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Performance Art and the Spiritual Life: Duality and Connection
  • Art
  • Formation
  • Theater
Lauren Turner

One of the hardest things for a performer to learn is how to function within one’s own imagination while simultaneously functioning within the imagination of anotherwhile also maintaining a grasp on present, physical reality.

This balance of dwelling in duality is not only necessary for storytelling and the stage—it is also integral in the development of the spiritual life. We have earthly bodies, worldly cares, and physical needs that require attention. But all this must be united with prayer and trust and eternal thought. The way we live each day of our lives affects our souls, both in that moment as well as for all eternity. And consequently, the way we live out each moment of our life affects everyone else on Earth while likewise having eternal repercussions on their souls.

In an ever-increasing I-World of isolation, this is not a popular notion. We are unceasingly connected, but in the most superficial and artificial ways possible. We need connection in ways that come through true listening, understanding, and the creation of relationships. We are hearing so much more, but we are listening so much less than ever before. Together, this seeing and hearing would suggest that we are the audience of many stories. In reality, our world is devoid of story.

Reading a story in a book is amazing. The characters, settings, costumes, and scenes from literature live in our minds. But the understanding that comes from reading about hunger pains is different than what we feel in our bodies when we undergo hunger. By learning to literally embody a story, we gain a different and deeper understanding. The story’s truths can dwell within us, changing us from the inside out.

Saint Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice." I don’t think that is a metaphor, or that it means there is double emphasis in the heart only. I think this is because the physicalization of the prayer creates a deeply spiritual connection within.

Understanding how one unites himself in the performance of a story also enhances one's ability to understand where he fits in with his own life, both spiritually and physically. Every one of us is necessary. We may not even know why. But knowing that the good work done by others relies on how we do our own work, how we live our own lives, is a powerful notion. When done well, this good work allows for a beautifully abundant performance, and life, for all.

This emotional, physical, and spiritual connection is what all artists are seeking. For themselves, certainly; for others, hopefully; and together and simultaneously, ideally. That is what makes art so compelling and so necessary. Our world is bereft of such vulnerability, which is a main cause of the decreasing connection to spiritual communities and, ultimately, to God. The deep and authentic vulnerability that comes with listening, understanding, and creating, with dwelling physically and spiritually with others, is frightening and thrilling because it is so real, and it is so intimate. And that is precisely why it is so important.