Leaps and Bounds performed by Tevyn East was the most eye opening midrash I have ever experienced. I have never imagined that an audience would be spellbound by a message which tied the epic narrative of Genesis and Exodus to the various rules found in Torah and to modern society and which lasted for over an hour. I have heard all the stories which were told, but sometimes it is not the stories but the method of telling them.
I recall learning that the majority of what we learn is from non-verbal communication, and Ms. East managed to communicate through dance as well as through words. Her use of music, dramatic storytelling and a few small props communicated the message in multiple ways — and, though I am not trained to understand dance as communication, I had some understanding of the message.
When I saw that the spirituality gathering would touch on Ecology, I was rather confused. While I understood that our management of the physical world is often reckless — and while I understood that we live in the physical world, it was very difficult for me to see how our physical environment was related to our spirituality. I could even understand that we fail to show correct concern for our neighbor by our greed, but in my Westernized mind, I maintained a gnostic separation between the physical and the spiritual.
The way the stories were told informed me that the laws, such as the law of the Sabbath were part of the story. I had long noticed that many of the rule lists concluded with words such as: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt”, but did not fully appreciate the meaning. While East told the story, she spoke of remembering and forgetting. She spoke of our complete disregard for Sabbath and Jubilee as a type of slavery. My heart was burdened with the realization that the laws were part of the story, and because they were part of the story we lose the heart of the narrative when we ignore the law as only for the ancient Hebrews.
My heart was further burdened when she spoke of Jesus. Christians, like Jesus are not in a world that is built on these stories, and faith in the God who is. We live in an empire that is designed in a state of sin. Like Judah, we are in captivity in an empire that teaches us to live in a way that harms one another and our very spirit. The big thing that I sensed was not only the urgency of the situation (the fact that a billion human beings currently are at risk for starvation tells me the urgency — I knew the urgency), but it also told me how our spirits suffer the damage of living in, and being part of a system of Sin.
Two things struck me as the hour passed so quickly. One thing that struck me is that as we interpret the laws and stories, no matter how much we pretend we tell what is there, we abridge some parts, and we expand and elaborate on others. Part of me wanted to reject this stories form, for she added a few modern hints to suggest that the secular world enslaves us — and that these stories are our stories as well. Another part of me realized that I never heard the stories told straight, for there was an epic story of a people and I had only been told the stories of individuals as if there was not a greater story. The connection of the greater story to the Law had never been mentioned. In private reading, I had guessed a tiny bit, but in a moment I saw the story told in a new way.
I was prepared for this method of story telling by spending some time meditating on how communities have an existence which is not only a collection of individuals, but a collection of relationships. The story East told was not the story of any person, but of community. I realized that part of our spiritual health is our relationship to community, thus the Sin of community is damaging just as personal sin is damaging. My soul is damaged because my community is broken by sin! I need healing, because my whole community is sick.
East, like the prophets of old, showed us where our Sin leads us. We all are left helpless, for as we learned in Family Systems class, a member of the system is not able to change the system. No one hears the prophets until the system completely falls apart — all of us are left hopeless because of the prophecy. We were not able to see anything except we were about to drown in a trap which our own community created. Also, like the prophets of old, East reminded us that even though we are faithless God remains faithful saying: “I believe in resurrection” When she spoke of the clear cut forest growing back from the old roots, my mind remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The thickets of the forest will be chopped down with an ax, and mighty Lebanon will fall. A shoot will grow out of Jesse’s rootstock, a bud will sprout from his roots”(Isaiah 10:34–11:1 NET) I saw that resurrection is indeed part of the story God gives us.
Even if we do not live to see restoration, we have the hope of promise. Even if we live in an empire which teaches us that Evil is virtue, Christ has taught us to claim God’s Kingdom before the empire of Sin. When Satan tempted Jesus with the world’s values, quoting Scripture — Jesus quoted Deuteronomy to the Devil. It is not just the stories we tell, but the way that we tell them. I feel I will spend a lifetime making sense of this story, and Tevyn East showed me that it is my story too.