When I was a graduate student at Princeton Seminary in the early 1990’s, our family attended a church in Yardley, Pennsylvania. I volunteered in the Children’s Sunday School department. That was how I found myself on Christmas Eve in the nursery with 5 or 6 children ranging in ages from 4-
10 with the assignment to keep them entertained during the candlelight service. Some of them had already been in the Family Service Christmas pageant earlier.They were restless and getting into the paste and clambering around on the Ark replica in the corner to the point that they were going to injure it or themselves.
They had eaten all the animal crackers and we still had 45 minutes to go. “All right,” I said, adopting that brisk, bossy teacher’s voice from which certain children instinctively recoil, “We’re going to act out the Christmas story. Everybody line up. Who would like to be Mary?” The tallest girl raised her hand half heartedly. “Ok, you hold this doll.” “Joseph?” I convinced one of the older boys to be the father of Jesus. “Now, we need a shepherd.” And so on down the line I went, coercing and cajoling each child to take on roles in the events of that Holy Night.
When all the parts had been assigned and the kids were busy putting on the robes we’d found in the costume box, I noticed one little girl hiding behind the Ark. “Meredith!” I exclaimed. “You need a a part. Let’s see, we have everybody except- I know, an Inn keeper’s daughter. You can be the Innkeeper’s daughter. This is a very
special part.” She shrunk even further behind the Ark.
“What’s wrong Meredith? Don’t you want to be the InnKeeper’s daughter?” She shook her head.
“All right, honey. Then you can be someone else. You can be another shepherd. Or you can be a Wisegirl. You can be whoever you want in the story. Who would you like to be?”
There was a long silence.
“I would like to be a four year old girl.”
I seem to recall that St. Ignatius in his instructions for entering imaginatively into biblical stories remarks (this is most certainly a paraphrasure) that we don’t have to put on burlap and sandals, that we can enter as ourselves and observe and listen.
Maybe in his youth he
had a bossy Sunday School teacher.