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9.11.2012

What Movement Can Mean

While watching "Dead Enders" on Friday, I was reminded of something Jonathan Rhys Meyers said of his Tudors co-star Natalie Dormer. He said that more than any other actor he'd worked with, she knew how to use her whole body in a performance.

I mentioned before that one thing I was struck by in watching the play was the investment stage actors have in every movement of their performance. They are aware of their slightest motion. Everything is intentional.

No part of my work or play requires this. I am not an actor, dancer, or mime. But I can see a different reason why it would be helpful to practice such intentionality.

The body is often referred to as an instrument. This is not a flippant acknowledgement of the difference between your head and your hands. Instruments are meant to be used. And if there is one project that the creative person and the person of faith is perpetually engaged in, it is the ministry of reconciliation.

I'll talk about that more later, but here it is in brief: The work of the artist is to bring order out of chaos. To reconcile the way things ought to be with the way things are. This happens on the page, on the canvas, on the screen. But it also happens in conversation, at the cash register, and while riding the bus.  This is why the work of the artist is so similar to the work of the hopeful saint. If you are trying to develop your creative self, you cannot help but develop your humanity as well. It is the same project.

What does this have to do with a stage performer's physicality? Remember how we got here. The stage performer has learned to use his body as an instrument for his craft, which is to tell the story of the moment at every moment.

Imagine what you could communicate in your conversations with friends and family, or your interactions with strangers, if you used not only your words, but your whole body. I'm not talking about the kind of body language you read about in self help books. That's a small part of it, but I'm talking about something more.

If I'm fully engaged in another person's life and presence, it should show in my movement and posture. I say "should," but it may not be natural. And that's okay. I take time and I give attention to the tone of my voice when I want to encourage someone who's shy or affirm my friend's story of their long and painful day at work. I interject with "mhmm's" and "I see's" to let them know I'm tracking every word. But there is so much I can say, so many ways I can care, if I turn my whole self to them.

What could we accomplish as ministers of reconciliation - in our art and in our lives - if we treated our movements the way we treat our words? If we were gentle with them the way we can be gentle with our voices? Or energetic? Or thoughtful? What work would being aware, from our fingers to our toes, do toward loving others? Or being generous with them? 

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