Not a dry eye or an empty seat remained in the Lab Theater at Calvin College on the final night of “But Now I See: Stories of Spiritual Intimacy and Healing,” a play compiled by David Ellens. Free and open to the Calvin community and beyond, the play was in the style of Ethnographic or Verbatim Theatre, meaning that every word of the script came from real-life interviews.
Ellens, who works at Calvin College, interviewed 50 members of Calvin’s community, including students, staff, faculty, and alumni. He then transcribed the interviews and selected six excerpts for the actual script.
“We talked about what ‘closeness’ with God is all about and whether or not we should be striving for it as Christians, as well as what hope and healing might look like in times of spiritual wilderness,” said Ellens.
The result was a raw, honest, moving, “up close and personal” experience of these six people’s lives, which included physical and emotional healing, losing a spouse, sexual abuse, grief, and physical disabilities. These real-life experiences created a platform for each character to delve further into the question of their relationship with God.
“David has pulled together a humbling set of stories that kept me on the edge of my seat—laughing, crying, and wrestling with ideas that reside near the core of my being,” said Andrew Harmon, a Calvin alum who attended the play. “These stories made me realize that questions comprise much of what I consider my intimacy with God. I am able to confront God with questions about evil, pride, hate, and his perceived apathy only within the support of a church body.”
Each of the six parts was played by actors, not the actual interviewees, along with Ellens, who played himself as the interviewer.
“The whole process has been more of a gift than I ever could have asked for,” said Calvin student Virginia Lodge, who played the part of ‘Rachel,’ a woman who was born with cerebral palsy and is legally blind. “The most transformative part was having the opportunity to intentionally empathize with one person for four months. Being entrusted with someone’s intimate and vulnerable experiences has been astounding and a deeply spiritual practice of solidarity with someone different from me.”
This play is the third in a larger series that explores intimacy in a holistic sense. Ellens’s previous two plays in the same format were on gender roles and identity and on interpersonal intimacy and sex. He hopes to do more in the future, possibly the next about our use of technology and our desire for belonging.