Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from everyone at Players of the Stage. Now that our show is done and my hand is on the road to recovery, I am able to begin posting again. In celebration of the holiday here is my director's note from our production of The Prince and the Pauper. God bless.

How little separates us all. Had I been born but a short walk from here, it could have been I whom that brute soldier had tossed to the ground – Edward

 Mark Twain’s story of how two identical boys, born to different parents, into different social spheres, crossed each others paths is heartwarming tale of friendship. It is also an invitation for us to consider the humanity of all people regardless of class, ethnicity, gender, or religion.

 Prince Edward began to identify with the pauper Tom as an actual person, and not just a novelty, when he discovered that they were identical. The realization that Edward had done nothing to deserve being born a prince, and Tom had done nothing to deserve to be born a pauper, was the first step in acknowledging their equality. The infamous mix up that forced the young boys to exchange places further helped Edward to realize that all his subjects were his fellow people, and that they deserved to be treated with dignity.

“Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” This is a famous saying that Prince Edward would support. His experience as a pauper had a definite impact on how he viewed not only those who were different from him, but also those from his own sphere. Living as a pauper gave him the appreciation he needed to be able to view all his subjects as his equals in dignity and worth.

This is not an easy lesson to learn. Social prejudices and personal pride are hard to overcome, and we will likely never have the advantage that Edward had of actually living another person’s life. Fortunately, someone made the exchange for us, which makes it possible for us to treat each other with kindness and dignity.

 I don’t know if Twain thought of his story’s parallel to the Great Exchange as he wrote, but I couldn’t help notice it. A prince exchanges his place with a pauper, and lives his life, takes his beatings, and then when restored to his rightful place, the prince includes the pauper in his glory. The biggest difference in this exchange is that it was intentional.

 2,000 some years ago, the Prince of Peace became a pauper for us, took our beatings, exchanged His righteousness for our rags, and when He returned to His kingdom, He promised to give us a home with him one day. Jesus humbling Himself, walking, not a mile, but a lifetime in our shoes, allows us to treat each other with kindness. We treat each other with dignity, because to Jesus has made the offer of sharing His glory to all of us: not just to one gender, one class,
 one social group, but to everyone who would receive the free gift by faith.

 Several people were surprised when I told them what show we were doing this December, because it wasn’t a Christmas play. Christmas isn’t mentioned at all.  But it makes me think about Jesus coming down to earth to take my place, which means it’s Christmas enough.  I hope it will make you think about what the Great Exchange means for you.

Merry Christmas and God bless.

  

 

Hands

Because of my hand injury, I've been thinking a lot about a monologue I wrote a while ago entitled Hands. The situations are different, but the assurance given in the monologue has been a comfort to me. Enjoy!

Sharon Gerdes' hand three weeks out from the accident

Sharon Gerdes' hand three weeks out from the accident

Hands

By Sharon Barshinger

(Hannah is preset, sitting on a chair. She is nervously wringing her hands. Something prompts her to stand and she stands like a deer in the headlights. Finally:)

 Hello. Hell-hello. I’m sorry - I’m just - not very good at this. I’m just a little nervous I guess. I’ve never done this before. I - um - well - I’m sorry. I’m not good at this. I don’t know what to say. I guess it started with - well, I guess - (she gets distracted by her hands which she is still wringing)

 Do you know what my favorite, my absolutely favorite body part is? Hands. You can tell a lot about people by their hands. I’m like a gypsy; I read people’s palms but not for their future. I read people’s palms to see what I can learn about them. Are they accustomed to hard labor? Are they so meticulous about their appearance that they give great care to their cuticles? Do they express themselves through their hands? Handshakes can tell me whether a person is weak or strong, confident or shy; strong and confidant, weak and shy. I’m sure my hands tell you what I am.

Then there is so much you can do with hands. You can plant flowers or pull weeds, make dinner or wash dishes, give someone a soft caress or a slap across the cheek. They grade papers, type lesson plans, tie shoelaces button buttons! We’d be absolutely helpless without hands. Helpless. You know what else, hands have their own language too. A touch can communicate friendship, animosity, or indifference. Hands can tell you whether you should come closer or go away. Through a soft caress or a slap hands can tell you whether you are beautiful, loved and important, or if you’re just trash; something to be used and then disposed of once it has no more juice left.

 The only problem with hands is that there are two of them. They can give you mixed messages. One hand can tell you one thing one moment and the next the other is telling you something different. My Ex’s hands were like that. When we first started dating they told me I was beautiful and special and that I deserved to be handled with great care. As we went on, he switched hands on me. He started touching me more and more like I was absolute trash until I believed what his touch told me.

