Sister Anne-Marie Brittain has been teaching bibliodrama in the Philippines for several years and is one of the newer members of the national network. She sees it as a way of making the Word of God active in people’s lives.
In bibliodrama, participants are invited to choose a character from a bible story, and become that character. As they embody their chosen role, they follow their own imagination and intuition to fill out the story and see it from a new perspective.
The re-enactment is always preceded by some discussion and a series of exercises, including prayer dances and symbolic acts of reverence towards the Scriptures. This sets the focus and helps participants feel confident in each other’s presence.
Familiarity with the Bible is required and there is often some home preparation involved. There are some overlaps with both academic study and prayer. But in bibliodrama there is an intense mix of subjectivity and objectivity, obedience to the text and freedom to explore within it, that leads to an experience of the Scriptures that is quite unique.
“A felt sense of
the Word of God”
Although there is a psychological component, Sr Anne points out that bibliodrama is different to psychodrama. While psychodrama may have therapeutic aims, Bibliodrama is pastoral: the Bible remains central to the experience. “You don’t stray from the narrative on tangents that are about you personally,” she said. Instead, you enter the text and conduct a “spontaneous dialogue with the Word of God.”
Bibliodrama became popular in the USA and Europe in the 1960s and reached the Philippines around thirty years later. Its roots are often attributed to Midrash, the ancient Jewish tradition of careful reading, reflection, and communal study or discussion of the Hebrew Scriptures, filling in the gaps between the words in the text to make it relevant to contemporary life.
Over the years, Sr Anne has observed the wide variety of ways in which people embrace bibliodrama. For her, the element of surprise, never knowing how it is going to unfold, is life-giving and energizing in itself. One constant, though, is the sense of community it ignites among participants.
Last year, the onset of Covid-19 posed some new challenges for bibliodrama practitioners. Normally the space workshops are held in acts as a prop, and there is much movement around the room. With the switch to online sessions, the potential for physical expression suddenly shrank. When asked how she coped with this, Anne replied: “I just trusted in God because there was a need for bibliodrama but I didn’t have the online skills!” In fact, the unknowns of the online transition ended up producing a more reflective approach, which Anne described as “insightful, in a different way”.
Anne’s first online course involved eighteen students studying at the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies in Manila. They were from Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Burkina Faso and the Philippines. The workshop was given in ten three-hour sessions. In the last two sessions, the participants presented their own bibliodrama workshops, each for a specific target group, such as youth or local parishes. Some have already used bibliodrama in their ministry, and Sr Anne is confident that they will continue to do so.
Sr Anne shares her experience as a bibliodrama facilitator in a booklet entitled Bibliodrama: A Transformative Word – Excavating the sources: Discovering God as a God of Surprises. It is the second of a series of three booklets that examine different ways of living the Word of God, published by the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in collaboration with Gantala Press Inc. A Transformative Word is illustrated by Clarisse Alfonso, with book design by Kristine Paz-Yap.
By Sr Anne-Marie Brittain