A couple of weeks ago, we went to see a documentary — Cunningham — about choreographer Merce Cunningham, an innovator in modern dance for much of the 20th century. It was a gorgeous movie, full of abstractions, on a subject about which I knew next to nothing.
The film was two hours of beautiful people in colorful leotards making strange shapes with their bodies, amidst atonal musical soundscapes and wonderfully kooky sets designed by pop art luminaries like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.
John Cage, Cunningham’s partner and musical collaborator, said in voiceover at one point [paraphrase]: “People like to think of Art as a pleasant diversion, a break from ordinary reality. But I am interested in an Art that is so baffling, so unexpected and illogical, that people are happy to get back to their everyday life.”
I like this take on the role of Art — that it doesn’t have to be about communicating something. Or anything, really. It needn’t attempt to contain or convey meaning or ideas or even emotion. Artists, performers and visual creators alike, do what they do — they move, make sound, interrupt, provoke, or befuddle — and the audience can interpret (or not). I’m no art historian or theorist, but I think this is one of the basic thrusts of Modernism.
Anyway, it got me thinking… How might this approach apply to Spirituality? Specifically, could I adopt John Cage’s proposition to the point and purpose of Spirituality? Here goes:
People like to think of spirituality and religion as a joyful transcendence above mundane reality, a way of rising out of the division and discord of ordinary life. But I am interested in a spirituality that is so mind-blowing, so incomprehensible and challenging, that people are actually relieved to get back to their everyday experience.
Spirituality that challenges. A relationship with the Infinite that provokes questions rather than presumes to offer answers. Love-God-Spirit as something that keeps cracking us open, inviting us again and again to expand beyond what we thought we’d understood into something ever more complex and dazzling.
Let me add — as we return to our everyday experience, we can be not just relieved, but also deeply empowered in our relief.
After dancing on the oxygen-depriving snow-blinding mountaintop, we can return to our regular lives invigorated and inspired. We can allow the baffling glimpses of transcendence to infuse our everyday reality with magic and mystery. We become more aware of eternity in every ordinary moment, more available to universes of possibility even when confronted by circumstances that appear limiting or limited.
A Zen proverb goes: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
We serve, we practice, we work. We put one foot in front of the other, being ourselves, doing what we do. Spirituality, like Art, changes nothing and everything. If every possible answer just disintegrates into a trillion new questions, probably the point is never to understand creation but, instead, just to get better at recognizing the fact that we are creating.
This Sunday, February 2, we’re celebrating 2 years since the founding of Bosque Center for Spiritual Living.
I’m realizing that even though I’ve learned so much as we’ve created community together, mostly what I’ve learned is how little I know about anything. This probably would be frustrating if I thought the purpose of our togetherness was to figure things out. But if that’s not the point — if our togetherness is simply for us to come together, to chop wood and carry water, to sing and play, to care and wonder — then… well done, Friends!
I love being on this journey into not-knowing with you. Thank you for everything. XO, Drew
© 2020 Drew Groves