I’ve had a few friends say that watching Cosmos this summer was “like going to church.” That hasn't been my experience. It’s a good show – a really good show – but at the end of an episode, I feel informed, and a little smarter about my place in the universe…but not filled with any transcendent wonder. It feels like school, on those days when school felt like a good place to be.
My church moments are usually live theater – or live music. In theater, it’s often when some connection is made that I haven’t seen before. The end of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, the first time I saw it… that was a church moment for me. Pig Iron Theater Company’s Dig or Fly, a fusing of the stories of Amelia Earhart, archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, and Daedalus and Icarus, was another. Even a production of Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon I saw years ago at Philadelphia Theater Company, a play that reveals itself to be a scorpion halfway through, did the job. And Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia — I saw a production at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia — astonished me. Its staging and subject matter threw the doors of experience open wide. Film can do this, too...but it doesn't hit with the force of something live on stage before me.
Music, I never know where or when it’s going to happen. The first one I remember was watching The Moody Blues, and hearing Justin Hayward sing “Question.” Even from way back on the floor of the Spectrum, I knew that was a special moment. I’ve felt a light drizzle begin as the Who started to sing “Reign O’er Me” at Veterans Stadium, and I’ve seen David Wilcox, undaunted by a storm, scrap his set list and sing song after song about rain, until the set turned a corner into sunshine…about five minutes before the weather did. Hearing Bet Williams unspool “Lost in Provo” at the North Star Bar, or dancing as Neo Pseudo pulsed and jammed their way through “Follow the Drinking Gourd” some Thursday night at Café Mexicana in Manayunk, those moments were church. I was outside myself.
There’s the ecstasy. That’s where I find rapture.
Cosmos is an unusually engaging science program. It offers historical perspective and scientific insight, and presents some fascinating intellectual exercises. But as art, it hasn’t yet moved me. Not the way church should.