 I don’t remember when the beatings began - they become so habitual I didn’t give them much thought - just like I don’t give much thought to washing my hands - it’s what is expected, it’s what I do. What’s the use of resisting? There really wasn’t any use but one day he made me feel so trashy and I was so tired of being something that was kept around to see how many uses it could give before being absolutely worthless, worthless. I wanted to be disposed of; I wanted out. Out - thrown out! I wanted out. I told him I was done, I told him no.

There was nothing mixed about his hands response. They flung out at me and tried to smack some sense in me; but I was done. I still said no. They hung at his sides surprised at my sudden determination. I knew - I knew he would not give up easily. He had a firm hand. I saw him prepare for a fight as his fists clenched. He gave me one more chance, but I was done, I told him no.

 He let lose his hands alternating between harshly caressing my body and pummeling me creating a dissonant harmony that he had perfected in its embodiment. I tried to lift my hands to my face in a plea for mercy but I found none. He beat me. Again. He beat me again and again. He beat me all over my body. Again and again and again. He beat until I was black and blue, purple and red. He beat me into the floor.

 Finally he stooped. I lay on the floor waiting, just waiting. He crouched down next to me and whispered nothing sweet into my ear. He was going to leave me for a while, by the time he came back I had better be ready, I had better say yes. With a kick in my back he was gone. I lay on the floor senseless, just waiting. What could I do? Absolutely nothing. There were no tears, no screams left in me. I lay on the floor dreading, just waiting for his return.

 But I did not want to be ready. I would never be ready. I would rather be dead than be ready. A distant memory stirred in my mind; a childhood memory of someone that I used to talk to. It had been a long time; I didn’t know if I would even be heard. So I didn’t speak. I just lifted my hand and begged for a mercy I didn’t deserve; death and hell over being alive when he came back.

 Fatigue came over me and I went unconscious. When I woke my eyes had trouble adjusting to what they saw but, I knew, I knew I was dead. I knew I was in hell and I was thankful that I was heard. I was safe. At least until he died and joined me, I was safe. Far removed from hands, I was safe.

 I pushed myself up off of a warm, surprisingly bumpy surface and stood to explore.  Finally my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I looked around at my surroundings. To my horror I saw that hell was a hand: a huge, massive, destructive hand that could grind my bones. I screamed and screamed and wept and cursed my death. I sought death as an escape and it landed me in the middle of a supernatural hand whose blows I could not avoid. I ran trying to find some means of escape. Fire and the worm would have been an absolute salvation! I ran and ran. I hoped to be able to find the edge of that palm so that I might fling myself off into the abyss. There was no end to that hand. I despaired and tried to climb the pinky that I might dive off from its point, but I fell from my attempted climb, and all I could do was lie there and wait.

 I waited, and waited. I dreaded and waited. I cursed and waited. Absolute nothingness surrounded me. As the timeless existence wore on, I realized, I realized that this - this was not hell., this was a hand. Nothing happened. I just lay there cupped in that palm and nothing happened.

It’s funny I told you I like to read people’s palms to learn about who they are. I should have done that when I first saw the hand; it would have saved me a great deal of terror. A great deal. Absolutely everything about that hand was written in the palm, if I had read it I would have known where I was. I was in a Hand.

The Hands of a King are the Hands of a Healer

This blog post was written by my dear friend Sorina Higgins. It was originally published on her blog The Oddest Inkling. She was kind enough to let me re-blog it here. Enjoy

The past few days have been filled with trauma: my very good friend Sharon Gerdes (artist, writer, and director of Players of the Stage theatre company) suffered a horrific injury to her hand on Saturday, severing five tendons, the median nerve, and the radial artery. Grieving at her side has been a journey full of pain, and it’s only beginning.

Why do I share this personal experience here? First, because it has been consuming my mind, and I haven’t worked on the CW book I planned to blog about this week. Second, because I request your coinherent prayers for Sharon’s relief from pain and for her full recovery. And third, because there have been some very Williamsian elements to this whole horror–some glimmers of providential light in the darkness of vicarious agony. I’d like to share those with you.

