Near the beginning of The Jeweler's Shop, by Karol Wotjyla (the future John Paul II), one of the characters, a young woman, recalls a hiking trip she took with friends. At night, in the mountains, a mysterious cry sounded, and everyone became quiet to listen for the call to sound again. Was it a bird? Or a man? The hikers call back, and there is no response. And the young woman, Teresa, begins wondering about signals sent and missed:
then I was thinking about signals that could not connect.
It was a thought about Andrew and myself.
And I felt how difficult it is to live.
That night was truly terrible for me,
Though it was a truly glorious mountain night,
And full of nature's secrets.
Everything around seemed
So very necessary
and so in harmony with the world's totality,
only man was off-balance and lost.
Perhaps not every human being,
but I knew for certain that I was.
So today, when Andrew asked,
“Would you like to become forever my life's companion?”,
after ten minutes I answered “Yes”,
and after a while I asked him if he believed in signals.
These questions of harmony, signals, and man's place in the universe will be woven throughout the play. But I was struck today by the image the future pontiff chose, of the hiking group awed, disturbed, and mystified by the natural world. This passage doesn't come wholly from the playwright's imagination—Karol Wotjyla was well-known for his outdoorsmanship. As a young churchman, he often brought whole groups of his flock on mountain trips. This blog post relays a charming story of the future Pope:
Father Wojtyla integrated all of his passions seamlessly and groups of students and young families often joined him on hikes, ski trips, and paddling excursions. It is said that he would stop to celebrate Holy Mass during kayak trips over the hull of an upturned kayak, lashing two paddles together as a cross, for small crowds of young men and women gathered in the woods.
The palpable joy of the future John Paul II, the joy he takes in God and God's creation, is part of what has attracted so many people to this holy man. And joy, of course, is part of his answer to Teresa's questions. Man can hear and respond to the signals by coming to see the world as a gift, and God as its loving Giver.
An speaking of joy—I am excited to direct a production of The Jeweler's Shop in these coming months. The performance will take place on Wednesday, June 8th at the First Things office.
Here's a fuller synopsis of the play: The Jeweler’s Shop is a meditation on marriage by the future pontiff, told with warmth and wit through the stories of three couples: a young couple torn by war, an older couple tempted by infidelity, and lastly the children of these two marriages who themselves are called to love. The acts focusing on each couple are tied together by encounters with the Jeweler, whose store seems supernaturally attuned to the truth of marriage.
I'm currently casting the play. Auditions will take place next Thursday, March 17th, also at the First Things office. If you or someone you know is interested in being involved in the production, sign up for an audition slot here and send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alexi Sargeant is a junior fellow at First Things. He has directed plays at Yale University and in Philadelphia.