General CBF

A Balinese Communion

By Laura Ellis

“To-kay. To-kay.” It was a sound I’d never heard before, and since my body already thought it was the middle of the afternoon due to jetlag, I had no qualms about getting out of bed in the middle of the night to investigate. I saw nothing when I looked out my window, but the noise continued. Though I didn’t see him that night, the sound belonged to a Tokay Gecko—an aptly named creature whose calling resembles someone with a particularly violent batch of hiccups.

I’ve discovered there are geckos, fruits, spices, and perspectives here that I have never before encountered. To me, waking up in Bali is like waking up in a new world with fresh sights, tastes, smells, and sounds.

It makes me pause to consider perhaps how Adam and Eve felt the moment they opened their eyes in a new world that was quite literally the original form of art, music, and culinary delights. Everything around them was—just as everything around us still is—an artistic masterpiece made by the creator. A living breathing world of art and music. A Rabbi I met here said that “every breath we take is a hymn of praise to the creativity of our maker.” It seems impossible to read Genesis or even glance out a window and overlook the creativity of the divine. And to the favored creations, God gave aspects of himself such as the capacity to love, the need for community, and the yearning to create.

The Balinese people embrace this innate creativity into spirituality as they celebrate the arts. Nyoman Darsane, a brilliant Christian Balinese artist, hosts the Narwastu Art Community in his courtyard as its members learn to play in a traditional Balinese gamelan ensemble. He has a painting that portrays what Jesus would do if he visited Bali. Jesus is pictured dancing on the beach, embracing creation and his own creativity.

Jonathan and Tina Bailey, the founders of Narwastu, encourage participation in the arts to create a tangible community — an idea which is sadly uncommon in religious circles. I met Tomal, a student from California visiting Indonesia on a fellowship to research the approval or disapproval of the Muslim community on Muslims who are musicians. The project was inspired by members of his own family who had to play music in secrecy. The Christian community can also easily disapprove of artistic expression because it is an unpredictable and uncontrollable force — forgetting that we are a people made by a creative God, and our ability to create is a sacred gift. God has many names, but in Bali, I’m overwhelmed by God as the artist, the composer, the writer, the engineer, the creator. 

Like everything else in Bali, this idea is somewhat new to me. But it is embraced fully by the people I’ve met here. Rio, a flute maker and music tutor from Java, has a passion for percussion. He believes our love for rhythm is communal because as soon as we have a heartbeat, we have rhythm. Telling me this, he clicked the rhythm of an early stage of a baby’s heartbeat. Rhythm is one of the first things we learn to do. When I told Rio that I didn’t play an instrument, he responded “Not yet. I always tell people if you have a voice you can sing. If you have feet, you can dance. If you have a heartbeat, you have rhythm.” We have rhythm. We are rhythm. Creativity is an innate inclination and a common thread of connection in humanity. Oliver from Hungary, who is studying Balinese gamelan with an unquenchable thirst, said to me, “It’s not just the rhythm. Eventually you get to a point where you have a relationship with the music.”

While our mutual relationship to music mingled with our mutual relationship to one another, I realized the other day as I played an instrument I’d never seen before, that gamelan practice seemed more like a communion than a rehearsal. As we all gathered together on the floor learning new songs on new instruments surrounded by new people in a new place, our bread was community and our wine was creativity. And we drank and ate in abundance.

Laura Ellis is a Student.Go writer in Bali working with CBF field personnel Jonathan and Tina Bailey. Originally from Abilene, Texas, and a recent graduate of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Laura will be writing about the intersection between spirituality and the arts during her time in Bali.

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