Archive for April, 2010

A British program on the history of theater has reminded me of the strange link between “mystery” and “ministry.” In medieval England, so the experts say, a particular craft guild was responsible for staging a particular type of religious play. The carpenters’ ministry, let’s suppose, was responsible for producing the crucifixion narrative, or the bakers’ ministry was charged with enacting the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Hence, a corruption of “ministry” is one possible origin for the term “mystery play.”

All of which reawakens my feeling that stories are made, not just told. They are products of labor, hardship, and humility mixed with greatness. But we needn’t look back to the Dark Ages for that insight. Anyone watching an infant’s birth can observe the first human impulse to craft a tale.

Pushed into the spotlight, the new baby fashions a sudden, crowd-pleasing monologue on fear and hunger from the raw materials of his simple soul. This plea to heaven is the first thing he makes. It is the template, the prototype, for all the stories he’ll create in the years to come—although it is so dazzling in color, shape, and texture that no subsequent version will ever match it.

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