one character in search of an author: Eph. 4

My husband and I and two friends saw Cymbeline in the Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park this summer. None of us had ever read Cymbeline or seen it performed before. Why? Perhaps because in lesser hands it might be simply awful. Critics call it one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” They say it’s like throwing all his plays into a blender.

I wouldn’t know if it’s a problem play, because we saw it transformed into beauty by some of the best actors in the United States.  Real life girlfriend and boyfriend, Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater, can squeeze romance out of a stone of a script. Raul Esparza sang and danced a Vegas style song carved out of stilted prose. The actors hammed up the silly lines to the point that they were actually laughing with the audience. They were self-conscious of the coincidences in a way that made us enjoy them. When this so-called comedy called for a tragic and gory moment (Princess Imogen weeps in a grave embracing a headless corpse that she mistakenly thinks is her dead husband) the actors looked horrified. Princess Imogen looked the most surprised of all. Instead of trying to hide the plays’ flaws, they ran with them.

The stage gleamed under an almost full, real moon. Four freakishly large, real drops of rain – just four – fell out of the sky on us. Real birds chirped until the sun fell, just as Lily Rabe took to her stage bed. Then real crickets took up the refrain where the birds left off.

We left under the spell of a play acted the way it was meant to be. We walked home through the park near midnight confident that nothing – no homeless man, no fat park rat – could harm us. We were in the thrall of a happy ending wrestled out of a mess.

And we sensed that in the magic we had just witnessed, there was another message. We sensed that this is indeed how we could make our lives better. We just need some gifted actors in a perfect setting with a perfect director to  carve our confusing wanderings into a seamless plot with a happy ending for all. Maybe even tell us what to do every now and then…

Because we know we’re not the best actors going. What if we had been a third grade classmate of Lily Rabe and watched her perform the part of a skunk so well we found ourselves holding our noses? We might have wanted to volunteer to do the lights. In this world, a few people have the gift of being A list actors. The same is true of our lives, right?

Yes, but the good news is: we don’t have to be a perfect actor to enjoy our lives perfectly. Every one of us can have their gift of losing our grip on our self-consciousness the more we release our lives into God’s love.

Here’s how it works. When we accept we can’t be the perfect actor we want, and that we need God to be in charge, He comes to live inside us. On the cross, He was cast into outer darkness so we can have the spotlight. Because of the cross, God sees us in light of Jesus’ perfection. Jesus gives us a way to become the lead actor in our own lives, even though we’re not perfect actors.

This is good, because as this chapter of Ephesians makes clear, we are all riddled with more imperfections than Swiss cheese has holes. Reading the chapter without the lens of grace would make us feel small and shriveled.

For who could live up to these admonitions? Paul also says we are to humble, gentle and patient… “always.” We’re to get rid of all bitterness, rage, harsh words, and slander. We’re to be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven us. We’re to speak the truth in love.

It would be hard to argue with this script, and yet it’s impossible to do it. Even if we could learn to play that part on the outside, God calls us to mean it on the inside. Who could do that?

Instead, the change comes by admitting we’re bad actors. We change as we stop pretending we’re perfect and instead allow God to show us our own faults. The more He shows us the truth about ourselves in love, the more willing we are to confer that grace to others. Praying for those who have hurt us is a way of revisiting trauma surrounded by God’s love and peace. It allows us to forgive the unforgivable. It softens our harshness toward ourselves and others. It happens organically. It’s a natural outgrowth of God’s patience with us.

When we accept Christ, we can smile at our foolishness and admit it with gracefulness, because we know the only audience who counts is smiling at us. We’re forgiven in Christ. Our audience of One is clapping. Here is the paradox that opens the way to living our lives in an outdoor stage under an almost full moon with four freakishly large drops of rain. If we ask Jesus to be the leading man in our dramas, He unites with us in a way that allows us to receive the standing ovation He deserved. And in the light of that delight from the only audience who counts, we relax enough that we become better players ourselves.

We can wander home in the park, safe in the silent but earth-shattering applause that joins in with the angels and archangels above singing over us in love. And in truth, we find rest.

Because God made us not to act but to be real. In the truth, we find love.

Amen. Posted by Caroline Coleman on September 23, 2015

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