“Watch me. Now you try.” These five words are constantly repeated by parents to their children. But they are for people of every age. We are mimetic creatures who learn by imitation. Every good baseball coach teaches a batting stance by modeling one for the athlete. Preachers provide examples and illustrations so their congregants can apply theological truths. Parents read stories and fables to their children which provide models for emulation. Because we learn by imitation, teaching is inescapably mimetic.
Advent is a time of awe, awaiting the celebration of Christ’s birth. Madeleine L’Engle, famous for her book A Wrinkle in Time, wrote in her poem “The Birth of Wonder”:
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
What is this infant’s wondrous power? Nothing less than to reveal God and redeem the world.
St. Athanasius articulated it in On the Incarnation, composed in the fourth century:
Like pallbearers they each took a corner of the mat upon which I lay. Into the nave of the chapel the liturgists of the church triumphant bore me, beckoning me: “Say these words . . . See this symbol . . . Receive these blessings . . . Eat this bread . . . Drink this wine.” Another typical Sunday in which I am escorted into the presence of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. There at His bidding, by His grace, and in His Spirit He grants me to rise and walk.
As a student, I earned spending money by tutoring rather than babysitting. As a teacher, I ventured into high school rather than elementary classrooms. After church on Sundays, I join lively conversations with my congregation’s teenagers, but end tongue-tied after a few minutes’ talk with the toddlers. Though I’ve certainly never sought to avoid the company of young children, circumstance and inclination have generally put me in that of older ones instead.
Have you considered that the natural relationship children have with their environment greatly affects their education? God has woven into each child a particular way of relating to the things around him or her. If we don’t understand this relationship, then we may be inadvertently miseducating our children.
A Few Axioms
We imitate: It would be sensible to ignore the pride that strives to transcend that.
We are an imitation: It would be good to embrace the Glory that comes with that.
We are imitated: It would be wise to embrace the responsibility that comes with that.
It is our wisdom and glory sensibly to humble ourselves by choosing responsibly who and what we imitate and by doing it well, for we become what we behold.
And you had compassion on those who were bound, and you endured with joy the seizing of your goods, knowing yourselves to have a better and an enduring substance.
Do not, therefore, lose your confidence, which has a great reward.
For you have need of patience, so that, accomplishing the will of God, you may receive the promise.
The Letter to the Hebrews
My wife, Bethany, recently bought an old window - complete with glass panes and a seriously heavy-duty wood frame, white paint chipped and fading - into which she plans to insert family photos (a new take on the traditional family photo collage). So we've been discussing the best way to hang it, keeping in mind that it weighs about 35 lbs.