My name is Miranda Hall. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Tom Hall and Linell Smith’s daughter, and I grew up in this congregation. It has been a real pleasure to return this year as an adult.
As I reflect on my spiritual journey, I have been thinking a lot about my artistic journey of becoming a playwright. And as a playwright, I really relate to the season of Lent. I love the directive to go off into the wilderness—to go seeking in the uncharted terrains of the soul. I love the call to self-reflect and take time for privacy with God. And I really understand the journey of suffering into Easter—when we exhaust the sobering focus of the inner life, and burst forth into community, flowers and hallelujahs.
Playwrights cruise along this liturgical arc many times over in the writing process. When I am writing a brand-new play, I sit alone on the floor of my house for hours and hours, months and months, mining a nascent understanding of the story I’m trying to tell. When I have written everything I can write by myself, I send up the flares, call on actors, directors and dramaturgs, and venture back into the community of the theater.
This is a thrilling and nerve-wracking process.
Last week, for example, I was in New York in a weeklong development of a very new, very vulnerable play. My heart was pounding all morning before our first rehearsal. My palms were sweating. My hands were shaking. I could barely manage turning the key to lock the door of my friend’s apartment. By the time I was sitting in the rehearsal room with the actors, my body temperature had spiked 15 degrees, and I was shaking involuntarily. (As it turns out, this physical reaction is an occupational hazard that I’m just getting used to.)
And as I sat there listening to these actors read my raw draft aloud, I asked God to help me sit with my fears, doubts, expectations, and waves of impatience, restlessness and self-loathing. Because writing a play demands the intensely spiritual work of practicing patience with your half-formed ideas. And the spiritual work of forgiveness for collaborators who don’t get it at first. And the spiritual work of faith that somehow this excruciating experience will help you write a better play. These spiritual exercises defend me against my inner tyrant, who would rather throw her hands in the air and scream, “WHY ISN’T THIS PLAY BETTER! WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING HERE! LET’S JUST GO GET TV JOBS WITH SALARIES AND HEALTH INSURANCE!”
But God, and God’s patience, have a way of making themselves known to me. And miraculously, they allowed me to meet the fear of my play with fluidity, softness and the willingness to keep transforming. Because God doesn’t need me to rehearse without fear. Instead, God helps me cultivate a fluid, loving attitude with which I can encounter my fears, and the wilderness of my soul, and still find a reason to hope in hallelujah.
Often when I’m working, and I feel at 6s and 7s, I repeat this prayer, which my theater company says at the end of every rehearsal. It grounds me by reminding me about the beauty of my life, which, like the theater, is full-bodied and impermanent.
It is a repeat after me prayer with modest arm gestures.
So, I hope you will repeat after me.
I take from the earth all that I need and I bring it inside of me.
I take from the heavens all that I need and I bring it inside of me.
And when I have it inside of me,
I give it away.