Bro. Brian Poulin
The Vigil of Pentecost
The other day, I encountered God through Hungry Hungry Hippos. That probably doesn’t make any sense unless you understand that I was facilitating rounds of Human Hungry Hungry Hippos (Hungry Hungry Human Hippos?) at the annual Marist Youth Gathering held every Memorial Day Weekend.
Does it still sound unlikely?
Yes, we believe that God is always with us in theory, but I am not merely affirming God’s presence during game time in the abstract. Nor am I simply giving thanks that we avoided concussions or other injuries throughout the various activities. Rather, the felt experience of our loving God welled up in me, moving me to the brink of tears, yes, during Human Hungry Hungry Hippos. God was reminding me that the song and dance, games and activities of the weekend were not merely silly fun… rather they were holy fun.
As Marists striving to follow Mary’s example, how can we not want children to have fun? Although there are cultural differences in how children play and how parents play with their children, Mary (and maybe Joseph) would have absolutely played with the child Jesus, regardless of how difficult their lives would have been as economically vulnerable refugees. Yes, there would have been chores and prayers, and other serious matters, but also play.
Yet, Christian tradition rarely includes depictions of Jesus at play. There are numerous images of Jesus with Joseph in the carpentry shop, some of which show him making little crosses—which is really messed up, especially when we consider that crucifixion was a form of execution that was particularly deployed against members of subjugated populations, such as Jews in ancient Palestine. Yet somehow images of Jesus fashioning real or miniature crosses at a point in history when they were still symbols of oppression rather than redemption are more prevalent than those of him playing peek-a-boo.
There is a small but vocal segment of our Church that elevates suffering as a good unto itself while regarding pleasure with suspicion. In fact, “there is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” There is a time for building discipline through sacrifice, but mortification is in itself no holier than enjoyment. Remember that Jesus himself liked a good party and was at times criticized because his followers didn’t fast strenuously like those of the ascetic John the Baptist.
Of course, nobody should hold fun as a good unto itself either, and various spiritual traditions from multiple continents have identified the relentless pursuit of pleasure as a source of ultimate suffering in our world. Nonetheless, we need to end where we began: fun can indeed be holy. And seeing these young people together, laughing and making friends after the last two years we’ve had, and being part of helping to make that happen? What could be holier?
The child Jesus was there, playing among us.
This month’s ‘ear candy’ is actually the theme song that was used during this year’s Marist Youth Gathering. It encourages us to rejoice both in sunshine and in shadow, which is a great message for me as I lie on my sickbed writing this reflection on a wonderful and inspiring weekend. The ‘brain food’ addresses some of the challenges facing the Catholic Church as we exhort all people to rejoice in who they are and how God made them to be in the divine image and likeness. Enjoy and rejoice!
Ear Candy: “Life Is Beautiful” by Rend Collective
Brain Food: “The Catholic Church Needs L.G.B.T. Saints” by Jim McDermott
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!