• Vested Interest

All In

Mary Davenport Davis
March 23, 2016

My first year in college, I acted in a play called Marat/Sade, by Peter Weiss. It was a grim and gorgeous play, my first real encounter with postmodern thinking, and immense fun to be part of. Along with the other students, I portrayed an inmate in a French insane asylum fifteen years after the French Revolution. The play gleefully muddies the dividing lines between highbrow/lowbrow, sane/insane, history/fantasy, freedom/imprisonment. It had a lasting effect on my intellectual life. It also marked the beginning of the end of my time in theater. For the first time in my life I found myself totally caught up in the raw power of a performance, wholly given over to what we were making together. And—how do I put this? I got a little lost. It was the best performance I’ve ever given. It was also terrifying. Over time, I realized that to grow as an actor, I would need to strive constantly for that self-surrender. I would need to go all in, on everything I did. And as it turned out, I wasn’t prepared to do that.

Nowadays, I find myself in a similar dilemma during Holy Week. Everything that happens this week is designed to help us go all in. It’s a week full of activity and tactility. On Palm Sunday we get up out of our pews and march around Copley Square to the sound of drums calling us to dance. We play with our green palms, tearing them along the grain, forming the strips into crosses. On Maundy Thursday we’ll wash one another’s feet, feeling that cool water, those cold stone floors. On Good Friday we’ll kneel and mourn and be silent. There will be bells and fire and water and darkness. And there will be music, music that we sing and music that we listen to, letting it seep into us. All of these things will build on one another, persistently, insistently, asking us to open ourselves up to the way they work in us.

This is not the time to hold back. It’s the time to let ourselves go, to give ourselves over to what is happening around us and inside us. It’s the time to go to church every chance we can, to laugh out loud when we feel like laughing, and weep when we feel like weeping. It’s time to imagine ourselves into the story of Jesus’s last days. It’s time to let ourselves be Jesus, and be Pilate, and be Mary, and be all the people who are watching their dearest love and greatest hope die horribly before their eyes. If the thought of doing this doesn’t frighten you, I suspect I haven’t made myself clear. It terrifies me. 

On Friday afternoon I’m going to put on black clothes and walk outside into Copley Square with a group of friends, and we’re going to give ourselves to the story of Jesus’s death. Through mimed tableaux, with music and the movements of our bodies, we’re going to let ourselves become the people in the story, in the hopes that it will help those around us to let themselves do the same thing. What I am praying for isn’t to be “good,” or “beautiful,” or “realistic.” I am just praying that I can go all in. I’m afraid that it will be embarrassing; I’m afraid that it won’t be any good; truth be told, I’m afraid of the emotional devastation that this story wreaks. I’m going to give it a try anyway. This isn’t the time to hold back, or stand apart, or maintain the ironic distance that is my generation’s besetting sin.

Here’s what happens when I can let myself go all in: Easter comes. Resurrection is revealed as the fundamental shape of reality. I don’t have to work to believe this: by Sunday morning, I’m inside it. It’s happening to me. 

May it happen to you, too.


At "Vested Interest," church nerd Mary Davenport Davis explores all things liturgy and music at Trinity and beyond. Chime in with comments and questions!