On Sacred Writings: Our Town

When one hears the term “sacred writings”, one thinks usually of the Bible or the Torah or the Koran or other writings central to a set of religious beliefs. For me, though, some of the writings that have helped me most on my own spiritual journey are outside the scope of traditional sacred writings. Yet their spiritual lessons have been rich and renewing. One such piece of sacred writing is Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town.

Our Town is set in the New Hampshire village of Grover’s Corners, a town made up of ordinary people leading ordinary lives. The biggest excitement seems to center on Simon Stimson, the choir director who also happens to be the town drunk.  The play focuses primarily on two characters — George and Emily. Through the three acts, we watch them discover one another, marry, then deal with death. The other central figure of the play is the Stage Manager, a God-like figure who oversees the action of the play and offers commentary.

Each act speaks to me again and again. The first act speaks of youth and falling in love in the midst of ordinary life. We plan for the future in the midst of adolescent angst but at some point we meet someone and the world suddenly looks different. The Stage Manager invites us to recall such moments: “…I want you to try and remember what it was like when you were young….And particularly the days when you were first in love; when you were like a person sleep-walking, and you didn’t quite see the street you were in, and didn’t quite hear everything that was said to you. You were just a little bit crazy.”

The second act speaks of marriage. Among other things, the Stage Manager invites us to reflect on the passage of time in a relationship: “You know how it is: You’re twenty-one or twenty-two and you make some decisions; then whisssh! you’re seventy: you’ve been a lawyer for fifty years and that white-haired lady at your side has eaten over fifty thousand meals with you.”

The third act is the most complex and most powerful part of the play. Here the Stage Manager invites us to reflect on our own beliefs about an after-life as he observes those from Grover’s Corners who have died: “You know as well as I do that the dead don’t stay interested in us living people for very long. Gradually, gradually, they let go of the earth…and the ambitions they had…and the pleasures they had…and the things they suffered…and the people they loved. They get weaned away from earth…Yes they stay here while the earth-part of ’em burns away, burns out, and all the time they get slowly indifferent to what’s goin’ on in Grover’s Corners. They’re waitin’. They’re waitin’ for something they feel is comin’. Something important and great. Aren’t they waitin’ for the eternal part in them to come out clear?”

For me, the third Act hits me hard with the realization of how much we take for granted in life. We see this through Emily who has died but has an opportunity to go back for one day. In this excerpt, beautifully played by Penelope Ann Miller, she learns a painful reality:

Sadly, I often need to be reminded to take the time to just look at the ones I love. Our Town brings me back to that most important of spiritual lessons.

Reflections: 1.Share some of your own Sacred Writings. 2. Who/What have you taken for granted?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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4 Responses to On Sacred Writings: Our Town

  1. Chas Thomas says:

    Richard, I have two such “Sacred Writings.” Both were turned into movies and I read both of them after I saw the movies. They are Ben-Hur and To Kill a Mockingbird. Both of them were very powerful both in movie and in book form.
    Thanks for this post…


  2. Susan Bass says:

    A very profound statement about the transitory nature of life and how the rich moments are sometimes lost in the hurry. It seems that we don’t notice how fast it goes until there is less of it left to go. I can remember when a summer seemed like a very long time. But that was 1972 and we only had books, and three TV channels which went off the air at midnight but a summer was forever.

  3. Laura Stell says:

    The Shack made me rethink everything I believed about God. I had put “Him” in a box, and this book made me break open the box, and release God to simultaneously come in more intimately and go beyond the epic proportions that “I AM” first introduced me to, in The Ten Commandments. That the Holy of Holies creates everything that exists AND actually also loves me personally is mind blowing. That realization made possible a more intimate relationship with Jesus, who holds me lovingly when I am in need. It also led to my gradually learning to be more attentive to the whisper of the Holy Spirit, leading me like a patient mother through my days, letting me see the next step she wants me to take.

    If I, in my old age, still need daily attention, I have to remind myself that my children do, too. I had been taking them for granted. As each grew and left home, I had come to assume that he/she must be fine, when I didn’t hear from one for a while. The scene in The Shack, where Jesus has all the children in a circle and yet each one feels that Jesus’ gaze is just for him/her, reminds me how deeply each of us needs to be loved. When I am able to give my adult children one-on-one time and attention, I am now aware of how each one relishes it, as well as how much I myself do.

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