I remember a family friend showing my siblings and me how to beat Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers in less than an hour. We sat around him with baited breath while he flew through each level with tremendous ease and impossible speed. He never went for the mushrooms, stars, or fireball plants. He only ventured down tubes as necessary, rarely engaged with turtles in his path, and collected nary a coin. All of the mysteries and boosts in the game were bypassed for the sake of time. It was awesome.
After he left, we each took to the game with a new perspective. We wanted to beat the game, and beat it fast. Gone were the days of bouncing around to see which secret blocks held coins, or which pipes would send you into a room full of more coins, or where to find a fireball plant in the event you grew tired of jumping on turtles and then having to avoid their shells chasing you down. All of these things that previously filled the game with adventure, risk, and joy were now simply items that took up time. They stood in the way of being able to master the game without the help of special powers.
This was a bit difficult for me for a few reasons. Primarily, because I loved the fireballs. Also, because a well-timed star was a ticket to throw caution to the wind when I was little Mario and the obstacles got difficult (I’m looking at you, Hammer Brothers). And finally, because I simply couldn’t navigate the game on my own. The game was too difficult for me to make it out alive without some extra help.
So eventually, I got discouraged and went back to looking for mushrooms and fireballs. I accepted the fact that I needed them, and began to see the game in a new light again. The mysterious fungi and plants brought equal parts encouragement and life saving back to the game.
And so it is with faith.
Many of us get caught in the cycle of self-reliance and failure, refusing to acknowledge and accept the gifts God has freely given us: graces such as a reconciliation of all the cosmos, including our lives, to God, the transformative Eucharist, and the body of believers in the local church. It’s all too tempting to try to make it through life without seeking these out, especially when you’re in a hurry to make it through the stage causing as little damage to yourself (and those around you) as possible. The mysteries God has given us always cause us to pause, reflect, and engage. There is no record-setting time when you pause to drink Christ’s blood and eat his flesh.
And while it’s as strange a concept now as it was to his disciples, what we know is that the mystery and grace of the Eucharist is able to provide a deep connection to the Gospel work of Christ in our lives. When we’re connected, we find so much more adventure, risk, and joy in our lives than when we’re sprinting around trying to stay busy. (And if you’re wondering…the world record for fastest time through the entire game of Super Mario Brothers is under five minutes.)
The same can be said when we take into account the restorative work of God breaking forth as a cosmic Savior born of a virgin teenager, and reaching a climax as he was crucified under the power of the threatened Empire and the scrutiny of the religious elite. These themes don’t align with our drive-through culture. They require significant reflection, and then beyond that, they require us to live them out in our lives, slowly, over time. After all, what are we to do with a virgin birth? What are we to do with an invitation to join in a cosmic reconciliation? What are we to do with a Jesus who was killed and was then raised from the dead?
Communicating the Mysteries
The answer is certainly not to run past them in order to meet deadlines or please people or climb another rung on the ladder. These are too important, and require our attention. If we fail to make room to engage and then join in, we are bound to fail when the obstacles get more difficult and we’re running low on intrinsic motivation.
When we’re little Mario and Bowser has that crazy look in his eye, we’ll be glad we stopped to level up with a mushroom or grab a pocket full of fireballs. In our desire to communicate clearly, let’s make sure we don’t sweep these fireballs, mushrooms, and turtles under the rug. They’re too important.