There's a lot of talk these days about trends toward disengagement and rugged individualism. People aren't sharing as they used to in civic associations, community groups, religious bodies, even recreational leagues. Yet it was a community project in an area I had never visited before that brought a healing perspective to my life a few weeks ago.
I had convinced myself I was carrying more than my share of burdens - overload at work, recalcitrant building contractors, soured personal relationships. So I decided to leave the emotional turmoil behind for a couple of hours by going to a local production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in a city park.
There was nothing romantic about the setting. It turned out to be a baseball field yellowed by a dry summer, fringed by a dozen tennis courts noisily populated by players of all ages, and enough traffic on the adjacent road to blunt many of Puck's calls to the "merry wanderers of the night."
Yet as Puck carried the narration forward, he had the time of his life darting among families sprawled across blankets, barefoot college students, people on their way home from work, and white-haired couples with linked hands. He chucked the chins of babies, and crawled across the grass to exchange mock growls with family dogs.
My enjoyment of the performance was threatened at one point when some small boys taking a shortcut across the field stopped to taunt the becostumed lion who plays a noisy part in the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe. Also, when their attention then turned to Shakespeare's lovers fast asleep on the grass near third base.
But my irritation at the boys' intrusion melted as the players refused to be disrupted or show resentment. At the risk of forgetting their lines, they gave the kids the joy of becoming unpaid extras. The actors entered into the spirit of this full engagement with the community, and the show went on - with heartwarming success.
Two-year-olds laughed at the antics of Quince, Snug, and Bottom (especially with his ass's head on). The silver moon required by Snout for the play-within-a-play literally rose over the baseball scoreboard, and police sirens blended perfectly with the other night sounds in the Athenian forest. Soon the stars appeared. People smiled as they caught one another gazing up at the heavens. It was as though everyone in that audience became instant friends.
As I looked around me and saw the love between people who had never met before, the unhappiness and tension I had brought with me fell away. Those smiling faces confirmed that at the roots of our being we are irrevocably connected. As the prophet Malachi said, "Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?" (Mal. 2:10). No life of faith can be lived privately. It has to overflow into the lives of others.
We share the benefits of God's incomparable goodness and His love for us. We're all family, and we like to be together. We can pool our resources in working through the challenges of life, which were no less daunting when Shakespeare wrote his play four centuries ago.
As the evening lengthened, I was reminded of a hymn by Rosa Turner that begins:
O dreamer, leave thy dreams for joyful waking,
O captive, rise and sing, for thou art free;
The Christ is here, all dreams of error breaking,
Unloosing bonds of all captivity.
("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 202)
Those lines clarify what I experienced in the park that evening. It was a "joyful waking" from self-imposed bonds of captivity. God's tender care for all of us was right there, shining even more brightly and beautifully than the stars shone for audience and players. We don't need to be fooled by an ass's head or, as some of the characters in the play, bewitched by moonlight. For as Puck would have it,
"... you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream."