A Good Play (Even When You Have A Bad Script)

23 06 2011

Reflections on Dan Allender’s book, Sabbath. Chapter 9: “Acting Out Sabbath In Ritual and Symbol.”

I have a joyful memory; I think I have blogged about it before but I can’t help myself, here it is again. It was several years ago. The seven of us (Mike and I, our four kids and my mom) were in New York, “enjoying the scenes without means” you might say; fun on a budget.

We were having a great time exploring the city and while we were there I really, really wanted to go to a Broadway show with everyone; the ticket prices were out of reach, however. We were wandering around Times Square at one point; there was a discount ticket booth there but discount was not discount enough for the seven of us.

Then, one of those serendipitous moments, a lady with tickets in hand approached me, “I am a teacher leading a student group on a field trip in New York and I have extra tickets to Chitti-chitti-bang-bang. I will give you a great price if you would like to go.” I would have LOVED to go to that musical, but even her good price was not good enough; even if I had wanted to splurge, I didn’t have the cash on me and she was in a hurry.”

I said, “That is a great price, but I just don’t have that on me.”

Then she asked, “How much do you have?”

“I only have $100 U.S.” I replied.

She smiled, “I really think you should go to this musical. I will give them to you for that.”

So for $100 I had seven tickets; I was beyond happy!

The tickets were in the nosebleed section; I didn’t care. We took our seats and Mike whispered to the usher, “Any possibility we could get better seats?” The usher said that when the lights went down she would check if there were any empty seats. As it turned out, there were seven, front row balcony; superb seats with an unhindered view of the play!

As the lights went down I felt this surge of joy wash over me and I felt tears running down my cheeks, who-knows-why from who-knows-where. I’d have to think about that later. The musical was laugh-out-loud funny, and magical (the original car flew over the audience) and perfect.

Here’s the thing though, this beautiful evening was only a temporary oasis. In the days before that day and in the days after that day there were heart-wrenching things going on in my world.  It’s not like I didn’t know that, but for a few hours I was completely focused on the stage where I saw a different story being played out and I laughed and cried and smiled until my face hurt. I couldn’t believe I was there, in these seats, with these people. I entered into the story unfolding before me, completely, without a thought of anything else. It was purely peaceful, joyful, and abundant. It took it all in and said, (to borrow a phrase from God) “it is good.”

As I reflect on this story I think how Sabbath-like that day was. In this chapter of the book, Allender agrees, writing, “Theater is our life.” The theater allows us to see stories, the acting out of the “dilemma of our existence.” We can see suffering, and triumph in a short amount of time; to engage in it, yet have a distance from it, and we “intuitively sense that the drama on stage intersects our life” (150) where God “has provided for a play in which we all must share” (151).

On the stage of the world there is a play; actually “it is a case of the play within the play: our play, ‘plays’ in His play” (151).

We are in God’s play, yet our rebellion creates a drama that requires God to enter our play in an act that goes far beyond linking the separated stories – his intrusion reorients and recasts our roles from one of antagonist in a tragedy to being a hero in a tragic-comedy. Often God’s role is an off-stage presence whose coming sets all the other actions into motion, yet whose absence requires all the other characters to become more alive and attuned to their humanity. Whatever the role God chooses, he enlivens, disturbs, and sets us into motion to engage both his absence and presence. We inevitably are playing off God as we each attempt to find our voice and discover our role (152).

Allender describes how we are living out a drama in our day to day lives, though not of our own choosing and often with a script we don’t even like. We are constantly trying to figure out who we are in the play and who other people are and we act out our parts with each other and with God. We were created but we also recreate our role; improvise and deal with a mess of disorder.

What does this have to do with Sabbath? The Sabbath calls us out of the regular drama of our lives to imagine what will one day be. The Sabbath calls us to act out eternity on a day, with new props, costumes and stage and bring out the themes of peace, abundance, and joy that we might have missed on the other six days but are at the very heart of what God gives us and will give us more of.

Peace — not to pretend that conflict and tension does not exist — peace is talking about the journey we are all on, where differences exist and that is ok, through “hospitality and care; not debate, but sufficient care and curiosity to listen to the different paths people have taken to find meaning” (158). Peace is sitting with seven people you are doing life with and sharing a moment, set apart from other moments, and seeing something good enfold in front of you.

Abundance is realizing that the Sabbath is made for us (Mark 2:27). It is a feast; actually quite literally, the Sabbath was always celebrated with a “Shabbat meal.” And what sort of meal? An abundant, feasting kind; the kind where your best china was used and your best food and wine are served. What feels abundant to you? For the author, one of his symbols of abundance is a Montblanc Fountain Pen that he only writes with on the Sabbath where he writes about his awareness of gratitude, in his best penmanship that “will allow and account for the rare and sweet gifts of grace that have been lavished” on him that week (161).

Unless one learns to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come. Sad is the lot of him who arrives inexperienced and when lead to heaven has no power to perceive the beauty of the Sabbath” (Herschel, quoted 202).

You can’t have a Sabbath day without joy. Joy “requires setting aside work for wonder and worship for worry – in order to see the sweetness of what is rather than the disappointment in what is not” (162).

Will we do this; consciously observe the fourth commandment, and act out a new play on that day? Will we really bring in the rituals and symbols into that theater so that we sense, at least one day a week, that we are involved in something bigger than us? We were never designed to live in the darkness of one bad day after another, one relational problem after another, one worry after another.

On the Sabbath “we live as if redemption in our relationships is truer than all the division, destitution, and despair that exist on the other six days” (163). Doesn’t that seem like an outrageous proposition? Honestly, I know that I cannot pretend well enough that I am joyful, or that I am flooded with wonder. But I can choose to trust Jesus, choose to obey his Sabbath commandment, to prepare well,  to see what could happen on that day.

We never know what serendipitous moment He has, in turn, prepared for us.

…we can put ourselves in our theater seat, clutch our program, and anticipate the rise of the curtain and the magic that is about to begin (163).

— Teresa Klassen



2 responses

23 06 2011

very good teresa. very good.

10 10 2011

I stumbled on your blog today, and many of your thoughts echo and expand on my own recently. It’s so crucial that we take the time to dig deep into our stories and cultivate conversations that encourage others to do the same. More thoughts on that:

Thanks for your post. May God’s truth be grace to you today.

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