2012 RSA Rosas Address

Morris Ertman
October 2, 2012

At the end of the first act of Thornton Wilders’ Our Town, Rebecca makes the wisest observation a person can make about one’s place in the world:

REBECCA. I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: “Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm, Grover’s Corners, Sutton County, New Hampshire, United States Of America.”

What’s funny about that?, says George.

REBECCA. But listen, it’s not finished: The United States Of America, Continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, The Earth, The Solar System, The Universe, The Mind of God, - that’s what it said on the envelope.

GEORGE. What do you know!

REBECCA. Yep. and the postman brought it just the same.

There’s a wide-eyed wonder in Rebecca at the end of the first act of Our Town. The simplicity of her spirit reflects Jesus’ words when he said that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And what is that spirit? It’s the wonder at the place of an ordinary person within the context of something so large it is impossible to comprehend. It’s the awareness of our context within an ever widening circle that goes on and on, traveling outward with Einstein’s ever-expanding universe of light, joining the chorus of humanity long since gone - the chorus that includes Thornton Wilder, Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all those voices who finally found their words written down in the book of Genesis, the voices of our grandparents and great grandparents whose stories drift down through memories spoken aloud at Christmas and other family meals - the great bright light of human beings who shared their love, paying it forward into the next generation of souls, aware of their limited time with one another. It is the spirit that the theatre at it’s best tries to emulate in story. It is what inspires us to entertain, to share, to find metaphor and more that celebrates our humanity, knowing that the good and the bad are somehow held in it all - the profane making us aware of our need for that which is sacred. And somehow, all of that humanity finds itself swirling in God’s manifest grace, his massive spirit of love. It is this spirit that informs the best of what we do - the notion that at the core of our humanity is something good, something worth sharing with one another.

But something happens to us when we lose sight of the fact that we were formed in the mind of God, created in his image - and like children whose innocence we crave, naively wise and good. We can start to believe that there is no sacred, only profane. We can become so convinced of the overwhelming presence of darkness that we no longer believe there is light. Our expressions can become cynical and desperate, our gifts the wares we trade for some kind of meagre living we cling to, an identity of professionalism that distorts the love of humanities brightest myths that brought us to be storytellers in the first place. I’ve worked in the theatre my whole life, and have witnessed the tragedy of cynicism that robs artists of belief. I’ve sat across the table from a playwright whose work denied any possibility of light and life, and I have grieved the tragedy of the enveloping darkness that blinded him to light and love - the blindfold he willingly wore for fear of looking into the possibility of a light so bright it might expose him. I’ve looked into the eyes of actors afraid to immerse themselves in the story they are telling for fear it will not out not to be true. I grieve such loss, and in many ways this address is a prayer against such a thing ever happening to any of you.

There’s a lyric in one of Bruce Cockburn's’ songs that reads “another step closer, into darkness, closer to the light.” There is no denying the fact that we storytellers will engage darkness, but darkness is not where we dwell. It is the place we walk through as we seek out the mystery of grace in our world. We have been created for light. Our bodies require sun-light sourced vitamin D, our pupils dilate in order to take in light. Audience’s eyes are drawn to the brightest place on stage. We seek out bright faces, hopeful ideas, wide-eyed innocences, like Rebecca’s in Our Town. At the end of the 1st Act she is sitting at her window looking out at pin-points of light that can only be seen when it is dark - a little girl, framed in the window of a house in a cosmos so vast it points  her right back to the centre of her own heart, giving her significance - her spirit created by the Maker of the Universe, her DNA, personality, hopes and dreams held in the mind of God. And she speaks her words to her brother George, openly and without fear, the permission for expressing such a massive, vulnerable idea granted by the love between brother and sister.

A dear friend sent a quote to me in an email last week. It’s from Led By Faith written by Immaculee Ilibagiza, an inspired survivor of the Rwandan genocide:

"Our desire to love is stamped on our hearts before we are born. You must not let life erase it! God knew you in the womb, and He planted your ability to love in your soul before you drew your first breath. You must nurture that seed, allowing it to grow strong within you .You must love your family and love your neighbors; above all, you must love God. God doesn't just want you to love; He commands it. He commands it!"

Our venerable David Snider once met with St. Cockburn in his dressing room after a concert and asked him what his maxim for life was. How does he make the choices he makes as an artist? Cockburn’s response - “whatever love dictates”. Cockburn’s idealism is important. He is an artist who has raged against injustice, gone through deep personal failure and loss - a man well acquainted with darkness. Wasn’t it said about Jesus that he was a man well acquainted with suffering? And this iconic Canadian Christian artist seeks to govern his life by love - regardless of how much dark he encounters. The persevering action is love - it’s language so universal it crosses religious, cultural, ethnic boundaries, uniting everyone who dares to open their heart to it.

In “Our Town” called Rosebud, you handful of grads have been held by such a love, and held others in it. It is a love that is aware of how deeply dark life can become, embracing us in the moments when that darkness seems overwhelming. This place is like Avalon of the Heart - the island in England where folklore says some of the followers of Jesus - Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and others - mentored others in the practice of grace and love in a deeply troubled time, then sent them out into the world with their spiritual lanterns trimmed and ready to engage for the sake of love. You are a rag-tag company of minstrels, practiced in creative processes that have been cradled in grace. And when the darkness threatens to overwhelm you, remember where you came from. “Our Town” our “Rosebud of the Heart” is a mystical miracle, born of collective compassion, tenacity and creativity. The communal experience of Rosebud is the sunlit hothouse within which you were nurtured, and its’ experience is trustworthy and true. You are the fruit. Don’t forget that.

Be faithful lovers, protectors of innocence, restorers of that which is broken, and above all - lovers of God. Speak stories, dance moments and sing songs that waken us to light and life, no matter how dark and broken the context. And this is our promise to you, contained in another Cockburn lyric sent to me by a student in a moment of darkness.

I've been scraping little shavings off my ration of light

And I've formed it into a ball, and each time I pack a bit more onto it

I make a bowl of my hands and I scoop it from its secret cache

Under a loose board in the floor

And I blow across it and I send it to you

Against those moments when

The darkness blows under your door

What would happen if we spent the whole of our creative life doing exactly that for the world of souls in which we live?

I’d like to close with a quote from a letter written some 2000 or so years ago by the Apostle Paul, forwarded from the Corinthian Church to the Graduates of Rosebud School of the Arts, Rosebud, Alberta, Canada, Continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, The Earth, The Solar System, The Universe, The Mind of God:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

The love you have discovered in this valley will never end. Store it. Share it. It is sourced in the mind and heart of God.

2012 RSA Rosas Address

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Morris Ertman