How TV Shows Learn From Church About Ritual

The other week I was at home watching Anh Do’s ‘Brush With Fame’, as he spoke with, and painted the portrait of Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson is as TV star, but he has had huge amounts of tragedy in his own life, and is no also a campaigner against cancer. As I watched the show, I was drawn into Samuel’s story, but the moment of the revealing of the portrait was so startling. It was beautiful. It captured all that had gone before in he story, and re-presented the character of Samuel so well. I was, as my friend David often says ‘awash’ .


I started to think about what is going on in this show, that draws out my own tears.


Here is how the show goes.


First there is the introduction. First, Anh introduces the whole concept of the show. There is a brief biographical sketch of the person whose portrait is to be drawn. They get a chance to say what they anticipate about the show, and what they might be feeling about having their portrait painted.


The pair then meet, and the process of the portrait paining then begins. As Anh paints the portrait, the story of the sitter, in this case, Samuel Johnson gradually comes out. There are moments of tears, and anger and courage which show how this person is ‘real’ and very human.


After the sitting session, Anh need a little while to finish the picture by himself. This gives the sitter a chance to reflect upon the experience: the get a chance to say ‘how it was for them’ and to express their hopes for how the portrait will turn out: that it will express something of their true selves. After revealing something of ourselves, it is a big thing to have how others see us reflected back in a portrait.


I started to think about how this show is put together.


The first thing to notice is that the show is a ritual. This word often has negative connotations because people say “Oh, I get bored with ‘the same thing every time’ and so introducing new themes, o new structures becomes the order of the day.


But this show, like a story that the kids want read time after time, is a ritual. It keeps the same structure. This structure is one that is shared by Anh, the sitter, and the people sharing in the show each week by watching it in the TV.


This ‘sameness’ allows everyone to relax. We know basically what is going to happen, so no surprises there. This allows for the content of the show to be filled with the story of the sitter. This allows for a deeper sharing than might otherwise have been possible, because no one is worried about what is coming next, and how they are going to respond.


This is important to say, because this is exactly what happen in Church every Sunday. The structure of the Eucharist does no change. What does change is how we fill it with what we bring. This is, like Anh’s show the content of our own stories, the ‘hopes and fears of all the years’ that are ‘met’ as we gather to do the ritual of the Eucharist. What will ‘happen’ for us in Church, will depend upon how much we are able to ‘bring our lives into the circle’ during the Eucharist.


Now a Sunday morning has one limitation: we are not just ‘one person communing with another’. This opportunity needs to happen during the week. In my picture of how things work, the communal gathering on a Sunday, needs to be complemented by a more personal gathering during the week, where the kind of story telling, that happens on Anh’s show, can also happen for us.


More than the fact that the show is a ritual like our Sunday Eucharist, the ritual of Anh’s show take us on a journey. We move from one place to another. And this movement has a definite structure, too, which helps us to get there. Here it is. First comes he preparation. We have Anh’s introduction to the whole aim of the show, then we have a more specific introduction to this week’s sitter.

Then comes the main body of the show, the act of talking and painting. After that comes a space for reflection, followed by the big ‘reveal’ of the portrait, and again, more time for reflection.


Not surprisingly, this structure, that takes us on the journey from ‘unknowing’ to ‘communion’ with the sitter and Anh, and then the ‘reveal’ followed by more reflection is exactly the same structure that we have in the Eucharist.(twice: once for the ministry of the Word, and once for the Sacrament)

We begin with a preparatory phase (a greeting and sentence and prayers). We have the ‘doing of the deed’ followed by a ‘reveal’ (sermon, prayer of Thanksgiving) followed by a period of reflection (intercession, post Communion music and payers). Like Anh’s ‘Brush With Fame’ show who we are is ‘revealed’ to us. We see ourselves reflected in the preaching (if it is any good) and in the ‘reveal’ of the Bread and Wine, transformed into Christ (Humanity before God). TV has learned a lot from Church.


About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
This entry was posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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