I saw Godspell today. When I was in high school, we put on a production of the play. I was still Catholic at the time, and it touched me really deeply. I’ve always been religious, regardless of where I stood spiritually, but there’s something about Godspell that really reached inside of me and pulled out a love for God that I hadn’t experienced so deeply before.
Now I’m not Christian anymore, but I still love the music; I love the over-arching message that winds through each of the teachings – to be kind, to be loving, to honor one another for our humanity and our divinity. For those who don’t know, the play tells the Gospel of Matthew using a playful and highly improvised script. The language is a blend of modern improvisation and relatively classical Biblical language, so it can get hard to follow unless you’re up for understanding Christian scripture. It transforms the story of the death of Jesus Christ from a sort of distant parable into an immanent experience when it’s done well. It removes the untouchable Otherness from Jesus, and you see the love He has for the disciples, the complicated betrayal of Judas, and the difficult act of dying for His followers.
Seeing the story today carried all the weight of the above – which is emotional enough to bring me to tears, I should note – but there was another narrative winding its way through the performance, this time. Each parable became a parable twofold. In the story of the Good Samaritan, I saw a reminder to treat everyone with humanity – regardless of their sexual orientation creed. As Mary Magdalene was thrown to the ground to be stoned, I saw the faces of rape apologists, slut shamers and misogynists in her accusers – and in the hands of Jesus helping her up, the strength we can lend to the survivors of the demeaning, hideous crimes these people help perpetuate. As Judas was welcomed back amongst the disciples, I saw the slow mending of old wounds (not least among them those of September 11th); of prejudice melting out of our communities, of racism and fear bleeding away.
There is power in this story; power that speaks far beyond dogma or creed. To me – who jokes about being struck by lightning when I set foot into church – this story barrels past all my defenses and the walls I build up. This is the story of God/dess; this is the story of love from the Divine, so powerful that it rends every fragile piece of pedanticism we brandish against each other. This is a story of the stones we throw at one another, and how that love can turn them into ash with a single spark. This is a story of our humanity, how powerless and flawed we are; and how we can use the sacredness we carry to rise above it all and do that love justice.
There aren’t enough words in my personal lexicon to talk about this with the intensity that I feel it. Maybe it’s because it’s late, or the experience is still fresh. I can’t really recommend that everyone come to New York and see the play on Broadway, but I wish I could. The movie doesn’t really capture the immersive joy of the experience, partly because it is rather dated, and a current performance is updated to include current events. A community performance can even be dicey, because the amount of improv can allow a cast to sneak in their own agendas, which may not be as aligned with such a far-reaching message.
All I can do right now is write feverishly about a story that has captured my heart, and hope that I am articulate enough to bring you, reader, to feel even a tenth of what I do tonight.