Stories of spiritual intimacy offer humor and hope

photo courtesy David Ellens.
photo courtesy David Ellens.

Imagine standing amidst an idyllic worship scene with your hands idly at your side. You don’t feel a connection — only an unwelcome skepticism and jealousy of those who do.

This is the place where Dave Ellens’ play “But Now I See: Stories of Spiritual Intimacy and Healing” was born. Following in the footsteps of his two previous plays about intimacy, “But Now I See” delves into issues of intimacy with God and will ask just what it is that fervent worshippers have.

When asked what sparked his pursuit of this topic, Ellens said, “I think over the years I have had a lot of barriers that have come up spiritually that have made me feel not as worthy of God’s love … and a lot of that has to do with the way that people talk about their relationship with God. It has often been very distancing to me.”

So Ellens set off to traverse this distance. He sought out and sat down with dozens of individuals from the Calvin community to discuss how they connect with God. But Ellens noted, “It very quickly morphed into people talking about pain … feeling like they’re in the wilderness.” The question became “Where is God when it hurts like hell?”

In the play, this thorny question is navigated by six remarkably different people, including an athlete who was abused as a child, a woman seeking hope after the death of her husband and a survivor of a 106-foot free-fall who is trying to make sense of this “miracle.” What’s most miraculous, though, is that this diverse chorus of voices comes entirely from our own Calvin community. These voices, Ellens says, are “honest in ways I’ve never heard before, and balanced with an astonishing sense of humor.”

The verbatim style of theater employed means that the initial interviews are transcribed word for word, clipped down and shuffled together into a compelling script to be performed by actors. In Ellens’ production, these actors will be Calvin students and alumni, making “But Now I See” a play truly about, by and for the Calvin community.

In discussing why this Calvin-centric quality was important to him, Ellens answered, “This could be somebody who lives on your floor, who teaches you, or who sits next to you in class. There’s a heightened sense of immediacy. This isn’t some random ‘other.’ This is us.”

So, when you attend the play, he advises, “Try to check yourself at the door. Enter the space and say, ‘I am ready to listen and to listen well.’ Listen to the stories and treat them as sacred. Hopefully you’ll walk out of the theater and have the courage to talk about it.”

Intimacy with God is something we all wrestle with, and perhaps the only way to better understand it is to deconstruct that image of the idyllic congregation and begin to see ourselves as a community that is wandering together through the wilderness, seeking God’s light in our dark places. “But Now I See” is about finding that light and about providing a hopeful and humorous roadmap through that wilderness.

“But Now I See” will be showing in the Lab Theatre Dec. 3 through Dec. 7. All showings will be at 7 p.m. and will be free and non-ticketed. Each production will be followed by an optional talkback with Dave Ellens and a member of campus ministries.

About the Author

Gabe Gunnink

Gabe Gunnink is a Chimes staff writer for the 2012-13 school year.

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