Reading the gospel lectionary text for this Sunday — where Mary (miraculously with child) comes to visit Elizabeth (also m.w.c.), and when Mary greets Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby leaps for joy in her womb — brings to mind a unique and very fun interpretation of the text that I had the extreme pleasure of creating and performing in seminary with the 6-member improvisation troupe I and several fellow students had formed called Angelic Residue.
Thankfully, Claremont School of Theology, the school I attended and where angelic residue was regularly allowed to materialize, was open to whatever crossed and inspired our group’s imagination. In the special just-before-Christmas-and-semester’s-end worship service where all the performance groups on campus (music, dance and…us) were given one of the Advent/Christmas scriptures to bring to life, AR had been given Luke 1:39-45.
And this is what we came up with.
Three of our members, dressed in black body suits (or black turtlenecks and sweat pants) AND black hoods covering everything but our faces, formed an enclosed circle at the front of the sanctuary. Underneath those arms was me, also in all black, crouched and folded in, with a very long red cord wrapped tied around my waist as well as the waist of one of the players forming the circle.
One of our members, a talented drummer, sat at his kit and began drumming a heart beat.
The sixth member of our company began narrating the text.
“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Juean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zecheriah and greeted Elizabeth.”
With every heartbeat beat, the shoulders of those in the circle would jerk up and down, up and down, and heads would rise up, stark and expressionless, turning once, every which way.
The narration continued.
"When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb."
At that point, the circle abruptly broke apart as I leaped up with forearms tightly lifted on either side of my waist and palms showing out, as if I’d been in a stick-up. My face, too, was stark and expressionless. The four of us formed a straight line as we all jerked our shoulders up and down and moved our head in some way, in uniform rhythm. Our hope was to appear as some well-oiled modern dance machine.
More bits and pieces of our bodies began to jerk to the heartbeat beat as the narration continued.
"And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit..."
All four of us abruptly leaped, and then continued our expressionless jerking, incorporating more and more of our bodies. The drum beat began accelerating. So did we.
"…and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. (I leaped twice.) And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?'"
We all leaped twice, starkly. The heartbeats beats were noticeably increasing in speed and volume.
"…For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believe that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the LORD.”
Silence. Then I yell out,
The drummer went wild.
The womb, er rest of the line began dancing wildly.
So did I, although I raced out of the line and into the congregation to do the frug, monkey, pony, twist. I pulled a couple of people up from their seats to dance with them and then came into the large space between congregation and altar to do some can-canning and tumbling - cartwheels and the splits.
After several moments the drummer begins to slow down as did we dancers. The chorus began to grabbed the red cord tied to one of them as well as around my waist to “reel” me in. I began to twirl back towards the front of the sanctuary, letting the cord wrap around me in whatever which way. Finally I arrived back with the other dancers as the drummer slowed down to resume the heartbeat beat. The others began reforming the circle with me inside.
Before I crouched down, I smiled and waved. Then my face once again resumed stark expressionlessness. I submerged myself not to be again seen….until Christmas of course!
The narrator concluded,
“And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.”
The drummer’s beat got softer as our jerky heartbeat movements also got softer. And softer and softer. And and it all finally faded to zero.
It was so much fun to perform this “Womb Dance” in the style of “Sprockets!”
It was so fun bringing SNL to Christmas Worship at Claremont! It was so great to bring the message of the text — ie a most joyous gift is coming, it is very close, it’s almost here, it’s so ready to arrive it’s already trying to burst on the scene but can’t quite yet because Christmas is not quite here!! — to the community and to ourselves. At this point in the season, it’s so helpful to remember a couple of things.
1) Despite all the Christmas music, stories and stuff that already surrounds and maybe has already saturated us, it’s still Advent! Birth has not yet happened even though by now it’s so so close! A little bit of waiting is still liturgically dictated!!
2) Despite whatever else might be going on in the world and in your heart mind and soul, what’s on its way is all about joy. Unmitigated exuberance. 110% upbeat-ness, literally and figuratively. It’s so easy, maybe especially this season, to feel not only down and but wanting to remain down without looking for or acknowledging the opportunities both large and small to leap for joy and be infiltrated with goofy happiness that are indeed presenting themselves.
Not only the Womb Dance, but the text that inspired it, is filled with humor and comic potential. Leaping wombs are funny, no matter how you slice it!!
May this last stretch (pun totally included) of the Advent season be brimming with energy, excitement, hope, creativity, and comic jerking. (That’s jerking, not jerks…. However, if it’s the latter you encounter, may you find your inner womb leaping, monkeying, ponying and, yes, even frugging in response. May you find this to be an amazingly inspired as well as scripturally suggested response. Angelic residue, even!!)
Now Sprockets, DANCE!