Everyone is made in the image and likeness of God. Every person has a purpose on this earth. Do we believe this?
Sister Calling My Name confronts this in the rawest of ways. How many people have no idea that they are amazing, that God created them for tremendous things that are sometimes small to the world, but so magnificently beautiful at the same time?
Sister Calling My Name, written by Buzz McLaughlin, is currently being performed by Storm Theatre Company and the Blackfriars Repertory Theatre at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in Manhattan. I’m a friend and fan of all the aforementioned, but I had no idea what I was in for when I walked into the play on the night of the March for Life this year.
The play is a snapshot into the journey of one family’s and community’s suffering. It’s the journey of vocation, as characters discover who they are, who they were made to be — that God really does have a purpose for them in this world, as He does for all of us. It’s about brokenness and memory. It’s about redemption and the triumph of hope even in the midst of severe sickness and sadness. Life is full of crosses and heartache, the kind of failure that draws us deeper into darkness. And yet, something like Sister Calling My Name at the same time shows us light. It is light. It brings us into the light — even in a world that sometimes can be suffocating bodies and souls and families and institutions and politics and culture with evil.
Some of the language in the script shocks the system: She is totally out of her mind. She should have never been born. She’s beyond sick. She’s subhuman. Damaged to the point of no return. She should have never been born. . . . I hate her, I hate her. She should have never been born.
Michael, a brother dealing with his sister’s severe mental illness, also goes on to say that he hates God and wants to rot in hell. He seemed to think those words would give him some kind of comfort and power, and that, by rejecting God, he could finally be in control of things.
Of course, that doesn’t work.
Opening night of Sister Calling My Name was in New York on the day of the March for Life in Washington, D.C., the day when some of us protest the Supreme Court’s grave Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America. The words took on added meaning that night, and even more so as the Sheen Center sits alongside a Planned Parenthood clinic where abortions are performed. I walked outside the Sheen Center one Saturday morning in the fall only to encounter a woman who had just had an abortion. The sorrow and anguish and death could not be hidden from the world — even as ideology tries to cloak them with euphemisms. She was silent as she walked toward the avenue, but the angry words of Michael seemed to be somehow united with the agony of her heart.
We dehumanize, and it causes so much misery. Let’s try something different. Let’s see creation for what it is, even when it’s imperfect. Even when it’s unexpected and unplanned.
The most powerful part of the play is when, in a response to these words, in a flashback, the young girl who would become a Sister of Mercy prays a decade of the Rosary. “Just get on your knees and just say it,” she says to her young boyfriend in a flashback scene. Whatever your feelings are, keep moving ahead in trust and hope — that was her message. It couldn’t be more powerful to our world today.
She interspersed her ten Hail Marys with entreaties for Michael to join her. I certainly did. At this point, the play becomes something different, something more, that something we all desire: a connection with the divine. The play becomes a prayer.
On a day when the evil of the world is exposed and yet, for many, it is just another day, my heart cried out for something that would confirm that there is a loving God who has a plan. That even amid all the ugliness, blessings flow, as is discovered with such peace, beauty, and consolation during the course of Sister Calling My Name.
The reality of life that we do not always face or convey is that we are all sinners. None of us gets this life perfect. The more that we realize that — and recognize that there is sin that poisons our lives but that it is possible to be freed from it — the more hope is plausible. It’s about facing facts together! And trusting that He who managed to create us with so much fascinating complexity has a plan, even in our brokenness.
Sister Calling My Name embraces the audience with knowledge of God. Not as an intellectual matter, but as a love story, as a real, palpable, passionate truth, learned by hearts often weary and broken, but open to the kind of healing that hope brings. Art that accomplishes such a thing ought to be applauded and supported.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.