A Taste of Fire
General Assembly 2000 Event 209
Musical Inspiration During Friday General Assembly Programming
The workshop called "A Taste of Fire" ended with a standing ovation for three sopranos from the original cast of "A Fire in My Bones," a meditative opera from the creative spirits of the Rev. Mary Ann Macklin and Deborah Phelps of Madison, WI. The vocalists included Susan Swaney, Sonja Rasmussen, and Ray Fellman of the Indiana University School of Music, Bloomington.
"A Taste of Fire" offered a collage of scenes from the original performance, a story about the spiritual journey of Elizabeth, a theology student and single mom, as she struggles with questions about prayer and her relationship with her brother James, a Botanist who is HIV positive. A cat with many names from many incarnations narrates the story. The feline has purr-fected the magic of travel to different cultures and times, and through this ability, we were graced with insights from historic woman both contemporary and past, including Sandy Sasso, second woman rabbi and Olympia Brown, the well-known Universalist and first woman ordained as a minister.
We met Sandy in 1963 at the age of sixteen on her day of confirmation. We learn that prayer is a kaleidoscope. It is Abraham saying "Here I am" to God. It is us saying "Here I am" to life. It is outcries of frustration, the small voice of a child, Job's anguish, words repeated together that were written long ago, and one person's silence in one precious moment. Prayer is also question, doubt, sorrow, laughter, dance, old, new, yes, and no.
We met the feisty and strong-willed Olympia in 1863 at the age of fifty-five somewhere on a campaign for women's suffrage in the Dakotas and Wisconsin. She is accompanied by Susan B. Anthony, with whom she bickers constantly. Also present is the cat, then named Anthony after Susan B. The cat draws the conclusion that Olympia loved Susan with all her might but bickered with her because they were too much alike. We witnessed Olympia's struggle with speech training to "lower her voice" so "she could be heard"…so "God could be heard." Along with Elizabeth and James, we learn that "we are not alone because we have one another…in relationship we know that God is with us forever."
"A Taste of Fire" enticed us to see the full performance and experience the insights of other historic women. It is clear why "A Fire in My Bones" received this year's Feminist Theology Award. Even just a taste achieved the goals of lifting up the voices of women and making opera reachable to all of us.