Saturday, November 22, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: A New Skin (Part 2)

This is a continuation of a piece I have been posting. For the first part of this scene, click here. To start at the beginning, read Scene 1. Also, this portion includes a video from rehearsal to show some choreography for the piece. Soon, I will add a similar video for the second half of Scene 2.

AllanFor all her service, talents, and leadership, because she was a woman, my grandmother would never be ordained to the priesthood. Not in the regular operations of the LDS Church, anyway. But in the temple and in the covenants my grandmother wore to her death, she wore the power of the priesthood and acted in its authority.

[Enter B and F]

Allan: But I think I would like you to learn about that from two women who have often been close to my family. This is Sister Kelley and Sister Jensen.

B and F: Hi there.

Allan: I was hoping you wouldn’t mind telling them how you know me and my family, maybe a little about the temple, particularly the garments, and maybe how you helped dress my grandmother before her funeral.

B (laughing): Oh wow. Well, that’s a lot.

F: Allan, I don’t know that we should talk about some of these things outside of the temple.

Allan: Oh no, they’re good. And just share whatever you feel most comfortable talking about.

B: Well, hi. My name’s Susan. I guess Allan grew up knowing me as Sister Kelley.

F: And I’m Minty Jensen.

B: We both grew up with Allan’s mom when they lived in our ward. And then after Kathy moved back…

F: That’d be Allan’s mom.

B: Right, when Kathy and her family moved back into the area, well we all had children about the same age. My youngest Amos was about Allan’s age.

F: And my daughter Hillary was a year younger.

B: I remember being their primary or Sunday school teacher. I guess you see how that just makes things full circle since we knew Kathy’s mom when she was our Young Women’s Leader. I feel like Betty, well, she was just like a second mother to us. So when she died, Kathy and her sisters asked us if we would help them dress her before the funeral.

Allan: When Mormons who have been endowed die and have decided to be buried, after embalming, family members or close friends dress the dead in their temple garments, white clothes, and other sacred clothing worn during temple ceremonies.

F: When you go to the temple, you enter into certain covenants. The temple is a very sacred and holy place; it is the House of the Lord. But we can’t live there every day. We have to live in the world and it can be a hard and tempting place. We wear the garment to remind us of the promises we have made to God and the protection and blessings He has promised us if we remain worthy.

Allan: Garments—the vestments referred to as sacred underwear—they are representations of the cloaks of skin that God gives Adam and Eve when He drives them out of the Garden of Eden. In some Christian interpretations, the skins of these sacrificed animals are emblematic of the sacrificed body of Christ. So to wear a garment in similitude of those Adam and Eve received is to put on, if at least symbolically, Christ every day.

Material culture is just so fascinating. And that’s the thing, unlike the special robes that one puts on during the ceremony of the endowment or at a sealing, garments are ever present, part of the quotidian dress. They are a perfect articulation of Mormonism’s impulse to make all things sacred in this world, even our material surroundings. Where there is no distinction between the sacred and the profane, even underwear can and should be holy. All things reflected upon. All things made common among us.

F: And they will protect you from danger. I’ve heard stories of people whose houses have caught on fire. And they were burned everywhere on their body except where they were wearing their garments.

[D, wearing nude/skin tone colored underwear, brought in on gurney by A and E. A and E exit.]

B: Well, I don’t know Minty. I think the protection God offers us through them is more spiritual.

F: I think the promises in the temple are pretty clear; it’s a physical as well as a spiritual protection.

B: But it’s not like they stop bad things happening to everyone. There’s been plenty of good and faithful temple goers who have been hurt while wearing their garments.

F: Maybe we should just talk about what it was like to dress Allan's grandmother. When you go to the temple, you are promised that if you live your life righteously, you will be raised in the first resurrection.

B: Every person that has ever lived will be resurrected, just at different points in the millennium.

F: We dress our loved ones who have been to the temple in the garments and temple clothes so that when they are resurrected, they will be dressed in glory.

B: When I think about how Betty taught me as a young woman, preparing me to go to the temple before I went on a mission, and then how she was present the day I was sealed to my husband, I think of her in her temple clothes. I hope that’s how my boys see me.

F: Depending on who a funeral is for, men dress the men and women dress the women. You have to wear gloves as you touch the body because of the chemicals. And sometimes it can be difficult because moving a loved one’s body can be a physical challenge. But it means a lot to be asked to provide that service, especially when it’s not your own mother or sister. But I guess in every way that counts, she was.

B: She did so much for us in our lives. This is the least we can do.

[B and F move to D and dress her. A, C, and E appear and hum “Come, Come Ye Saints”]

Allan: My father dressed his father when he died. My mother dressed her mother. I don’t know how it will be to dress my family. I am in awe of the intimacy required of this practice. In America, we do so much to create a distance between ourselves and death. We have viewings, but hygienic concerns have divorced many of us from handling death. Let all the humor and derision regarding garments fly; this is what I think of when I consider what it means to wear garments.

All except D (singing): And should we die before our journey’s through / Happy Day, all is well / We then are free from toil and sorrow too / With the just, we shall dwell / But if our lives are spared again to see the Saint their rest obtain / Oh how we’ll make this chorus swell / All is well / All is well

[Allan will place the pillow on the gurney. Cast, except for B, move D and the gurney offstage.]

Allan: For Mormons, death is only the beginning.

[B lies on floor. Music plays, Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel.” With the music B begins a dance of resurrection. Cast joins one by one into male/female pairs. After a full sequence, rearrange to male/female, male/male, and female/female pairs.]

Allan: This is my favorite song. It’s by the composer Arvo Part. This piece is called “Spiegel im Spiegel.” Which from what I understand translates to “Mirror in Mirror.” It refers to the effect of placing two mirrors across from each other so that whatever is placed between the mirrors is caught in a neverending reflection, reaching into eternities in either direction. Musically, that’s how the song is written: the piano begins, then a string instrument—cello or violin—mirrors the piano. But like a mirror the reflection is more a refraction. It is similar to but slightly off. The piano responds to what the violin plays, refracting that. And so on and so forth. Each instrument forever dancing with the other.

It is soothing. It is peaceful. It is contemplative. But I fully recognize that part of the reason I love it is because of my faith tradition. Every sealing room in the temples is decorated with two mirrors. When a couple goes to get married, they kneel at an altar, but when they stand and look into the eyes of the person they love, each one sees not only the face and the eyes of their spouse immediately before them but also peripherally in the mirror images that repeat for eternity. It is a deliberate attempt to make manifest the belief that death is not the end of this family unit. It has a history that long predates this mortal coil and will endure long after we have shuffled it off.

In Mormon theology, resurrection is an ordinance, just like baptism. And while the power and authority to raise the dead comes from God through Christ, in execution, resurrection is far more personal and hands on. Family members resurrect each other. Fathers resurrects their children; husbands resurrect their wives. There is undoubtedly patriarchal overtones which Mormon feminists have detailed. I know it’s complicated; I know it’s messy; I know it’s problematic. But damn me if I can’t help but find elements of the principles and images beautiful, moving, inspiring..

[C and D move into the font]

Allan: Where the distance of eternity is collapsed. And that through the touch, the care, the service of a loved one, we might all put on a new and everlasting body of skin and bone.

[Projection reads baptismal prayer]

C: Sister Parisa Bayenat, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of Betty Lou Bryson, who is dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[C baptizes D. Lights fade. All exit, except E.]