I heard (and saw) two sermons Sunday. The first, during our regular church service lasted about 30 minutes, and after the first 15 minutes, I was frequently glancing at my watch, wandering how much longer this is going to go on. It was about "stewardship," which in Christian parlance means, donate more money to the church. That's about all I remember about it. The second was Sunday night at The Station Theater where I saw "An Almost Holy Picture," and it lasted for almost two hours, without me glancing at my watch even once. Our group retired afterwards to my brother's house, The Middle One, where we ate bread pudding and talked about the play for another hour. Such is the power of presentation.
The New York critics didn't like "An Almost Holy Picture," which played on Broadway with Kevin Bacon doing the one-man performance. I don't think it's just because our local acting genius, Gary Ambler, is that much better than Kevin Bacon that my reaction to the play was different from the New York critics.
Samuel Gentle, like the Samuel in the Bible, heard God's voice at a young age, saying "Follow me," the first experience that shaped his idea of God. He became a priest in an Episcopal parish in the desert in New Mexico, where he had his second spiritual experience when he came upon a woman howling at God, "The hell with you!" He learns about prayer from the woman who explains to him that God has her undivided attention when she goes into the desert and howls at him. A tragedy in which nine children on a church bus are killed when there is an accident causes Samuel to leave the priesthood and return to New England to become the caretaker of the grounds of a cathedral, The Church of the Holy Comforter.
Gentle doesn't find much comfort, however, when after three miscarriages, his wife, Miriam bears a daughter, who has a rare disease that causes her body to be covered with fine hair. That is his third spiritual experience, as he loves her with a father's "spectacular love," and tries to shield her from the hurt that he thinks she will experience from an insensitive world.
In the course of trying to protect his daughter from pain, however, Gentle winds up causing even worse pain, and his realization that he has to allow her to be herself is his fourth, unexpected spiritual experience.
Although my description of the play may make it seem maudlin, and although it is moving at times, it also has humor, and ends on a hopeful note. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to have a spiritual experience more uplifting than the admonition to give more money to the church.