Monday, December 24, 2007

Dave's Animals

I wanted to write a moving Christmas Eve post today, but after reading Dave Hingsburger's Animals post, I realized that not only could I not write anything more moving that that, I also knew that his piece needed a bigger audience. Something about the setup of Dave's blog makes it impossible for me to link to a specific entry, so I will repost it in it's entirety here. Thank you Dave, and Merry Christmas!!


It became the first of many. The pastor at our church once referred to me, not kindly, as 'endlessly creative'. The Sunday School had come to me to ask if I'd consider writing a play for their Christmas pagent. I didn't hesitate for a second. This began a tradition of the Sunday School having an original play for four or five years running. As a result the congregatin watched as the pulpit was turned into a space ship and they watched as aliens from Mars came and asked the children questions about Christmas and how the Children tried to make the Martians understand that Christmas was about the baby Jesus. It was fun being given this opportunity. But how do you top Martians and space ships?

The next years I borrowed from myth. Somewhere along my journey of growing up, I was struck by the myth that animals can talk - once a year - on Christmas eve. As a child I tried to imagine what the animals at the stable would say. Now here I was an adult getting the opportunity to write the words. I finished the play, gave it to the Sunday School teacher, and waited. She called me a day or two before the performance and said, "The kids are really into this play this year. They loved the spaceship and aliens one but this one is very special. They even have asked the minister if they could bring a real dog to add to the atmosphere. I think you are going to be pleased she said.

Pagent day and we had a big crowd. I wrote for the local paper, a monthly column on faith issues, and I'd mentioned this play in my column ... several had come to check it out. It began with the animals slowly coming to speach and usng that speach to complain, cow telling horse "For all these years you've been crowding me here' pig telling dog, "You've gotta do something about that breath of yours." Then the horse saying, "We're talking and all we are doing is complaining, shouldn't we really talk to each other." At that point the animals are asked if it would be OK for a couple to spend the night. She is pregnant.

Then they all go on about why they don't want to help humans. Humans use them, disrespect them, why should they do anything for the humans. "I'm going to be bacon in a few weeks and they want my bed!" "They ride on my back all day and they expect me to give up what moments of peace I do have." Oh the animals weren't all that fond of the idea. Mary and Joseph and their trusty dog (they'd have had a dog) are making their way down the aisle of the church towards the stable as the animals protest and complain.

Something happened then. The complaints started to become adlibbed. I hadn't written enough dialogue, Mary and Joseph (and trusty dog) we only halfway down the aisle. So the kids filled in. The tenor changed. parents sat in the audience as their children said lines like, "They don't hug me enough ... They make me feel like I'm always in the way ... I get frightened when I have to wait alone at home after school ... These children weren't acting now. They had been given voices and were using them. Parents sat rivitted, I saw no anger on any face, I saw love and concern, but mostly I saw realization. Their kids had been given the power of speach.

Finally Mary and Joseph arrived at the stable and the words became mine again. Many asked gently if the animals could spare a bit of room. They all backed up and the holy family huddled around and the animals surrounded them with and offered them warmth and protection. By morning they'd lost their speech again.

It had gone very very well. At coffee everyone was talking about the play, no one was talking about the moment that children got speech. Everyone acted like I'd written the words. I called the Sunday School teacher a day or two later and she told me that all the parents said that they had heard their kids and every one of the families had thanked her for that moment.

For me, it was a moment of enlightenment too. Understanding that having speach isn't the same as being heard. That they call it the 'power of language' for a reason. That those who are powerless have voices too.

As one of the children ad libbed, "And you know the baby Jesus is going to need you to pay attention every now and then."

Amen to that.

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