“Is it okay to pretend to be Jesus?” my daughter asked yesterday. There are so many ways to answer this question . . . where to begin? Kids ask the most penetrating questions. Play is the way a child learns. How wonderful that she loves the stories of Jesus and wants to pretend them!
It was Palm Sunday that provoked this question. In our church we proceed to the front and take our palms and then march around the rest of the church to our seats. It’s a real way in which the entire congregation makes art together. We are singing and acting and in a way dancing. We are enacting the truest performance art because it is real and not merely pretense. We aren’t deciding on arbitrary symbols and sloshing them around to add volume to the latest social trend. We are simply and humbly doing something that’s been done for hundreds of years, remembering a story that really happened. In this reenactment we bind the past, our present and the future. We do it every year. Now with children I see the power of this simple act, this simple repetitive play.
I answered her clumsily, but it was something like this, “the pastor pretends to be Jesus every Sunday. When he turns toward the alter it is like he is us and when he turns towards us it is like he is God. When he gives us the wine and the bread it is like he is being Jesus.” I had just been sitting in catechism class and this image was fresh in my mind.
The profound connection between drama and liturgy has long been observed. If a priest can act as Christ in church, then why not a morality play on a wooden cart outside of the church? Why not a movie?
I asked my daughter again tonight, “What do you think about that question you asked me? Is it okay to pretend to be Jesus?” “I don’t think so.” She answered, “God is real and we shouldn’t joke about God. If I pretend to be God I might joke about him because I get silly when I play.” She was reasoning out the answer from previous conversations. We don’t exactly follow the rule of St. Benedict in our house about not speaking useless words, “or words that move to laughter.” We kind of laugh A LOT. I do however draw the line at joking about certain things like: our love for one another, God, electricity, fire and the busy road outside. This has landed us into a sort of primitive reverence for these things: God, true love and forces of power and danger. It has also led me to wonder, are we teaching them that God is more like the danger of fire or like true love? I hope both.
I still don’t have a neat and tidy answer to this question. It teases opens so many other areas of consideration, but I want to keep pondering. Any thoughts?
The amusing thing about having four children is that you can look back at when you had two and tell yourself it was easy. It wasn’t, of course, but you can tell yourself it was. I remember when I heard great things about the Pompeii exhibit at the National Gallery of Art and I was determined to see it. Most of the day was spent taking my two babies, 13 months apart, there and back. We took the metro and I don’t remember what happened there . . . it’s probably best that way. I do remember that we practically ran through the exhibit. I remember trying to look at the last painting and knowing that I shouldn’t as whines were beginning to erupt. Here’s a picture of the kids on our way back to the car that day:
My mother took us to museums when we were little. She always told other people, “When you take children to the museum be quick. You want them to have good memories so that they will come back. Count bugs in still lives, look for animals . . .” I can hear her advice, sound advice. I just remember being completely bored waiting for her at the end of an exhibit wondering what on earth she was looking at and if she would ever be finished. Something in her method worked however since I’m now dragging my own children to museums.
Last week we went on a spur of the moment trip to Baltimore. I thought, why not try and visit the Walter’s Art Museum? It’s even kid friendly with a children’s area in the basement! We had done an entire day at Port Discovery children’s museum the day before so what could go wrong? Oh yeah, we had done an entire day at Port Discovery children’s museum the day before. They were finished.
We parked and entered the Walter’s Art Museum only to descend immediately to the depths. There had been an eruption of screams at the sight of a mummy picture. The basement held many wonders. There was a movie theater, a shelf of puzzles, a wooden castle, a table where we had a snack, and even a discovery area with canopic jars and insect specimens in plastic to touch. It was very nice, but it was not what I had come to see.
I tried once more to take us upstairs. No sooner had we exited into statuary hall than the three-year-old began screaming once again. Greek statues? Mummies? Who knows why? It was clear to me that we needed to leave. Suddenly the older ones began crying because they wanted to see mummies. Just saying the word “mummy” made my younger daughter cry all the more. We left the building immediately and crossed the street. Even the large man who ran the parking lot with an air of short-tempered superiority was silenced in the our wake of screams. He took our money and gave me the car key choosing to yell at someone else instead. When we climbed into our car I wanted to cry, only I didn’t get the chance. Everyone in the back of the minivan needed hugs. We left the Walters and we left Baltimore. We’ll be back. Maybe not for a few years but we’ll be back.
Now my eldest kids are practically begging me to take them back. Now I know another strategy to add to my mother’s list of ways to make a museum interesting. Take your kids and then leave suddenly and dramatically so that they are left wondering what was in there after all?
Since I missed the opportunity to see a friend sing in a performance of Haydn’s The Creation I’ve been wanting to listen to it. I don’t have a recording. Isn’t YouTube wonderful? We listened to this today while eating scones since my daughter was sick and our usual driving to and fro screeched to a halt. Well we started by eating scones . . . it’s rather long so some people also ran around the house, danced, and built a train track that went under my desk while others folded laundry and did dishes. I’ll let you guess who did what.
My children and I really enjoyed the story of the first thanksgiving as told by Graham Green. It’s available through amazon prime stream for free, which is how we watch movies these days. (It started with an addiction to books . . . then an obscene amount of diapers delivered to our house and now this)
The movie is a bit slow but the story is very powerful. I cried as Squanto appeared to the pilgrims for the first time and miraculously speaks their language. This is a story like St. Patrick’s or Elizabeth Elliot’s of great forgiveness. It is encouraging to be reminded that the tragedy and abuse in our lives can give us a voice to help others who are in desperate need.
Why do we accept so easily that we might want foods that aren’t good for us but question the very notion that there is such a thing as music that might be bad for us? Although we seem to be losing the terminology to connotations of snobbery the very notion of “good taste” connects the value of food to the value of other pillars of culture such as music, poetry and the visual arts. In a recent article within the Journal of the Society for Classical Learning Ken Myers explains how for centuries it was assumed that good taste is a learned skill and that the purpose of education is to train students to acquire good taste so that they would love what is good and shun what is evil.
Any mother of small children knows this is a daily and daunting task. My two year old for instance insists that he must only eat bananas and graham crackers with peanut butter. My first two children were always brilliant eaters ready to devour lima beans, raw mushrooms and lentils so I’ve been stunned by the incredible pickiness of my younger two. Especially the baby. I look at his older sister and see that with much encouragement she has begun to accept some forms of sauce and peas and broccoli. Dum spiro spero. There is time for his palate to develop although I don’t suppose it would naturally unless I continue offering and suggesting alternatives. And it isn’t only food we discuss.
Mothers are not usually at the mercy of cultural relativism. We are bombarded by the conclusions of studies and the wisdom of authorities as to what our children should eat, watch, sing and play. I am constantly worrying over the shows my children watch, the clothes they wear, the music they listen to and the amount of time they play outside. These things are important and I wouldn’t believe myself if I were to suggest otherwise. Perhaps, however we should be more concerned about the process of where we are taking our children rather than fixating on what products they are using at this exact moment. There is so much truth, goodness and beauty in the world and perhaps the most important way as a mother to teach my children to love the true good and beautiful is to delight in such things myself. Sure they may run around the house like crazy people while I play Handel’s Israel in Egypt in the background and not notice, I don’t play it for them, I play it for myself. I may only get two lines of Dante read while the kids are suppose to be playing on the Chick-fil-e playground but at least I am holding a cup of coffee and a book and my body remembers what that’s like for a moment. They may be whining about how it’s taking forever as we pray the final prayers of the evening prayer service but I need to pray those words. I hope in the context of kisses and laughter one day the children will grow to love the things my husband and I love.