A Theory of Theatre and Theology

I remember being enthralled in Miss Elderkin’s fourth grade science class as she explained how the eye and seeing works. Upon the chalkboard she drew light from the sun bouncing off of a stick figure and going into a large eyeball (for showing how the lens inverts the figure upon its retina). Then, in an attempt to glorify scientific knowledge, she commented, “Isn’t science great that we know this? Over two thousand years ago, the smartest man in the world, Aristotle, said that you see when light comes out of your eye! How silly is that?”

I was thrown into a sudden contemplation. Wait a minute: If those ancient people had any idea that someone was the smartest person in the world, surely he would know that if you were in a closet or a cave, you could not see. That Aristotle fellow must have been talking about something else.

When an outlier appears, it demands a deeper contemplation until a new, more inclusive conception embraces the differences. This deep contemplation was called theoria, rooted in thea, a view, a seeing. Is it just a theory or is every new theory is a new seeing, a new appreciation? Obviously, we must strengthen our capacity for contemplation.

Thea is also the word for “goddess”, the feminine of theos, the word for “gods” and “divine”. Gods, goddesses, and divinities are primarily characterized by athanatos or deathlessness.

I read that Aristotle spoke of the divine theos as “the same in a flower, a sunset, and the recognition between friends.” We can glimpse the divine theos as well as some of its logic. Theos-logos demands appreciative seeing and deep contemplation; theology speaks of the wisdom thereof.

Which brings us to thea-tre, the viewing place, the seeing place. Original theatre was transmitted by parabolic metaphor, hung upon the Dionysian transformation of the coarse goat into the god of ecstasy. Theatre teaches us to turn from pleasures to ecstasy, from tragic fate to blessings, from passive looking to engaging seeing. Metanoia comes from the seeing place. True Thea-tre.

But seeing, thea, and seeing the divine goddess, thea, is not mere looking, not mere passivity, not the reflected images on the back of the eyeball. Thea is to see the primal light and presence-beauty in each and all. You delight, appreciate, intercourse with your eyes and the essence in all you see. Indeed, you see when light comes out of your eyes and you appreciate and participate in reality, liberated from the world of things by the vision of deathless beauty. Thea thea. I see the goddess and constant intercourse calls. Behold this divine reality.


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