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3.24.2014

Shakespeare Sundays

I'll tell you what gives me more joy than anything else I can think of: creative communities. I don't mean formal communities with logos and schedules, though those are nice enough. I mean when you find out that Benedict Cumberbatch is friends with Tom Hiddleston who's friends with Zachary Levi who's friends with Nathan Fillion who's friends with Joss Whedon. Just imagine that dinner party for a moment. Now you see what I mean.

Yesterday afternoon I was in a room of people, most of them friends, some of them strangers, reading through "The Merchant of Venice". Each person read a different role. And the whole thing was brilliant. I found myself looking around me at the other readers with a particular appreciation, because I was in the midst of my own convergence. The creative community had happened. Not a single person in the room was "famous", but every one of them was graced with a good measure of talent—and a few of them with the kind of talent that makes you stop and stare and forget to breathe. (If I say our Shylock was better than Al Pacino, will I be believed?)

This is just to say, again, that I'm very grateful. None of this came about because I said, "Here, let's develop a community." It came about because a few people who loved something very much found the same love in each other and said, "This here! Let us celebrate it!" We find ourselves in good places when we set about celebrating our whole (as in hale, full, well and making well) passions. 

3.10.2014

Pater Noster

I wrote this responsive prayer for our service yesterday as part of a 40 day series on the Lord's Prayer our church is going through. My mother asked me to post it here. I do what she says.

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray:
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
This is your world. You hold the past, present, and future in your almighty hands. Because the veil was torn and the Spirit has come, we are always—even now—standing in the presence of our God. All of creation bends to you—and would we hesitate? The rocks sing your praise, and the waves rest at your feet. How often we forget!

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray:
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
All around us—and within us—we find excuses to ignore your persistent presence.  We settle for easy dissatisfaction in things that are not of you. We have stepped too far over that line that runs through each human heart. We’ve compromised to keep ourselves from suffering as you suffer, grieving as you grieve—but it has robbed us also of your divine, unfettered joy. All this, and we hesitate to call the darkness evil. Christ, keep us.

And Lord Jesus, teach us to pray:
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Son of God, have mercy on us for the things we choose to do instead of loving you.  Too often we cast the stones of our own justice, forgetting that they fall on you. Our hardness of heart keeps us distant—but apart from you, where shall we go? How can we live? You who said, “Father, forgive,” help us to have mercy as you have mercy. Unclench the fists of our hearts, and teach us to love like you.

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray:
Give us today our daily bread.
Ever more we need you! When the car unexpectedly runs out of gas, the bank account’s tapped out, the job’s lost, or we’re just too tired to do the kindest thing. Then the simplest things are supernatural, because we only have when they come from you. Every day we need your grace. Every day we need your bread.

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray:
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Even though it messes with our personal plans, even though it requires our surrender, even though it means everything must change—O that you would rend the heavens and come down! We are weary, we are angry, that the oppressor has had his way! The closer we are to you, the more it breaks our hearts to see the poor trampled, the weak abused—to see the lonely, the less than, the lost, the hurt.

We’ve wronged, fallen short, and been endlessly needy, and you’ve met us with your own endless mercy and generosity. So too we need you when the brokenness of the world hurts us more than we can bear. Put an end to the brokenness of nature. Put an end to the brokenness of humanity. Because in your presence neither disaster nor disease nor abuse nor death by any hand can stand. You conquer with severest light, and you heal with perfect tenderness.

We need you now to remind us of the goodness of existence, of the beauty of the earth—to remind us of the astonishing gift of your holiness here with us. When our hearts are burdened, when our future is hard to see, when our patience is thin and our eyes are dim, still, as your children, there is one thing we know: That you, O Lord, are good.

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Amen.

3.07.2014

Choosing Coriolanus

Let me tell you a little bit about my life right now. It's quite lovely, actually—I have a perfect apartment, good friends, precious family, and I ate delicious sweet potato gnocchi today. But it's not particularly cheerful at the moment. It seems nearly everyone I care about is going through their own personal gauntlets, and I am left to pray. Which is a good place to be left in, but not easy.

I have made this observation elsewhere, but I'll make it again here. Something happens when you crack open the door to grief. You become almost physically aware of the feelings that are due things. That which is delightful suddenly strikes you as the most beautiful thing in existence. That which is sad can set you to honest weeping. I find a certain sanctity in this. After all, Jesus wept.

