Gestures of FaithMuch has been written about John Paul II already. I am not qualified to speak of his theology, so I won’t. As an historian and Jew I appreciate his efforts to open the archives, to support human rights and social justice, and to reconcile Catholicism with its past actions. If he did not democratize the Church, he opened it up to scrutiny.
I have always been impressed by the economy of his gestures and the awareness of his physicality. The image that most often comes to mind is of him walking with his staff, the crucifix close to his face. I assume that his awareness of performance came from his experiences in the theater. His writings on drama and reveal that he thought deeply about how ideas were expressed physically in conjunction with words. I pulled together some of his thoughts from his analysis of the Rhapsodic Theater and its performance of Shakespeare.
Is not every theater a theater of the word? Does not the word constitute an essential, primary element of theater? Undoubtedly it does.religion : theater
Nonetheless the position of the word in a theater is not always the same. As in life, the word can appear as an integral part of action, movement and gesture, inseparable from all human practical activity; or it can appear as a ‘song’ – separate, independent, intended only to contain and express thought, to embrace and transmit a vision of the mind.
Accepting the word as a pre-element of theater art results consistently in a significant rhapsodic intellectualism. Because the word, first and foremost, proclaims certain truths, ideas, and structures rather than accompanying the action, rhapsodic performances have an ideological rather than narrative character.
Rhapsodic intellectualism expresses itself not only in content but also in the form of the performance. The gestures employed, mime elements, music and scenery, static and dynamic means – all these develop from the word, flow from it, complement and enhance it. The word and the thought are served through the structure of the performance, their construction and realization.
To give a primary function to the word as a pre-element of theater and to the thought that the word conveys does not at all mean that the actors must be inert. In fact, if the word is to be alive, it cannot be conceived without movement.
The word matures in gesture ... in spare, simple, rhythmic gesture, which acquires its rhythmic pattern from the rhythm of the word.
Man, actor and listener alike, frees himself from the obtrusive exaggeration of gesture, from the activism that overwhelms his inner, spiritual nature instead of developing. Thus freed, he grasps those proportions [between thought and gesture] that he cannot reach and grasp in everyday life. Participation in a theatrical performance becomes festive as it reconstructs in him the proportions that man, at least subconsciously, sometimes longs for.