Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II To Artists
“To all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new ‘epiphanies’ of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world.”
“The Artist, Image of God the Creator”
William Shakespeare. Oscar Wilde. Tennessee Williams. Anton Chekhov.
These were the men that filled my days as a college student studying theatre.
Bianca. Lady Windermere. Laura Wingfield. Harriet Smith. Juliet. Wendy Darling.
These were the women I worked so hard to emulate.
Night after night, I would stay up later and later memorizing line after line in hopes that I would be prepared for the next rehearsal.
“First rehearsal, you can use the script, after that, the book should be out of your hands. You’re studying to be a professional.”
“The Special Vocation of the Artist”
*A normal night consisted of…
Lady Windermere: “Why doesn’t he come? This waiting is horrible. He should be here. Why is he not here, to wake by passionate words some fire within me? I am cold — cold as a loveless thing. Arthur must have read my letter by this time. If he cared for me, he would have come after me, would have taken me back by force. But he doesn’t care. He’s entrammelled by this woman — fascinated by her — dominated by her. If a woman wants to hold a man, she has merely to appeal to what is worst in him. We make gods of men and they leave us. Others make brutes of them and they fawn and are faithful. How hideous life is! . . . Oh! it was mad of me to come here, horribly mad. And yet, which is the worst, I wonder, to be at the mercy of a man who loves one, or the wife of a man who in one’s own house dishonours one? What woman knows? What woman in the whole world? But will he love me always, this man to whom I am giving my life? What do I bring him? Lips that have lost the note of joy, eyes that are blinded by tears, chill hands and icy heart. I bring him nothing. I must go back — no; I can’t go back, my letter has put me in their power — Arthur would not take me back! That fatal letter! No! Lord Darlington leaves England to-morrow. I will go with him — I have no choice. [Sits down for a few moments. Then starts up and puts on her cloak.] No, no! I will go back, let Arthur do with me what he pleases. I can’t wait here. It has been madness my coming. I must go at once. As for Lord Darlington — Oh! here he is! What shall I do? What can I say to him? Will he let me go away at all? I have heard that men are brutal, horrible . . . Oh!”
I cannot TELL you how many times I recited this monologue. How many times I walked back and forth in the scenic design room, loudly articulating my British accent, as my angel of a friend, Grant, thank God for you, followed along with the script. I had to get every word right. I had to get the pronunciation perfect. My director was a genius and she wasn’t afraid to acknowledge my mistakes. She called me to excellence, because she believed her actors, her students, to. be. excellent. She knew how to love us right where we were at, and then challenged us to rise to where she knew we could be.
“Emily, you need to pause. Say the line, go to leave, stop, turn, look out, pause, decide, THEN say the next line. We need to see your decision to stay. Yes, say the words, but you also must show us what is happening internally. Trust. You need to trust. The audience needs to fall in love with her here.” These are the type of notes I would get.
9 years of theatre. Over 40 productions. Rehearsal every night but Saturday, from 6:00 to 10:00 (But let’s be real, 11:00).
And I loved every second of it.
Now, two years out of college, I am walking down a slightly different path. A “Catholic Missionary” type path. (My life. Proof that God has a sense of humor.)
“Does Art Need the Church?”
Jesus Christ. John Paul II. Pope Francis. St. Paul. Fulton Sheen. St. Joseph.
These are now the men that fill my time.
Mary. Mother Teresa. St. Cecilia. St. Monica. Joan of Arc.
These are now the women I work to emulate.
Now, I spend my days working with beautiful NYU students, walking with them in their faith and helping them share that faith, their joy, with those around them. I spend my nights working on bible studies and mentorship. I share my story and I pray in gratitude for the millions of ways the Lord has worked in my life.
But in that transition, somewhere between memorizing Lady Windermere lines and reciting the Litany of Humility, I flipped a switch and theatre was left in the dark. No ghost light.
Do you ever do that? Do you ever get so busy that you cut out everything that isn’t directly in front of you? When I’m an artist, I’m an artist. When I’m a missionary, I’m a missionary. And right now, at this moment, I’m a missionary.
Cut and dry. Short and simple. Right?
This morning, as I waited in line for tickets to the New York City Ballet’s production of “Romeo and Juliet”, I noticed something. Theatre majors. About 4 of them claimed the first place in line; I can spot those beautiful souls from a mile away. Observing them took me right back to waiting in the wings for my entrance line. And my heart kinda ached, actually. All I kept thinking about was how much I missed those older men in my life. (Ha.) Shakespeare. Wilde. And so on. I wondered where they had gone. Where had Emily the actress gone? (SO dramatic.)
Funny enough, there was a time in my life, when that’s all I was. “Emily the Actress” You could not have known me without seeing me run off to a rehearsal, or having me invite you to one of my shows. But today, the majority of people in my life have never seen me in a play. Have never heard me sing a song. Or truly create. I’ve kept a big piece of my heart at a distance.
“Why would being a missionary lead me away from all of this?” I thought for a second.
“The Church Needs Art”
And then I realized that my “two paths”, my two lives, my two loves… Emily the actress and Emily the missionary were only separate because I divided them.
I did it.
Somewhere along the line, I, myself, decided that the two paths were far too different to be the same. What a lie.
…Except on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays John Paul II has been pulling at my heartstrings, trying to open my eyes to the TRUE path that I am on. A path Jesus and Shakespeare walk.
I am leading a bible study on John Paul II’s Letter to Artists. And for an entire semester of Wednesdays, I’ve missed the point of my own study. Well done, Em.
“Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.” JPII
“An Appeal to Artists”
I think sometimes, we forget all that the Lord is calling us to be. Spoiler! It’s not just one thing. It’s the million different things that make you YOU. Remember that we are called to LOVE, first and foremost. And the Lord has given us each special gifts to express that love. If you feel called to be a missionary, do it. If you feel called to be an artist (athlete, engineer, nurse, teacher, etc.), do it. If you feel called to be both, GO BIG OR GO HOME, BRO. Because the Lord isn’t making you choose between them. Actually quite the opposite. Instead of taking, he is giving. He is giving you a gift. He is giving you an opportunity to be fully alive, in a way that is uniquely YOU.
“The ‘Beauty’ that Saves”
So, last weekend, I hung out with a bunch of nuns at a Sisters of Life retreat. This weekend, I watched the New York City Ballet Company dance a breathtaking “Romeo and Juliet”. In the future, I plan on falling on my face in an epic Central Park soccer game. I plan on volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity, going to a Yankees game with sunflower seeds in hand, crying like a lost child during the “For Good” scene in Wicked, and analyzing the beauty of all things John Paul II. Because, “As Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make it a work of art, a masterpiece.” JP2 for the WIN.
You do you. Hold onto what the Lord has placed in your heart.
Be all (To thine) He is (own self) calling you to be (true).
Below, is a play for you, written and performed by me.
It’s bout time I begin creating again.