My cherubic sons are now big and hairy and out in the world: I love them to distraction and I’m insanely proud of them. Here at Advent, I’m thinking of them as I wonder where in the world I put the Christmas decorations after my recent move.
Where is the creche? I remember shopping for it after the birth of the Firstborn: that Advent, he was 6 months old, and a clear rival to the human glories of Baby Jesus in all ways but gentleness: it was obvious by then that our household needed a creche made of rock, wood, steel, or…
Okay, plastic will do.
We ended up with a set of realistically painted plastic nativity characters: Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, plus shepherds, wise men bearing gifts, angels, a star, and plentiful livestock. Weirdly, the manger came glued to Baby Jesus. After recently giving birth I couldn’t bear the sight of that, so we pried off the baby and ignored the blotches of hardened glue stuck to his backside.
Thus began my sons’ ongoing relationship with the creche, and with the Nativity story.
Just as Mary and Joseph were seeking shelter in the story, so were these little figures. They camped on a tabletop for a year or two until we were informed the Holy Family required a proper stable, so we built them a rugged pole barn out of sticks and wire.
As the years passed, we added boys and the boys added details. Moss, rocks, and pine straw. Beanie Babies and goofy sheep made of cotton balls. When Baby Jesus looked chilly in his swaddling clothes, we constructed a blazing campfire out of twigs, with flames of red and orange felt. Inevitably, firetrucks parked nearby to monitor the situation.
One year Mary disappeared. “She is a bad mother,” announced the Secondborn. “She crossed her arms over her chest and won’t pick up her baby.” Good observation. We gave her another chance and tied Baby Jesus onto her with a makeshift sling, but he continually clattered to the floor. Months later, Secondborn spied a sweet ceramic Mary at the Dollar Tree with her arms extended and roses at her feet. With the help of a little modeling clay, “Good Mary” still holds that baby tight.
The pole barn was a convivial spot: the Wise Men came early and stayed all season, chatting at the campfire with the shepherds, who hoped there might be Cheetos in those fancy boxes. Long after Epiphany, the creche stayed in play, doubling as a showroom for the Matchbox cars or an outpost for adventures with trains, monkeys, and crocodiles in their plastic pond. When a few contraband army men showed up, the boys started calling it the Baby Jesus Fort. Hm. We talked about peacekeeping and peacemaking, the difference.
What I’m looking for in my garage isn’t what I remember: the pole barn has mostly collapsed and the wise men’s hands have broken; Joseph’s lantern is long lost and most of the sheep have gone astray. I love these little figures, but what I really love is how my kids got into the story – and the story got into them – through play.
Which is the point I want to make about dreamwork: the way that those boys got into the Nativity story is a good way to get into your dreams.
Your dreams, over time, offer you a glimpse into the story of your own holiness. They show you your shadow and your gold. Dreams help you love your warm animal self, shelter your shivering Divine Child, and hear those invisible angels who keep singing the nightly descant, "Fear Not."
To see what’s going on in your dreams and how they matter, just play with those dreams. When you relate with them, with your whole self, bringing to their landscape your imaginative fire, your rascally monkeymind, and your heart that needs holding, you begin to realize how the dreams show you the story of who you are.
Like Bad Mary, I’m sometimes the person who needs to loosen up and embrace simple tenderness.
Like the shepherd, I'm a rube with a compelling, inexpressible vision.
Like the Wise Men, I've come a long way great peril, bearing unusable gifts to folks who would rather just share a snack.
Like the monkey, I will probably throw banana peels and wreck the mood, but I'm really happy to be here.
Who are the inner characters showing up to play with your Divine Child? Some aspects of yourself will feel welcome, others not so much. But in the Baby Jesus Fort, there's room for everybody.
Wishing you merriment, peace, and good play,