Every Thursday evening from 6 to 9 pm for years, I would go to theater classes at Spring Lake Community Playhouse. To most, this would seem a beautiful opportunity, a normal feat.
But for this shy little girl who was utterly tone-deaf and only slightly coordinated, those years in theater were a near-Herculean feat. We spent one hour at voice lessons, standing around a piano or warming up our voices. But since there is no warming up a voice that is clearly broken, while others sang and found their pitch, I watched the minute hand on the clock slowly edge towards relief, an hour of dance. I enjoyed the freedom to move, or, should I say, I enjoyed as much freedom one can feel in a room surrounded on every side by mirrors. In dance class, time moved as quickly as we leaped, and in no time, we would find ourselves in acting class. Outgoing students thrived as they did soliloquies and made impromptu commercials and such. Shy students with a tendency of blushing tended to turn into little bundles of nerves.
I survived my very short season as a very unknown novice actress in a very unknown theater. And that is precisely what qualifies me to talk about ensembles and such.
I may not be able to sing and I may not be able to dance and I may turn four shades of red when people even glance at me, but I do know about ensembles.
In my theater years, after auditions there would be an excited, nervous gaggle of children crowding around the casting list. I would wait my turn, run my finger down the sheet of paper, and sigh an earnest sigh of relief to find my name safely in the ensemble. That’s where I belonged. Those were my people, be they nameless orphans in Oliver Twist, street children in A Christmas Carol or flowers in Alice in Wonderland.
Despite my lack of talent and my fears, I actually enjoyed my short foray in the theater. Even though I only uttered one phrase in all my shows combined, being part of something bigger than myself thrilled me. In the midst of the long practices and the ridiculously tedious dress rehearsals, I had a sense of something greater, grander than my little heart or mind could even articulate.
Ensemble was enough then. I long for ensemble to be enough now.
We live in a culture enamored with celebrities and giftedness and fame. This obsession cuts through every field of interest and industry. In its most obvious form, this myopia is evident in the music and film industries, in collegiate and professional athletics, and in academic settings from elementary school and beyond. However, in a more subtle form, it has bled its way into our neighborhoods, and, yes, even into the Church.
If we peel back the cultural layer, we find this idolatry with notoriety and fame rearing its ugly head in churches and homes. Peeling back one more layer, we find the culprit: the human heart.
According to the Bible, the desire to upstage reared its ugly head in the human drama shortly after the curtain opened. In Genesis, the book of beginnings, Moses recorded what Yahweh had revealed to him concerning the origin and purpose of mankind on Mount Sinai. Moses writes that in the beginning of beginnings, Adam and Eve were discontent with the role they were given by God, desiring to have more power, more control and full knowledge. Meanwhile, as Moses was likely receiving these revelations of the fall of mankind, it was happening again, as his own brother and sister Aaron and Miriam, became discontent with their secondary roles. On and on and on, the cycle repeats itself throughout the entire Bible and continues on into the present day.
Most of us most naturally live as if the world is a stage and everyone else is merely a player in our story. Is there any way to assuage this human hunger for the fame and notoriety of the lead role?
Thomas Chalmers, a Puritan writer, wrote about the “expulsive power of a greater affection,” the notion that the only way to fight desire is with desire. According to this line of thinking, one gets rid of a lesser desire only when a greater desire settles into one’s heart, thus expelling the old desire.
If this is the case, and tradition and experience seem to say that it is, then the only way to fight our desire to be the lead role in our own two-bit story is to be invited into a greater epic story. It’s one thing to be caught up in something bigger than yourself, like I was in my children’s theater ensemble days; it’s quite another to be called up into THE story of human history, the story of God’s redemption of the world through Christ.
The screen-writer and director Himself has written each of His children into roles in this grand drama, be they two-bit parts, minor speaking roles or major roles. This realization has the power to completely transform and rearrange our little lives; it can and should endue our lives with meaning and purpose. In light of the bigger picture, the grand production, we are able to move from competing with other two-bit actors and actresses to cooperating with them to see the story come to fruition and success.
I know this to be true, as do many of you. The problem is that we sometimes lose sight of the big picture. We get lost in our little corner of the ensemble and begin competing and setting up our own ramshackle little stages and sets right there on His stage. We fret and fume and fester at how no one notices us or appreciates us; we fight for attention, recognition and purpose. When we don’t get it, we sit down with our arms crossed and our hearts crestfallen.
We would continue in such a state, were it not for the graciousness of our God. Somehow, in His winsome manner, He reminds us of the bigger picture. It may be that we hear the faint sound of the chorus in the background, streams of individuals that have joined to become a rushing sea of praise and purpose. It may be that peaking from behind the curtain, we catch a glimpse of the show that leaves us longing to be back in the ensemble, back where, though we were small, we were significant and secure. How He brings us back into contentment in His company if of little matter; what matters is that we find ourselves back in His story.
For when we are in His presence, in His company, ensemble is enough.
“Not to us, Lord, not to us, but Your name be the Glory because of your lovingkindness and because of Your truth.” Psalm 115: 1