When I saw The Greatest Showman with my husband and father-in-law the week after Christmas, I sat in the movie theater and cried.
It was probably partly the state of my heart right then, and lingering emotion from our own theatrical production of The Promise a few weeks earlier. But the story just captured me and drew me in. Contrary to some historical films that get details wrong, it didn’t even bother me that much of it wasn’t very historically accurate—it was an imaginative tale about an imaginative man. I don’t think I would have even minded much if the whole thing were made up.
Because it was a good story—a beautiful story, about seeing beyond what is to what could be, about life and love and family and beauty and messiness and hope and failure and redemption. And to me, it spoke deeply about the power of story and theater to bring people together, exalt those who are cast out, and give a place to the lonely. Things I have seen happen so much even in our own little theater company.
And toward the end, as the motley, marginalized, beautiful performers Barnum had gathered into his circus came together once more and danced and sang their hearts out as one family, tears rose into my eyes and slipped onto my cheeks.
I’ve kept thinking about it in these weeks after, trying to process just why it affected me so. I think it reminded me on some heart-level of why we do what we do—we artists and storytellers, whether through writing or acting, theater or song. That it matters. We need beautiful, rowdy stories to awaken our hearts and point us to truth that goes so much deeper than theory or intellect.
A couple of years ago, when I was struggling through the early part of my most recent novel manuscript, I read an article by author and speaker Allen Arnold called “Your Beautiful, Rowdy Story.” I highly recommend it—you can find it here.
His article was inspired by a poem by Hafiz, a 13th century Persian poet, and Arnold wrote of the spiritual warfare involved in writing Kingdom stories full of power and loveliness, grit and truth, and how God co-creates with us in them. His words stuck with me, and as I continued to wrestle with that novel, I would often pray before sitting down at the computer,
“Lord, please help me write a beautiful, rowdy story.”
Somehow that phrase captured for me the power and cruciality of storytelling in our world…that better than any other medium, stories—whether on the page, the screen, or the stage—can capture the beauty and the messiness of life, and glimpses of God’s light and power and redemption and truth glimmering forth even amid great darkness.
I was reminded of this again in watching our cast produce The Promise, God’s own beautiful rowdy story of Jesus’s audaciously humble, brazenly vulnerable entry into our dark and crazy world that He so loves. I was struck by the sacrificial nature of storytelling…all the time and energy and sleep and even health that my family and our staff and cast gave to telling this story, and even of the incarnational quality of theater itself—as each cast member, in a sense, empties him or herself and literally becomes the story they are telling.
And people are touched, when we let the Lord have our hearts and empower His strength in our weakness, to tell beautiful, rowdy stories to the world—stories that can hold His truth and beauty and goodness in powerful ways…even if they might not be originally intended that way, like The Greatest Showman.
And how much more if they are?
So be encouraged, fellow storytellers—whether you tell your stories through writing or dance or song or theater or film or a paintbrush. They matter, and the world needs them.
What beautiful, rowdy stories have touched your heart lately? Are there any the Lord is pressing on your heart to share with the world? I’d love to hear your thoughts!