These days in which winter gives way to spring offer unique insights into the mystery of friendship with God through prayer. So I realized recently, while waiting along with my family and some friends for a children’s show to begin at a little theater in midtown Manhattan.
I closed my eyes in prayer, soon felt drowsy and nodded off for about 30 seconds. My wife noticed what was happening and narrated it for our friend Maddie, who was sitting between us. As I woke up, Maddie asked, “So what are you praying for?”
The curtain went up on a matinee performance of The Gift of Winter, and there was no time to answer. Her question came with a slightly teasing quality but without mockery. Yet I was saddened that she seemed not to see anything appealing about prayer.
The start of the show prevented me from answering, which was for the best. What would unfold right around us would be answer enough.
The matinee was performed by a troupe of child singers and actors. The story was set in a mythical past, a time before winter included snow and all the fun that comes with it. Sick of the frozen, drab and short, uneventful days, the children of the time rose up to ask for improvements.
A delegation was sent to visit an incarnated Winter who lives far away, a kind of deity who cannot be approached or questioned. Against great odds and much opposition, they finally succeed in reaching him and in making their case.
Winter starts out resolute but is finally moved to tears — tears that become snowflakes as they encounter the frosty air. This delights his young guests and surprises Winter, whose tears become laughter. His guffaws become a shower of snow, then a blizzard of joy.
The season of winter is changed forever. Still cold and dark, it is made livable and even enjoyable by the playful white manna that now falls to earth from high above.
I doubt the theater company, Tada Productions, meant to offer a metaphor for God’s love or for the Eucharistic “bread from heaven” that strengthens and delights God’s children, filling them with awe as it descends amidst the choreography of the Mass. I would have liked to tell Maddie how prayer, when it is part of someone’s life, is wonderful: utterly simple yet unfathomably profound.
“Simply raise your heart to God with a gentle stirring of love,” advises the anonymous 14th-century author of The Cloud of Unknowing. St. Teresa of Avila is even more direct and human, describing prayer as “a close sharing between friends … taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”
However, the show itself and Maddie’s son James, along with my son Eamon, actually illustrated the point right there in the theater. The boys were frightened when Winter was first revealed as a distant scold, then moved to tears as he wept over the children’s anguish. But their eyes soon brimmed with delight and hope as the theatrical deity danced across the stage, hand in hand with newfound friends, bestowing his novel gift of snow everywhere.
The two boys entered a basic form of prayer, brushing up against the mystery of friendship with the all-powerful God who, if we set out in search of him and refuse to turn back until he is found, will change and brighten our lives in ways that we could never imagine.
Joe Cullen writes from
Floral Park, New York.