The God Backstage

May 19, 2009 |Rachel Starr Thomson

We're mesmerized by what takes place onstage. But perhaps the greatest wonders occur before the curtain even opens.

Of all the thrills in the world, few compare with that instant when all the lights go dim, the crowd hushes, and for a breathless moment the theater hovers between the face of the deep and "Let there be light."

As a child, few things enchanted me more than a live performance. It's an enchantment that hasn't left me, and when I settle into a theater seat and welcome the darkness before creation springs forth, I can hardly contain my anticipation.

May 5, 2009, a mere few weeks ago, was an especially significant experience for me. The theater was a school auditorium in Port Colborne, a small town in the Niagara area of Ontario, where I help run a performing arts ministry called Soli Deo Gloria Ballet. The performance was Hiding Place, a ballet based on Corrie Ten Boom's true story of suffering, hope and forgiveness in the Holocaust. The group was Ballet Magnificat! Omega, 13 young women who are not just dancers, but ministers of the gospel.

The evening meant so much to me because I'd had such a large role in helping it happen — ever since my fellow Soli Deo director Carolyn Currey and I had visited Ballet Magnificat!'s Mississippi headquarters in February and decided to host a performance, every day had been awash in planning, promotion, and prayer for the Hiding Place.

May 4 arrived, bringing dancers with it; four stayed at our house while the other nine were picked up by other hosts or driven to host homes in the area. We ate and fellowshipped together, made last-minute phone calls, and almost felt the clock as it ticked down the hours.

And finally it all happened. I helped set up, ran around talking to volunteers and handling last-second emergencies, joined the dancers in prayer, welcomed a nearly packed-out house, and settled into my seat in the center of the theater.

Lights out. Hush.

Let there be light.

The performance was beautiful, as I knew it would be. Artistic, moving, powerful. An offering of creativity, skill and story, given to the Creator of creativity, skill and story. When the audience rose to their feet in applause at the end, my heart was bursting for the glory of the moment.

But the moment, of course, is such a small part of the whole. Isn't that always true? We think of life in terms of these grand moments, of the finished ballet or the symphony or the film or the drama, of the wedding or the birth, of the victory won or the miracle consummated. We mark time in anniversaries and commit to remember significant days forever.

Assuredly God is in all these moments of glory. We sit back and drink them in; stand and applaud when they are over. But just as assuredly God is there in every mundane moment, in every inglorious hour. He is the God of the drama and Lord of the dance. But He is also the God backstage.

If I look closely, I think I will find there is great holiness in moments I call mundane.

The audience that packed the theater on May 5 saw an amazing show. But I saw one more amazing. I met the performers the night before, talked with them and enjoyed their company. The afternoon of the ballet, I helped drive them to the theater, and I watched as they unloaded their trailers of equipment and worked together to transform a bare stage into a town in Holland, a concentration camp in Germany, a peace conference in Munich, and a place of worship for us all. I ran stage lights while Erin, Omega's tour director, called out directions from her perch atop a ladder, making sure all was in order. I watched the dancers take class before the doors of the theater opened and made sure they got enough trail mix, Diet Coke and protein to hold them all up through the day.

I didn't see the work as Ballet Magnificat!'s costume makers designed and sewed their costumes, as dancers put props together, as the choreographer chose music and created the ballet in the first place. I didn't see the years of guidance and doubt, struggles and small miracles while God brought each dancer to Mississippi and led them into the company, or the years before that, when these girls from the southern states and the northern ones, from Poland and Germany and Canada, grew up and trained and decided they wanted to dance. I wasn't there when God called each one out of darkness to serve His Son, or when He used experiences in their lives to sanctify and mold their hearts. I wasn't there even before that, when He created each one in her mother's womb, when He placed in them the physical ability to move as they do, when He placed in their souls the passion and commitment to do something so challenging and so beautiful, when He stamped His image into each child "intricately woven in the depths of the earth" (Ps. 139:15).

I wasn't there. I didn't see that. All I saw was a few moments of glory. Everything else that led up to those moments was the handiwork of the God backstage — the God who specializes in intricate details that make up glorious wholes.

Evidence of that God is absolutely everywhere, challenging me to recognize Him, to live every moment with an awareness of His purpose, to trust to the final work of the Master.

I look sometimes at my hands. They fascinate me. Four long fingers, each one perfectly hinged to give me grip and flexibility, and one opposable thumb — such a rare and strange thing in the abundance of earthly life forms. My fingers type thousands of words every day, sometimes close to one hundred of them per minute, but I never have to look at the keys — the muscles under my skin control my fingers automatically, following memories programmed into them by my brain. My nails need cutting again, as they have never in all my life ceased to grow, and the ends of my left fingers are calloused where they protect themselves from steel guitar strings. For the last 10 years my skin has slowly been erasing the scars from an incident when I was a teen.

All of that, all of these mundane things that happen to my hands without my direction or even awareness, is the work of the God backstage. I make choices that affect my hands — the choice to be a writer; the choice to play guitar — but the artistry and skill of God is seen in the results.

My spiritual life, for which I'm often apt to take more credit than I should, is similarly a masterpiece of small details woven into a pre-designed whole. In soul and spirit I am unique, as unique as I am physically, and just as God created my physical form in all of its intricacy, using my own choices to help shape me but always keeping the oversight of Master Craftsman, so He has created my spiritual form.

The God backstage, with His own chosen results in mind, formed me in the womb with the characteristics that would shape me already in place — powers of intellect, personality and attraction. He formed me not just in any womb, but in my mother's, for the final glory of my life requires that I should be raised by my particular parents. He gave me siblings, sent experiences into my childhood, and quietly guided me in every area.

Did I make choices that opposed Him? Did others? Of course. The intersection of human choice and Divine will is a mystery far too great for me to fathom. God is sovereign here, yet the world is still fallen. But the hands of the potter have never left the clay, and skillfully, inexorably, He has shaped me.

This is not an idyllic shaping. Backstage, things are often messy, frequently tedious, sometimes broken. Life does not always look like a work of art while it's being lived. In fact, it's as full of pain as of painting.

But experience and the testimony of the Bible teach me that I can trust the Master Artist and Engineer. The God backstage knows precisely what He's doing. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

So here I stand, on the stage of life before the curtains are fully open, looking around me at what is sometimes an inscrutable mess of props, half-sewn costumes, and red and blue lights flickering on and off as they're tested. I practice my still-unfinished skills, entertaining hopes for the future while sometimes despairing of the mess. Surrounded by others, players and dancers and musicians who have roles alongside mine, I wait for God to finish His work.

I wait for the day they call death, when the lights go down.

Darkness.

Hush.

And let there be light.

Copyright 2009 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved.

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