As we continue to move through the Lenten season of prayer, fasting, and repentance, and as the life in the earth slowly fights its way back to the surface, we remember that we are invited to participate in ongoing creation and recreation with our entire beings—heart, soul, mind, and body. Here, Carrie Cates, a third-year Master of Divinity and MA in Theology & Culture student, writes about her own act of creation, The Snare, which has birthed in her a deeply embodied response to some beautiful and difficult questions. You can see Carrie perform The Snare February 26 and 27 at The Pocket Theater in Greenwood.
I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside.
-Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, First Letter
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
-Mary Oliver, “I Worried”
I wrote a post a few months back for this blog describing some of the process of creating my original solo theater performance piece, The Snare, which I performed at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) conference in Atlanta.
As a first-time attendee, AAR was a garden of oddity and delights. I heard presentations from many amazing people—Cornell West, Ruby Sales, Willie Jennings, Shelly Rambo, to name a few. On the last night of the conference, I crashed a reception in search of wine and snacks and ended up in a conversation with someone who thought I was a professor. In a fit of improvisation, I did not disabuse them of this notion, and had an incredible time playing pretend.
Oh yes, and I performed my show. My show, this creation that I birthed after months of labor, that I agonized over and doubted, that I almost smothered with my fear.
Performing The Snare at AAR was sublimely weird. I knew on some level that doing theater at an academic conference would be odd, but not until I got there did I realize how new engagement with the arts is to the Academy. Art is simply not understood as a vital part of theological conversation by many; most have never been asked to consider why or if that should be so. I felt in a very palpable way the disjoint between what I had prepared to share, this creation that bore so much of my heart and soul in it, and the conversations that were taking place around me. I wondered: was what I was doing welcome? Was it valuable? Was it necessary? And deeper still, was the artist who created it welcome? Was she valuable? Was she necessary?
In the hours leading up to my performance, alone in a hotel conference room with no windows and a nubby carpet, I asked myself these questions, and then some more.
I asked myself if I was compelled to create, and found that I was.
I asked myself what I was compelled to create, and found that this creation was strange, that it held within itself darkness and light both, that it was relentless, that it was imperfect, that it was full of my own heart and blood and voice, that it was like me.
I asked myself if I could love what I had created, love it more than I feared it. I found there was a yes within me, a yes that I had already spoken and that I needed to speak again and again because it was a cosmic yes, the yes of deep crying out to deep, the yes of the community that had midwifed this creation with me, the yes that rallies against the no of shame and doubt and fear.
There was a yes within me, a yes that I had already spoken and that I needed to speak again and again.
Then I found that it was not enough to speak yes in my mind, but that I needed to surrender to yes with my body. And so I put in my headphones and turned on music and danced my yes, alone in the dark, my feet pounding the scratchy carpet, my hands stretched out in supplication or celebration or both. I danced my questions and my answers, I danced what I did not know, I danced for whatever this one performance at AAR would be and all the performances yet to be after that. And then I went onstage.
I danced my questions and my answers, I danced what I did not know.
The performance was imperfect, and that was perfect. I do not honestly remember much of it. Afterwards, I was deeply surprised, grateful, and profoundly awkward when a number of people stayed behind to ask me questions, to talk about how I was doing theology through my art, to say what they felt and heard and saw, what The Snare evoked in them. I was amazed and humbled at the yes they spoke back to my own.
Now, I stand on the edge of another iteration of The Snare, which I am performing on February 26 and 27 at The Pocket Theater in Greenwood. This round of rewrites, rehearsals, and creating has been accompanied by its own difficulties and fears, some of which have seemed overwhelming. I have been sorely tempted to give up, really, actually stop doing the work, more than I care to admit.
But underneath the groaning and the fretfulness, my body remembers the yes. It’s not always a triumphant, resounding yes, but it is a faithful yes, stored in my bones, stirring unseen in the depths and the marrow. It calls me back to the creation, to myself as an artist. It calls me to the unknown next: what will these performances bring? Who will come? What conversations, what moments will we share? I don’t know, but I yield, I yield, I say yes and I yield.
Image credit: Poster designed by Shannon Loys.