Just after we wrapped up production on FLOW I took a role in a play called “But Now I See: Stories of Spiritual Intimacy and Healing”. It was verbatim theatre, which means that the entirety of the play was built from interviews of real people. Their exact words–their stories–become the actual script.
I played “Will”, a young pastor who was sexually abused as kid. I told his story alongside “Kelly,” a 30-something year old, who came home from a wedding one day to find her husband dead. Guided by Dave Ellens, the “interviewer” (story compiler and director), the play would go back and forth between our two stories. At times our experiences of intimacy with God and healing would feel like one cohesive thought. Sometimes, they were in direct contrast to each other. At other times, they were wholly unique. Other characters in the show included a woman with cerebral palsy, a student who survived a 100-foot fall into a canyon, a guy who was healed from his stutter only to have it return, and a missionary-kid who survived a church bombing in Iraq…You may find this hard to believe, but it was actually a pretty funny show.
Somewhere in the process of learning Will’s lines, memorizing, and studying, I had this thought, “I am learning to live a memory that is not my own.” In taking on Will’s story, I was learning to live the story of his suffering; I was embodying his experience, his thoughts on God, on life, on forgiveness. I was putting myself aside to become him. And here’s the mysterious thing: in the process, I was also finding myself. The more Will’s words and story took root in me, the more I was tapping into my own suffering and finding a voice for it. It was as if he needed me to tap into my own junk to more truthfully live him out. And in his story of suffering and healing, in his experience of intimacy, I discovered with new eyes my own experience. And together, we shared in it all. In living out his story, we were in community together. What’s more, for the 5 days that we ran the show–through all us players living out the memories of these people–the audiences found their own stories, too. They found a voice for their questions, their fears, their suffering, their hope; they were given new eyes, too. And at the close of every show, there was no denying that everyone in the theatre was unified; we were all one.
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So, why I am telling all of this?
This story isn’t just about an actor preparing for a role or how it affected the audience; this is story about what it means to receive communion and live our faith out in the world. When I think about Will, I think about Jesus. Just as Will gifted me his story to live out on stage, Jesus gifts us his broken body and poured out blood, and he tells us the same: do this in remembrance of me. He says take me in, learn me, embody me, give my ways voice and expression for the whole world to see. He says live out my memory, my story of offering and sacrifice, of suffering and seeking and love. In me, he says, you will lose your life, but in me you will find it, too.
And here’s where it gets really crazy. If we look into Jesus, if we start to study his words and ways, we find that the most important things he had to say weren’t anything new. They were memories from an old text his Father breathed out: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. When Jesus was in his darkest moments, face-to-face with the devil in the desert, his words were from Moses (Deut 8:3; Deut. 6:16; Deut. 6:13). When he hung in agony from the cross, his lament was first David’s.
So let this be a call, a reminder, to truly live out the memory of our Savior in the world. Let us see the gift of Jesus’ body and blood on our lips for what it truly is: a call to embody him. Let us seek life and unity in every place we go and for every person we meet. Let us live out his memory as he lived out the memory of his Father in heaven. Let us live into his own words, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
And hey, if you need a little direction, practical advice–some lines to learn, if you will–here’s something I gleaned from an article by Joe Carter over at The Gospel Coalition. Note: it bears an uncanny resemblance to actually preparing for a play.
1. Choose a book of the Bible.
2. Read it in its entirety.
3. Repeat step #2 twenty times.
4. Repeat this process for all books of the Bible.
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Oh, and one more thing…if you’d like to learn more about verbatim theatre, director Dave Ellens just wrapped up another production called “Here I Am: Stories of Connection and Disconnection in a Modern World.” I believe they filmed the show, and when it’s out I’ll let you know. You can read about the play here. Also, you should absolutely ‘like’ Dave on Facebook, not only would it totally freak him out to get a rush of ‘Friends,’ but he writes these little observations about life that remind you of beauty in everything.
To read more about “But Now I See: Stories of Healing and Spiritual Intimacy,” here are some reviews, too: