Considering the movement towards employing art for an experience of trascendance among Reformed types today, it may help to study what others have done in a similar vein.
A quarter century ago, the world’s greatest tightrope walker, Philippe Petit, requested permission to display his prowess high above the nave of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. The performance was described as follows:
One night last summer, Petit gave a special performance at the cathedral, in honor of its centennial. The cathedral was plunged into darkness; then a spotlight shot a beam into the vaulting in the middle of the church, picking out a white-sheathed figure in the air, entwined in a rope and holding a lighted torch. In the religious setting, amid the bare stone walls and the stained-glass windows, the mysterious sight was galvanic. Slowly, the form slid from heaven to earth on the rope. His face strangely rapt, as though he were in a dream, Petit walked down the nave toward the narthex and climbed onto crossed poles fifteen feet high. From them a thin wire rose into the dim heights of the cathedral. Suddenly, Petit leaped onto the wire, his mop of pale hair flying, and rushed over the black-tie audience. The wild, youthful figure balanced a lily on his forehead and slid along the wire while a pianist played Stravinsky. He lay on his back, trickling gold dust to the floor, forty feet below. He sat up and rolled backward. The audience gasped. Flashing a devilish grin, he tangoed, his back arched. The feet, marvelously precise, touched down without error as they returned from space, though Petit never glanced at them. Then they ascended the wire in slow, sure progress. His figure grew smaller and smaller, the balancing pole making a cross against the rising wire. Eighty feet in the air, the wire was too thin for the audience to see. For one chimerical moment, he seemed to walk on air, an angel released from gravity. Then he sprang onto a shackle between columns over the transept, and bowed. The lights went on. Organ music sounded triumphantly.
What was the religious significance or Christian significance of this showmanship high above the congregation?
Bishop Paul Moore was a man well known within the religious community for his defiance of the doctrinal commitments of his denomination in his ordination of various people excluded from the pastoral office, including avowed, practicing homosexuals. Moore presided over Petit’s performance and had this to say at its conclusion:
The Right Reverend Paul Moore, Bishop of New York, said, "I get flak whenever the church does anything other than evening prayer. But as soon as the performance began I forgot my worries and was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty: it was one of the finest moments in the history of the cathedral for beauty and deep religious meaning."
- Gwen Kinkead, Profiles, “ALONE AND IN CONTROL,” The New Yorker, June 15, 1987, p. 37, 38.