First of all let me apologize for my lack of blogging lately. Truth be told I am concentrating on some writing projects. The main one being my new book. On top of this I have been on the road for a while presenting some of my new material to select groups in order to gauge responses and hone it. The most important part of that process was embodied in the experimental Insurrection tour. I will let people know a little more about the new book soon, but for now I wanted to write about an amazing ikon gathering that took place a few weeks ago called “Naked”.
I was in the UK at the time and planed to be there, but the ash cloud sadly prevented me. Anyway, I eagerly listened as some of the ikon folk explained what happened. I loved it and was reminded that ikon continue to create beautiful, disturbing and challenging theo-poetic explorations.
As people entered the bar everything seemed much like one had come to expect from an ikon gathering. The room was bustling with people, audio soundscapes provided a backdrop to the evening and visuals of naked people from the artist Spencer Tunick filled the walls. Tables and chairs were dispersed throughout the room, the lights were low, candles burned softly and those involved with the gathering were busy readying themselves for what would likely be another evening of symbols, liturgies, poetry, ritual and reflection.
However, once the room was full and everyone had bought their drinks, the atmosphere changed. Instead of someone welcoming everyone and opening up the evening it seemed more like the evening had come to an end. The music came to an abrupt stop, the projector was turned off and packed away. The candles were blown out and the lights raised. Then the tables were removed and the chairs repositioned to form a large circle.
Once this had taken place those involved with running ikon simply sat in the circle and quietly waited for everyone else to do likewise. When everyone finally took their seats in the circle that inhabited the now bare room Chris, one of the ikon organizers, addressed everyone in a delicate and quiet manner, saying,
Most of the time when we are with each other we are covered. We have so much technology now – technology that shrinks the distance between each of us and makes all sorts of new communication possible. And yet a lot of the time we still feel far apart from each other. It is almost as if our virtual selves have become just that – almost selves hovering around our lonely and disconnected interiors. Almost selves covered in the salve of technology bravely telling ourselves that we are showing our real selves for the first time.
But one of the amazing and frustrating things about being a human being is there is always the OTHER and nothing can get rid of it – nothing can span the space, nothing can take away the distance that exists between the OTHER inside and the OTHER in those around us. That no matter how many beautiful words and liturgies we construct, no matter how warm and inviting the atmosphere we provide, no matter how much we want it that we will always be in a state of lack.
And what happens when we set down our props – our candles, music, multi-media and set pieces. What happens when we only have our eyes, our ears, our mouths, our guts, our bodies to know each other with? What happens when we sit down with our lack and the OTHER and try to speak? What would we say?
Tonight…ikon is naked….tonight we are all here with only what is going on in our insides to get us through. Tonight we have one hour to feel, to think, to approach each other with whatever words we can muster.
When I say the words ‘welcome to ikon’ we will have one hour to share an experience, one hour to try to be with each other without the usual fragile symbols that sustain us every month. Tonight we will see if we can find something sustaining in this circle.
Tonight we are going to attempt to be naked….
To us all, each and every one – WELCOME TO IKON
And that was it. For the next hour people sat. Some spoke, some remained silent. But nothing more was scripted. Chris, the man who had introduced the evening, said nothing else until it was time to draw everything to a close.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what was said and what was left unsaid that night but I did talk to some who found the experience unsettling, tense, fragile, beautiful and honest. In this Quaker-like setting, without all the sounds and lights that often accompany an ikon gathering, people were invited to simply be. So often all our rituals and activities can help us cover over the experience of actually being with another and mask the otherness that we are to ourselves.
I wonder what it would be like if a church pulled a similar move occasionally. I can imagine entering to see all the usual activity taking place. The musicians practicing, the preacher looking through notes, the visuals running, the hymn books and bibles out. A cross over the altar. Then, all of a sudden, everything being removed (from the instruments and hymn books to the altar, the stage and the visuals).
And then, for an hour, being invited to simply be in that space with others and… and just see what happens.