success stories

Posted February 16, 2004

Book: Working on the Inside
Author: Retta Blaney
A Sheed and Ward Book, New York, pp178

An excerpt from the Jacket:

Retta Blaney, an award-winning journalist now specializing in theatre and religion, was inspired to write this book by the spiritual wisdom actors conveyed in their interviews with her over the years. She dared to ask actors questions few ever do: How does you spirituality influence your life and work? How do you pray? What do you pray for? How do you stay centered in a career with so much uncertainty? And they answered her, readily sharing experiences of faith, being in the moment, listening, silence, prayer, self-knowledge, community, hospitality, ritual, and transformation. The result is a book that takes readers into the private thoughts of some of their favorite actors for inspiring tips on how they, too, can begin working on the inside.

An excerpt from the Book:

Prayer is a spiritual practice well suited to actors, and everyone else for that matter, because of its versatility. It can be active, as in letting your life be prayer, or it can be contemplative, as in meditation or scripture reflection. It can be done with standard prayers like the Shema or the Lordís Prayer, or it can be made up. Prayers can be said throughout the day, like the berakah, expressions of thanks that Jews ideally say at least one hundred times a day, or they can be practiced at set times, as in the Jewish custom of keva, routine prayers said morning, afternoon, and evening, or the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office), the Christian monastic tradition of praying at specific hours from sunrise to sunset. For many, reading or reciting Psalms is a calming form of prayer, as is walking a labyrinth, a spiritual practice that is enjoying a new round of popularity. The labyrinth, a sacred circle with a single path leading to its center, dates at least to the Middle Ages, when designs were fashioned into the floors of cathedrals. It was a way for the faithful to make a prayerful pilgrimage at a time when it was too dangerous and costly for them to travel to the Holy Land. Walking the path can bring tranquility to the soul opening it up to prayer and meditation.

To Augustine, singing was a door to prayer. He believed to sing was to pray twice. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint, said: "Without prayer I should be of little service to others." She described prayer as "a habit of lifting up the heart to God, as in a constant communication with Him."

In the twentieth century, Evelyn Underhill, an Anglican mystic, wrote: "We must accustom our attention, that wanders over all other interests, to fix itself on Him. Such deliberate attention to God is the beginning of real prayer. Prayer is never to be judged by feeling that goes with it: it is the willed intercourse of our tiny spirits with the Infinite Spirit of Love. "Like many others, she believed in the merging of action and contemplation, that "every bit of work done toward God is prayers."

Learning to look at work as prayer is something Liam Neeson discovered in the jungles of Colombia, South America, while filming The Mission, a 1986 movie about eighteenth-century Jesuits. "I was at the crossroads of my life," he says. "I was reasonably successful as an actor. I was thrity-two or thirty-three with a potential career ahead of me. I had done some flimflam movies, but I didnít understand what being an actor meant anymore.

He like the downtime, "getting drunk at night . . .to which he adds, "I was single at the time." But for the classically trained stage actor, something was missing. "The work aside was easy. It was not stretch."

He had let slip the Roman Catholic faith he had been raised in in Ballymena. . . . . as research for the Mission, he read The Jesuits by J.C. Aveling and Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez. He also became friends with the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., a technical advisor for the film who "told me extraordinary stories of his life and the life of a Jesuit."

Through his Jesuit research Neeson made a discovery that deeply affected his outlook. He learned about the Spiritual Exercises of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola who encouraged his students to study scripture by taking the part of a character in the Bible story, such as a shepherd in the stable of Bethlehem, and employing all the senses to imaginatively enter into the scene. Neeson recognized the connection between the Spiritual Exercises and Konstantin Stanislavskyís An Actor Prepares, which deals with the profound process an actor should go through to present a part on stage. . . The Irish Catholic side in me was married to the life of an actor and I found out acting could be a form of prayer. It helped me knowing that. It was like a little godsend message, Now he uses that form of prayer for others. "I offer my performance as prayer for someone Iíve worked with as an actor or someone who has died. The image that comes into my head as I walk on stage, I offer that performance up for that person."

Acting as prayer is enhanced by the fact that theatre actors must perform their parts over and over, he says. "It becomes like a mantra. The more you repeat it, the more it reveals its secrets. You really enter into that world.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Faith

Chapter 2. In the Moment

Chapter 3. Listening

Chapter 4. Silence

Chapter 5. Prayer

Chapter 6. Self-knowledge

Chapter 7. Community

Chapter 8. Hospitality

Chapter 9. Ritual

Chapter 10. Transformation