Pirates, Pelagius and Prayer

I traveled to Georgia last month to visit family.  (See my reflection on last year’s visit here.)  This time around, the visit included a pirate game with my pre-school nephews Leo, Simon (twins), and Perry.

Simon: Uncle Tim, say “There are no pirates in this house.”

Me: I am sure glad that there are no pirates in this house.

Simon and Leo: ARRR!!  We’re pirates . . . with CLAWS!!!!!

Me: Ah!! Pirates!!!

[The two of them climb all over me as I am sitting in a chair, pretending to attack me with their claws.  Perry, the youngest, approaches.]

Perry [taking my hand]: I have some help for you, Uncle Tim.

[Perry lets go.  Simon and Leo back off.]

Leo: Uncle Tim, say “There are no pirates in this house.”

Me: Wow, I am sure glad that there are no scary pirates in this house.

Simon and Leo: ARRR!!  We’re pirates . . . with CLAWS!!!!!

Me: Ah!! Pirates!!!

[The two of them climb all over me, pretending to attack me with their claws.  Perry, the youngest, approaches.]

Perry [taking my hand]: I have some help for you, Uncle Tim.

[Perry lets go.  Leo and Simon back off.]

The cycle repeats.  And repeats.  And repeats.  In fact, it had a decidedly ritual quality, including the opening declaration about the absence of pirates.

One might reflect on how this playing involved a turning of the tables: the pre-school twins exercising a kind of power over their middle-aged uncle, a power they do not possess in the real world.  Likewise, Perry had his chance to come to the aid of his uncle in a reversal of the ways in which it is usually adults who come to the assistance of little children in matters big and small.

Perry picked up on something in the first iteration of this ritual, namely, that it was without closure or resolution.  Hence, his offer of aid was both an act of empowerment on his part and at some level a way to conclude the play (and keep it going).

One might also take reflections in an anti-Pelagian vein.  In this play, I needed Perry’s help.  More to the point, I needed it repeatedly because the pirates—with their claws—made many ritual returns to a house that was supposedly pirate-free.  The repeated help Perry offered to me by holding my hand in this ritualized play led me to think about the lure of Pelagianism and the ritualized way in which Christian worshipers acknowledge their need for divine help.

When Christians assemble for worship, we have ritual reminders that we live in a world with pirates.  We find these reminders in our penitential rites, in the denunciations we hear from Scripture, in our anaphoras, and so forth.  The pirate may be the death that awaits each of us, the vanity and arrogance that can lurk within us, the neighbor with a short fuse.  The pirate’s presence is painfully obvious in a world beset with racism and xenophobia, injustice to laborers.  Sin—personal and social—is a pirate with claws.

Repeatedly, Christians gather at the Lord’s invitation to be reminded that God has “some help” for us.  In the full sense of anamnesis, this reminder, caught up in prayer, is no mere recall but the actual making present of this help, this grace.  When we say, “There are no pirates in this house” (cf. 1 John 1:8) we run the risk of denying sin in ourselves and in our world and the risk of thinking that our mastery is such that there might as well be no pirates in the house because any possible pirates will be no match for our own skills and talents.

Whatever else may be happening in Christian worship, God, like Perry, is there to say, “I have some help for you.”  In the end, this divine help overcomes all the pirates (cf. John 1:5).

Readers unfamiliar with Pelagianism can go here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.