The Holy Spirit: Playing Dress-Up and Becoming What We Are

Another vital likeness between drama and the Faith is… faith.  The theatre asks us for a willing suspension of disbelief—in other words, an act of faith.  That’s not exceptional.  That’s normal.  That’s because all human relationships do that.  Without faith, a civilization disintegrates because a civilization runs on and is lubricated by trust.  Every human relationship asks us to entrust ourselves into the hands of somebody we can never fully know.  You can’t prove with mathematical precision that your mother is not an ISIS sympathizer or that your father loves you and is not planning to sell you for medical experimentation.  You trust that this is not so.  You trust that your doctor is not planning to knock you out and harvest your kidneys, that your car mechanic has not installed a bomb in your ignition, that your barista has not poisoned your cappuccino.  Almost every relationship a civilization runs on is lubricated with trust and when trust and faith vanish, a civilization instantly overheats and breaks down. 

Drama asks us to entrust ourselves into the hands of the storytellers in the faith that the story they tell us will, variously, reveal the truth, show us what it means to be human, teach us what love is, help us face the darkness, give us hope, steel us to have pity even on villains and show us what happens if we refuse these things. 

Liturgy does the same.  It asks us to trust that the divine Director will cause something miraculous to happen when he speaks to us through his inspired word and shares his life with us in his Body and Blood: we will become participants in his divinity and become a bit more like Jesus each day. 

Drama and Christian worship also do something else: they ask us to play pretend.  Jesus remarks, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

God’s command to worship him is like that. Paul says, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). He tells us, “[A]s many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  And he urges us to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). This is both theatrical and baptismal language: the baptized don Christ and his virtues just as the actor dons the costume and mask of the character he plays in a Greek play.  The newly baptized are told in the liturgy that “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.”[1] C.S. Lewis remarks on the same thing in his discussion of the central prayer of the liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer:

Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now 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. Because, of course, the moment you realise what the words mean, you realise that you are not a son of God. You are not a being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centred fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.

Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grownups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.

Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going there if you were really a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realise that, instead of saying your prayers, you ought to be downstairs writing a letter, or helping your wife to wash-up. Well, go and do it.[2]

And so, in our daily walk as disciples, we pretend to be little Christs, and as is the moral of many fairy tales, we discover that our ugly faces of sin, under the mask of love we wear as we try to imitate Christ, are transformed into something beautiful.  As we learn to worship God, the Spirit teaches us to step into the role of Jesus Christ and parrot his thoughts, actions, and prayers until we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

[1] Rite for the Baptism of One Child, May 15, 1969. Available on-line at as of October 3, 2019.

[2] Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 161-162


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