Reading: “Act III, Scene ii” by Madeleine L’Engle
Someone has altered the script.
My lines have been changed.
The other actors are shifting roles.
They don’t come on when they’re expected to,
and they don’t say the lines I’ve written
and I’m being upstaged.
I thought I was writing this play
with a rather nice role for myself,
small, but juicy
and some excellent lines.
But nobody gives me my cues
and the scenery has been replaced.
I don’t recognize the new sets.
This isn’t the script I was writing.
I don’t understand this plot at all.
To grow up
is to find
the small part you are playing
in this extraordinary drama
On October 14 we gathered at Camp Mount Luther for our fall writers retreat and we opened with this poem. As is often the case with Madeleine L’Engle’s work, she cuts right to the heart of the truth of things. How often do we feel that our lives are not going according to plan? I said at the retreat that the plans I make each day are usually derailed by noon. Chad Hershberger laughed and said, “By noon!? That would be a good day!”
We can script our lives, giving ourselves the juiciest part with the best lines, but it never pans out. It never goes according to our plans. The story is being written by somebody else.
Who, exactly, is this somebody else? I’m halfway through my first semester in a masters of marriage and family therapy degree, and I’ve been learning a lot about family systems theory. I think the reality (or part of it) is that we are all writing stories, but my story breaks into your story and yours into mine, and our combined story in turn breaks into someone else’s; your family is writing a story and it bleeds over and changes my family’s story; and our society is writing a story which shapes all the family stories within it but which is also shaped by all the families’ stories within it. We are a giant web, each of us influencing others in ways we don’t even realize. Our stories do not unfold according to our plans because the web of connections is far more intricate than we could ever imagine. There is simply too much influence to account for.
But above the seeming chaos of all this influence (or is it rather a well-ordered system moving in beautiful harmony?) sits another Influence. The Ultimate, Benevolent, Influence—God, the great script writer. To be sure God does not control our every movement, but God is certainly breaking into our daily lives, interceding and evaluating and forgiving and nudging. Maybe God, like all good writers, knows that the true genius is in the revisions.
So write your script. Make your plans. Live your life. But hold it all loosely. Wisdom comes from knowing that our lives are not independent but connected and directed by someone else. We are not the main character, but one of an infinite number of main characters. As L’Engle writes, “To grow up is to find the small part you are playing in this extraordinary drama written by somebody else.”
O divine script writer, O divine editor, O God of the great shakeup, remind us that we are not the writers of our own script, we are not the main characters of the story. Remind us that we are caught in a web of connections and influences carrying us through this life. Help our own influence to be one of compassion and mercy. May the web to which we are bound be one of love and grace.