They all tend to begin the same way. An individual steps out of the crowd in a public place, often a mall or transportation terminal, and begins dancing, singing, or making music everyone present can see and hear. The act is odd and immediately draws a lot of attention. As people cast their gaze towards this oddity, others begin to join in and it soon becomes clear that the space has been invaded by a flash mob.
Flash mobs are little more than a mass gathering of people, usually organized by social media, who make it their mission to perform, in unison, a quirky act amongst a crowd of unsuspecting people. Once completed, many mobs melt back into the crowd. Videos of these seemingly spontaneous happenings are strewn across the internet and are carried along by a tide of email forwards or through viral links on Facebook and Twitter. Some become very popular indeed. The record holder for most views (39 million and counting) goes to what is sometimes known as the rather wordy but undeniably descriptive, ‘Christmas Food Court Flash Mob Hallelujah Chorus’.
Make no mistake: these flash mob events are carefully orchestrated and rehearsed by ‘the mob’. They simply cannot just happen. However, while the players may know their part, the unsuspecting audience does not. This imbalance leads to what I believe is often the most moving aspect of these events: the faces of onlookers filled with deep wonder, awe, and joy.
It strikes me that public places typically play host to a great irony: they are filled with people but devoid of relational connection. They buzz with activity, but very little interaction. People pass people without the slightest awareness of who it is they are passing. The reasons for this are many and they are practical. None of us has the time nor energy to attempt to engage everyone around us in a way that would foster a relationship. However, when an opportunity for conversation arises due to, say, a stranger picking up and returning a dropped glove or receipt, it quickly becomes clear in the exchange that we share a common humanity.
Flash mobs serve to catalyse our awareness of this shared humanity by granting us a unified, creative communal experience—one which runs counter to our everyday existence—and which introduces into that existence an inescapable burst of beauty or an uplifting jolt of joy. They catch us by surprise and invite us to join in. By eschewing the trappings of a theatre, museum, or concert hall for those utilitarian spaces where people of all walks of life are found, they bring dynamic art to the masses and, time and time again, the results are moving.
With Advent underway I find myself hoping for a similar shattering of expectations and desiring a divine invasion into my everyday world. I long for a burst of beauty which points me towards a Savior who, unwilling to hold to the trappings of transcendence chose to wrap himself in our humanity, to step into the common places of life, and to bring us light and life.