Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mel Gibson's "The Passion" and My 5-Year-Old

The book is tucked among several others, unobtrusive and usually unnoticed.

I got it on sale a couple of years ago -- and it probably wasn't selling because of the graphic photos it contained.

It's a pictoral essay from Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ." The photos are combined with Scripture verses, telling what is happening in each one.

If you've seen "The Passion," you know that it's gory, grotesque, wrenching.

In fact, after Brent and I saw the movie shortly after its release, I exited the theater with such an intense migraine that I had to sit in a dark room for a few hours afterwards. I felt I'd been transported back in time and witnessed the crucifixion as it was happening.

I haven't been willing to watch the movie a second time, either to rent it or to buy a copy for our DVD collection. But when I saw the book on sale, I decided to own it so that I could study it and reflect during quiet times, especially right before Easter. This Spring I placed it in the open, but among other books.

I didn't think that Neil really noticed the book volumes we have. But a few nights ago, I was sitting here in the recliner surfing the Web on my laptop when he came to the side of the chair holding it.

"Oh wow, Neil. Look what you found." I was a little chagrined that my 5-year-old was holding this book of torture.

"Mommy, this book is about Jesus. Read it to me."

I hesitated, unsure about what to do. I want him to know the story of the cross, but this seemed like pure overkill.

"You know what, Neil? It's not a good idea. I'll tell you the story about how Jesus died, but let's not look at that book. That book is for grown-ups, because it has a lot of pictures inside that show how people were mean to Jesus."

"I know, Mommy. I was looking at it already. Read it to me."

This just about shook me to the core. But then it occurred to me that when I was 5, I had been so obsessed with the cross that my mother tells of me coloring a picture of Jesus hanging on it, nails and blood and all. How does one so young grasp it? Should they?

I took a breath and made a decision. I would allow Neil to look at the book with me, because I felt that it was better for us to talk about it together than for him to wonder without an explanation.

So we went through it, one page at a time, beginning with Jesus in the garden. Each time we approached a page that had a questionable photo, I would stop before flipping.

"Neil, this next picture is really not very good. I think it will scare you or make you have bad dreams. Let's skip the next one."

"No, Mommy. I want to know. I want to know what happened to Jesus. Please tell me about it."

I turned the page. Neil's eyes widened. "Should we flip it now?"

"No, Mommy. I want to see. I want to see what they did to Him."

We didn't dwell on those photos, but I paused long enough to offer some explanations on some things I hadn't allowed in the past -- like a toy Indiana Jones whip. "You see that those men are using a whip to hurt Jesus. That's why we won't ever buy a whip," I said. Neil nodded.

Another shot showed Mary kneeling next to Jesus, who had stumbled under the weight of the cross. The facing page had another photo -- of Mary kissing Jesus's little palm when He was about Neil's size. "See how much His mommy loved Him? She took care of Jesus when he was small, just like I take care of you." Neil nodded again.

Still, another heinous photo displayed a bloodied Jesus. "Why did He have to bleed so much?" Neil asked. Coincidentally, we'd just been talking about baptisms at our church and what they meant. "Do you remember how the people went under the water to show that they were clean? Well Jesus's blood is what washes us clean for real. He bled so that we would be free from doing wrong things." Neil nodded again.

At the end of the book, there is a photo of Jesus, unscathed as He exits the tomb. I explained what happened on Easter and why He was alive again -- and what it meant for us.

"Thanks, Mommy," Neil said, and slid off of the chair. Taking the book, he gingerly placed it back where it belonged.

"I understand it now."

As we approach Easter, don't forget to share the meaning of the story with your children. Yes, it has its ugliness. It's violent. It's horrible. It's sad.

But in understanding the grief -- the sacrifice -- they understand love.

They understand Him.


  1. It's been a major topic of conversation in our home this weekend. "It" being the meaning of Easter. I also rented the first two Chronicles of Narnia and we watched the first one today. My daughters had never seen it. I had to pause it a lot to explain the parallels, but they enjoyed it I think. We plan on watching the second one tomorrow. What children grasp is amazing, isn't it?

    Now if they would just grasp cleaning their rooms.......

  2. LOL! The cleaning of the room thing is more of a feat, I totally agree!

    On Narnia, I would HIGHLY ENCOURAGE both you and the children to read the entire series. By far it has been the most meaningful thing for me, apart from the Bible, and I don't say that lightly. Although the stories are directed at the child's level, each book the series is chocked full of deep truths! I read the series during a year that I was in bed for about 9 months with unexplainable abdominal pain, and we didn't have health insurance for most of that period for me to discover the root of it. (Finally when we had the insurance, the cause was removal of the gall bladder, but anyway ...)
    I call that "my year in Narnia," because during that entire time, I would read Narnia and focus on the beauty of life with Jesus, both here and what is waiting for us in the afterlife.

    I hope you enjoy the second movie! We own both of the DVDs and (of course) watch them again and again.

    Hope your Easter is fantastic, Shirl!