Now in Louisville, Kentucky at Bellarmine University for the International Thomas Merton Society Conference where Rowan Williams gave a very inspirational talk last night on “Words, War and Silence: Thomas Merton for the 21st Century.” Yesterday afternoon I led my workshop on “poetry & Jazz as a Parable of the Soul.” it has been good to connect with friends from the UK and the States as well as familiar faces from BC (the usual suspects!).
The five straight days of performances went very well, and again I got a “buzz” out of the rhythm and momentum of performing Mark so frequently. The drive down to Heathsville around Washington DC was a bit of a nightmare with the Friday afternoon traffic (worst driving experience of the trip so far), but I got there OK and a good number of people showed up, especially given that this had been arranged at less than a week’s notice! It was wonderful to return to Grace Church in Brunswick, Maryland where I did a summer exchange in 2003 – lots of nostalgia there remembering when the children were still young and full of childly passions. I took part in the main Sunday morning service and performed on Sunday afternoon. A couple of hours before the performance, the rector of the parish suggested that it would be easy to stream the performance live online, so I said OK, why not, and hastily sent out emails to all and sundry in case any were available and would like to catch a glimpse of what I am doing and how it has come on. This has now been archived and you can view it here:
I’ve not had a chance to watch it myself yet, and to tell the truth, I’m a little apprehensive of doing so, but I think it will be a good exercise and a chance for me to catch things that I do not realize I am doing that I may be able to modify and improve the performance.
From Brunswick, I left that evening for the relatively long drive to Corbin, Kentucky (where Kentucky’s most famous resident came from and where he had his very first restaurant…), then east again to Wheeling, West Virginia for the second of the two additional dates. In Wheeling I stayed with my friend Bonnie Thurston who is both a Merton and scholar and (even more so) a New Testament scholar who has written a number of books on Mark’s Gospel – including my “go to” commentary whenever I am preaching on Mark (Preaching Mark).
Considering that this date in Wheeling was put together at such short notice (less than two weeks), I was surprised to see one of the largest audiences of the tour so far – about 75 people were there, coming from a whole range of churches and communities. Once again, I found that the size of the audience and their obvious engagement with what I was doing fed my own energy, igniting me to burn brighter in this role and further connect with my hearers. Once again, I found the time flying through the performance, totally enrapt in the experience of “performing Mark,” and only being conscious of the time when I came to the musical interludes and again as I found myself (suddenly, immediately!) getting to the very last scene of the Gospel.
I am finding that my experience and engagement with this Gospel as this tour has progressed has become / is becoming more experiential and less and less cerebral. It’s as if the words don’t matter so much as the energy that they convey. Certain passages seem to be very hard to understand or make sense of…. e.g. “Everyone will be salted with fire – salt it good, but if salt has lost its saltiness, then how can you season it. Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” As I perform this now, I have let go of any sense that I would find it challenging to unpack or explain exactly what these words mean, and simply deliver them with the fire and passion that I think they are intended to convey, trusting that the sheer energy of them will connect in a way that the mere words themselves are unable. Somehow I think that the audience is drawn into this also, and become one with the passion (in all senses of the word), both losing and finding themselves on the other side of the words and their meaning.