Learning Stories of Advent (2011)
One of the many gifts of following the church year and circling through the life of Jesus and the life of the church every twelve months, is its orientation of newcomers into the practice of Christianity through rehearsing the stories year by year. The season of Advent is fully upon us. And this morning, the Sunday often associated with peace, a little window opened onto the learning process in my five-year-old. She is learning the stories of Advent through listening, art, and conversation.
Learning in church right now is lively on several levels for my kindergartener. At one level, the community continues to bring her in and give shape to her faith. They are cultivating trust beyond her family. And they are helping her to experience what it means to live among followers of Christ, this people of God. As a result she is in constant exposure to the people, habits, customs and stories of our community of faith.
On another level she is learning some deeper connections between the stories from scripture and history and the many meanings we make of them. Very practically, she is also learning how to sit with us in “big church.” And she is following along in the printed order of service, looking up the hymns, and listening to the spoken words and the silence as we gather for worship. These are challenging and exhausting things to learn most of the time, especially if you are five.
Crayons and paper help.
Today she began drawing this picture of Jesus during worship. A skinny infant he was, not yet swaddled by either of his very happy parents. Under JESES she drew a manger of hay. The walls of the stable are on the two sides, but it is an open-air structure. She leaned over to me and whispered about the color of the sky, “I can’t get enough of this blue. Isn’t it pretty?” I could hardly deny her that. And her way of putting it was so particular, I wrote it down.
As I watched her draw, I thought how her picture captured the birth narrative by gathering multiple elements into one place. Many moments of the story are captured in the one moment on the page. For instance the three circles on the manger? Those are three gifts, which the magi brought. And that’s a flower in the center — in the same much-admired shade of blue.
Tonight after dinner, I asked if she would help me with my blog. I wanted to interview the artist. After we made a photo of her drawing, I asked a few questions.
EC: Why did you draw that picture today?
M: Because I was thinking about Jesus and about drawing, and I thought “Huh, it’s about Christmas time and I should draw a picture about Jesus.”
EC: What’s your favorite part of the picture?
M: My favorite part is I like how I drew it.
EC: How did you draw it?
M: I was looking at my other picture [which she had drawn on the back of the page] and I thought . . . I should do that. Hum, that’s good and that’s all I need.
EC: It looked like you were finished, until you heard something in the sermon . . . is that right?
M: Then Pastor April was talking about all the people in the story and she said, “drummer boy.” I said “Oh, I need to add the drummer boy. Now, that looks just right.”
EC: Can you tell me about those three circles on the manger?
M: Those are things that the three kings brought. They just relaxed them on the side of the manger. They meant to put them in there, but they fell down when they weren’t looking.
The drummer boy was wondering what he was going to give. Then he said to himself, “I can do that. I can do that! Yes, I can do it. I can, I can, I can do my drums.”
Then I smiled. And I didn’t make any of the textual corrections that needed making. Not now. One significant reality about learning one’s way into a community of faith is that the stories are often approximated first. The elements are fluid. Some are imagined, and they are filtered through the wider culture as well as both understandings and misunderstandings of the teachings of churches and pastors.
I didn’t explain that Pastor April was making an ironic use of “the little drummer boy” to say how we don’t really pay attention to the power of the Advent story. Because it was more important that my daughter was listening in and heard characters in the Advent story. She connected it to her telling through drawing of that same story.
Today she was a part of the worshipping community. And after today she will revise this story and its layers of meaning over and over through her lifetime. That’s one of the many reasons we circle through and through the stories of the body of Jesus and the body of Christ: because each time we come to the story, we are somewhere new. And by grace, we may also be renewed.