After spending very special days with Alie and Jo in Wakefield and Leeds, I arrived in Belfast yesterday. I have dreamed for a long time to come to this city. It has felt like a leading and a longing, and I am not sure why. I know that my friend Ruth Ann has said many times that she sees the need for work around LGBT issues in Northern Ireland where she had lived most of her life.
Last summer at Greenbelt when I met some people from the Belfast-based Ikon group (community?), I felt even more drawn to Northern Ireland. From their own wiki page, they provide a picture of who they are and what they seek to do.
Inhabiting a space on the outer edges of religious life, we are a Belfast-based collective who offer anarchic experiments in transformance art. Challenging the distinction between theist and atheist, faith and no faith our main gathering employs a cocktail of live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual and reflection in an attempt to open up the possibility of a theodramatic event.
“transformance art” “theodramatic event” You can see what draws me to this artistic, eclectic and deeply spiritual group.
Last night I got to see them in action at their monthly Sunday night gathering. On each cafe table they piled up stacks of Legos along with a one word prompt. The residents at each table collectively created something to go along with the word (our table had the word sight).
As we did this gentle building, various members of Ikon approached the mic to read excerpts from books, short stories, and devotionals–some published but much original. Their theme revolved around faith unfinished, or as they presented it UNFINISHE… As we listened to the speakers and to each other, the organizers encouraged us to write down a phrase that struck us. We then added all of these together to form a liturgy of sorts that they read out at the very end.
In the midst of all this people could go to a laptop to help complete a virtual jigsaw puzzle that they projected up on a big screen. To round off the evening the cafe remained open throughout so you could go up to buy a coffee or beer.
This is what I always envision when I dream of a church I would like to attend. Inventive, playful, profound, hands-on and validating of everyone’s contribution. That last one got tested when a woman in the audience (who I think drank a few too many before the event even started) shouted out funny and seemingly inappropriate things like orgasm. Ikon has maintained a culture where they don’t applaud for people much after they speak. But this woman enthusiastically clapped every time someone finished presenting, usually clapping alone until a brave few joined in.
The woman left about a third of the way into the evening, but we saw and felt her contributions throughout, especially when we got to the joint liturgy we composed. Orgasm made it to the list including the statement, “We don’t clap enough”. By the end of the evening we clapped a lot, evidence to the change this one woman made.
What struck me about the liturgy as two Ikoners read it from the front was how much of it I had not heard throughout the evening. These were “found” statements said at our tables and from the front, but most of it I had not heard before. I walked away with the thought, So much gets said that I don’t hear.