Giving Grace

By Julie Rhodes

A couple months ago, I was in a production of “Into the Woods.” We met at a church to rehearse, at night, on a road that divides a nicer section of town from a rougher section. We pulled our chairs around a piano against the far wall of the Fellowship Hall next to the door.

 For any uninitiated reader, “Into The Woods” is a brilliant mash-up of famous fairy tales. It won multiple Tonies and is probably Stephen Sondheim’s most popular achievement in his long and illustrious career. The characters converge in the wood and try to achieve their various means of happiness, which succeed, more or less, until Act II when all pandemonium breaks loose in the form of a renegade giant, a philandering Prince Charming, a runaway Rapunzel, and multiple murders and accidental deaths. It’s so brilliant.

On that second night of rehearsal, we were gathered like novices, ready to take our vows to Father Sondheim, penitent for lesser theatrical efforts in our former performing lives. We had begun tackling the Finale, when the door next to the piano opened.

 It was a woman who walked in through the open door. The music director stopped playing. We looked up from our scores.

 “Excuse me, is there someone from the church I can talk to?” she said. “Me and my kids need $34.95 to spend the night at the hotel. Ain’t got a place to stay tonight.”  

 Our fairy tale had been interrupted.

 If you looked around our group at that moment, you would have seen a variety of people — here’s a young adult guy who waits tables and acts at night; here’s an older lady with a jewelry business and an MBA. But we all had this OTHER thing, this other privilege: we each had the privilege of using our time to make art instead of finding shelter for our children.   

 The woman had come to a church building to find help in her moment of crisis, but instead of a minister, she got a Witch. She got a Witch, Cinderella, and various others, some of whom were maybe agnostic or of another faith all together, and all of whom did not attend that particular church. We pooled our cash — more than she needed — and gave it to her.

 The moment made me think about the breadth of Jesus’ reach, the highways and byways he   travels to reach people that for all our programs and planning and praying, a church staff cannot anticipate. I’m not sure if someone would have been at that particular church building at that particular time on that particular night at this woman’s particular moment of need. But there we were, a combination of believing misfits and unbelieving misfits, singing show tunes, and she saw the light on.

 The Bible describes a Kingdom. A reality of fairy-tale proportions with a Prince and a King and a world lost in the dark woods. As actors, we had a chance to mirror the deep magic of this reality, but on that night with that woman, we also had a chance to embody it. Maybe that moment wasn’t so much an interruption of our fairy tale as it was an incarnation of its deeper truth. Even those among us who didn’t believe in the kingdom narrative were still given the privilege of participating in it, which is deeper grace still.  

 And maybe all of us who follow Jesus should anticipate as a matter of course strange and unexpected moments where our vocation or hobby or job swerves into a chance to personify  grace to hurting people. Jesus goes out into the alleys, the promenades, the thoroughfares and under bridges and into country roads to invite people to his banquet, and detours must not be uncommon.  Let’s anticipate these moments, watch for them so they no longer seem odd, and celebrate them when they come.     

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. - Matthew 9:35

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