Rediscovering the Story / by Jeff Tacklind

Last Sunday was our Children’s Christmas Pageant and it just might have been my favorite one yet.  Pageants are filled with so much delight; from the bright eyes of the angel choir to the voice squawks on the vocal solos to the lisps in the prophetic readings… “he shall be called, Printh of Peath!”.

There were so many tender and sweet moments this year!

One little angel, before the choir went up to sing, asked my friend Loretta if she thought you would have to pay for donuts in heaven?  Loretta thought about it and carefully said, no, I think they would be free.  The little angel’s eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “That sounds wonderful!”

Baby Jesus got fidgety in the first service and her big sister angel came over and took the baby from Mary and bounced her (yes, Jesus was a girl this year) until she was consoled.

One of my best friends, David, had a son in the pageant who refused to wear the sheep costume but instead wore his black power ranger suit.  Personally, it made me feel a little more secure, and I’m sure Joseph and Mary did as well.  I also found it inspiring.  That is exactly what I would have wanted to wear at his age, I’m just not sure I would have had the guts to insist on it.  Well done, Jude!

David used to be in my youth group over twenty years ago!  Boy does time fly.  It is that whole cliché about it feeling “just like yesterday.”  It does.  That is one of the weirdest things about aging…the way we feel time.  Years get shorter and shorter.  Reoccurring separate events start morphing into one.

I’ve watched this same pageant sixteen years now.  I’ve seen my kids take various roles, from wise man, to angel, to inn keeper’s wife.  Even my own daughter got to be Jesus one year.  Such a blur.  Details and specifics fade and we find ourselves holding on to a more nostalgic feeling of joy mixed with some sadness.

If we’re not careful, we can lose the magic and wonder in the familiarity of it all.  We lose our imaginative hearts, the ones that dream about free donuts in heaven.  We turn back to real life and there we find a much different story.  Our news consists of catastrophe after catastrophe; either man’s doing or nature’s doing, or some combination of the two.  We see hopeless politics, deep suffering, gross injustice.  The temptation is to grow up, to leave behind our childlike optimism.  To accept reality. To forget.

In an essay titled “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”, C.S. Lewis argues that this doesn’t have to be the case.  We can grow without changing.  Instead of leaving behind the wonder, our growth can embrace it, like the expanding rings of a tree.  He writes, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”  Our appetites do change, but just because we now like mushrooms or a glass of red wine doesn’t mean we won’t devour a bowl of peppermint ice-cream from time to time.  We grow and change, but we also cherish who we were, and who we still are.

Lewis writes, “when we read a good fairy tale we are obeying the old precept ‘Know thyself.’”  Fairy tales remind us of who we truly are and who we long to be.  They speak to us of adventure, of mystery, of vision, and a life of deep meaning.

But Lewis didn’t always believe in the truthfulness of myth.   In fact, to his friend Tolkien, he once called them “lies breathed through silver.”  As a result of that interaction Tolkien went home and wrote a poem and coined the term Mythopoeia.  A new word was born to the English language, a distinct genre of writing fairytales to reveal deeper truths of reality. To reawaken our wonder.  To help us remember the childlike magic which is the right response to reality.

Lewis was not just inspired by Tolkien’s views on mythopoeia, he would later make his own contributions to it.  He would ultimately commit his life to this greater “myth.” Not only would he write the brilliant Chronicles of Narnia, but he would surrender his own life to the service of the lion, Aslan. Lewis knew and was inspired by all of the beautiful myths that have existed throughout history that push us further in, revealing deeper truths and currents in our reality, reminding us of what we’ve forgotten.  But in the end, it was the reality that this one, this Christmas story, was unique.  As Tolkien told him, this time the myth became fact.

Lewis would later write, “We trust, not because a God exists, but because thisGod exists.”

One of my very favorite children’s authors is A.A. Milne.    He writes in the introduction to one of my favorite children’s books, The Wind in the Willows, “I must give you one word of warning.  When you sit down to read this book, don’t be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgment on my taste, or on the taste of the author.  You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself.  You may be worthy: I don’t know.  But it is you who are on trial.”

I love that so much!  The story itself is so objectively true and beautiful that it is a test of our own hearts. The story holds us accountable.  Do we have eyes to see?

In a Christmas pageant, we see the story through the fresh eyes of joy and delight in the children performing the various roles, but we’re also reminded to remember the story itself.  It is a message of profound love, that comes in meekness and humility, that suffers innocently and without retaliation, that pours out everything in the name of love, not just for the unlovely, but for its enemies.  It is a story of radical grace, love, and inclusion.  It invites us in.  It reminds us of who we truly are.  It empowers us to live our lives in such a way.

Which is why our hearts spring to life when we see the pure joy in the hearts of our kids at Christmas.  We remember.  We see not just with the eyes of our mind but the eyes of the heart.  We rediscover the story.