Guest / Limited Access /
When God Wears a Costume

I was a teenager trying to entertain 2-year-old Laura as she squirmed in her high chair. Thinking myself a clever babysitter, I held up her laminated placemat, which featured a photograph of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

"Is this a picture of Donald and Daisy Duck?" I asked.

"€œNo," she giggled.

"Is it Goofy and Pluto?"

"Nuh-uh!" she squealed.

"Well, who are they?"€ I asked, gearing up for the inevitable right-answer celebration. But her reply caught me off guard.

"œStrangers in costumes."

Laura is grown now, but I've been thinking about the pragmatism she exhibited as a toddler. Her no-nonsense take on the world (at least the world of Disney) is a perfect example of what sociologist Philip Rieff and philosopher Allan Bloom both described as a "€œlow symbolic hedge."

I encountered this idea in The Shattered Lantern, a book by Catholic writer Ronald Rolheiser. If many Westerners have trouble perceiving God'€™s presence in daily life, then perhaps, says Rolheiser, the problem is that our culture lacks potent symbols.€

The ability to use symbols distinguishes humans from other animals. Consider eating. All animals use food for sustenance and pleasure. But humans can employ candlelight, china, toasts, and blessings to imbue a meal with significance. Through symbols, eating can embody romance, friendship, honor, or celebration.

I must confess: I usually have neither the time nor the inclination to bother with such symbols. When, for instance, I eat on the run, my symbolic hedge is low; food is just fuel, and the day is just a succession of hours to manage or endure.

But Rolheiser warns that a low symbolic hedge drains the meaning ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedWhat Kind of Sinful Are You?
What Kind of Sinful Are You?
A spiritual personality test, the Enneagram takes an honest look at our weaknesses.
TrendingMark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill
Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill
"I do not want to be the source of anything that might detract from our church’s mission."
Editor's PickBless This Tackle? Not a Prayer
Bless This Tackle? Not a Prayer
Christians’ misguided fight for football devotions isn’t working.
Comments
Christianity Today
When God Wears a Costume
hide thisJanuary/February January/February

In the Magazine

January/February 2014

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.