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  • Writer's pictureKatie Davis-Crowder

“Yes, and…”: Beautiful and Terrible Things

Today’s readings remind me of the popular improv game called “Yes, and.” I played the “Yes, and” game semi-regularly in acting classes for years: at my community theater as a kid, as a musical theater major in college, and in Second City classes here in Chicago. No matter how many times I dove in, the “Yes, and” game intimidated me to my core. Here’s the gist of the game: to adapt to any scene and any scenario and any character thrown their way, the actors learn to accept it. Yes, and there was a queen. Yes, and the queen was at the circus. Yes, and it’s the year 3000. Yes, and the lion tamer is a robot. Yes, and the robot lion tamer’s battery malfunctioned. You get the idea.

But why practice something this fabulous and absurd? Facing mystery and adapting to changes, both positive and negative, in the moment, can be incredibly challenging. I have found the “Yes, and…” game to be a spiritual exercise of sorts during the seemingly interminable seasons of the past three years; seasons within which change has been demanded of us again and again; seasons within which we have had to make countless choices about how to respond to situations and circumstances we could not have imagined, let alone chosen for ourselves or our world.

This Sunday’s readings include all “yes, ands” of being alive. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of terror and vengeance, shame and confusion…and concludes with singing and praising God for saving the poor from the powerful. The psalm is an urgent lament—like one third of all psalms—expressing raw anguish to God…while acknowledging God’s great love. And the Gospel holds in contrast concealing and revealing, darkness and light, whispers and proclamations, body and soul. Jesus reminds the Twelve that evil is real and fearsome. All the while, Jesus says, “...[All] the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid.”

When we worry that our feelings might be “too much” for God, the Scriptures today (and often!) remind us that God longs to hold our sufferings and our delights all at once. We aren’t invited to prayer once everything feels neat and tidy. God longs to hold us in our mess.

Today’s readings remind me of my first Wisdom’s Dwelling piece in Advent of 2021, right after the death of beloved musical theater composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, whose work captures this dynamic beautifully.

In his “fairytale” musical Into the Woods, the character Little Red, reflecting on her encounter with the Big Bad Wolf, sings:

And he showed me things

Many beautiful things

That I hadn't thought to explore

They were off my path

So I never had dared

I had been so careful

I never had cared

And he made me feel excited

Well, excited and scared

Later, in the same show’s finale, Cinderella helps the younger characters understand that people are often more complicated than they seem, singing:

Witches can be right. Giants can be good. You decide what’s right. You decide what’s good.

And finally, capturing the entire heart of into the Woods in a few lines, the Baker’s Wife sings some of my all-time favorite lyrics:

Let the moment go. Don’t forget it for a moment, though. Just remembering you’ve had an “and” when you’re back to “or” makes the “or” mean more than it did before. Now I understand! And it’s time to leave the woods.

I could fill pages with reasons I admire Sondheim’s masterful work. What I love most, though, is his refusal to accept that things are either black or white, all good or all bad. Though he didn’t self-identify as a person of faith, Sondheim seemed to understand on a spiritual level that nothing is ever only one thing. And no one is ever only one thing.

The writer and theologian Frederick Beuchner writes, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.” If you’re like me, then you might still be a little afraid, especially after these past few years of unpredictable “yes, and! Yes, and!” And if you’re a little afraid like I am—like Jeremiah and the psalmist and the Twelve were—let’s bring that fear to God too. Can fear and gratitude exist at the same time? Can hilarity and sorrow co-exist? How about devastation and love? Sondheim thought so, and so did Jesus.


Katie Davis-Crowder, MDiv, is a Chicago-based teacher, spiritual director, singer, writer, and presenter rooted in the Mercy and Ignatian traditions. She is passionate about spirituality, social justice, and the arts, and loves building home with her partner Kevin and pup Smartie.

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ed juillard
ed juillard

Lyrical interweaving of Sondheim and Scripture on the exigencies of life and the polarities of life and feelings of fear and exhilaration at the same time. Thank you, your writing not only makes scripture come alive in the now but is compassionate healing.

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