Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pokey, Protect Jesus from Darth Maul

Children use their imagination in such entertaining and instructive ways. My kids were playing with a nativity scene, and they were incorporating some of their toys into it. My wife and I then overheard our son say, "Pokey, protect Jesus from Darth Maul." Howls of laughter from the parents ensued.

Once I got over the initial absurdity of that unlikely cast of characters, I began to think more about what was going on in my children's minds.

They were demonstrating that stories matter. Stories are how we communicate to others our deepest values, hopes, and fears. The infancy narratives of the New Testament resonate so much with us because they are stories that allow us to engage--not explain--profound mysteries. The Star Wars saga, from which Darth Maul comes, is a very different kind of story (with some interesting parallels, actually) from the infancy narratives, but it too is a story that resonates with people for a variety of reasons. That story invokes themes of good and evil, heroism and betrayal, and ultimately, redemption. I have no idea how Pokey figures into it. Perhaps he is simply hanging out in the manger looking for food, only to find himself impressed into service to defend the Christ Child.

Stories are a way to communicate truths and emotions that tracts and dissertations cannot do. Think of the different literary genres in the Bible. For instance, consider the difference between the Passion narratives and the letters of St. Paul. In certain respects, St. Paul's letters are often explanations of the meaning and impact of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. As important as such elaborations are, the Passion narratives still convey meanings that no amount of exegesis, no amount of commentary, can ever convey.

I certainly am not saying that the infancy narratives are the same kind of story as the Star Wars saga. They most certainly are not. I do not believe that the infancy narratives are a poignant story of fiction that touches us on an emotional level but are only stories. Rather, they are history told as story, which is quite different than history told as a chronology of facts. History without story is dead to us, and story without history is moving but not saving.

With Pokey protecting Jesus from Darth Maul, I know that my children are getting at some fundamental and important ideas (whether they understand them or not) . Jesus was with farm animals, which is not the usual place for human babies. Jesus needed protecting, as we see with the slaughter of the Innocents and the flight to Egypt. There is evil in the world; there is darkness which seeks to extinguish the Light at every chance it gets. If my children come to more deeply understand only these truths, then they will come to appreciate the Lord's Nativity very deeply indeed.

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