We’re midway through the run of “Metamorphoses”, doing the show night after night, six or seven times a week. There is something holy about all this repetition. Please don’t think I’m crazy, but it reminds me of church.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and I mean that quite literally: I was born while my dad was in seminary, and I spent many childhood hours in church pews, reading or playing, sometimes even paying attention, while Dad conducted a service or a meeting or a wedding rehearsal. The Episcopal Church was my second home.
Ours is a liturgical church, which simply means that we participate in certain rites (like communion) over and over again, week after week, year after year, century after century. We use much the same language from one year to the next (there are changes in our prayer book every so often, the last major one occurring when I was about ten, but essentially, we’ve been saying the same thing for centuries).
I can say a lot about the language and beauty of the service (and maybe I will, in future posts), but today I am interested in the act of repeating things.
I take my mom to church most Sunday mornings. With her dementia, Mom gets mildly confused in social situations, but at church she knows exactly what to do. She knows most of the prayers by heart; she recites the creed from memory; she sings the familiar hymns as enthusiastically as ever. When we sing one of her favorites, she grins from ear to ear.
I find it deeply calming to share this ritual with my mother. Whether it’s the repeated “om” of meditation or the repeated footsteps of a pilgrimage, ritual stills the mind by giving the body something very specific to do. In church, I’ve stopped worrying about what I believe, and started trusting the ritual to lead me through a process of letting go, being present, stepping out of ordinary time. I am there with my mom, and I can only be there. Nothing else matters.
It’s meditative. It’s mindful. It’s liberating.
And so it is for me in the theater.
The ritual of putting on special clothing, stepping into a designated space, and speaking the same words night after night liberates me from the daily grind of going and doing and never feeling caught up. During the show, I can only be there, on stage. I can only say the words of the script. I can’t check my phone or email; I can’t procrastinate; I can’t change my mind and start another task. I must be present. I can’t even skip ahead to save time: I have to do my whole job, beginning to end, no shortcuts.
Mindfulness. Some people find it in a Zen retreat or a yoga studio. Some people find it in a game of golf. I find it anywhere I can: in church, in nature, and most of all, on stage. Again, and again, and again.