In the midst of all this, I've been personally "suffering" a lot of Stupid. My wallet was stolen a month ago, and for a pile of reasons, it's taken all that time to get access to my new bank account. I made an hour long trip the other day only to find out it was a wasted journey. I broke my key ring. I dropped each of my keys individually the whole way down the hall trying to fix it. I'm pretty sure there's a leak in one of my tires. I could go on, but why bother.

I've been meaning to treat myself to something, lately—preferably something theatrical. A few weeks ago, I heard the Donmar's Coriolanus would be screening in Irvine. The tickets were available online—I just needed my new payment card. I waited for it for three weeks. Just long enough to be too late.

Though the tickets were sold out, I called anyway, and the woman at the box office sounded vaguely hopeful. It was possible (though the seats might not be any good) that just maybe there would be room for me. An hour before it started, I sat in my living room thinking about my perfect parking space fifty feet from my door, and the 45 minute drive in Orange County traffic, and the strong likelihood that I'd have to turn right back around. To be honest, I was afraid of being stuck in a stupid situation again.

And then I thought about what I'd be doing in an hour if I didn't go: sitting in my living room, wishing I'd gone. When I got to the box office, I told the woman I didn't have a ticket. She plucked one off the counter, saying, "You're in luck. A woman just left this here for the next person who came along. It's yours."

It was so perfect it was like a bad novel.  

So it was with absolute gratitude that I watched Coriolanus. And I think that's the way we should approach every work of Shakespeare. And while we're at it, the world.

--

For once in my life, I disagree with First Things. I suppose actually twice, because in August of 2012 they posted a review of the film adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus which was less than positive, and just last month they reviewed the Donmar Theatre's production of the same with similar disaffection.

The review of the film is titled "Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus," which is the first sign that the reviewer's main issue lies in the portrayal of Coriolanus himself. A different reviewer looked at the Donmar performance, and her main contention is also with the portrayal of main character. The one is too subtle, the other too sensitive. I think an interesting evening would be had if we could put these two reviewers in a room together, because they seem to disagree with one another almost completely about who Coriolanus is supposed to be. Sympathetic? Cruel? Fascist? Victimized?


I loved them both, for that exact reason. There may be plenty of wrong ways to perform Shakespeare, but I suspect there isn't a singular right one. Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus was terrifying and victimized. Thoroughly unlikable, but horrifyingly admirable. Tom Hiddleston's Coriolanus was a soldier of soldiers, self-destructively honest, ironically blind. And they both had more or less the same lines.


In the end, I found myself preferring the latter depiction—and not just because I'm a single woman between the ages of fifteen and fifty. (No, really. I swear.) I preferred it, because, unlike the film adaptation, I didn't feel like it was trying to do more than what Shakespeare wrote (i.e. be more political than he was already being), and it was richer as a result. It also felt much more like a classic tragedy. The end was completely surprising and completely unnecessary and completely inevitable all at once. It was so classically tragic, it felt more like Sophocles than Shakespeare.

--

I was thinking about Coriolanus as a character during the 30 minute walk home from my new parking spot (thankfully worth it). I was thinking about the choices he made—and the choices that were made for him—and how much he suffered for them. Here's the thing of it: You can't sort this one out. It's no one's specific fault how the Coriolanus cookie crumbles. As soon as you blame the politicians, the people open their mouths. As soon as you blame the people, Coriolanus turns out to be an ass. 

What does seem to be clear is that sometimes things happen regardless of you. Sometimes you step into a stream that seems like inevitability and you're left with nothing but your character, because no matter what, you'll be strung up by your ankles. 

Sometimes I make wise choices. Sometimes I make stupid ones. So often the difference lies not in the actions, but in their consequences. It seems so arbitrary that at times I might almost think our lives are ruled by fate—were it not for the burning in my heart. The thing Coriolanus lacked altogether. Human sympathy.

Incidentally (and I feel very strongly about this), I think sympathy isn't so much sharing other people's emotional experiences as it is echoing the "No's" and "Amen's" of God. Life can look an awful lot like tragedy sometimes, but it's not at all. For one thing, it makes no account of delight. "Life remains a blessing / Although you cannot bless." (Thank you, Auden.) More than this, suffering is never the end of the story. It is always the beginning. I don't say that dismissively. One must believe that souls are eternal to hold to this—and I do. 

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