Genesis 1 as a play in a theatre

(Mary) #1

I am preparing 5 sessions for a Group on Science and Faith in my church, and I want to communicate how Gen 1 could be written in a literary style without compromising on it speaking “truth”. I have come up with the following description of a play. Please feel free to use the idea if it is helpful, but I would also value feedback on how I can improve on what I have written! Thanks in advance for your help! I will read this out to them…

"I once saw an African Mystery Play in London that really moved me. Though they spoke in their own language, the symbolism of the Bible stories and the energy of the performers really spoke to me. It led me to imagine another play. You may want to close your eyes as you imagine it!

As you walk into the theatre to take your seat, you notice that the curtains are already open. First you notice an empty stage – no scenery and no props! Just empty! Then you notice that above the stage, there is a huge stretched balloon full of water! You wonder what a mess that would make if it burst! There seems to be a dove fluttering around that balloon. Then you look down at the orchestra pit. You are high up in the gallery, so you can see right into the pit – except you can’t, because it is pitch black! For all you know, it is a bottomless pit!

Act 1, scene 1: The lights dim in the auditorium. A clear voice says “Light!” and suddenly, a bright light shines out from the orchestra pit. The light is directional, so you can still see the darkness behind it, but it is a very bright light. The division of dark and light is very stark. While the light gets brighter, you hear the music by Morten Lauridsen called O Magnum Mysterium (or some other majestic choral music!). You think of Jesus climbing down into the pit of our darkness and bringing Light into the world! The curtains close and open.

Act 1, scene 2: A voice says “Water!” and the balloon of water bursts! The water is divided in two. Half of the water comes crashing down, while half stays behind another canopy that wasn’t clearly seen before. The water that pours down is caught by a transparent basin that is now on stage. The music is Debussy’s Arabesque. There is a fountain in the basin so the water keeps moving! You think of the Holy Spirit often symbolized by water or a dove – satisfying our thirst and providing the River of Life! The curtains close and open.

Act 1, scene 3: A voice says “Land!” and the fountain and basin moves to one side while the stage blocks move up and down to make undulating land. The water is now divided from the land. The music is “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This fills you with hope that something big is about to happen! This is impressive enough, but there is a finale to act one coming! The voice says “Life!” and plants start to imerge growing up from the stage! Soon everything is green and full of life! You think of Father God providing us with a beautiful world to live in with food to eat and life! The curtain closes and there is an intermission!

Act 2, scene 1: The curtain opens and the plants have evidently continued to grow during the break! Your eyes are drawn to the orchestra pit again. The voice says “Sun, moon and stars” and the one bright light divides into lots of small beams of light that seem to come from stars dotted about in the orchestra pit. The darkness is filled with light! The scene is colourful and beautiful. The music is the song “Indescribable”. You think of how the light of Jesus comes to each one of us and we each reflect his glory. The curtains close and open.

Act 2, scene 2: The voice says “Fish and birds”. You focus again on the water in the transparent basin. Not only is the fountain running, but you see that the water is teeming with fish! Then a flock of birds of all shapes and sizes flutters around the suspended canopy and around the theatre! The stage is full of movement and life! The music is the song “Come Holy Spirit” and you think about how the Holy Spirit animates us and gives us life and freedom! The curtain closes and opens.

Act 2, scene 3: A voice says “Animals!” and you see a crowd of animals walking across the stage! This is now an unpredictable, crazy play! The “land” is full of animals. But the theatre is also full of hope and expectancy. You think of the joy of the Father in relating to his creation! The “Hallelujah chorus” is heard. But there is still a finale to come. The voice says “Human!” A man and a woman walk on stage singing the song “So will I”. You think of all it means to have the Creator of the universe as your loving Father. The curtain stays open and the characters continue to move. You suddenly realize that all of this is really just the prologue to the real play starting. The scene is set. The real play is ready to begin in Act 3. Or is it? Maybe the whole of human history on earth is still just the prologue to what will happen in heaven?"

(Phil) #2

Beautiful imagery. I’ve often thought Job could be done well as a play, perhaps starting with Job old and near death reflecting back on his life.

(Mary) #3

You are probably right, but I will let someone else tackle that one! I’m a scientist and linguist who paints - I don’t usually write in this style, so I think I have done my quota for one day!


John Polkinghorne has said that the book of Job should be thought of as a play. You’re in good company!


Have you ever heard a performance of “The Creation” – the oratorio by Franz Joseph Haydn?

(Mary) #6

No, I never have! I really should have done! I’ll try to find a recording and have a listen.

That also made me think of a version of the creation story that we were involved in years ago. A linguistic friend had written out in phonetics a whole series of noises for the audience to make at each stage of the story, and he took us through the “score” on projected slides. Then we performed it with him conducting and no words of explanation. It was magnificent - you could almost imagine creation happening. .Unfortunately no one recorded it.


You would love it. I have heard it performed 2X. One of the numbers, “The Heavens are Telling” (based on Psalm 19) was adapted as a hymn. Have you heard of it?

Anyway, the libretto of Haydn’s creation is based on Genesis, Psalms, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is scored for orchestra, chorus, and 3 soloists: Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. What’s not to like?


I can give you a link to a good performance on YouTube. Most unusually, the libretto was written in both English and German at the same time. Click on “Show More” to get all details about this performance.

The Creation by Franz Haydn