Because of “Godspell”

Posted by Webster
Throwing down the gauntlet to my Catholic brother and fellow YIMC blogger, Frank Weathers— The year was 1970, when you were—what—six years old?! That’s when “Godspell” opened off Broadway, five years after Vatican II, one year after Woodstock. It totally rocked my world. And you were in what, kindergarten? How could you understand, Frank?

I was one year into an alternative spiritual trip that left the Episcopal Church in the rear-view mirror. Just then, this hippie-dippie musical inspired by “Hair” and based on the Gospel of Matthew arrived on the scene. And, despite all my alternative yearnings, something inside me said, You will never stop being a Christian!

Have you even heard (of) the songs “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” or “Day by Day”? No, I didn’t think so. So how can you understand what that time was like?

We were all looking for God, Krishna, Allah, Yahweh, Whatever His Name (we didn’t really care, it was all good). But even when I might have seemed farthest from my Christian roots, I couldn’t help loving “Godspell.”

I saw the touring production that left New York for Boston in, what, 1971? I saw the movie in 1973. Although I would take another 35 years to find the Catholic Church, there was something about this musical that sank its teeth into me and never let go.

Strangely, I thought of “Godspell” this Saturday afternoon at confession. In giving me my penance, Father Barnes referred to the opening prayer in the liturgy for the Second Sunday in Advent:

God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory—

As I went for a walk after confession and pondered my penance, I thought of the lyrics to “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” Which, by the way, are hippie-dippie simplicity at their best (worst?): Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Prepare ye the way of the Lord . . . (and so on). How do we prepare the way of the Lord? How do we remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy?

That’s question enough for this Advent season. Over and out!

  • Frank

    You got me on this one Sensei! I never would have even thought to watch it. And now, I can't wait to see it!!!

  • Mike

    Sadly, the movie is not nearly as good as the live performance – too much panning around ruins. I remember having the music on reel to reel tape!

  • Webster Bull

    Mike, I have to agree. The movie looks pretty goofy today. Movie version of "Hair" by Milos Forman (1979) was much, much better.

  • cathyf

    Hmmm… I'm the same age as Frank, and my best experience of Godspell was a parish production in the early 80's…

  • Christine the Soccer Mom

    I thought of Godspell at Mass this week, thinking at the beginning of Mass of "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord." Once (I know, this will be sacrilegious to some), our Life Teen Mass did a pretty nice version of it one Advent Sunday. It actually gave me chills a bit while it started very slow and gradually gained pace after everyone had processed. I was interpreting at the time, so I watched the high schoolers processing in slowly… It was really neat.I also remember watching the movie and liking it, then seeing my HS do it a year after I graduated. The latter just brought me to tears. I seriously doubt my children would like it much, though. They are not that appreciative of "Jesus as Rockstar." They were just *scandalized* by billboards for "Jesus Christ Superstar" in our town! LOL!Anyway. Thanks for a lovely blog, Webster. Blessed Advent to you.

  • Webster Bull

    Christine (TSM), Thanks for your comment. I am curious about how many people have the same warm feelings for "Jesus Christ, Superstar" as I do for "Godspell." I really never even looked at "JC,S." There was something about it that I found harsh, abrasive, maybe too secular? Or maybe even when I was away from a formal church, something in me wanted to hold on to the warmest possible images and sounds of worship, and "Godspell" provided plenty of that. "JC,S"?? — I don't think so.

  • wayhip

    I saw the touring production of "Godspell" in 1973 at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. It had a profound impact on me as a teenager beginning to question his faith. Seeing songs such as "Save the People," "All Good Gifts" and "On the Willows" performed live on stage is immeasurably superior to seeing the film version. I still cry every time I hear my favorite song from the show "By My Side." A bit hippy-dippy? Perhaps. But God's truth has shone strong through lesser works and that which helps us experience the Gospel in new and exciting ways is difficult to discount.

  • Shannon

    "Godspell" is one of my all-time favorite shows, and it must be experienced in person, not in film. I've seen the play more times than I can count. The most moving production? Done by high school students. They created a character who signed and was part of the show. Her parents were deaf, she wanted them to experience the play, and rather than standing to the side and signing, she was a character. It was wonderful.

  • Webster Bull

    I still get chills when I hear "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" sung together with the chorus "Long Live God!" Opera it's not, but I love it still.