Divine Director (part I)

My reading over the summer has been sporadic to say the least. I constantly jump from ‘Organic Community’, ‘The Empty Space’, ‘The Shifting Point’ (another Peter Brook book), ‘The Invisible Actor’ by Yoshi Oida and now into my more theologically heavy tomes, ‘God’s Theatre’ and ‘Transforming Fate and Destiny’. Books move from the top of the pile to the bottom frequently as my interest and whims change day by day. This reading is also interrupted by revision on theatre practitioner’s theories in preparation for ‘The Workshops’ running the first couple of weeks of term. Add to this the inevitable daily activities of a wife wanting to do those household chores put aside for the holiday season and you have all the ingredients for a mental meltdown!

There has been, however, some exciting and recurring themes coming through in my research and one of which is particularly helpful for me for a couple of reasons.

For those of you who have been reading for some months now will know, I have struggled with the idea of ‘God’s will’ and how one should discern it; the theological balancing of the providence of God and free will. My evangelical background has led me towards an understanding of God as having a plan for each of our lives and has a map of how our lives should be lived. This means that listening prayer becomes really important to discern which decisions one should make in order to be aligned to His will. This discernment is not a perfect solution as you can never be totally sure you’ve heard him right (if at all!) and so confusion and doubt creep in. The pray-er justifies decisions and outcomes depending on how confident they are that it was God’s will in the first place. This is an adequate theological standpoint and I’m sure there is some truth in it. It does lead to, however, some Christians proclaiming knowledge of God’s one and only will and leading many down destructive or damaging paths. I want to clarify, I don’t think everyone claiming to hear God’s voice in a situation is leading people into destructive or damaging paths but sometimes it has happened.

I struggle when new Christians come to this teaching. Having heard a gospel of grace and cleansing of bad decisions made, they are then pressured to hear God’s will in how to live their lives now and when they make one wrong decision then it’s hard not to feel like you’re not good enough to be a Christian because you’ve messed up God’s plan again!

Joseph Myers in ‘Organic Community’ suggests;

‘A theology of God as master planner implies that God has a purpose – even one purpose – for your life and it’s your lifelong job to pursue it, identify it, and live it out. The gospel becomes, “God has a plan for your life.” God has planned the job, the life partner, the house, the child, and so on. He wants nothing more than our cooperation with his plan. A theology of God as organic order, however, allows for collaboration with him. We are privileged to participate with him in the forming of our future. He invites our ideas, our energy, our creativity, our perspective. He gives up a measure of control to facilitate relationship with us and to demonstrate his love.’

In ‘God’s Theatre’ T.J. Gorringe dissects the main theological and philosophical thoughts on providence, walking his reader through Calvin, Augustine, Aquinas thought and many other historical heavy weights. He argues that you fall into the trap of saying human free will is always working contrary to God’s will and therefore we should cast it aside and be automatons or God works all things to good and so we can do what we like because God is going to fix everything anyway. There are other standpoints, as you can begin to discover, but I just want to give a flavour of the different and varied views. How do we balance God’s omnipotence and Scripture clearly proclaiming God having a plan for human kind and working in this world for the furtherance of the Kingdom and our innate free will?

Gorringe goes onto suggest an understanding of God’s work amongst human beings that has helped me to see more clearly how we can pick up Myers call for ‘organic order’ and see God as someone who wants collaboration rather than cooperation. Gorringe’s ideas come from none other than Peter Brook…

I was immediately interested!

He begins by retelling the story, originally told by Brook himself in ‘The Empty Space’, of one of Brook’s early directorial posts on Love’s Labour’s Lost for the RSC. I returned to ‘The Empty Space’ and read the account. Brook describes how he would have a scene mapped out before rehearsals; He knew where people should move and how and what every moment would look like. He would use cardboard figurines to move them about the stage at different moments and would have it all charted out. I was reminded, as I read this, of two things; firstly, how closely this describes my method of directing early on in my career and secondly, of this implement called ‘a director’s tray’ that was brought to my attention a week ago. This ‘tray’ marks out the stage into different areas and a director would move markers (signifying actors) around the tray like a general would in a war room. Brook, like many directors before and after him, discovered,

‘As the actors began to move I knew it was no good. These were not remotely like the cardboard figures, these large human beings thrusting themselves forward, some too fast with lively steps I had not foreseen…We had only done the first stage movement, letter A on my chart, but already everyone was wrongly placed and movement B could not follow… Was I to start again, drilling these actors so that they conformed to my notes? One inner voice prompted me to ddo so, but another pointed out that my pattern was much less interesting than this new pattern that was unfolding in front of me…I stopped, and walked away from my book, in amongst the actors, and I have never looked at a written plan since.’

I hope you can begin to see where Gorringe begins to see how God might work with human beings.

Join me tomorrow for part two of this post. Go and have a cup of tea or whatever your beverage preference is and I ask that you mull over how you see God working His plans in your life. Have you ever struggled with the idea of God having one plan for your life and that’s it? How do address life decisions? Have you ever struggled with discerning prayer?

See you tomorrow…


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