The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > From the stage: Reflecting El Roi

From the stage: Reflecting El Roi

By: KAYA WEAVER

GOD WHO SEES

 

“The angel of the LORD found her [Hagar] by a spring of water in the wilderness…So she named the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are El-roi…’” 

Genesis 16:7a, 13a

 

When the “slave-girl” Hagar conceives a son for Abram, his wife Sarai deals harshly with her, and she runs away into the wilderness (Genesis 16:6). After Hagar is manipulated and treated unjustly by her human master and mistress, the Lord finds her in the wilderness and tells her to name her son “Ishmael,” meaning “God hears” (Genesis 16:11). Hagar calls the Lord “El Roi,” meaning “God who sees” (Genesis 16:13, New Interpreter’s Study Bible p. 34). In the wilderness Hagar learns that God does not turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to people who suffer under oppression and abuse. God promises that even Hagar’s offspring will become a great multitude (Genesis 16:10); though her child is not the offspring God promised to Abram, the oppressed woman will also be blessed. Hagar will wait nine months for the blessing of her son’s birth; she will wait a lifetime and more for the fulfillment of God’s promises, that hers will be one of the nations blessed by the children of Abram when they finally bring a savior into the world.

How do we prepare, even in the wilderness, in times of waiting, trial, and emptiness, for the blessings we know God is bringing? For “El Roi” sees us, hears us, and reaches out to us even as we prepare for his coming.

Reflecting El Roi was created for Lent, a season when Christians prepare to remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through celebrating Easter. The ballet uses concrete action, spatial relationships, and developing energy to explore this idea of preparation as well as the traditional lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and giving as they are found in Scripture. Through these elements of dance, Reflecting El Roi shows how preparation, prayer, fasting, and giving can form followers of Jesus and make us ready to respond rightly to God’s activity and invitation.

 

PREPARATION

 

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…’”

Isaiah 40:3-4

 

When YHWH’s arrival is announced, God’s people are told to prepare the way. The prophet Isaiah describes this preparation with the image of leveling and straightening a path to make for easy walking. How can we clear a path for God to walk into our lives? What preparations do we need to make so our eyes are open to see the coming of God’s glory?

In Part I of the ballet, the barre onstage clues you in that this section represents a warm-up. As dancers prepare for rehearsal by repeating familiar movements with increasing range of motion, the energy of this section gradually builds but isn’t released yet. While dancers warm up, they don’t know what new or challenging movements the choreographer will ask them to execute in rehearsal, but their routine prepares them for anything. In this piece the energy is held, ready for the main event, much as daily prayer or Scripture meditation prepares us to respond when God shows up in surprising ways.

Catholic priest Fr. Mike Schmitz teaches about the purpose of observing Lent today and compares it to Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, between slavery in Egypt and victory in the land promised to God’s people. 40 days or 40 years is a symbolic time for “training, testing, and preparing…for something incredible.” In particular, we’re preparing for an event of God’s mighty intervention in history. When we observe Lent today, we’re preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus–the most incredible event of all time!

When God shows up and acts in history, God can do things beyond our imagination. We might not know exactly what to expect when God acts, and we might not know ahead of time exactly how we’ll need to respond. But there are practices we can observe to be formed in Christ-likeness, to make ourselves like a smooth, straight path, ready to do God’s will when we see God’s glory.

 

Reflecting on Preparation

How would you characterize the dancers’ movements of preparation?

What routines do you practice to prepare for a typical day or an anticipated season?

How do your intentional routines prepare you to notice and respond to God?

 

PRAYER & FASTING

The three practices traditionally associated with Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are all practices that Jesus advocates and practices himself, and they are practices that, when done with intention, can draw us closer to God and form us to be a holy people. Through Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness, they learn how to trust God and how to live as free people (Fr. Mike Schmitz). Through 40 days observing Lent, followers of Jesus can learn the same things.

 

“Is not this the fast that I choose: …not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…”

Isaiah 58:6-8

 

Part II of Reflecting El Roi begins and ends with the dancers grouped in a formation together, but in the middle they spread out, each dancing her own phrase. One dancer waits in stillness amid all the movement. Each individual carves out a space, as if to be alone with God, reflecting one goal of prayer and fasting: to empty ourselves of idols and distractions so we can see God’s purposes and glory. Yet solitude isn’t an end in itself. The dancers return to a group formation at the end of “Prayer & Fasting;” likewise, Christians return to community after solitude in hope that time with God shapes our interactions to reflect Christ and the love God expresses through the cross–a shape which the dancers trace over their bodies to signify the intention of their prayer.

 

Reflecting on Prayer & Fasting

What gestures do you recognize in the choreography that suggest prayer? What do those gestures or postures say about the attitude of prayer?

When was the last time you prayed, fasted, or spent time alone with God? How did that practice affect your internal feelings or your actions toward others?

 

GIVING

 

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”

Isaiah 61:1-2

 

Father Mike Schmitz says that “almsgiving” is something you do consistently in order to bless others. Like the ancient Israelites who are instructed to release property at the year of jubilee, or “the year of the Lord’s favor,” Christians are invited in the practice of almsgiving to reflect God’s mercy and justice by letting go of what we have and using it to bless others.

In Part III of Reflecting El Roi, the energy built up in “Preparation” and cultivated in the gentler movements of “Prayer & Fasting” finally bursts forth. The dancers move in sweeping paths around the stage. The dance is punctuated by energetic turns and jumps. The release of energy indicates that “Giving” is what all the rest was for. The dancers join hands and dance close and coordinated to show that the release of energy is for the sake of blessing others. The disciplines that prepare us to respond to God’s surprising activity are preparing us to give of our resources, our time, our joy and our love, for the sake of blessing others as God has blessed us.

 

Reflecting on Giving

What feelings does the movement in this section evoke for you? How do those emotions compare with the way you feel when giving or receiving gifts?

Consider this passage about how God gives:

 

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” 

Isaiah 55:1-3

 

How would you describe the way God gives?

What do you have that you can give freely, abundantly, compassionately, and faithfully to bless others?



REFLECTING EL ROI

The order of the ballet and the development of energy from one section to the next shows how we can diligently approach God and humbly receive the blessings God gives, and how receiving God’s gifts fills us and moves us to give with the same compassion and faithfulness to bless others. I hope that this performance gives you space to reflect on the gracious character of God and inspires you to reflect God’s character through your life out into the world.

 

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Scripture quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

 

Secondary references: 

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Abingdon Press, 2003).

Preparing for Lent,” video by Fr. Mike Schmitz (Ascension Presents, 2016).

Where is Lent in the Bible?” video by Fr. Mike Schmitz (Ascension Presents, 2018).

What’s the Purpose of Lent?” video by Fr. Mike Schmitz (Ascension Presents, 2019).

 

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Reflecting El Roi premiers March 15, 2024!

View the trailer and reserve pay-what-you-will tickets here.

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Glorify Dance Theatre Presents

May 3-4

This is a family-friendly ballet that kids of ALL ages will enjoy!