Twentieth century choreographer George Balanchine believed that all ballets were like butterflies: “A breath, a memory, then gone.” A recent article in The Wall Street Journal points out that this is true of all the performing arts. “All that work, all that passion, all that dedication, and it’s over, it’s over, leaving nothing but memories”, writes the article’s author Terry Teachout. I’ve often had that same feeling about worship services. All that work, passion, dedication is to be experienced at a given moment in time, and then over. Well, except for the changes to one’s heart and thinking that might have occurred.
Teachout ends his article by noting that “it is because of the inexorable perishability” of artistic productions that fresh approaches to works of Balanchine, Shakespeare, Puccini…allow works to be reimagined in ways “that make visual and emotional sense to successive generations”. Would we want to be locked in to only ever hearing slavish reproductions of the first performances of Hamlet or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?
Are worship services the same as theatrical productions? On some levels I would have to say yes. We re-enact Jesus’ final meal with his disciples every Sunday. Music, costumes and scenery are carefully chosen with some sense of their value to the production. I don’t apologize for wanting things to sound and look good on a Sunday morning. It’s all part of wanting to communicate the seriousness with which we hold our faith. But I have to agree with the premise that because this is a perishable event it becomes happily necessary to continually seek new ways to create that experience of worship.
With any luck, the most permanent parts of a life are the most intangible – friendship, kindness, faith, love. Allowing some room for impermanence, however, makes us more flexible and creative, and able to speak, we can hope, in ways that successive generations can hear.
Thanks, Sonya. You have expressed in words something I have always intuited.
Your cups are always interesting but this one is particularly good. Julia Child once responded to the criticism that it took so long to prepare a meal that was totally impermanent by saying “so is ballet.” One of the reasons that I love Saint Alban’s is because of the beauty of the liturgy and music and the obvious care and thought that goes into the planning of the service. Janice
You are brilliant! Your post reminds me of what I am learning about Buddhism and how suffering can arise when we cannot acknowledge the truth of impermanence. Helps us all take ourselves less seriously. Thanks! Love, C.
None of us who hear a really great performance by the choir — or hear you play Widor’s final Toccata — leave the church untouched or unaffected. You and your cohorts in the chancel provide some of life’s great gifts.