We seem to be continuing a theme of sorts in this blog entry, but I don't expect the theme to be perpetuated much further. That theme would be finding spiritual inspiration in the lyrics of musicals. Have you seen the movie Into the Woods? I've heard dispute over the way it was converted to the screen, but for me it was wonderful just to be reminded of the musical itself. It's one of my long-time favorites. I find so much meaning in the depth of Sondheim's lyrics and the way the various plot-lines weave together and teach us about life. As I watched the movie, there were a few spiritual lessons of sorts that really stood out to me.
First, what do you suppose "the woods" symbolize? There is the constant refrain of "into the woods...we have to take the journey" in the musical. In the woods we see many magical but also dangerous things take place. I wonder what you might think and what Sondheim might say the woods epitomize in this story. Here's one thing that came to mind for me: the definition of the word "wilderness" in the Glossary of Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy. In the Glossary there are common biblical terms (wilderness is a recurring theme in the Bible, from Moses to Jesus who both had intense experiences there) defined in a way that brings out their deeper meaning. Check this out:
WILDERNESS. Loneliness; doubt; darkness. Spon-
taneity of thought and idea; the vestibule in which a
material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense
unfolds the great facts of existence.
Certainly the characters in Into the Woods experienced the first three things mentioned in the definition above, and I'm sure all of us have as well. But spontaneity? I think of spontaneity in a spiritual sense as willingness to be surprised by God. Sometimes in our wilderness periods, where we are uncertain of the way forward and things feel especially dim, we are more open to unexpected ways to go forward. While material sense clouds our view to see only what our circumstances would dictate, spiritual sense uplifts us and enables us to discover those "great facts of existence". At the end of Into the Woods, we see Cinderella, The Baker, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack expanding their views of life and even their sense of family as they sing No One is Alone.
Part of getting to a safe destination beyond the wilderness may involve being in touch with our deepest desires. Along these lines, there was a lyric in the musical that I had not noticed before. It really struck me that when the Baker's Wife is asking Cinderella to dish on the details of dancing at a ball with the prince, Cinderella appears to be realizing that perhaps it was not all she expected it to be. Perhaps she isn't so sure she wants to live in the palace with this guy (who later turns out to have a wandering eye in the woods!) after all. "What I want most of all," says Cinderella, "is to know what I want." Don't we all! Another line from Science and Health came to mind for me when I pondered this lyric. This is from the powerful and practical chapter on Prayer:
Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from
trusting God with our desires, that they may be
moulded and exalted before they take form in words
and in deeds.
Sometimes we, like Cinderella, need to do some soul-searching as well as some trusting in order to discover what we truly desire. There have certainly been times when I felt I knew just what I wanted, and when I got it I realized it was not what I had imagined or what I actually needed. I'm still learning about knowing what I want, but it helps to remember that I do not need to figure it out myself. I can take the desires that seem to run so deep and entrust them to God. Psalm 37:4 says "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires." I've loved that verse for a long time, and I appreciate thinking of it as a promise that God will not only give us what we truly want but will give us the desires themselves, in a way that is "moulded and exalted" to honor our Creator, who indeed has our best interests at heart and knows what we need.
There is a lot more to say about the deeper meaning to be gleaned from Into the Woods. What I appreciated most in my recent viewing of the musical in movie form was the sense that truly we are guided and protected even in our journey through the wilderness. From a Christian Science perspective we could say that even those characters who did not fare so well in the woods continue to journey on in Love's presence, learning the tender lessons they need to learn in the way that will be best suited to their growth. We don't get to see what happens after the curtain goes down on this show. But it ends with a promise we can take with us, a promise that truly, even when people leave us "halfway through the wood", no one is alone.
The very last words of the show are Cinderella calling out, "I wish!" Perhaps this speaks to that ongoing journey of learning what we honestly desire in a more exalted way. Maybe Cinderella is never satisfied with having finished her journey (as we never should be), or maybe she is joyfully proclaiming that she has finally discovered what she really wants. This journey that we have to take, though sometimes seemingly fraught with dangerous "moments in the woods", can be exhilarating as we embrace every step and know that we are not alone. Let's walk together!