but to be honest, my major reason for returning annually hasn't been the music itself, though that always makes it more than worthwhile. it's this doll. i had never--and still have never--seen anything quite like him. a ragdoll not of baby jesus, but of the adult jesus, the one who preaches, is brutally executed, and rises from the grave. the first time i saw the doll, sitting on the bench in the last row near the side entrance, i thought he was odd--and then, as if through no will of my own, i walked over and sat down next to him. i felt ridiculous--mommy, look at the big lady with the ragdoll!--but i couldn't move. i tried to look nonchalant, like i'd just happened to sit next to this funky doll and barely knew it was there. i went home and wrote a poem about him. then i came back the next day with my camera and took a picture.
the next year, i still felt self-conscious, but there was no question in my mind. if i could find ragdoll jesus i was sitting with him. by the third year i'd ceased being self-conscious, and today i sat with my arm around him. i wonder each year if he'll still be there, and before i sit, i look for him. he's a toy for children, and he's always placed near the other toys--but only one year was he actually among the toys. someone who arranges the place for the christmas concert obviously appreciates him as much as i do. yet each time i walk toward the church for the concert, i wonder if he'll still be there. will some vile child have torn the doll? or some greedy adult stolen it for their own christmas decorating? so far, not. he always seems a bit disheveled, but that's fine--i straighten his jacket and brush the hair away from his eyes.
it occured to me tonight that it would be easy to steal the ragdoll. but i wouldn't do that, and not just because stealing toys at christmas is a pretty rotten thing to do, or it would be embarrassing to get caught. it's not even a temptation. the jesus doll belongs to me only for two hours, in this church, once a year. he would never live comfortably in my home.
it's hard to explain why this toy moves me so much. i grew up catholic, and have always maintained a small affection for the Baby Jesus, the jesus of the christmas story, born to bring love and goodness into a sad, sorry world. grownup jesus, on the other hand, has little claim on my heart. he said some wonderful things, and has been misused by zealots who seem to ignore the wisdom and decency of their god, while acting with the viciousness of his crucifiers. so i respect this jesus, without love. but let's face it, he was a bit pompous [you would be too, if you believed you were god]. he tells martha not to guilt-trip mary into doing some of the housework, but doesn't offer any help himself. he forgives, and saves the life of, the woman caught in adultery--'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'--which is great as a trick to save her, but which also presupposes that she had indeed done something wrong. i always thought you couldn't know that unless you knew the whole story of the marriage. maybe she was forced to marry this guy she couldn't stand, and every night with him was a rape, and then she met someone else, kind and gentle.....whatever. that sad-eyed, white gowned, handsome fellow of the endless pictures i grew up with just doesn't get to me.
but this jesus--this floppy ragdoll of a jesus--somehow captures the decency and wisdom of the man, along with the trust and vulnerability of the baby. i think that's the reason i love him, but i can't be sure. logic is logic, emotion emotion. so there it is.
i've seen a lot of jesus icons in 67 years---the sappy holy-picture jesus of my catholic youth, the child in his mother's lap in the pieta; i've stared in prepared awe at the sistine chapel ceiling. great works of art, doubtless inspired by great faith. i'm always glad to see them and take in what they offer me. but i've never wanted to cuddle them or make sure they're not too cold, to brush their hair from their faces, pull their jackets around them. this toy, however--this silly, charming toy--speaks to me, speaks past the dogma and ritual and all the things i dislike in christianity, and gets to the place in my soul and mind that experiences something of the awe of faith, not faith in the story of the god-man who must be honored for his death, but in eternity, and in the never fulfilled but always possible vision of redemption.