conversion experience can be such that folks say, “one day I was a sinner and the next day I was not.”  They have been transformed.

Others of us experience transformation more like evolution.  That has been my type.  It has been very a slow, hit and miss kind of transformation.  Only gradually do I realize I am being changed from one form to another.  And that change is never without its hitches.  It is not always forward.  There have been relapses; there have been dry periods where nothing happened.  But somehow the Spirit always seemed to be at work.

As I think further into it, I believe transformation is always possible and ever ready to do its work.  And the work can be a dramatic event or a very slow process.  For me it is life-long.  I like de Gierre’s way of putting it: “the experience of being present at the creation.  If you think about it, every day is just such an experience.  Every day we have the possibility of a transformative experience.

Perhaps, the best-known song from the play is “Day by Day.”  I like that as a reminder of the transformative possibilities in our lives.  That is how it will happen…day by day.

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