Sometimes, we are righteous and yet, we are wrong.
In my Saturday night dream, I was walking within a flock of people. We were on the other side of East Croydon station. It was raining and there was an overhanging darkness, like the sort you get at about 4pm on a day you want over with. I don’t know what I was doing, but my intentions were good. I also know that there was somebody there I couldn’t see, someone who knew what I was planning among the people. They told me not to do it, whatever it was. I asked the person why. They told me that I was wasting resources, and could not afford to, for the day was about to end.
When I was awake, against my lethargy, I went upstairs, got the bible. I decided I was not going to study, but only flick through to see what it had for me. On the third try, I got Matthew 6: The World is not a Stage.
I became preoccupied with something urgent last week, which gave God a little time. I am now grappling with something new– that is, the definition of performance, and what that means to what I now have to say: whether life can ever cease to be one, now that the goalposts have moved. I thought not, but it turns out, as per, I was overcomplicating the issue.
It was all true up to a point, what I was saying in chapter one. I did get offstage after I left school, but then, contrary to how I interpreted my life afterwards, I never did, never will grace the stage again. That isn’t to say I’ve been, and always will be floating around in some non-existent place between performing & participating in the world, and being dead. It also isn’t saying that the things I was becoming out of view, without an audience, wasn’t to prepare me for coming in front of an audience later on. I will have an audience again, yet, I won’t be reprising my career as an actress.
It’s true that we are predisposed to considering a life lived in front of other people as a theatre show. It makes sense, we’re different things at different times on the way to finding out who we are. Yet, to be onstage until death is to say we die without ever making the discovery; it’s to say we never become anything more than a set of costumes, a person guided, yet never satisfied by the applause. No actor becomes their character over time, they simply move on, and continue their search for a new hat. Each hat we choose for each adjoining scene, for a while, feels better than the last; sometimes we even forget the sensation of it on our foreheads for being the perfect fit. But no one is born wearing a hat. It is God who says that we become further deceived, and further exploited with every hat, without ever allowing for the experiences to prompt us to remove it for good.
In this context– in considering the world a stage, the following is the right and only definition of a performance; it is a life void of authenticity, a life concerned with appearances over the truth of the matter. Performance denies the state of the heart in order to be exalted by the world for an ability to deceive. It’s a human experience concerned with extreme states of being; for extreme portrayals are rewarded with standing ovations, while balance is expected to have people pulling out their phones, talking over the whole thing. It’s all about what is said over what is done. And this is what performance is not; it isn’t a reshaping of our instinct behaviours.
I meant well. I truly thought that when God shifts our ideals into more noble, righteous territory, our innate behaviours are so far off course from his way, that we are better off pretending they aren’t. I thought that, at least initially, we had to pretend to be as kind, as understanding, as honourable as he is trying to make us. But, the keyword there is ‘initially’, that is only how it is at first. We are forgiving, are loving when it doesn’t feel right to be, until, in time, it feels exactly right, as if we couldn’t be any other way. All of the emulation and aspiring when God first begins the work is the stuff that goes on privately and out of view. Better still, if there are moments when you happen to be doing the right thing in front of an audience, well, if you’ve been on this journey I’m talking about, you’ll know who it’s really for. The applause of one far outweighs the applause of the whole lot. It’s something you come to know.
I was wrong about it being a different sort of performance, but not about the stage being larger. If life is not a performance, yet the audience aspect persists, then it must not be an auditorium, but an arena. My Dad often describes it as a race. So does God. Both reiterated this in a sermon my Dad recently gave to the church at the end of our road. The pretending that goes on in a theatre house knows nothing about the strength and endurance that lives in the arena. Having watched Gladiator again recently, my favourite metaphor for life that involves an arena is the colosseum. I think my audience will be watching a fight.