“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – Paul (1 Corinthians 2:9)
We all love drama. From the stories told us as children, to books we learned to read, to an appreciation for the theatre, to the sensory fullness of film, to virtual reality computer games, the insatiable appetite for news stories, to the voyeuristic pleasure we get from gossip, we all love drama. In fact, we seem to need it. There is after all no worse fate than boredom.We human beings are in fact, creatures of drama.
Some of us will have realised that our own lives, too, are suffused with all kinds of unexpected twists and turns, full of surprise, if we have taken the opportunity to read them. It is often when we allow ourselves to be read by others that we discover them. If we take the time and care we will see no end to the drama in the lives of others. But the pleasure of these readings will not come without hard work and often, excruciating pain. There are many who never have and never will, discover the exquisite narratives of their own lives. There is no cheap way to enter into these less obvious dramas.
And yet I suspect that these Hidden Dramas are in fact the real story. They are what we ought to be focusing on. But in order to appropriate this, we shall need to take a hard, critical look at the claims of the more obvious stories which claim our allegiance day in and day out. We are in context discussing Worthy Worship. By this we mean first and foremost having a view of the object of our worship that does not devalue it.
So here is an assertion: as worshipping beings, we worship a Dramatic God. It is appropriate then that our work of worship be filled with drama. It is inappropriate that what we call worship is in any way bored, dull, tedious, devoid of depth. And yet so often it is. Let us try then to define what makes up this drama. To start, what is it not, or what prevents us from perceiving it. I suggest 4 possibilities:
First, just like the poetic does not mean poetry, drama is not synonymous with theatre. It is much broader than that. I am in no ways against Film and Theatre, in fact I deeply respect these arts and their practitioners, but we need to be wary of seeing drama as being the domain of specialists, for in so doing we rob ourselves of our role in the drama of life. Drama should be entertaining, yes, but it is not about entertainment, but participation.
Secondly, drama is not sensationalism. When we call something dramatic, it’s usually used as “A dramatic turn of events” in the context of a media news item, or “Don’t be so dramatic” when talking to a petulant child. The establishment has commoditised the dramatic so that it has become something we are fed by CNN or Sky, by Disney or Universal, by any printed or published media concern who needs to hold our attention for their very survival. At worst, tabloid publications deem themselves to hold the moral high ground on the tackiest of topics, in the most expedient and whimsical ways so as to assuage their readership’s gaping lack of personal responsibility, morality or creativity. In both of these ways, the effect of defining drama as theatre or film, and of commoditising it, means that the view that we do not partake in it is reinforced. They are the actors, the anchormen, the journalists, or authors, and we, the passive consumers.
Thirdly, anthropomorphism, human centric ideas of time and space, will rob us of most drama. We only sense a very limited range of frequencies, for example light and sound waves. Our natural facilities in themselves will not perceive all that is going on. Certain technologies and sciences like astronomy and quantum physics help us to view events on a scale altogether different to what is available to the natural eye or ear. Viewing galaxies colliding millions of years ago. Or observing how unpredictable sub atomic particles can be.
Forth, and perhaps the single most limiting factor preventing us from entering into the drama of Life, is the absence of imagination and faith in transcending our human-centric points of view. Without imagination we can never tap into the bigger picture. One of the most profound writings on this comes from the unknown writer of Book of Hebrews: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
One comment that needs to be offered is that it is important for us to see that although the universe was “Formed at God’s command”, this does not preclude the fact that creation continues; all creation accounts have a beginning point, but many also have an end point in the past. It is my belief that the word “Creation” is a verb in the present tense, not a noun.
So the ultimate drama, then, is this: the ongoing act of creation. The one whom we worship is not merely creative; G-d is the Creator from whom all emanates: the whole universe, all life and creativity. There is infinity of dramas, if only we could apprehend them. The story of the Earth, what the ants are doing on a branch, how a relationship changes over the years, how communities come together and are torn apart, how my inner journey has progressed when I look back on it… these are the dramas to which I allude.
So based on these cosmic assertions, what are the implications for us mortals, bound up as we are in the 21st century with all our tiny woes and concerns? Drama involves characters, situations and narrative. If we can extend the notion of the “priesthood of all believers” we can also say the “dramatic company of all believers”. Like the clergy-laity dualism which was exploded but not destroyed by the work of those such as Martin Luther, we are in a position to tear down the dualism that exists between Actors and Audience.
It is not wrong to at times be in the audience, for observing is a key discipline. Watching or listening can be every bit as active as performing. But it would not be becoming to a Dramatic God or a Creation suffused with Drama to always be on the sidelines. A key to being an Actor on the stage of creation is that an incarnation is taking place. Unlike a Moviegoer or Virtual Reality user, the drama takes place both in and around the Actor.
The best attempts by Film, Game or Theatre to envelope the audience with the sensory will never bring that consumer into the Drama of Creation in any profound way. Even radical attempts to interact directly with the neural networks in the brain via implanted electronics or psychological drugs, will forever fail to bring the user-consumer into the presence of G-d. Of course this is an interesting discussion which should be ongoing, and a talking point on the leading edge of biotech and information technology, but my personal view is that these paths do not lead us to the essence of being, or to G-d.
It can be said that the Central Drama of Creation is the Eucharist. Here is the story of the Creator of the Cosmos coming to earth as human, willingly dying to meet the law of God, and defeating death. If it wasn’t for the tremendous weight of habit, prejudice and Christian malpractice, everyone might agree that the story of the Incarnation is the greatest, and possibly, the original story of our lives. Yet so few do the story of God in Jesus justice, for they are waylaid by the very things we have discussed above in what inhibits us from truly entering the Creation’s great and enduring Story.
The word epiphany has a special, sacred significance. It is a fundamental revelation, a change of awareness in ones life which might only come but a few times to us during our lifetimes. One of the most drama-filled epiphanies we know of is the conversion of Saul, captured in the 1601 painting by the Italian master Caravaggio pictured on the right.
But let us with seemingly lesser tales of encounters with truth take heart, we can all in our own way enter the divine drama. The Dramatically aware worshiper is one who will do justice to a Dramatic Creator and a Dramatic Creation. They are best placed to explore the Incarnation, and the infinity of possibilities lying around and inside them. So long as they really believe, that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”, to mean, not that we cannot know what is prepared for us, but that it is so vast that none will be able to exhaust the generosity and scope of its offering.