“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?