tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

School play gets the ‘Mystery’ right

The school that my children attend, Holy Family Academy in St. Louis Park, put on a very powerful Christmas program on Thursday night.

The program, which involved all the school’s 200-plus students, was called “Mystery of the Manger; It’s the Gospel Truth!” It was presented in the beautiful auditorium at Hopkins High School.

I am filled with joy about this program because it so convincingly articulated the meaning of Christmas. This was not a light-hearted, feel-good holiday program. This was a compelling story of doubt, evangelization, conversion, repentance and joy – the whole human struggle summarized on a proscenium stage in a lively, 40-minute production.

The story centered around an investigative reporter, Jane Bond, who visits a convent to “get the facts” about Christmas. Skepticism pervades her questions for Sister Mary Catherine and her colleagues Sister Therese and Sister Bernice. Her brief conversation with Father Michael doesn’t seem to sway her disbelief. But something moves her to watch the convent’s depiction of the Nativity, presented on Christmas Eve. The play is so moving, she comes to see the meaning of the Incarnation. She responds by writing a story for her newspaper, the Morning Star, proclaiming the Truth of the Christmas story.

There is a brief scene which gives the “Mystery of the Manger” particular weight. After viewing the Nativity play, Jane experiences conversion and then goes to confession. The light focuses our attention on the Nativity play-within-the-play where Mary and Joseph knelt around the Christ child in the manger. But off to the side of the center-stage action, Father Michael hears Jane Bond’s confession, which she makes on her knees. It was an understated but powerful touch that brought meaning to the rest of the story.

So often we want what’s easy. We want Christ, but really we only want the Nativity, not the crucifixion. Everyone wants the Resurrection without the cross. Everyone wants forgiveness without repentance. Of course, however, they are inseparable, and this Christmas program did not miss that point. It is the first Christmas play I have ever seen in my whole life that has gotten the whole story right.

The sixth, seventh and eighth graders who acted all the different parts were incredible. The talent among this group of kids is astounding. I am very proud of my own kids who were in the show, but really I applaud all the kids who had any part in it. And, I applaud the teachers and parents who found the script, adapted it for this presentation, and worked with the kids over months to produce such a memorable performance.

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