How the weeks slip by in this Covid time! Friday comes again, another week gone.
Today started off a bit later than usual, so it was well past 8 when we hit the beach, me and my dogs. It was raining and cold, but a pal was arriving at the same time and so we trudged along together. Then, drowned rat, I drove to the supermarket (hoping the dogs would shed a lot of their rain and sand in the back of the car rather than on my sofa). Just your normal morning. Dullsville in Normaltown. By the time we were unpacked, coat dripping and shoes drying, dogs fed and coffee made, it was 11am. Still Dullsville. At mid-day my Granddaughter wandered through, with no school today and a ‘Social distancing stinks’ attitude. So we watched King Lear together, one of her A level subjects. King Lear! On a wet Welsh afternoon.
Have you ever seen or read it? Flip me. It’s not at all what I thought it was. We watched a great 2018 version with Anthony Hopkins as the King and a whole raft of great actors, directed by Richard Eyre (and available on Amazon Prime). Hopkins was 80 when the film was made – and there he is, splashing through mechanical rain, filming at night, maintaining a great tour de force throughout, his lines faultless, his voice thunderous, his emotions stripped raw, his portrayal of senility and rage just heart-breaking. Man! What a weird Friday afternoon. It was Anthony Hopkins who handed me my first ever writer’s award (that lovely rich Welsh voice saying “Bloody good job, girl!”) and I was approached by him to write a film some years ago (but we could never agree on the core of the story so it never came to anything). And now, here he was, a raging, insane, vicious old man, revealing the worst of humanity in all our weakness and vulnerability, begging for love from daughters but satisfied by the pretence of love, needy and vengeful and raggedly human.
On a wet Friday afternoon in Wales. King Lear, a King Lear I had met. Oh! and I’d also met that actor… and that actor…. and there I was watching them when I should have been writing my own stuff. Strange old life.
Because I was in the ‘not everso bright’ stream at school, we read only one Shakespeare, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and when we produced it as the school’s annual play I was (of course) Bottom. That was my total experience of Shakespeare until the Royal Shakespeare Company took me on as their writer-in-residence and I trotted dutifully along to see ‘Titus Andronicus’, knowing nothing about it. I was stunned by the violence, cruelty, gore. It had just about every human perversion possible from murder to rape to cutting tongues out…. I drove home, numb, wondering what the hell I was going to do in the theatre if this was drama. Did I want any part of it? It was well past midnight when I slipped into bed beside George and when he mumbled “Was it good?” I just made a sort of ‘Mmmm’ noise and put my freezing arms around him (his was a hard life).
So, here I am again, stunned by Shakespeare. William, William, William… what are you like? One line struck me so powerfully, delivered as he gazed at death “Why should a dog or horse or rat have life, but not you? You’ll never come to me again, never, never, never, never.” and you know what that tells me? It tells me that William Shakespeare knew what it was to have raw, devastating grief, to look at the uncaring world and to scream “My love is dead! How is that you’re still walking on this earth? You great clunky stupid sods, how come you’re still here, when my dearest love has gone?”
Poor William. He’d known grief. You cannot write well what you haven’t experienced. That’s why there are so many crap romantic novels, stereotypical detective stories and unconvincing thrillers in the bookshops. How many of these writers have loved long and true, how many have seen the inner workings of a murder, how many have heard the step of an assassin on the stair? So they make it up. Good writing is not ‘made-up’, it is known. Of course all these genres can be written well, if within the detective tale there is truth, if within the romance there is sadness, if within the thriller there’s joy.
In one sense every piece of good writing is autobiographical, and revealing. I think that’s true of all creativity – whether it’s visual art or sculpture, writing or song. Good art is nakedly honest and reveals the artist to the world. I’m amazed by Shakespeare, but I’m also bowled over by great acting. From the moment Anthony Hopkins walks onto the set, there he is – King Lear! No longer the lad from the valleys, but a mad, vicious, entitled old despot. Amazing talent. His portrayal is honest, laid bare, his vulnerability confronts and challenges us – this is humanity. This is life. Where does such talent spring from? We can’t manufacture it, screw up all our effort and become an artist or a writer or an actor…. All this is God given, God’s act of creativity even as we are conceived. How do they do it, we wonder when we see a beautiful painting or hear a soaring symphony. How do they do it?
Talent has become a bit of a theme for me this week. I’ve been reading Chapter 9 in the Book of Acts and one of the verses really hit home. The story so far: Saul is a real hater of Christians. He simply loathes ’em! He’s the Richard Dawkins of his day, and as a Philistine he’s self-righteous, passionate and extreme in his hatred of this new sect. He’s the Persecutor General (if that isn’t a title, it should be) and has been sending followers of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, for trial (and death/imprisonment, I suppose). Christians everywhere fear him. Then he’s struck down, sees a blindingly bright light, hears the voice of God… and everything changes for him. Dawkins becomes Billy Graham (sort of). But the Christians are understandably suspicious of this new convert. It’s as if Richard Dawkins walked into my little church claiming to have – literally – seen the light. We would wonder why he was really there; to write another book, this time about us and all our silly ways? Or to make a film? We might try to see if there was a hidden body camera in his lapel, if he was wired for sound…. and if he then started teaching and preaching we might just be tempted to throw a few rotten tomatoes. Back in Acts when Ananaias protests that Saul isn’t the obvious person to be welcomed into fellowship, God says “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the gentiles and the people of Israel.” In other words, everybody. The worst of the worst was God’s chosen instrument.
Was God making a point that he can reveal himself to anyone and everyone? Maybe that’s part of it, but the focus here is that Paul was the right instrument for the job. He’d shown his talent and commitment in the job of persecuting Christians. Those same gifts would be wonderfully powerful in promoting Christ. God is wise to our strengths and weaknesses, the talents he has given us, woven into our lives. If he chooses someone to lead his church, they are already his instrument, even when they seem to be far from what is needed.
When God brings us leaders, he brings the right ones. Not any old Tom, Dick or Harry. Yesterday I spoke to someone God is using in a very marked way, and it was exciting to realise that character, personality, talent, steadfastness and life experience, had all come together beautifully, to create an instrument of God. It’s all his mysterious doing. It’s his wonderful, surprising, breath-taking doing!
If you’re called to do something for God, trust in him. He is all you need. If today you feel that maybe God is calling you to do something that you feel a little bit scared of, trust him. You have his power and his love. He’s already alive and active in your life, shaping you, leading you, bringing you to this moment. Did you think you’d come here all alone? Think again. Think again. Did I come to this moment by my own ability? Did I make my lungs and my heart and my brain? Did I, by some super-human power, before I existed, give myself life? Did I create this moment? Or did my God?
He brought you this far. He will take you on.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10