Spirit Quest


Saint Carmen lives, Hallelujah!

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

The time of hot cross buns, pussy willows and chocolate bunnies is upon us. But is there more to this season, perhaps the celebration of a resurrection?
Once upon a time Saint Laurent Boulevard divided the city of Montreal  between  the Anglos and the French. This colourful street was popularly known as The Main even by Francophones.  It was a red light district, an avenue of entertainment and sin.
Michel Tremblay, the quintessential Quebec playwright, located his fascinating drama Saint Carmen of the Main on this questionable terrain. I recently saw the play performed in Ottawa.
Carmen is a  singer who performs on the Main at the club Rodeo that specialized in a western context as it’s name suggests. She comes from a difficult background but makes it as a western singer in this French Canadian milieu. 
Maurice, a sleazy character, the manager and club owner, sends her to the deep south, to Nashville, Tennessee, in the hope that she would perfect her yodel. However, what happened there was quite at variance to that expectation. In those  “forty day in the wilderness” Carmen is captured by a new vision. Instead of yodeling  she is moved to write and sing about people like those who “service”  the Main’s clientele. They are overcome by her message of hope  and personal value, something much lacking in her friends. For them the sun rises as she returns to the Main.
Her “owners” are less enthusiastic. They fear that their investment in pop entertainment will be subverted. “We are not the Salvation Army,” Maurice warns her. 
When she refuses to change her tune and libretto she is soon done away with. However it is hinted that her message has not been lost on the whores and pimps, the transvestites and addicts that have looked up to and gloried in her message of hope. This is a vision that they are men and women of value, “a beautiful people,” rather than the scum of the earth. Tremblay, who as a young person fell in love with Classical drama used a type of Greek chorus to impersonate the people of the Main. 
I was struck by its similarity to the Gospel and incidentally also to the rock spectacle “Jesus Christ Superstar.” A saviour is raised from among the people who speaks of a new vision and wins the adoration of many. That new role leads to his death but also to a rebirth in his people. 
It is a message that is passed on, but unfortunately over the centuries was also robbed  by the powers, the empires, Roman, French, British, Spanish, and now American. It has been used as a control mechanism on aboriginal people and the poor in general. Historians have called it “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.”
In our time we have witnessed something of that drama on the Latin American stage as Liberation Theology  took to the boards in the sixties and seventies.  At first the movement was encouraged by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. Then in middle  sixties,  upon his demise, and as the windows that had been opened were slammed shut again, it was  disowned by the official church. The state denounced it as Marxist. It had its martyrs such as Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.
In the United States the message is perverted by right-wing fundamentalists with its ties to national and global capitalism. A biblical literalism robs it of its power for good.  
Canadians are not immune to that disease. When Harper’s dreams of a majority take on reality in the True North, will a messiah arise to bring a message of hope and will he/she also be sacrificed, and will that message of peace and justice and human dignity be reincarnated in people? Is there more than a hint of that in northern Africa and the Middle East? 
My hope, of course, is that we as a nation will avoid such a political scenario. Nevertheless it is my conviction that there is a Spirit alive that will not allow us to rest and that Love will prevail in all its forms of peace and justice.
Saint Carmen lives, Hallelujah!

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