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In the Name of the Father

by Director of New Play Development <strong>Aaron Carter</strong>

The theater evokes personal connections in multiple ways. There is, of course, the direct subject connection: an action faced by a character in a play mirrors something we have done. There is also an associative connection: glancing references that resonate, stirring inchoate feelings and fragmented memories. When I witnessed Shelley praying about her father in Grand Concourse, both the direct and associative are triggered, and I was moved to call my father. I connect prayer with my father because he is the most faith-driven person I know. His faith has fundamentally shaped both the course of his life and mine. I fired up Skype, dialed his number, and decided to see where this association would take us. My initial question to my dad, Ken Carter, was inspired by a moment in Grand Concourse. Shelley tells Emma, the new volunteer at the soup kitchen, about learning to pray. “When I first started learning to pray,” says Shelley. “I was taught to imagine a real person who loved me. Unconditionally. So I would just talk to my Grandma.” Many branches of the Christian tradition emphasize a personal relationship with God. I asked my dad what he taught my siblings and me about prayer. KEN CARTER: Well, I felt that it was only fair that I teach you not just about the God who created you, but also about communicating with him. Prayer is simply communicating with God. I wanted you to understand that God loves you. And it was kind of hard for you children to understand that because of the divorce situation in the family between your mother and me. I didn’t want you to lose hope. There was one point you said “Dad, I'm praying that Mom and you will come back together but it’s not happening.” But prayer is not just asking God for something. Prayer can also be a rigorous practice of affirming your devotion: something you adhere to whether you feel like it or not. Shelley is attempting to maintain her discipline of prayer by timing her prayers on the microwave. While it surprises Emma that a nun might have trouble praying, using an external prompt is a time-honored practice in prayer. The microwave timer is not much different than using beads to keep your place when praying the Rosary. Even in the evangelical tradition in which I grew up, we had our prayer objects—though my Dad’s style could be unconventional. I remember my father telling me a story about literally standing on the Bible in an attempt to demonstrate the sincerity of his plea. KC: It might have been at the time when your Mom and I had decided to go our separate ways, but I didn't want that to happen. And I had sought counsel with the church elders, and people were praying and I was at home. And I put the Bible on the floor, and I said “I'm standing on the Word of God and this is my wife and my family and I refuse to allow anything but God's purpose to be accomplished.” But that particular prayer wasn’t answered. I asked my dad why prayer doesn’t always work. KC: All prayer—when directed to God according to the Holy Scripture—is answered. But it may not be answered according to how we want it to be. God is able to see beyond the future. What we ask in our prayers may not necessarily be his desire for us, because he knows a greater outcome. Early on in the play, we learn that Shelly is asking for forgiveness. Not only is she seeking forgiveness for her own sins, she's asking God for guidance in finding a way to forgive her father. For what, exactly, she does not say. My dad shared his thoughts about the relationship between prayer and forgiveness. KC: Prayer is actually very important in the situation of forgiveness. And I think that the first thing any person has to learn to understand is that forgiveness is not necessarily for the perpetrator. Forgiveness is mainly for yourself. Because when you forgive the one who has damaged you, you free yourself to continue to be open to God and to live and to understand why the person has done what they have done to you. Even with the assistance of God, my father acknowledged that forgiveness could take years. KC: There was a situation when I was a child... when my father beat my mother. And I said to him as an 8 year old child if you ever hit my mother again, when I become an adult I will kill you myself. And when I actually became an adult and encountered the living god through his son Jesus Christ I had to learn to forgive my father for the horrendous things he had done to our family. And it was extremely difficult. It was so difficult that in my nights of prayer I would say, “Dear God, if there is any other way I can be united with you please let it be so, because if my father is in heaven with you, I don't want to go.” After a dutiful conversation about a visit in October, I ended the call. I couldn't remember the last time we talked about my parents’ divorce. And that was the most detailed conversation we had ever had about my dad’s relationship with his own father. It struck me that inside of a tradition that emphasizes a personal relationship with God, you can't talk honestly about prayer without touching on your most personal details. With that in mind, I began to see Shelley's prayers as the window through which an audience might glimpse the events outside the immediate world of the play that have most profoundly shaped her. As you piece together hints of what Shelly is facing, particularly in her relationship with her father, you gain a richer understanding of how those off stage events put pressure on the choices we witness Shelley make. Listen closely to her prayers: in her petition to God for guidance about where she should be going, there are clues to where she has been. And perhaps as your understanding grows, you will form an opinion about how, exactly, her prayers should be answered.