Rita Sweatt is on a mission to bring people closer to God.
A pastor’s wife, Sweatt, of Amory, performs 45-minute solo shows in period dress focusing on women in the Bible and highlighting their relationship with God as a way to help people to understand that they also have the same relationship.
It’s a message she will bring to Crawford Street United Methodist Church on March 30 when she performs “Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross.”
“She’s a former music and drama teacher,” said Linda Turner, who coordinates Sweatt’s Crawford Street appearance. “She does these dramatic monologues and she’s in costume; she often has songs or poetry.
During her performance as Mary Magdalene, Turner said, Sweatt tells people that Mary Magdalene is possessed by demons and healed by Christ.
“Mary set out to be one of Christ’s disciples and Mary Magdalene is actually mentioned in the Bible more than most disciples,” Turner said. “We’ve had her in our church a few times before and she’s just amazing; I don’t know how to describe it. She is so much fun. She makes you go through all the emotions.
The inspiration for the monologues came after Sweatt began to feel disconnected from God.
“Years ago I was sitting in a worship service; it was just before Easter and we attended the Lord’s Supper; I found myself far from the sacrifice; what he’s really done for us,” Sweatt said.
“I have been a Christian since I was 7 years old and at the time this happened I was almost 50 years old, and I felt like many years, the same story in the same way, I have just lost some freshness,” she added. “I started praying about it and the Lord took me in the last days of his life in the gospels. I studied that I was very attached to how these women felt. I looked at Mary , the mother of Jesus.
Mary was Sweatt’s first monologue.
“I really spent time with her at the cross,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine seeing through the humanity of her son’s death when mothers are so defensive of their children and her son was killed and he was silent about it; He didn’t say anything, he didn’t defend himself.
“She knew who he was because of his birth and so the injustice of it all suddenly crushed my heart,” she said.
Sweatt wrote his first monologue about 20 years ago at Easter.
“I wrote it backwards; I had it at the cross and then I wondered, what were they doing a few days before? What was it like to see these miracles, and of course she brought on that first one at the wedding (the wedding in Canaan). I wrote it backwards until the angel came.
The monologue was performed the following year at a women’s event in Amory.
“The next Easter was, ‘Can you do anything else?’ then I wrote Mary Magdalene,” Sweatt said. “Then we started having community Bible study conferences every other year. Then I wrote Ruth’s story, then I wrote the story of Mary of Bethany and I became a full-time job.
Soon Sweatt started traveling and talking. She does about 50-60 events every year and flies all over the country.
Monologues, she said, are a new way to look at Bible stories. “These are things that really happened long before our time.”
Her repertoire now includes 12 Women of the Bible.
“It keeps me busy and it’s a creative avenue to draw people into the word of God, which is ultimately the goal,” Sweatt said. “I want people to want to pick up their Bibles, read these stories for themselves, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to them about how these people woke up to lives very similar to ours.
“It’s just a handful of these women who have actually seen Jesus in the flesh. Most of these people that I know had the same invisible God that we do and he is almighty and they experienced that and I want us to do that too.
Because Bible stories don’t always tell everything about a person or their thoughts, Sweatt fills in the missing pieces with research.
“I went to Israel, which was very informative and helpful, and I look at the culture, my costumes; I try to be appropriate,” she said. “I pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help me understand the parts of the mission as to what people felt. You can look at the scriptures and it shows so much.
She rarely uses props. “Most of them (the performances) are just me in my costume telling a story.”
Sweatt said she intended to perform her monologues “as long as my memory holds.” So as long as my memory holds and the Lord allows me, I will continue to tell the stories.
“Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross” will be performed March 30 at 6 p.m. in the church sanctuary of the United Methodist Church on Crawford Street. It is open to the public and there are no fees.