Monday, June 6, 2011

Prayer as Improv

I have written elsewhere (here, here, and here) about being a drama geek of the teenage category.  Occasionally I think about how much time I spent preparing for the drama career I never had and how I've gone on to use those skills in other arenas.  Most obviously, I've used those skills in my life as a teacher: reading out loud, reading dramatically, improv, throwing my voice to the back of the room which enables me to talk more loudly than anyone else in the room, those kind of skills.

Yesterday, I thought about a different arena.  We got to church moments before the service started, and our pastor said to me, "You know you're the assistant minister today, right?"

Well, actually, no I didn't.  But happily, my theatre training and my twentyish years as a teacher means I can be ready to perform without lots of practice.  Without any practice, if we're being honest.  Even had I known I was Assistant Minister, I wouldn't have approached yesterday much differently, except I'd have gotten there a smidge earlier.

Yesterday, we also had a vote on the budget as part of worship (our pastor has a whole series of reasons for why we do that, but those reasons deserve a post of their own--perhaps later).  We hadn't discussed who would lead this section (I'm the church council president).  I said I'd be happy to do it.

Our pastor pointed out that there were 2 prayers (one for discernment before we voted and a prayer of thanksgiving after the vote) and asked if I had prepared anything.  When I shook my head, but said I was willing to do it anyway, our pastor said, "Sometimes spontaneous prayers are the best kind."

So, it wasn't improv, exactly.  I had the remainder of the service (roughly 45 minutes) to think about what elements should be in the prayers.  Some people would have needed a week or two to write out the prayers and to practice praying them before they could pray in front of a congregation on a Sunday morning.  Not me.

Some people would credit the Holy Spirit, and I'm willing to do that too.  But I'm also aware that the vast majority of Christians have such public speaking anxiety that they wouldn't be able to let the Holy Spirit work through them.  They wouldn't be able to pray at all, much less without preparation.

In my role as teacher and as administrator, I've often heard numerous complaints about classes that students have to take that will make absolutely no difference in their future lives.  Part of me understands.  Part of me wants to say, "You're 18, 19, 20 years old, tops--how can you possibly know what you will need in the future?"  Instead, I often say, "You know, I didn't think I would need ________, but you can't imagine how often I use that."

What fills in the blank?  No, I wouldn't talk about praying as improv, but I'd throw out using dissection skills I picked up in Biology to cut up chickens.  Sometimes I convince students that Composition skills will really be worth learning, will really come in handy later.  Sometimes I don't.

So, I don't regret being a teenage theatre geek, even if I'm not currently performing on Broadway.  Those skills have come in handy in more ways than I ever could have imagined.  As a teenager preparing for auditions or perfecting my improv skills, I wouldn't have dreamed I'd use them decades later to lead a congregation in prayer.  But I'm grateful to be able to do just that. 

Theatre training isn't what we usually think of when we think of spiritual disciplines that lead to spiritual formation.  But if we go back to Scripture, we'll see that spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation take all sorts of forms and direction.

1 comment:

Di said...

I love this. I talk all the time (IRL, not on my blog) about how related theater and church/liturgy are.