How do we quantify our feelings for a parent or lover? Or our devotion to a god or politician? How do we measure the immeasurable? Conversely, how do those we worship expect us to display or prove the “undying” commitment in our feelings?
There are rituals in our daily lives that reflect these attachments. These quotidian acts range from secular to sacred, from checking our Facebook notifications to ten Hail Mary’s. Nonetheless, they all commodify immeasurable emotions into ritualized labor.
As a child born and raised in the Unification Church, a fundamentalist new religious movement, I had my own unique experiences of authenticating faith. The most common one being ritual “conditioning” through full-prostration bowing. The more consecutive bows you did, the greater your faith. Usually you assign a holy number such as 21, 300, or 2000, and commit that many bows over one or multiple sessions.
However, to measure devotion through a physical activity is to reduce an emotion that should be transcending to an ableism that undermines its own authenticity. Instead of a predetermined limitation, what if one were to bow consecutively until the point of collapse? How does complete exhaustion and one's own physical limitations equate to one's belief?
To explore these questions, I decided to revisit my childhood experiences of measuring faith in the Unification Church by performing full-prostration bows until I collapsed from exhaustion. Normally these rituals take place in private spaces, but instead I chose a plot of land outside the Barrytown monastery in upstate New York, a Unificationist estate utilized for workshops since the 1970’s. An appropriation of sacred rituals right in front of their establishment could easily be viewed as an act of protest, a defiant satire to reclaim the exchange of power and devotion. However, the impulse to perform such an exploration is difficult to alienate from the conditioned reverence that it distilled in me as a child. The question is, who am I performing for now?