Light falls in the orchard, dappled among the gnarled limbs, and the apple blossoms fall too, a perfumed carpet for children’s bare toes. They’ve come, the children. Come to play under spring’s cloud of petals. They’ve come with teacups slid into great-grandma’s tapestry purse, a teddy bear stitched up for a long-ago birth, a blanket that once wrapped a newborn.
I string out laundry, wooden pegs between fingers.
The wind carries their voices with the blossom snow.
“You be Thelma and this is your tea set. The plastic one, remember?” Malakai’s smoothing out the pink gingham blanket with the eyelet trim, while Shalom, a swirl of tulle, carefully takes cups and saucers from her tapestry purse. (It’s true, every woman, by matter of course, should carry a teacup in purse.)
“And I’ll be Frances.” Malakai’s propping a bear before the teapot. He’s come to afternoon tea in too-big cowboy boots, a sheepskin vest. Tea can be a very manly affair. “And I want your tea set with the red flowers on it because you tell me that the china one with the blue flowers is very hard to find.”
I feel a quiet smile spreading. They’re playing out one of our read-alouds from this morning, Hoban’s classic, A Bargain for Frances. The story on a page of two friendly badgers having tea is being replayed in our orchard by a teddy-bear toting cowboy and a teapot-in-my-purse princess. Flat page story stands up into full-bodied life.
It strikes me that the eyelet-and-leather play in the orchard is cosmic, profound theology. I am watching what our pastor says is the whole of Christianity, it’s ultimate essence, lived out. “You be… and I’ll be….”
As Shalom acts out the part of Thelma … and Malakai plays Frances…. So we daily re-enact the upending message of Christ. It’s the story we’re fixated on, the one scene that so electrified our lives that we can’t help re-enacting it over and over again, in a thousand ways: You be a sinner like me… and I’ll be Jesus. When you act like I’ve acted — selfish and ugly, proud and stubborn — I’ll be like Jesus: sacrificial and loving, righteous and faithful.
Child’s play is the Christian’s script.
(Is that why He said that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”? [Mt. 18:3]).
We live out the kingdom of heaven when we represent the person of Christ in all of our encounters. Individually, collectively, we take his part, become His Body, in this time and space. Child, I’ll be Jesus to you today… and when you be me, with my tongue and my attitude, I’ll say His words and I’ll forgive you like He did me and I’ll get down to wash your dirty places …
Playing hard roles is the Christian’s script.
As I watch Shalom and Malakai re-enact a picture book story I see how it’s true: “children who re-enact stories are better at connecting and integrating events… than children only in a story reading group” (Saltz and Johnson, 1974). Isn’t it the same with the children of God? When we as Christians stand Scripture up and walk it off the page, we move from simply reading the story — knowing theology, knowing about Christ — to connecting The God-Man to our lives, integrating our daily events into a Jesus-perspective. Then we are doing theology, being Christ.
Could spiritual formation really be as simple as the play formation of children? As simple as “You be… and I’ll be.”
Does the role-playing go something like this: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (Jn. 13:15).
Shalom fills cups with dandelion wine. Malakai leans over for another spot of tea, “Now you say…”
Now you say. You say Jesus’ lines. Live the lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins poem:
“Christ plays in 10,000 places
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.”
The play unfolds in the orchard under limbs of blossom clouds. Could Christ come play in this place?
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.
©2009, Ann Voskamp