Monday, February 05, 2018

Fluid

It's not often that one gets to say "God has the flu," but perhaps teaching a course on the Book of Job makes it more likely. A group of students from the Drama school were slated to do a "table read" in class today of the version of the Book of Job used by Outside the Wire in its community performances for communities recovering from disasters. The student who was going to read Accuser/Eliphaz/God called in sick at the last minute but two others had been located who were willing to step in. However they had not read the script even once! What to do?

As long as they were willing, I was happy to let them do it... And the bet paid off. (Besides, what alternative was there - short of my doing it?) The actor reading Job had rehearsed, and his anguish flashed out beyond the text, shocking in its immediacy. The unstudied reading of God's words made them compelling in a different way: the overflowing beauty in the evocation of nature and divine care for its wildest creatures confirmed Raymond Scheindlin's view (which I'd mentioned in the lead-up) that "poetry does not state the book's message .. it is the message." But then the reading continued to the unnerving strangeness of the military parade-like accounts of the "Beast" and the "Serpent' (Behemoth and Leviathan in Stephen Mitchell's poetic adaptation), where you lose all sense of what's going on. No wonder Job says, in a sort of daze,

I know you can do all things 
and nothing you wish is impossible. 
I have spoken the unspeakable 
and tried to grasp the infinite.

I think the larger purpose of having the reading was served, too. It was important to me that the class experience the Book of Job - which they've only just read for the first time - not just as a text on the page but also as a work of theater, the words spoken by one character to another. I also wanted them to get a sense of how Outside the Wire presents their somewhat trimmed version of Mitchell's already streamlined text. (It's a powerful thirty minutes.) But I wanted the class to hear the text in the voices of people their own age, too, better still: classmates. Job and his friends are you and me. God? An immensity shining through weird words.

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