Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Day I Said Yes to the Holy Spirit

Yes, he was the most important person in my life, but I had had enough of him.

You couldn't fake your way through a rehearsal with Jiman.  He was the most exacting and challenging director I had ever had.  He was the first person who showed me that acting required the engagement of the whole self - physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional.  He was my mentor, but I was getting a bit tired of him.  After all, he was not the most balanced of men, and his psychological insight and charisma gave him the makings of a cult leader, a role he would have latched on to with gusto, particularly when it came to the attention the women in the cast gave him.  In fact, if we had been rehearsing in rural Guyana and not suburban Missouri, I have no doubt he would have been sleeping with all of us - at least with the ladies - and sooner or later we'd be drinking the Kool-Aid and worshipping little carved wooden mini-Jimans in our spare time.

And so, while he had brought me out of a particularly superficial and glib phase of my life, I, at age 18 or 19, was getting tired of the challenge - the constant demand to act on stage with my whole being.  It was disturbing and messy and anything but comfortable.

So I had made a decision.  I was recently out of high school and not particularly interested in college.  Someone had offered to train me to be a commodities broker.  I didn't know exactly what that meant - but I was told it would be a way to make money, and since I had good communication skills, a career in commodities exchange could be for me.  I was tired of my life going nowhere, of living in Hermit Hollow (a lakeside development in the Ozarks) with Mom and Dad, of pouring my heart and soul into non-paying productions with a director who was taking me into deep waters and rocking my little boat time and again - all for the sake of acting and drama!  I left a message on Jiman's message machine saying I was dropping out of the current production and I went for a walk under stars, as I loved to do.

My life would be manageable, I told myself.  I would sell commodities.  It would be commodious.  It would be comfortable and roomy.  It would be sane.  I would forget this disturbing and unsettling thing called the dramatic arts.  I would find a life for myself that made sense.  I would conform.  After all these years of bucking the system, I would give up.  I would give in.  I would conform.  I would be happy.

Commodities.  Commodious.  Comfort.  Conformity.

I got back in the house after midnight.  The phone was ringing.  Worried that it would wake my parents, I rushed to it and answered.  Jiman H. Duncan was on the other end. 

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked.  "You can't quit now."

"It's early in rehearsals.  You can replace me."

"But you have to do this.  This is who you are."

"I'm going to sell commodities."

He laughed.

I started crying.  I tried to stop.  I was suddenly weeping.  I didn't know why.

"This is all too much, Jiman.  I need a break."

"You need a breakthrough," he replied.  "And you're about to have it.  This production will be a spiritual and emotional and creative breakthrough for you."

"I want to sell commodities.  I want my life to make sense.  I want my life to be normal."  I knew as I said this, between sobs, that I couldn't possibly mean it.

"Your life will never be normal.  You have to do this.  You are called to do it."

But I did not want to be called.  I did not want to be called by Jiman H. Duncan on the telephone after midnight, and I did not want to be called to a life of pain and suffering - I did not want to acknowledge this profound and unendurable love; this love I felt and had to give.  I did not want to be called into deep waters.  I wanted to hoard and bury my talent.  I did not want to live hand to mouth for the sake of the Kingdom

I wanted my own little manageable world.

Is that so much to ask?

But I had met the Holy Spirit.

I, an atheist, had felt and known the presence of the Holy Spirit in rehearsals and in performance.  I didn't call Him that.  I didn't know He had a name.  I thought it was the Life Force, or something like that.  But I knew it was real.  I knew it had an intention, or to take the edge off, it had an "intentionality" as I called it.  I knew that without this Spirit, no matter how well my fellow actors and I prepared for our roles, no matter how well we knew our lines or practiced our parts, our performances would be dull, flat, lifeless, uninteresting. 

We couldn't make it happen on our own.  To be creative, we needed inspiration.  We could simply prepare for performance, and then when the curtain pulled back and the lights went up, we had to give up control and invite the Spirit in.  We had to abandon our preparation.   We had to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves.  We had to cooperate with this tangible and very real force that was not of our own making.

So much for my own little manageable world.  So much for comfort and commodities - down the commode!

"Alright," I said.  "I'll see you at rehearsal tomorrow night." 

"Thank you," I added, and hung up the phone.

I have had many reasons to doubt Jiman H. Duncan and his technique over the years, God rest his soul.  But he didn't let me go.  He didn't let me rest.  He didn't let me live a lie.

He called me.

And I turned from a world of management, comfort and conformity - and followed him.  Not Jiman H. Duncan.  I followed Him, the Holy Spirit of God. 

I was an atheist for twenty more years after that. 

But at that moment, I gave myself to a life of challenge, engagement, risk and dis-comfort

At that moment, I began, without knowing it, to give my life to God.

Me, Lori, Jiman H. Duncan, and a boy, Lake George, New York, 1984, about five years after the phone call described above.  Why am I wearing underwear beneath my trunks?  I never would have succeeded in the commodities exchange.


Anonymous said...

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward. Kierkegaard, Søren

Hope is the fuel that moves us forward. Tom D.

HEF said...

I was about 14 when I landed in a production of Roar of the Greasepaint directed by Jiman. He was irritating as hell and we started rehearsals with an indoor soccer game. He would try to get me mad at him and was hoping for a blow up from me. I think he thought since I was shy I needed something to get mad at to get me out of my shell. We still talk about him. Sorry he has left us.


Kevin O'Brien said...

Hey, HEF - who are you? You must remember me from that show. Email me - kevin @

John Henry said...

I've wanted to be a writer my whole life, but have been too afraid (and sometimes too selfish) to take the time away from my day job to actually write. Now I work long hours in consulting, and have a family to support. I keep getting older without getting any closer to writing a novel or teleplay, and I envy you like you wouldn't believe. The idea that I'm called to management consulting is laughable, but so is the thought of supporting a family as a writer. Not that I'm doing it well with consulting, but at least there's food on the table.

Susan Lang said...

I did a production of Greasepaint with Jiman, too, in the fall of 1982. It was the first show i did that wasn't high school...that was because i wanted to...and he cast me as Kid. He was an exceptional and demanding director, and i have never forgotten him. I googled his name today, just to see if i could find him, and was saddened to see that he had died. I owe a lot to him; i hope he knows.