At The Redlands Bowl: Beauty and the Beast

“At The Redlands Bowl: Beauty and the Beast”
Mark 5: 1 -20
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
July 22, 2018

How many of you take advantage of the inspiring musical programs at the Redlands Bowl? Our Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival holds the distinction of being the oldest continuous music festival in the United States at which no admission is charged. This program began in 1923 (over 90 years ago) by a woman with a vision – Grace Stewart Mullen. Her vision – “music for everyone” regardless of the ability to pay for admission. Since 1983, an estimated 8 million people have attended an evening of entertainment under the stars at the Redlands Bowl.

For this 95th season, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast has been selected as the musical. Performances will run Thursday – Sunday of this week. Members of our congregation will usher at the Bowl next Sunday evening. If you are available, we hope that you will join us. If not Sunday, I hope you will make it another day of the week. Maybe you will bring a blanket and lay it on the grass, under the stars, enjoying the balmy night air. Maybe you will bring your beverage of choice, cheese. Crackers, grapes and chocolate covered strawberries. Coming on to stage will be Belle, a young woman in a French town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed into his former self. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity. Here is the opening scene of “Beauty and the Beast” as portrayed by the movie released in theaters last year. (Show opening scene.)

The haggard, old crone turned enchantress casts a spell on the young prince, all with his castle and all its inhabitants, leaving him with a magical rose and an ominous warning: Unless he can learn to love and earn another’s love before the rose’s last petal falls, the prince will be condemned to live as a beast forever, and the castle servants will remain household objects, never to return to their human form.

With only a few petals remaining on the rose, our story begins. We meet Belle in a French village. Belle means beautiful. While the townsfolk sing of Belle’s physical beauty, it is her inner beauty, her loving nature that make her truly worthy of the name Belle. We easily fall in love with Belle’s beautiful compassion and clever wit. She is kind and polite, yet fearless in demanding the best from others. She exemplifies the very heart, soul and mind that the enchantress found missing in the young prince. (Show video about Belle.) We easily fall in love with Belle. The prince not so much.

The prince turned Beast is clunky and frightening, overgrown and strange. His exterior is gruff and frightening. But there are layers to a self. And underneath his rough exterior, there is a jewel inside. Ultimately, this is a story of the transformative power of love. As are all fairy tales of literature. As are all gospel stories. As are our very lives. We have both the Beauty and the Beast residing within us. We, too, have tasted the life-giving power of loving fully and freely, but we are aware of the destructive forces of selfishness, jealousy and rage. We are never just one or the other, all Beauty or all Beast. There is always room for growth, for transformation.

Such transformation begins from within. Sometimes the transformational journey begins with suffering and struggle. Moments of brokenness can create fertile soil for the seeds of transformation to begin growing. We may be stuck in a joyless job; we may be in a loveless relationship; we see injustice all around us, but life’s misfortunes can be good lessons when we are willing to pay attention. If we flee the pain of these lessons without being transformed, the lessons inevitably come around again. Only after the enchantress turns the prince into a hideous beast is he willing to receive critique of his behavior and begin making the changes necessary for genuine transformation. It is not the Beast’s physical form that is in need of transformation as much as it is his heart. To love and to be loved.

As mentioned, fairy tales and gospel stories have much in common. In the gospels we meet another Beauty and the Beast. Jesus playing the role of Beauty. The Gerasene demoniac from Mark 5 being the Beast. Palestine did not know what to do with the Gerasene demoniac. They restrained him, but he broke the chains. He ripped off his clothes. He lived in caves. He was a rabid coyote on the loose, a menace to society. Of absolutely no good to anyone. Wild hair. Arms flailing. Voice screaming. He is a beast. But Jesus will not let this man go. He looks beyond the gruff outer appearance to see the true inner being of this man. Jesus changes the Gerasene demoniac and he ultimately changed the world by seeing that beauty lies within each and everyone of us.

Whereas the religious leaders in Jesus’ world categorized people in terms of unclean and clean, sinner and non-sinner, outsider and insider, Jesus refused to accept these categories. Instead Jesus saw the whole world as God’s world and every person within it a precious being. Jesus built upon earliest teachings from Judaism, humans are created in the image of God. We are made to reflect the infinite love of our Creator. And so it is that Jesus says, “The kin(g) dom of God is within you.” We are all made for transcendence and endless horizon, but our ego or our gruff exterior or the walls we build around ourselves sometimes get in the way. The transformation process is like mining for a diamond. We must dig deep. But underneath all the stuff, there is a radiant diamond within, inner beauty, our true self.

Jesus not only teaches about love but he practices what he preaches. He goes into the tombs, Mark 5 tells us, where the demoniac resides, and reaches out in love to the one from whom others would run away. There is transformational power in love. For this madman in today’s passage turns missionary. After encountering the life-changing, life-giving love, we read, “the man went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.”

Richard Rohr speaks of prayer as bringing your thinking down into your heart. He says this, “Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, move that thought or person literally into your heart space because such commentaries are almost entirely lodged in your head. In this place, it is almost impossible judge or remain antagonistic. (The heart) is the natural organ of life, embodiment and love. Love lives and thrives in the heart space…When we are praying for someone, we are holding them in our heart space” (The Immortal Diamond, pgs 202-205). Jesus holds people in the heart space, the sacred space of love, the place of transformation.

Jesus goes into the tombs where the demoniac resides and through the transformational power of love brings forth resurrection, new life, hope, possibility. So, too, as the last rose petal falls and the Beast succumbs to death, Belle’s love resurrects the dead Beast, transforming him into a handsome prince. The prince’s outer appearance changes to reflect the inward loving man he has become. (Show video clip.)

Our transformation gives space for the transformation of the entire community. As the Beast transforms into a handsome prince, the entire castle is transformed to beauty, light and human form. Everyone transforms into human form except for a cute footstool, who becomes an even cuter shaggy dog, complete with happy barks and joyous bounces. In other words, beauty grows exponentially. It is the way of the universe.  (Show video clip.) This is not just the love story of a girl and a boy; this is the love story of a whole community.

One’s transformation gives space for the transformation of an entire community. All we need to do is look at great leaders like Dr. King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Muhammed, the Buddha, and Jesus to see that the transformation of one person brings transformation to entire communities. When communities are transformed, the world is transformed. When we are transformed, we transform those around us.

This week I want to invite you to participate in Richard Rohr’s heart space prayer. The next time judgment, resentment and negativity come into our minds, may we move that thought or person into our heart space. For love lives and thrives in the heart space. It’s been said that the longest journey we ever make is the journey from our head to our heart. But it is the most important journey we will ever take. In the process, we will discover that through the transformational power of love, “happily ever after” becomes more than just a fairy tale. Amen.