16 April 2011
I have been trying to find the words to write about last night's performance of La Passione at the Grotto of Tiberius, Sperlonga. Like so many things here in Italy it was a paradox, a wonderful paradox that works.
Our weather has been terrible, so I dressed warmly for an outdoor performance by the sea. I thought that maybe we would be sitting on rocks, so the plastic chairs were a welcome surprise. How I love this place. It is absolutely normal to be sitting on plastic chairs amongst the Roman ruins that in New Zealand would be "don't touch, eyes only" museum pieces.
I happily took an end of row seat, my usual preference so I can take photographs without blocking another's view. That put me near the speaker; not a problem, but yet another delightful contradiction. 21st century facilities emerging from 2000+ year old history.
For a while the weather seemed kind, but I secretly hoped that my hosts had put in an extra umbrella as I had neglected to bring mine.
The wind lifted, usually at moments of high drama, and fell again. The rain almost came, raindrops touching us all, mingling with tears, right when Christ was crying out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and then was lifted on his cross.
Here it seems even the weather knows how to play its part in a real life drama.
I think what left me without words was that, for the first time, I could really picture what it was like, all those centuries ago when Christ was crucified. I wasn't in a church, or a theatre, or a cinema. I was sitting in the remains of the buildings of that very time, where some of the key players had been, and was watching as though the crucifixion was happening right then, in real time. We had no control of the elements. There was no "set stage". We had to watch the hillside to see where things were happening. There was real angst as the cross was carried by Jesus, driven by flailing whips. The long wait, wondering quite what was going on as the body was abused prior to the cross being raised. And then, when all the other players had returned to the lower level directly in front of us, and had taken their bows, that huge moment of relief when further up the hillside the player representing Christ, the risen Christ, was illuminated, for me for all too short a time.
It made me aware also of my protestant upbringing. I remember being told as a child (in answer to my question) that one of the differences between my faith and the Roman Catholic faith was that we worshipped the risen Christ, while the Catholic religion focused more on the crucified Christ. Certainly at the time the churches seemed to display this. I was protected as a child from such terrible scenes. For the children with us last night it was emotional, but not unexpected, witnessing these acts of inhumanity against man.
I didn't cry, and that too amazed me. I think it was because I was so involved in feeling present, as a witness, in a way I hadn't felt before. This was something that was not about my enjoyment or pain or how I was responding to it from my point of view. It was as though I were a participant, compelled in some way to be a part of this shocking history. Perhaps it was really the first time the grim reality of this story had come fully alive for me.
It was a reminder of what we still do to one another today.
Today I am grateful for a sense of awakening.