PLAYWRIGHT & DIRECTOR'S NOTE
I set out to write a play about female mystics in the fall of 2019, while spending a month at a retreat center in the Texas hill country. Armed with the desire to create a new work that highlighted the voices of women of all ages, and fascinated by these shadowy figures who lived lives of both deprivation and ecstasy, I was yet unprepared for what I found in their stories.
I quickly discovered that the throughline uniting the mystics and desert mothers is not just their common desire for union with Christ, but also their experience of suffering. And while it felt relevant at the time, I didn’t realize just how poignant their experiences would become in a few short months, when the advent of Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill. Isolated and grieving, I discovered in their lives and in their writing a depth of sorrow that was presented alongside great joy, and I returned again and again to that
What could compel a nursing mother to willingly leave behind her child for a martyr’s arena; a noblewoman to give up all her possessions; a thoughtful and intelligent woman to seclude herself in one room for the entirety of her life? Here were women who had shaped the history of not just the church, but also the realms of literature and art, and yet no one knew their names. Their stories of conviction and courage, and their devotion to God, buoyed my heart in a season of loss and suffering, and as a result, my own conviction grew that their stories must be shared.
In their very human lives I believe we can find a close fellow to our own various (and sometimes collective) journeys, and in their joy we may find a new path to tread–a unique way of considering the isolation, loss, and pain we experience.
Whatever your journey, whatever your story, I believe these women are for you. I hope you will be convinced, as I am, that each of them would want you to leave the theater with an assurance that you need not sail into the darkness alone.
Note: the script is comprised of both my words and the original writings of each of the following women. It breaks down to roughly 60% their words, and 40% mine.
Hildegard of Bingen
MEET THE WOMEN
IN THE PLAY
(1098-1179 CE) The founder and first abbess of the Benedictine community at Bingen. She was a member of the aristocracy, but displayed an acute humility about her position in the world. She was proficient in music, literature, philosophy, theology, medicine and politics. She believed that she was the tool through which God was calling the church to reform, and spoke boldly in a realm where only men were expected to speak.
Julian of Norwich
(c. 1342-1416 CE) Little is known of Julian’s early life. She spent most of her life in permanent seclusion as an anchoress in a small cell attached to St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. Because she writes extensively about the mother-like nature of God, and because she was at the age of 30 when she had her first vision, many have speculated that she was at some point a wife and mother. In her later years she had many devotees and disciples who came to her for advice and counsel, including other mystics such as Margery Kempe.
(c. 180-203 CE) As a young mother, she was arrested and tried for professing Christianity. While in prison she experienced visions of her martyrdom and of the joy that awaited her beyond death. Despite being entreated mercilessly by her family, she refused to recant, and was martyred in a Roman arena in Carthage.
Angela of Foligno
(1248-1309 CE) Born into a wealthy Italian family, at the age of 40 Angela received a vision of St. Francis and recognized the emptiness of her life. Three years later her mother, husband, and children all died in quick succession, and she sold her possessions and placed herself under the direction of a Franciscan Friar named Arnoldo, who wrote down her visions. Though Angela was often distraught and sometimes seen as unstable, Friar Arnoldo was able to help her synthesize and order her thoughts into a cohesive literary work.
(c. 300-600 CE) These women were deaconesses, ascetics, and leaders in the early church who lived in Egypt, Israel, and Syria. Many retreated to rural places in order to live a life of complete poverty and devotion to their God, and trained their acolytes in a tradition of solitude, silence, and prayer. They believed that union with Christ was the primary purpose of life on earth, and taught that through prayer, the spirit could be absorbed into God.