success stories

Posted June 16, 2003

Book: Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life through the Eyes of Actors
Author: Retta Blaney
Sheed & Ward, New York, pp. 177

Excerpt from Jacket:

Stage and screen actors form unique relationships with their audiences. Through their work, they challenge, teach, and inspire us by shedding light in all corners of life and connecting with us through our senses and emotions. Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors goes backstage into the inner lives of respected actors like Liam Neeson, Vanessa Williams, Phylicia Rashad, Edward Herrman, Kristin Chenoweth, and many others to reveal the deep spirituality each one relies on in their lives and work. The result is a book like no other that draws ten key elements of the universal spiritual life from the perspective of actors whose work it is to tap into the essence of life, tell stories, and reveal life's truths.

Excerpt from Book:

The practice of being present, or "in the moment" as actors say, has long-established roots in Eastern religions; in Zen the present moment is everything. It is also where we can best find God. As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his 1951 book Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion, "The are of awareness of God, the art of sensing His presence in our daily lives cannot be learned offhand. God's grace resounds in our lives like a staccato. Only by retaining the seemingly disconnected notes comes the ability to grasp the theme."

French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil defined her idea of being present when she said, "Absolute attention is prayer." Besides being a way to pray, practicing being in the moment is also calming, which is why it is emphasized in contemporary stress management courses. But long before anyone ever took a course to manage stress, Jesus was telling his followers how to do it: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

Being in the moment has long been an aim of Catholic saints. In the eighteenth century, Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk, described it as the "practice of the presence of God." For him, God was to be found in every moment; even those spent scrubbing pots in the monastery kitchen could offer contemplate value. Chores are part of daily life, and Brother Lawrence knew we had to seek God there as well as in chapel because God is present in all aspects of our lives. In the following century, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity, the first congregation of religious women in the country, told her spiritual daughters to "keep to what you believe to be the grace of the moment . . .do your best. . .and leave the rest to our dear God."

For twenty-first century stage actors, keeping to the grace of the moment, or at least the discipline of staying focused, is vital because there are no retakes during a live performance. Doing a show eight time.

Table of Contents:

Chapter One: Faith
Jeanne Beauvais, Dudu Fisher, Michael McElroy, Kristin Chenoweth, Larry Collis, Rabbi Richard Steinberg, The Rev. Paul D. Schmiege

Chapter Two: In The Moment
Vanessa Williams, Casey Groves, Kristin Chenoweth, Richard Costa, Rabbit David Woznica, The Rev. Robert E. Kennedy, S.J.

Chapter Three: Listening
Kristin Chenoweth, Edward Herrmann, Rabbi Laurie, Katz Braun, Peter W. Culman

Chapter Four: Silence
Phylicia Rashad, Edward Herrmann, Liam Neeson, Matt Mitler, Rabbi James L. Mirel, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Earley, S.C.

Chapter Five: Prayer
Liam Neeson, Venessa Williams, Michael McElroy, Bertilla Baker, Kristin Chenoweth, Rabbi David Baron, The Rev. George Drance, S.J.

Chapter Six: Self-Knowledge
Venessa William, Edward Herrmann, Ann Dowd, Amanda Blair Ellis, Heather Tamar Feffer, The Rev. Mittes DeChamplain

Chapter Seven: Community
Michael McElroy, Liam Neeson, Amanda Blair Ellis, Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg, the Rt. Rev. Catherine S. Roskam

Chapter Eight: Hospitality
Kristin Chenoweth, Lesley Birchall Collis, Larry Collis, Matt Mitler, Carol-Jean Lewis, Rabbi Allen A. Secher, The Rev. Erno Diaz

Chapter Nine: Ritual
Carol-Jean Lewis, Merwin Goldsmith, Matt Mitler, Rabbi Noach Valley, The Rev. Canon Jay Wegman

Chapter Ten: Transformation
Kristin Chenoweth, Casey Groves, Lesley Collis, Shoshana Bean, Rabbi Richard Jacobs, The Rev. William A. Doubleday