Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Christmas Pageant and Worship

In churches across the nation, it's Christmas pageant season.  In some churches, the pageant is a separate event; in some, it's part of the worship service.  I've even been at churches where the Christmas pageant is presented in the place of a worship service.  I have some problems with that last one, but to mention them in any context feels grinchy, so I'll go in a different direction.

Bookgirl has written a great post on her recent experience.  She worked in interesting ways to get the congregation involved, so that the pageant was more worship, less an audience watching a play.  She concludes, "I was thinking more along the lines of 'Messy Church' or 'Interactive Prayer Stations,' and I will still do that on the 23rd during the church school hour, but this ended up being an intergenerational worship service without even meaning to be."

This comment made me wonder what our Christmas pageants would look like if we designed them to get the whole congregation involved.  Would we enter the story more thoroughly?  Would we discover aspects we had forgotten or never known?

Our church has a pageant-like event as one of the Christmas Eve services, and my pastor is planning ways to involve the congregation more.  It may end up being less like a pageant and more like improv.  I think that would be a very good thing.

I have memories both fond and painful of childhood Christmas pageants.  I wrote a poem about it, which I'll post below, which first appeared in The South Carolina Review, and I included it in my first chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.  I wonder if my experiences still resonate with 21st century readers/pageant participants.  In some churches, I suspect they do.

I predict, however, that as we move towards the future, we will no longer recognize these Christmas pageants of my youth, where Mary had to be dark and the angels fair, where difficult children wear the animal costumes.

I had a glimpse of this future on Sunday.  We did a short play, where we had a male angel Gabriel, a female narrator, and a male Mary.  How curious to hear the angel say "Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son."  I thought, really?  A womb in our male Mary?

The last line of our play has the angel reminding us that anything is possible with God.  We're so used to the Advent stories that we forget how impossible Gabriel's vision would have seemed to Mary.  Maybe I'll play with that idea in a future poem.

But here's my Christmas pageant poem which looks back to the Christmas pageants of my youth:

Medieval Christmas Pageants

The Sunday School pageant director embraced
the medieval ideals. Mary would have dark
hair and a pure soul. Joseph, a mousy
man who knew how to fade into the background.
Every angel must be haloed with golden
hair, and I, the greatest girl, the head
angel, standing shoulders above the others.

It could have been worse. Ugly and unruly
children had to slide into the heads and tails
of other creatures, subdued by the weight
of their costumes, while I got to lead
the processional. But I, unworldly foolish,
longed to be Mary. I cursed
my blond hair, my Slavic looks which damned
me to the realm of the angels.

I didn’t see Mary’s role for what it was: bit
player, vessel for the holy, keeper of the cosmic.
I didn’t understand the power of my position.
I could have led an angel uprising, although the history
of angel uprisings suggests that though whole new
worlds emerge, so do new tortures with the triumph.
I could have imparted messages of God’s plan,
spoiled all the surprises. I could just appear,
scaring mere mortals into submission.

Instead, I smoldered, smarting
at the indignities of mother-made wings
and long robes to ruin my long legged run.
I internalized the message of the culture
which didn’t offer starring roles for girls,
no head angel power for us.
Instead, the slender, the meek, the submissive
girl got the prize, the spotlight focused
on her kneeling knees, her bowed head.
I tried not to sing too loudly, to shrink
my Teutonic bones into the Mary model.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Thanks for the shout-outs.

I didn't grow up with pageants in my "Free Church" childhood. The importance of getting to be Mary is not on my radar, which did lead to one disappointment. Our current church has always had a pageant, and there are certain traditions, only some of which I may have accidentally trampled. The little kids are always the animals. I had them as shepherds in my script, thought I said that to the costuming person--who has done the costumes for years--came back 10 minutes later, and they all had their animal costumes. It made no sense with the narrative line, but what can you do? Mine was a shepherd because we'd already costumed her the day before. So we had lambs and donkeys and doves and camels and one shepherd all being called to the manger, "Vamos Pastorcitos." My 5-year-old said, "How come the camel is at the stable?" My next challenge is how to share my vision with those who are truly being helpful.