This is my column in today’s Greenville News.

Acting helps us see we’re part of a great drama

I like a well-executed play. I’ve been awed on Broadway, and humored in Las Vegas. I have laughed at local community productions of comedies. I respect the talent involved in taking a story and portraying it live. I have never been particularly interested in acting myself. (Although, I think I know the lines from Young Frankenstein well enough to play several roles.) Still, I can’t pass up the opportunity to be involved in the Passion Play at my church, College Street Baptist, in Walhalla.

It’s an old tradition in the church. In Medieval times, church members often performed in community dramas known as ‘Morality Plays,’ based on Biblical stories. Given the lack of movie theaters, televisions or (in large part) books, plays must have been a wonderful distraction from everyday life.

But as I’ve discovered in my miniscule involvement in our Passion Play, it’s more than distraction. In fact, you can learn a lot from performing in, and watching your friends perform in, a powerful story.

I’ve been touched by watching my daughter, Elysa, who is also in the play. This is her third time; as an infant she played the baby Jesus in the opening of the Passion Play. Two years ago she played the daughter of Jairus. Jairus was specifically named in the Gospels because his young daughter ( near Elysa’s age) was stricken with fever. On the way to help her, Jesus was held up by other activities. When he arrived, the child was dead; but with a touch and the words ‘daughter get up!’ she was brought back from death.

The last time the play was performed, I saw my then eight-year-old daughter carried down the aisle by my friend Ray (a father who cherishes his own daughters and son). When I saw her limp in his arms and heard his wails, ‘she’s dead, she’s dead!’, my eyes filled with tears and I almost cried out loud. When I saw her brought to life (as she was simultaneously pinched), I was relieved…despite the fact that it was theater.

Well, Elysa is the little girl again. This is probably her last command performance as Jairus’ daughter, as she is getting tall and becoming a young woman. But at a recent practice, I had to be Jairus’ since Ray was working. So, I had to shove my way through the crowd of choir members and find my way to Jesus, aka. Dustin. ‘My daughter is sick, she’s dying,’ I pleaded, as he responded, ‘just believe!’

Later, I had to find my way to the back of the church and carry her down the aisle, hanging in my arms, limp. (Limp as you can be when you’re only playing dead, I suppose…last time her not-so-limp arm clubbed the audience on the head as she was carried along.)

Still, hold her, crying out, ‘she’s dead, it’s too late, she’s dead,’ was physically painful. I began to cry, I felt my chest tighten, my words struggling to escape my mouth. When he looked at her, when he touched her, I was transported back 2000 years. I could feel the fear, and feel the release, as the miracle unfolded. When Elysa jumped up, I felt a cloud lift. And I loved Jesus all the more. (I restrained myself from kissing Dustin in thanks.)

I never realized the extent to which performing is truly a way of learning. But I see it more clearly now. I see my friends, the fellow believers I love so, who are my family. I can better comprehend the way the story speaks to them. I see Mary’s joy and brokenness. I understand Peter’s bravado and fear. I know why Nicodemus was afraid but hopeful and why the disciples fled in terror. I can even grasp the uncertainty of Pilate, and way the confused crowd both loved, and hated, the man Jesus.

I suppose the ‘act of acting’ focuses us in a way that we don’t always see in the living of our faith. In our daily lives, in what we see as the passage of mundane years, we forget that we are also part of the great cosmic drama; that our parts are no less real or relevant than the men and women represented by charcters of the Passion Play, who lived out those terrifying and wonderful events in reality, and in the midst of their own transformed lifetimes.

Perhaps being in a play is good for all of us now and then. So that we can step out of reality and into a different reality; and in the process see how one particular story is ultimately the story of us all, as relevant and transformative today as two millenia ago.

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