We began to meet for Apéritif on the Beach a few Fridays ago. It offers an excellent opportunity to get together for a drink before supper and to enjoy each other’s company but it also has a simple religious aspect. We give thanks for the friendships we enjoy and for the good fortune of living in such a wonderful place. Last Friday, there were eleven adults and three children gathered on the beach.
This week we are changing our venue. We will meet at Plage du Centenaire, Handiplage – access is opposite the Meriden Hotel. Do join us and bring drinks, snacks, and something to sit on.
Dance in church; Salome and the death of John the Baptist
On the Sunday morning of our visit, we were torn between going to the Episcopal Church of St Bartholomew and St Peter’s Lutheran Church, both extraordinary churches, but we chose St Peter’s, partly out of curiosity.
St Peter’s occupies the site of an earlier traditional building, which was bought by the First National City Bank (later known as Citibank) in 1970.
The present church is at the base of a 59-story office. The Lutheran community in the 70s believed that they must use a variety of media and liturgical styles to connect with the city community. For this reason, the church is a marvellously flexible space which allows for great liturgical variety, including Bach cantatas, liturgical dance and poetry.
When we went there we were impressed by the excellent music – typical of Lutheran churches – and the liturgical dance (click here for an example).
Several dancers, led by Roberto C Lara Aranda, entered the sanctuary first. Roberto was carrying a bowl containing burning incense, with which he performed the traditional rite of censing the altar.
Since it was so far from our normal experience, the schoolboy in me was amused, but I was also struck by its elegance and beauty, which added another dimension to the worship.
Since liturgical dance is largely unfamiliar, we tend to teeter between amusement and admiration when we see or think about it. This applies when we imagine the story (next Sunday’s Gospel reading) of Salome, dancing in front of Herod’s guests at a feast in honour of his birthday. (In Mark’s account she has the same name as her mother, Herodias, but the Jewish historian Josephus calls her Salome, which is how she’s known to literature).
The story has inspired writers and composers. Oscar Wilde wrote a play and Richard Strauss an opera entitled Salome.
On the stage it’s difficult to realise well. I remember seeing a distinguished, mature, singer in a Royal Opera house production dancing the dance of the seven veils clad in a body stocking – more risible than convincing!
Inevitably, we bring this ambivalence to our imagining of the scene in Sunday’s Gospel of Salome dancing before Herod’s guests.
The story has the style of a folk tale: there’s a feast, the king’s daughter dances, and there is a solemn, unbreakable promise which has terrible consequences. Herod offers his daughter anything she wishes, up to half his possessions. Encouraged by her mother, she asks for the head of John the Baptist.
The historical background may be that Herod felt insecure, either because he saw John the Baptist as a political threat or because there was public criticism that he had married his brother’s wife.
For the authors of the gospels of Mark and John, the story has the purpose of controlling – even limiting – the role had by John the Baptist in the story of Jesus.
The reason for this was that there were still followers of John the Baptist who continued to follow him at the time that the gospels were written, long after the lifetime of Jesus.
This was a problem for the followers of Jesus. Quite simply, as they related the gospel of Jesus, they had to place John the Baptist at the beginning of the narrative and then take him out of the limelight so that the story could focus exclusively on Jesus.
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