Artistic Reflections on the Possibilities of 2021

Saint Augustine of Hippo receiving the Most Sacred Heart of JesusPortrait of Saint Augustine of Hippo receiving the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Philippe de Champaigne, 17th century, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pray Without Ceasing 1/1/21

By Erik Ehn, playwright
Editorial Advisor, Acting Together

I write from Albuquerque, the homeland of the Sandia Pueblo and the Navaho Nation. Some thoughts about revolution and the day to day breakdown, break-through, spilling forth and soaking in of it.

First, the stumbles I make when using the word.

My witness to and awe of deeper revolutions leads me to suspect that revolution is instead an approach, a form of research, and a path of permissions – a way of being, not being-there, but enjoying and suffering in balance the embrace of an ongoing responsibility to a relationship (to the relationship in one's life; to relatedness). The way is apocalyptic: a revelation of true nature. The way as a way is always wayfaring; it is, before and after anything; it can never be new because it always was. Our birthright and legacy are the heart of our hearts' desire.

An outcome, like a regime change, or new law, can motivate and mark revolution, but these differences aren't enough. The end of slavery wasn't enough, the voting rights act isn't enough. The revolution is in Black Lives Matter, really moving ahead like this.

This intentional journey, unbalancing forward to a specific goal whose meaning is poetically expansive and whose attainment is mooted by the quality of the going – is pilgrimage.

So a short prologue and four features of pilgrimage as they connect to a craft practice. Prologue: to start a pilgrimage set an intent. Intent may be synonymous with "advent" – a stretching, anticipation, a pregnancy – a cooperative growth. One starts a pilgrimage expectantly – with a request that the good thing grow, an outgrowth of our natures.

For artists, this good thing may be our sense of trust. We set out looking to lean, to lean into mutuality, knowing that we're incomplete in ourselves and believing that there is safety among us when any of us falls, and taking on responsibility for the care of each other. We pay attention to who we are, traveling together. Taking a Yoruba term from Omi Jones' fine book: Theatrical Jazz – this manifests as the egbé, the body of our intentional kin. In Serbia, Dah Teater's use of song, dance, and food - in the works they present, in the events they host, in their methods of training - are also inspirational. They often perform in public spaces (courtyards, busses), throwing their work open to the world in scandals of hospitality. They reflect on the work and build community by cooking, story-telling, playing together - celebration as dramaturgy.

Trust gives rise to patience, allowing for work over time, work whose things fall apart and die to time, while the way anticipates the death of time. Patience probes brokenness and allows for a way of living among ruins.

Patience gives rise to compassion. A grounding in trust leads to a desire to gather together the fractures and knit the wounds. A model might be Kitsugi – the Japanese art of repairing broken vessels with gold, to honor the disaster, to celebrate fragility.

Compassion gives rise to hope. The restoration of a vessel is the manufacture of an emptiness made viable by faithful waiting with fellow feeling for what none of us alone can know. To hope is to ask for nothing – to actively ask to be unencumbered and free. We hope for freedom, so that we can hope in freedom. Silence – in certain settings, carefully framed – can be an image of freedom (not imposed silence, but elected, contemplative silence). It is the state of readiness – of balancing, a perpetual, vibrating state of change.

Art as revolution is pilgrimage that fertilizes trust, trust that gives rise to patience, compassion, and open-ended hope – hope that continues to move us forward, responding with sensitivity and subtlety to all new challenges that arise. A successful pilgrimage ends with – a pilgrim, a commitment to moving in an available way... Which is to say that a pilgrimage doesn't really end, it provides new energy, new tools, new purpose. A pilgrimage doesn't get us to a place, it changes how we get up and go.

St. Paul puts it like this in first Thessalonians: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in all circumstances give thanks.

Pray without ceasing

Snow gray awake
Fisher talks to the worm and back
Boot breaks the river
Cottonwood gold

Moth bat
Lost light
           (Or the hard-red
I am breaking you open now
Pray all day,
Pomegranate heart

Born to be the only person who ever lived to see
These birds from this angle, now Offer suffer prefer confer

Bear it
You kiss somebody missing by kissing their trumpet

The river is as low as I've seen it

Blue wasps leave the gray attic,
Papery hollow
We sleep here now

Creature: odd adoption
Sandhill crane/feral cat
Carved heart: spiced apple
Femur rib hip: space
Light's energy listens to matter

Muscogee claps your cheek Rips the tick from your ear and You are married
Building a fish
Pipe cleaner in your pocket and a Vial of sea cucumber's yellow blood The year that Jesus had
that terrible haircut and
His thirst was perfect

Smell of
Breast milk and tobacco
Acorn Bee Café

Year's a broken rubber bullet in the bullet museum
Step down the horse over gopher-field night –
            barrel chest
            air flocks the holes
            a whiskey of breath...
Solstice pop, the vinyl groove
There's a hole at the center of everything that spins
My reader, my friend slaps the card, we diastole –
             river's acoustic sluice
             relish throttle
             praise pop...
Cutting to the groove

Shortly, baked apple heart;
From it the purple wasp
And horse's gopher-hole-tiptoe-night
Whiskey of breath a-slosh in bent ash
Until buzz and wash are
             nerve-whistle, scent
             diastole, solstistic…

Be with you