Theater artist and poet Edward Bauer explores a unique interaction of family and deity in response to the theme of “meals” and John 12:1-11:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served,while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him…

 

A Family Dinner in Five Parts

Inspired by John 12:1-11
 
 
I.

In the beginning there was

Okay, no, I’m not –
I’m still
okay.
I am.

But you’ll need to trust me when
I say that I can’t say just yet
just what
is actually
the word for what
what is

                                                  the word

I am. I suppose
I know that much,
at this point.
 
 
II.

Ever since
                                                  it happened,
some feeling comes and goes.
Fingers, arms, feet, tongue
occasionally. Quick and unexpected, a wave of no
sensation at all.

I’ve been practicing,
in the moment when a limb falls away
– well, no, but, seems to –
an act of grace, or action
at least, of gracefully
keeping
some semblance of some balance.

After all,
why concern everyone?
This is supposed to be a nice night.
 
 
III.

My sister is
furiously focused
on an uncompromising pan,
the second thus far to fail her
in her desperate attempt
at gravy.

Her whisk, erratic,
worries
the powdery lump of brownish-grey,
still-visible flecks of flour
match her whitening knuckles,
and I can’t tell
if I should tell her
that we don’t need it.
Everything will be fine
without it.
Plus that I think she needs to take
the carrots out of the oven.

I do not tell her anything,
and of course
she knows
it’s time for the carrots.
They come forth piping,
wisps of fragrant steam
redolent of
I don’t actually know.
She knows. She repairs
them
to their casserole dish
and relegates
her traitor saucepan to the sink
bitterly.

She says she just wanted dinner to be special.
I know
that I’m putting a hand on her shoulder.
 
 
IV.

They’re fighting.
I’ve only ever spoken
to him a handful of times, but
I’ve seen him. I’ve seen
the way he watches
Him
so closely, quietly, fully.
It could be tender
if it were.

My other sister gave Him
something. A gift,
extravagant. She made it.
She is radiant in her pride.
And so he’s furious with her,
with Him.

I’ve always wanted to be
the guy
with the easy disposition, the effortless charm,
the quiet
sort of
steel. A guy who needs only say,
Guys.
Come on.
Come on, guys.
And febrile tension gives way
to a relenting sigh, a sigh
to sheepish laughter, the laughter
to contrition. Slaps on the back. Apologies all around.

I look up
and the moment has passed. They’ve left
the room,
and she
looks caught somehow
somewhere
between shame at her own inciting
and utter elation
at her power.

I take a tasteless sip of wine,
and nod as a guy I barely know
says something or other about politics.
 
 
V.

The fact
that neither one of us smokes
doesn’t seem to be stopping us.

I hate the feeling,
honestly,
of the tiny blaze,
the dry
charred
heat
coating my teeth and filling my nose,
wrapping its tendrils around my chest,
the sudden rush of blood to my head,
when I actually correctly inhale,
but it is,
at least,
a feeling.

When He takes his first drag,
He coughs. We laugh.
We turn up our collars, and it seems
to me that I
might have heard Him
say something.

Did you? I ask.

No, He says. Just looking
at the sunset.

I follow His eye to the horizon,
and am struck.
All of the hues contained therein,
if pulled apart, set down, and filed, could
reasonably be tucked away
in a folder
marked: “Colors, Most Wondrous, All Creation.”
It is like nothing
else.
And it seems that it would be lonely
to be anything so singular.

It’s pretty cold, for April,
I say.

 

From the Artist: 

I’m not chiefly a writer. I’m a good liberal arts student with at least a passing acquaintance with the skill, and the work of my theater company does often involve writing scenes and monologues, but at the end of the day I am an actor. As such, when I was first approached with the opportunity to create a piece for Spark & Echo, I considered the dramatic possibilities. As it turned out, though, there was no theatrical concept that sparked my interest. At least, not overtly.
 

I grew up in a progressive protestant (United Church of Christ) household in Maine, and when I was in elementary school my mother began a seminary education. The timing was such that during the formative years in which I was interested enough to start paying actual attention to what was going on in our church services, I also had access to a parent who was making it her life’s work not only to study the Bible deeply, but to learn how to communicate its stories most truthfully and effectively as a minister. I’ll admit that I don’t attend church regularly these days — I dislike the word “agnostic,” but occasionally refer to myself as a “spiritual humanist” — but I’ve never lost my interest in the Bible as a fascinating story, or in the act of performing a ministry. As a result, the piece I’ve submitted to Spark & Echo is a kind of hodgepodge of poem, monologue, and homily, in a form not entirely unlike something my mother might have written over the years.

 

My interest in the Gospels is rooted in a decidedly “low Christology”, and the theme of “meals” felt like a natural venue for exploring that. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus have always fascinated me because of their simplicity and humanity, and because their stories tend to bring out shades of the same in Jesus. This is a family that dines, loves, learns, and bickers together, and that is in the fascinating position of seeing Christ as — well, among other things — a friend, in a way that few others do. And yet, especially in the case of Lazarus, this friendship brings them to the very brink of the unknowable vastness of God. How does an average person deal with that, and then sit down to Sunday dinner as if everything is normal?
I’m not sure. Here’s an idea, though.

 

Spark_HeadshotEdward Bauer is an actor and theater artist currently residing in Brooklyn, NY, where he is one of four Co-Artistic Directors of the Assembly Theater Company. The Assembly is dedicated to producing rigorously researched and socially relevant theater created by an ensemble. The company’s work has been produced as part of the Ice Factory, Undergroundzero, and CUNY Prelude festivals, as well as having been performed at The Incubator, The Collapsable Hole, HERE Arts Center, the Wesleyan University Center for the Arts, and the historic Living Theater. Edward can next be seen as Pip in The Assembly’s “That Poor Dream,” a play inspired by Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” this October at the New Ohio Theater.

 

 

This work was curated by Lauren Ferebee

This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.

Help more artists create works on biblical text by donating to Spark and Echo Arts.

 

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com  The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

 

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