I have been learning a lot lately.
In one respect, this not a surprise as I’m pursuing a Master of Arts in Depth Psychology, through Pacifica Graduate Institute. I won’t begin to try and summarize my coursework here, instead I offer this example: Jim Finley (a modern mystic who I am fortunate to call my teacher) has a line to the effect of, “You were hidden with Christ in the heart of God before the Universe began,” which for me invokes the Mystery in the Mystery of Incarnation. What I have learned in my studies, is that this concept in a rudimentary way has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. The language is different, the concept perennial; and, for me a fruitful anchor for prayer.
Before my classes began in early October, I attended an on-line Diversity, Equity and Inclusion group of Pacifica grad students. During that hour-long video conference session, I had a surprise learning. In the course of the conversation, one woman said, “I value these bi-weekly calls but I’m wondering if there is a way we could convene a separate conversation for example on parenting and depth psychology… or for artists, or people in recovery. These topics might not interest everyone, and all of us could choose which threads to follow.” The idea was affirmed by the group and debate quickly ensued regarding what platform to use, Facebook, Zoom, email. Here was the surprise: In real time, several of the students began Googling mobile apps to see what tools existed that would serve this function. Rather than relying on the familiar, they were searching in confidence for “that which has not yet been seen.” Suggestions began flowing, one of which was from a “gamer” (one who develops video games) who described an ap where each amateur user – people like you and me - can use simple code to create virtual, interactive tools – drums for a drum circle, dice for a game, and so forth, to bring into being a unique medium of virtual collaboration. Watching and listening as this unfolded in mere minutes, I was aware of the emergent, evolutionary nature of this behavior. Something new was being born.
Another learning occurred a couple of weeks ago, when my neighbors invited me over to their deck to meet Wren, their new puppy. I asked Jack what, if any, theatrical productions he’s been involved in during COVID. He described two. The first was a drive-in, solo performance staged on the top level of a local parking garage, at sunset. Eight cars were backed into parking spots and their headlights lit Jack’s performance. In part mime, as needed, audio was streamed through mobile phones. I thought that was pretty cool. But the next performance he described blew my mind.
Staged in two different theaters, the Shea in Turner’s Falls and the Academy of Music in Northampton, the production consisted of a total of eight performers in different rooms, with eight “avatars” with mobile phones who live-streamed the performances simultaneously. Upon purchasing tickets, a total of thirty-two audience members were assigned “breakout rooms” of four, each with its own avatar. As the show began, each avatar was in a room with an actor offering a monologue (or poetry, or music) and as the phone moved around to offer a view the contents of the room, a closed door or a hallway was shown. The four audience members in each breakout room would discuss whether their avatar should open the door, (or go down the hallway, or open the box, etc.) or do something else. When a decision was reached, they instructed the avatar what action to take, and the performance unfolded from there.
For me, that was enough of a new concept to wrap my head around. But there’s more. At a specified time, all the actors began recounting a dream. At this point, all the breakout rooms were shuffled and the audience members found themselves in a new group of four with a new avatar in the “other” building, one of which was a dream version and parallel world of the other.
Jack said the first performance was rough and afterwards the director considered canceling the remaining shows (two per day for 10 days). Ultimately, they decided to run a second show, during which they worked out many of the kinks. By the third show, Jack says, it flowed and blossomed. Jack’s wife Lisa attended two performances five days apart and said she would have watched more, as they were new experiences each time. A new, participatory type of theater is being born – you heard it here first!!
These experiences were in the back of my mind when I met recently with three other executive directors of retreat centers in Massachusetts and New York. During our 24-hour retreat, one of my colleagues in describing their center’s exploration of virtual programs, used the phrase, “asynchronistic programming,” meaning a series of video modules that can be viewed at any time, and in any order. This is not a new concept for me – what IS new, is thinking about this model in relation to spiritual programs, retreats, and formation at Genesis.
After the retreat ended, I realized Genesis is actually in the process of developing a pilot, asynchronistic series of webinars to support people experiencing grief and loss related to the opioid crisis. Now that I have a name for what this is, our program committee can engage in visioning and discernment about other asynchronistic possibilities. (And you can bet I’m dreaming about having a virtual theater performance staged in different rooms of Genesis and the Carriage House, too!!)
With all of this, the reality of life on the ground here is that COVID continues to impact the culture and quality of experience for our staff. We’ve had to accept some disappointments and get creative within the new constraints. For each of us, we are learning how to be community with increased distance and diminished frequency of interaction. Through it all, the bonds of our relationships and our shared purpose in fulfilling Genesis’ mission of hope and healing still hold.
Yes, I have been learning a lot lately. Precisely because of all the disruption of the pandemic, I’ve been seeing with new eyes the unfailing unfolding of Providence.
Best wishes for a fulfilling and safe Thanksgiving for you and your loved ones.
In Providence, Liz
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