On July 6th, members of Ekphrasis gathered to read through a one-act play by Sharon Barshinger Gerdes entitled To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time. This was an amazing meeting! The idea of reading one large-scale work each summer meeting has been going very well. They have been better attended and have led to great inspiration, discussion, etc. This one, especially, included the best group conversation we’ve ever had at an Ekphrasis yet. It felt very Inklings (which was, after all, my idea). Present were Sharon, myself, RTT, MD, AR, JL, SP, MB, JH (the mom) and JH (the son).
As Sharon reported in her “Where Are We Now” interview, the gist of the play is about the symbolic and spiritual values and meanings of virginity (of the body and of the soul). The play opens in a coffee shop where two friends meet. Winter tells Rose (the main character) that she’s pregnant. Rose is extremely upset about this, acting judgmental and flaunting her physical virginity over her repentant friend. Winter storms out and a surprising character pops up. He’s call “the Janitor,” and he acts as chorus or conscience at important moments of the play. He confronts Rose and reveals her hypocrisy to her.
This confrontation leads Rose to re-visit all the stages of her past that have led her to her current state of hypocrisy about her physical purity. As she remembers certain scenes from her childhood and teen years, she sees that she has used her status as a virgin to rate other people, to make herself feel better, and has twisted the actual reality of what virginity is supposed to be about.
Sharon began writing this play as a defense of virginity (and originally intended to call it The Virgin Monologues before it developed into a multi-character play), but as she wrote it, she realized how easy it was even for herself, especially when surrounded by non-Christian peers who talked about their sexual conquests and/or sexual victimization, to think that she was a better person because she was a virgin and most of them weren’t, and how hypocritical that attitude was, going against the essence of spiritual purity.
So after the play, we had an extended conversation about many topics. It was one of the liveliest, most valuable conversations we’ve ever had at an Ekphrasis. I guess the main topics were: how the church has failed to equip Christian to deal with sexual temptation, how the Church (on the other hand) has focused on sexual sin almost to the exclusion of discussing the danger and seriousness of other sins, and has upheld the “double standard” of treating women as if they have less sexual drive than men.
Those are some of the most valuable points in Sharon’s play. Her characters face sexual temptation in a way that’s realistic and relevant. And the Church, although it talks on and on endlessly about not dating until you’re ready to marry, or just “courting,” and not getting into dark rooms or backseats of cars, doesn’t give young people (or anyone) advice about what to do if you do find yourself in those situations—or even (especially) how to fight off sexual temptation when you’re alone. A very few thinkers have offered suggestions towards a kind of sublimation, in which physical desire is channeled or transformed into spiritual passion, but it mostly hasn’t gone very well. Charles Williams of course comes to mind here; RTT suggested Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk in this connection.
We all agreed that Sharon’s play would be an excellent piece for youth groups to watch, or, even better, to perform. It’s just so much more realistic, honest, and relevant than the cheesy superficial garbage most youth groups consume. That’s all worthless. This is real. This is relevant.
One participant in the evening’s events, SP, said: “I feel that the reading and discussion was a great experience. I am hard pressed to pick a ‘most memorable’ part of the evening—having the opportunity to read the part of Rose [the main character], meeting a group of intelligent, interesting, and kind people, having an open dialogue with constructive and encouraging comments for the playwright as well as a philosophical discussion of themes…wonderful. I look forward to more meetings!”
Next up: a reading of my play, Nor Ever Chaste, on August 7th.
Please email iambic dot admonit at gmail dot com if you would like information about future Ekphrasis meetings. Cheers.