When I was young, my friends misunderstood and criticized my religion and my faith. Words like “pagan” and “weird” stained their palette of descriptors for my church, and illogical and incoherent claims regarding my belief system were tossed around like gossip. In contrast, I was witnessing that their faith was simply a collection of superficial Bible verses, Christian bands, and privileged youth groups. This internal conflict ignited disappointment and anger regarding my friends’ ignorance, ill-founded discrimination, and desperate subscription to depthless and superficial ideology. My solution to dissolving my anger and frustration was turning to a method of fully experiencing God: creation.
Before continuing, I would like to note that I illustrate my friends’ religion in this way to demonstrate my naive teenage perspective. With time, I have learned to forgive my friends for the ignorance of my faith, as I recognize I have been ignorant of theirs. Additionally, time has provided me with more knowledge of their religious beliefs. I recognize that many of my friends practice their faith with deep intentionality and devotion to God. For this, I am grateful and happy. The above statement is meant to situate you, my reader, in my teenage mentality in order to better understand my journey. I do not intend to admonish my friends, their beliefs, or their religion.
My intellectual playground and sanctuary for prayer was originally known as Entru Kalimon (translated to True Earth), and I wrote a story about a group of friends who had to find a book of knowledge that said how to end all wars. This story expanded over time into a galaxy of 12 planets, 10 nations of creatures, millions of years of history, and various layers of magic and science. The story also shifted to narrate a group of friends that were re-pieceing together the Tumi Desa Napol dodi Honoutej Nery (The Angel’s Creed & Amendment Accords) and the Mercazat Teze (the Ritual Divine). This creation provided a location for my mind to experience exquisite beauty and peace over the years. Moreover, this was where Leneia a’Min Maserna was initially created, and where the world of Vedam began to expand.
To complement the developments of this fictional plane, I began to engage in intellectual discussion of (what I later learned was) Western epistemology. During high school, I read works that discussed social and political issues under the constraints of Western language and politics. In Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky, Life of Pi by Martel, and All The Light We Cannot See by Doerr, the authors took themes of love, war, crime, and religion and examined how they are impacted by cultural perspectives and societal expectations. Discussions of these themes and virtues greatly interested me, and I found myself challenging people’s binary modes of thinking and recognizing the benefits and beauties of my own Eastern Orthodox faith.
It was during my undergraduate studies that I learned what epistemology is. Various women’s studies assignments, theology and philosophy arguments, and literary theory classes pressed my mind to analyze Western thought and its flaws. I found binaries appalling, particularly regarding conceptions of “right” and “wrong,” which have perpetuated constructs of masculinity and femininity and have seeped into Western lifestyle and systems of domination and hierarchy. I also became disillusioned with Western concepts of art. While I still partook in ballet and enjoyed classical music, I was simultaneously finding Byzantine music, Eastern Orthodoxy, and alternative dance forms to be beautiful for reasons that are not particularly Western. The grounded and minor sounds of Byzantine music and the communal ecclesiastical approach to worship in the Eastern Orthodox church was unique and real, and I wanted to emulate this in my new world, both spiritually and physically.
With these experiences I began the process of creating Leneia a’Min and its physical counterpart, Leneia a’Min Maserna. Leneia a’Min is a spiritual practice and religion from the fictional galaxy of Vedam. Its physical component, Leneia a’Min Maserna, is a martial arts practice with elements of dance and yoga incorporated to the basic form. This practice reflects Eastern Orthodoxy in a physical sense, but it also incorporates the healthy Western understandings of movement and body. My expertise and personal experience in the field of dance and movement has blurred into my Eastern methods of thinking. In this way, Eastern Orthodoxy collides with Western expectations and perspectives of the body in order to resolve and heal the harm that has been done between the two hemispheres’ philosophy and worldview. Leneia a’Min Maserna is still intentionally based in Western techniques of dance and movement, but it’s also a form of prayer and healing according to Eastern methods of thought. This collaboration of epistemologies is a challenge to modern religious and spiritual practices, as Leneia a’Min Maserna requires the participation of the body, mind, and spirit.
Leneia a’Min Maserna developed even further than I could ever imagine with this particular project. Not only did I have an opportunity to directly participate and practice this religion, I also developed its lore, systems and practices, and layers of worship. One of these layers is the incorporation of Byzantine chanting, which in the Eastern Orthodox church provides a grounding effect to worship and a deep spiritual connection to God. My personal relationship between chanting, my faith, and the world, is a complex engagement with multiple dimensions of my spirit, and I believe this profoundly impacted the development of Leneia a’Min and Leneia a’Min Maserna. In chanting, the human voice is an action experienced by the senses in order to access the spirit, of which cannot be accessed strictly by physical means. Dance and other material arts practices have this same effect: using the body, physical sensations, and material means to access the spiritual aspect of humanity. In this way, chanting and dance (two central components of the physical practice, Leneia a’Min Maserna) are used to access the spirit and cultivate and establish a connection between the practitioner’s body, mind, and spirit.
The reason I wanted to combine chanting, dance, Eastern religion, and mediation into Leneia a’Min Maserna is to remove the bias that has been shaped and manipulated by the expectations and limits of Earth. When we look at non-Western religious practices we are immediately biased towards or against oriental or occidental beliefs, cultures, and perspectives (either voluntarily or involuntarily). For example, Byzantine chanting and common traditions of the Eastern Orthodox church are rarely understood correctly by individuals with a more Western mentality (as demonstrated by my own experiences with Western Christianity). However, considering the distance of believability in fiction, most all abstract concepts and discussions are reviewed without a bias, as those involved in these discussions recognize that fiction cannot be examined with the same theoretical lens as nonfiction or other earthen-based texts. Therefore, I am purposely taking these Earthen practices, religions, and beliefs and translating them to a fictional location—spiritually and physically—so no bias can be applied to Leneia a’Min Maserna. By making this practice similar and parallel to omnipresent events and beliefs on earth, the story and religion becomes believable as well. Additionally, the removal of bias adds another level of participation. Without bias, and with a believable premise, anyone can participate in this practice—and they do. The video I have put together demonstrates the capacity of humans to participate in a fictional religion while still attaining some level of peace that is achieved both in this fictional world and in Eastern Orthodoxy.
By making this multilayered interaction of dance, Orthodoxy, and fiction, my goal is challenge the reader to remove themselves from linear, binary, and logocentric thinking in order to find peace within the imagination—an entity created by God in order to reveal God’s love.