Well of Promise is the most recent dramatic monologue was performed by me, in partnership with musician Ben Cope, at St. Andrews Easter Vigil this March.
The piece is based on the Hebrew Bible story of Joseph.
Well of Promise: Stories of Joseph
There is a boy standing at the bottom of a long, deep dry well. He is alone, but he’s not particularly afraid. For he’s always been a self-confident little prince. In fact, that’s the main reason his older brothers finally got tired of his boasting, stripped off the far-too-elaborate coat of many colors that their doting father gave him, and dropped him down this well. So no, Joseph is not afraid. He’s confident he’ll get out of here. Too confident.
For his doting father is not here. His coat of colors is not here. His brothers don’t have to listen to him anymore. And the top of the well is far away. He can see it, a round bright disk in a black sky, the sun shining down on him. There is a light at the end of this tunnel of story – a light at the end of the tunnel for Joseph.
At first, he calls out, his voice commanding. “Hey guys! C’mon, joke’s over! Drop the rope down, get me the heck out of here! Guys, c’mon, get me outta here!”
So what do you think happens?
Well, of course, his brothers gallop back to the dry well, fling a rope ladder right down to him. And before the sun even moves an inch in Joseph’s tiny round sky, the brothers are lifting him out of that dank hole. They crowd around, pleading his forgiveness. They wrap the coat of many colors around him – and then, surprise – they’ve brought him a big feast, almonds, dates, goats-milk pudding, fresh lamb, shish-kabobs and pastries! It’s a party in the desert – and it’s all in Joseph’s honor, that whole dropping-him-in-the-well thing was just a little joke! Because his brothers love him, and they’re sorry, and it’ll never happen again, and Joseph is saved.
All is right with the world, forever and ever, amen!
But that’s not the way it happened.
There is a boy standing at the bottom of a long, deep dry well.
The only way to escape from this place is the top of the well. But it seems to be as far away as the moon from the earth, a tiny circle of light. There is a light at the end of this tunnel, but it’s OH so far away from lonely little Joseph.
Joseph hates his brothers, he hates them to death now.
He is hungry. He is thirsty. So Joseph curses his brothers to die of hunger. He curses his brothers to die of thirst. And he curses his brothers to die in a desert far from home, trapped in a prison of sand and stone. He curses them. When his father rescues him, he’ll be lording it over them again, he’ll have his revenge!
And that’s exactly what happens! Joseph can see it now – as soon as his brothers return to their father’s camp, there is a great wailing and crying out. Where’s Joseph? The brothers deny responsibility, of course. They make up some story about an attack by wild animals. But his father is not to be lied to. With the eyes of a desert eagle, his father finds the abandoned well, here at Bathsheba. His father pulls Joseph out of the sand-pit.
Then in triumph, Joseph returns to the fold. His father gives him a new and better coat of many colors. And there is a big feast, in Joseph’s honor. And his father throws his brothers in prison for a year and a day. When they come out of the klink, they are trembling from fear, blinking in the sunlight – because they’d all been trapped in wells! Joseph is the prince of the world, ruling over his brothers!
When he opens his eyes, Joseph himself is still trapped deep in his lonely well. The sun is fading out of that tiny circle of brightness. The day is dying.
From deep in the well, Joseph can hear the distant cries of jackals, the calls of night-hawks as they hunt. His voice is gone now, from screaming. He can only whisper into the gathering darkness. He reaches out his hand, but he cannot even see the sides of the well. Soon the frigid cold and the black night surround him utterly. The tears stream down his cheeks.
Yet Joseph looks up. Far above, the darkness is not absolute. There glimmers something in the cold and the black. A star, twinkling down on him in that utter desolation. The light of a single star. For there is a light at end of this tunnel.
And in his fear and desolation, Joseph begins to pray to that light. Barukh atah Adonai Elohen, oh Father of us all, please rescue me from this place, please don’t let my bones be found here, don’t let me shrivel up and die. Oh Father in Heaven, Oh Mother of All, You know my heart – you know me, you hold onto me in all places – on the highest mountain, on the fastest camel, in the depths of the lake, and even here, in the deepest womb of the earth. You know me, you hold me, you love me. Oh Adonai Elohen, do not abandon me here, rescue me, Oh God in Heaven.
Joseph prays desperately all the night long. He is sure that he will never see daylight again. But in the morning, as the first faint light of dawn seeps into his dry deep hole, Joseph’s night-long prayer is answered! HAPPY MUSIC
NED INTERRUPTS – RE-DIRECTS
No wait, this really happens! Joseph’s prayer really is answered! Joseph is rescued.
From the bottom of the well, Joseph hears the thudding footsteps of camels and horses. The sound of men’s voices. The face of a woman glancing down into the darkness. He calls out, as he has all through the night – “Oh God, rescue me!” – but this time, she talks back to him. She drops a rope down the well, and pulls Joseph up.
The traveling party is happy to take him with them. They go all the way to Egypt, where Joseph finds a secure place for a time, ends up in prison, is rescued again – by one of his dreams (it’s a long story) – and ends up working in the Pharaoh’s palace, the chief of a vast campaign to save up food against famine. He wears many coats of many colors, some of them gold and silver. Years later, in the starving time, his brothers do appear before him, and they beg his forgiveness as he flings them into the dry holes of prison. Eventually, he brings himself to show them mercy, to send for his father. He forgives them, each and every one, and feeds them well, and gives them homes to live in.
Just as God, Adonai Elohen, rescued him from the well, forgiving him, saving him, so he rescues his brothers and saves them too. For he knows, as we all know, that we are saved to save others, we are rescued to be rescuers, we live so that others may live thru us.
And that is the promise of Joseph. The promise given to all of us who cry out in the voice of pain, of fear, of loneliness. Oh, Adonai Elohen, we cry out to you, and you rescue us. Oh God who comes to us in utter darkness, you are present with us. For there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, a star glimmering in the sky above the well of promise.
ECHOING CODA OF MELANCHOLY MUSIC