The first Williamsian element was Sharon herself. I have written before about the “Submitted Saint” in CW’s novels: the character who has lived through “days of pain and nights of prayer” in order to submit her will perfectly to God’s (the quote is from The Greater Trumps). No matter what happens, this person–usually a woman, often a young woman resembling Phyllis Jones–is contented, believing that divine Love has ordained all things for ultimate good. This person has suffered through the sacrifice of her individual will, until she simply waits on the Lord. In War in Heaven, the Archdeacon Julian Davenant (one of the few male Submitted Saints in CW’s oeuvre) is content to let the Holy Grail determine its own destiny, and his calm patience becomes the means by which the Grail is saved from its enemies. In Many Dimensions, a young lady named Chloe Burnett allows a magical stone (very like the Philosopher’s Stone of alchemical legend) to have its own way with her, opening herself up as a conduit for spiritual power. In this way, she allows The Mercy to re-create unity in all things. And in The Greater Trumps, Sybil Coningsby walks out into a deadly storm to save her brother (and, incidentally, a kitten). She trusts that Love will order all things according to the nature of Love.

Throughout this ordeal, Sharon has shown me that Submitted Saints live outside of fiction. I must admit that I have been skeptical of the real possibility that ordinary 21st-century American Christians could be any such thing. Yet throughout this horror, she has been living in a great serenity. This is not to say that she does not have natural human responses: she whispered her fears as she slipped off into the drug-induced sleep before surgery on Monday, and she cried out in pain as the physical therapist moved her fingers for the first time this afternoon. Yet for all I can see, her soul has a center of calm that might just be “the peace that passeth understanding.”

What’s more, she has been showing love to everyone around her. She was sitting up, conscious, without painkillers, in a waiting room for hours on end, with a severed artery, asking *me* how I was doing! She chatted with all the nurses, asking them how long they had worked there, if they had kids, and so forth. She even handed out at least one business card to someone who expressed an interest in theatre. (Makes me think these crazy action films might not be so ridiculous after all: Sharon seems like she could take a bullet or a sword wound and keep fighting). She has been sweet and gracious to each person along the way, even those who were brusque with her.

So that’s how Christ’s love works in an ordinary (extraordinary) person. Now I know. Maybe CW was fictionalizing less than I’ve given him credit for.

But then the second Williamsian aspect of Sharon’s tragedy has to do with the nature of her injury: It has to do with Hands.

Hands are wildly important in CW’s fiction and mythology. In The Greater Trumps, hands become part of the fabric of the plot and of the literal content of the atmosphere. Towards the end of the story, our heroine Nancy finds herself trapped in a room full of magical images, attacked by a madwoman and a cat. The woman stretches Nancy out across a table and begins scratching at her hand, making bloody gashes down her palm and wrist. The cat is poised to spring, and Nancy thinks, terrified, “It has no hands!” I watched my own cat this morning, pawing at a bit of paper, trying to pick it up. He couldn’t lift it, he couldn’t grasp it, and I imagined his frustration focusing on his lack of an opposable thumb. Nancy feels feels as if the cat is something unnatural, merely because it is inhuman, and its inhumanity comes from its lack of hands.

I thought, then, of the intensity of Christ’s injuries at the Crucifixion, and what a large percentage of His suffering came through His hands, His hands and His wrists. Part of the torture of crucifixion is the dehumanization, and I guess I always supposed this came from the nakedness, exposure, and total helplessness. I never thought what portion of the dehumanization came from His inability to use His hands and from the pain localized in His wrists.

Sharon posted on facebook this morning in “Today’s list of thankful things” (see, I told you she’s a saint): “that Jesus endured two wrist/hand injuries and much greater pain so that He could love me and still be just.” Indeed. He has inflicted on her nothing He did not endure Himself. I find that very difficult to think about.

Charles Williams gathers up the horror and miracle of Christ’s wounded hands into the anatomical geography of his Arthurian poetry: on his map of Europe, the hands are Rome. The hands are there, because in Rome “the heartbreaking manual acts of the Pope” are performed in commemoration of Christ’s handbreaking act on our behalf.

And at the end of The Greater Trumps, hands achieve healing. A golden fog gathers in the room where Nancy is in danger, and magical hands made of golden fog lead her father and brother to rescue her. A golden glory made of operative hands, shaping and maintaining and ordering the universe, closes around all the characters and brings about redemption. In the end, Nancy’s scratched hand is healed, and salvation and preservation are achieved by Sybil’s imperial mastery: she steps into the center of the danger and becomes the conduit for the re-ordering of the universe by the voluntary, intentional surrender of her body, desires, and willpower to the Omnipotence. Yet Sybil — or Nancy, or the Archdeacon, or my friend Sharon — is only able to contend with dark forces and lift up healed hands into the cloud of golden glory because Jesus’ hands wear His scars forever.