Ritual Space, Community, and the Holy Spirit
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By expanding the boundaries of ritual space through the airwaves, El Shaddai creates a direct experience of sacredness, ritual, and the Holy Spirit in the home, within a very personal sphere. Blessings can travel through the air�waves, unmediated by traditional Catholic channels such as priests, saints, the Virgin Mary, the Eucharist, statues, or rosaries. Brother Mike told me that his ministry’s calling was to “free people from the bondage of religion.” He values traditions such as the sacraments and mass attendance, but says the Church and its clergy are bogged down with intellectualism and ritual. Furthermore, while Catholic priests’ connections with God are “man-made” (the result of studying), Brother Mike see his as unstudied and “spiritual.”  “This is no longer the work of man,” Brother Mike told me personally. “We are just willing vessels. Like me—I have a covenant with God that no man can ever understand.”

Furthermore, followers see the media airwaves and the open air of the rally as conducive to the free movement of the Holy Spirit. As one El Shaddai member said, “At church, God is near. At the rally, he is actually there.” They say they can “feel” God at the rally, in the open space—as energy, as heat running through their veins, as rain water on their skin (when it’s not raining), or as wind (when there’s no wind blowing). Moreover, they say that the feeling of God’s presence follows them into their everyday lives, whereas going to a church (i.e., in a Catholic church) is seen as limited in space and time: “you go in, you go out,” or “after one hour, it’s over.”

It is understandable that followers enjoy the rallies in this open space on the coast, and that they “feel God” there. One emerges from Manila’s cramped, tunnel-like streets and neighborhoods5 to a rare, wide open space with a view of the sunset, and on the horizon, one sees a partial view of the city’s skyline in the distance. The fresh air, sea breeze, open space, and stars signify a different, liberating sort of existential state to many of those who come to spread blankets on the ground.

In this space, El Shaddai members get a perspective not only of the city, but also of themselves and their own critical mass. They are able to express the force of this mass to outsiders by disrupting the city and its imposed “order” and by occupying, even reclaiming, public spaces. They create massive traffic jams at unusual times and take over the clean, posh segments of the city. In the interior barrios, El Shaddai’s mass is dispersed and unseen, but a rally crowd is a totality that can be seen and felt. As part of this collectivity that is simultaneously broadcast on national television, El Shaddai members are in a sense de-marginalized. Seeing El Shaddai’s impressive assembly, especially from atop the steps of the Film Center building (within the rally grounds) or through the TV cameras above the stage, gives participants a sense of significance, even empowerment. This view of “the numbers” is, in part, what makes El Shaddai seem awesome to outsiders as well.

In coming out from the barrios, El Shaddai members also enter a space where mediation with the elites and the power brokers of Philippine society seems possible. People in the rally audience are courted by politicians and candidates who “perform” for them on stage, address them directly, and banter with Brother Mike. In El Shaddai/rally space, formerly invisible people now exist, at least on some limited level, for the nation—they are on the national political map and in the national consciousness. Not only do politicians, candidates for political office, high officials of the church, prominent businessmen, and other prominent people regularly visit them, giving them a sense of importance, but these visits reach a national audience through mass media.

 

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