Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On Peter Pan Discovering the Eucharist

In Steven Spielberg’s 1991 movie classic “Hook”, a now grown Peter Pan, played by Robin Williams, returns to Neverland. Ensconced in his practical and mature demeanor he tries and fails to rekindle his connection with the Lost Boys.

During dinner, one night, the Lost Boys and Peter sit down to eat supper. Though the plates and baskets on the long table are empty the Lost Boys quickly begin, ostensible, to eat from the empty plates and drink from the empty cups. Peter looks on incredulously. The boys continue to merrily eat and drink. Finally, Peter and another Lost Boy begin to sling school-yard insults at each other; Peter finally begins to embrace a youthful vim and vigor. Peter as an afterthought to particularly pointed jab takes up a spoon and throws an imaginary pile of food onto the other Lost Boy, and to the surprise of Pan, he finds the boy covered in food.

At that moment a Lost Boy exclaims, “You’re doing it, Peter!” “Doing what?” asks Peter. The Lost Boy replies, “Using you imagination!”

The camera pans over the table, its contents are now transformed; no more are the plates and baskets empty, but are now filled with roasts, chesses, breads, pies, and exotic fruits. The empty table is now a royal banquet. A seeming cornucopia has appeared from nothing, and Peter with astonishment and haste begins to sample the many foods. The abundance of the table has no end, and in the excitement of the moment the food is used not just for sustenance, but also a way to express sheer joy, as the children and Peter soon after begin a food-fight.

The Lost Boys’ table is analogous to the Church’s altar at which the Eucharist is consecrated and given to and eaten by the faithful. The faithful are those who can imagine that such simply elements such as bread and wine are transubstantiated into the real and abundant presence of our Lord God. It is to believe that an empty table can become a royal banquet. To faithfully imagine such a possibility is not easy. Just like Peter who had to resign himself from the constraints of the world he so strongly believed in, so too must Christians. The moment of recognition caught him by surprise and with joy, just as it did the disciples who did not recognize that they were traveling with the Risen Christ to Emmaus. Not until the supper feast when the bread was broken did the disciples recognize that their companion was Christ (Luke 24:13-35).

The ecclesial table that seems empty to a passerby is a royal banquet to all Christians and this new sight comes from the faithful imagination of God’s people. Samuel Wells is right when he talks of the importance of Christian imagination. The Eucharist is the moment when Christians proclaim that in the midst of simply bread and wine is the eternal, sovereign and loving God who gave the world His only begotten Son.

And yet, the familial table may be scarce of food and drink. The consequences from famines and droughts are realities whose effects may be mollified, but never completely avoided. The fruits of the spirit are bountiful, but at times the empty stomach will go unfed and the parched tongue will stay dry. The ecclesial altar and the familial table do not hold the same promises. This is only to say we do not live in Neverland. That though the Kingdom of God has grown near it is not fully realized. This does not deny the importance of Christian imagination; instead it makes it even more important. More important because it is how one unlocks the Eucharist for what it truly is; the body and blood of Christ, shed for us and for all so that we may be forgiven of sins. The abundant forgiveness of God is a testament to the abundant love of God.

The foretaste of the Kingdom of God comes through the Eucharist. Just as for Peter Pan the way to find the real banquet was to first imagine it – to think as a child. The theological key to the Eucharist – the full abundance of God on earth – is faithful imagination. Certainly it should remind one of Luke 18:16, “But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”


Rusty Brian said...

This is a great insight Jason, seriously, I really like this....I think you should come to the table!

Hellernot said...

Close but no cigar---to believe in something may be a kin to imagination but it’s a far cry from faith. The imagination’s of a child are transformed in the adult---ya gotta have faith.

The Catholic Atheist said...

Thanks. Though I admit I am quite hungry, I still do not yet see the food.

You're right to collapse imagination into faith is not the same, but imagination does work with faith. Such that faith needs a new vision - a new lens to see the world - and that could reasonably called imagination. But yes, you are right, 'ya gotta have faith.'