“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?
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.
On Saturday I finally worked up the motivation to plant the garden with the children. They were so completely overjoyed when we had finished that they dragged every single toy and chair and cushion to surround the garden. All four children and every inanimate object stood around what we had done to partake in the ancient mystery and promise of planted and silent seeds.