By Stephanie Evelyn McKellar
As a personal spiritual discipline of late, I have been taking improv comedy classes at the Dallas Comedy House. In improv class we begin with a few warm-ups. They move the body and get the blood flowing, they help lower our defenses and embrace the playfulness of the environment, they get us engaged. They help us practice saying yes, being present, and supporting one another.
One warm-up involves everyone standing in a circle, with one person in the middle. The middle person starts singing a song, and the rest of us are tasked with singing along as quickly as we are able. They begin, we join in. Then, the task of the exercise is for someone else to tap them on the shoulder and replace them as the person singing in the middle.
The first time I experienced this warmup, I stood the entire time on the outside of the circle. It was a big enough group, the exercise finished before I leapt out there to begin a song. I kept holding back; I wanted to play, but I was unable to think of a song in the midst of all the commotion.
I never jumped into our improv singing circle, because I could never land on a song to contribute.
I spent the entire exercise not playing along, because I thought the point of the game was to get out there and have a song…
I was trying to be fully prepared.
I was trying to be ready.
I was trying to be really good at it. (I was trying to be impressive.)
Later, in another class, we played the game again. This time, I was paying better attention. I heard the teacher explain that the intention was to support the person in the middle. Even if we make up the song, the point is to relieve the middle person as quickly as possible.
The point is to practice jumping to their support. It did not matter what song, if any song, came to mind.
The point was to send our bodies out into the middle of the circle, lead with our feet, and ask our voices to follow.
The point was to show up.
The point was to support our partner, rather than wait to be ready to offer that support.
At first I spent so much time preparing that I never participated.
This time, I managed to leap out in the middle of that singing circle, and tap in in support of my peer. Not once, but twice, I showed up, opened my mouth, and made up a song.
This time, I not only participated, but I co-created the game we shared. Perhaps no one else would have thought of the songs that popped into my head as I leapt into the middle.
There have been times in life that I have felt unprepared, afraid, and certain that I cannot contribute without having more ready-to-go. Often, I don’t have the answers. In a time when the United Methodist denomination is discerning who it will be in the future; in a time when the universal church is deciding what it will transform into with the decrease in traditional worship and the re-conceptualizing of community, belonging, and spirituality; in a time when the nation is trying to assess who it will be in the international and global community, I find it difficult to know how to show up and participate. I can find myself overwhelmed and feeling paralyzed by trying to figure out what the best, most successful way to enter in looks like.
Yet, a lesson I learned as a hospital chaplain was that (believing I had) the answers often proved a detriment to the ministry work in the patient’s room. What they needed more from me was what is often called “ministry of presence,” the ability to show up, sit in the mystery and discomfort of pain, and offer company and support by listening.
Sometimes, the work is to show up, however unprepared we may feel.
Whether professional or personal, when I have managed to follow my feet and show up the contribution of my creativity, insight, and personhood has still been an asset. Often, much of the good work is done in the togetherness and co-creation.
In improv, I am learning that I am capable of showing up, even if I am not ready. And I am learning that I need to show up, because what I bring and the way I see the world is uniquely valuable to the world around me. And what I gain from encountering others is uniquely valuable to the world and me.
I am better for having shown up.
We are better when you show up.
Ready or not...