My childhood neighborhood in New Orleans was packed with the children of the Baby Boom. Most families had at least two kids; many had three and two on our block had six each (think about it: six kids, three-bedroom house, no basement). There was never a problem organizing a street football game or a sandlot baseball game. And with extensive wooded areas just across the street, we had ample opportunities to explore and play games.
Many of the games we play were about pretending. It didn’t take much to stir the imagination here – a movie, a television show, a book, a story someone’s father told. Hear or see any of those things, and we were off, fighting Nazis in World War II (the woods made a good Ardennes Forest), playing cowboys and Indians, and waging Civil War battles (this was New Orleans so the South always won). We all knew this was pretending – and it would last until someone accused someone else of cheating, or someone got made at being captured and stalked home. It was all great fun and kept us out of our mothers’ hair.
We knew the difference, of course, between pretending and “real life” Most of our games started with someone saying, “Let’s play X,” and it didn’t really matter what X was. And when we were finished, we find something else to do or return home to “real life.”
I was reminding of these children games when I read “Let’s Pretend,” the chapter in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis that we’re discussing this week. Lewis says something that at first seems rather startling and then makes sense (this is a Lewis trademark – startle with what should be obvious). He talks about the Lord’s Prayer, whose very first words are “Our Father.” And he says this:
“Do you see what those words mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending.”
In all the games we played as children, we never played Jesus. We never romped through the woods as the 12 disciples, or pretended a picnic was the last supper. But here is Lewis saying that, any time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are essentially pretending to be Jesus. And we pray the Lord’s Prayer because the Lord ordered us to pray it. So, in effect, the Lord ordered us to pretend we are Jesus.
And there’s a point to all this pretense, Lewis says. The more we pretend to be Jesus as we pray to “Our Father who art in heaven,” the more we see the gap between the reality and our pretense of the reality. The more we see the gap, the more we realize that, in a sense, God is also pretending – he sees us as his Son, because the Son – the real thing – died in our place.
Pretending never felt this good.
To see more posts on this chapter of Mere Christianity, hosted by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, please visit Sarah’s site, LivingBetween the Lines.