In Celtic Spirituality a ‘thin place’ is any space where the veil between heaven and earth seems gossamer thin; when we find ourselves in the presence of the numinous. For me, theatre is and always has been a thin place; holy ground.
We enter this sacred space, the lights go down, the curtain goes up, and time is suspended as we open our hearts and imaginations to whole hosts of other lives and worlds. It’s where we come to be entertained, enchanted, moved, amused, inspired. Some come to escape reality, others to enter more deeply into it.
The seminal theatre director Peter Brook, in his book The Empty Space writes of what he calls Holy Theatre as: “… is the last forum where idealism is still an open question: many audiences all over the world will answer positively from their own experience that they have seen the face of the invisible through an experience on the stage that transcended their experience in life . . .”
But no matter how luminous the performance, when the curtain comes down the cast change out of their costumes and back into their everyday lives; lives affected by family problems, health scares, bereavement, debt and the rest of the “heartaches and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” And of course, we are not just talking about actors here, but all of those who work in the theatre and create these rich and resonant encounters for audiences, whilst themselves being very much rooted in the real world of joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, excitement and exhaustion and all the muddle and mess of everyday lives.
This is what theatre chaplaincy is about. Our main function is simply being a presence, stopping by, popping in, being around for the everyday and the extraordinary, being on hand, being available and growing out of that, when it really matters, simply being there. We are there for everyone who works in the theatre – front of house, on stage, back stage and off stage – of all faiths and none; to support, not convert.
Chaplaincy is about serving in the real world; being alongside in good times and in bad, and providing a sense of stability in the midst of working lives characterised by ongoing transition, uncertainty and frequent rejection. Chaplaincy is the art of being available to accompany on as much or as little of the journey as required; not supplying the answers, but sharing the questions; meeting people where they are and being prepared to weep and laugh alongside them; to share sorrows and celebrate joys. Many encounters are fleeting, but at its best, chaplaincy can become a thin place in itself, when people are enabled to recognise the signposts, guides and waymarks in our lives that point to the eternal presence of God.
The Revd. Lindsay Meader is Senior Chaplain at Theatre Chaplaincy UK
Image from bbc.co.uk, available in the public domain.