In the training I mentioned in a recent post, we also had to answer the question, “Who or what do you pretend to be?” Though our natural inclination as adults is to consider pretending to be a sin against the twenty-first century virtue authenticity, this is not always the case. Yes, there are times of “fake it ’til you make it,” but even these aren’t necessarily being inauthentic as much as acknowledging that some days we just don’t feel as energized about whatever roles we play.
If we only did what we truly felt like doing day in and day out, I would probably spend most days in bed eating cookies. Not a very healthy or productive lifestyle. Having enough discipline to do what we ought even when we don’t feel like it is a mark of maturity.
In the training, we discussed this phenomenon briefly: “Why is it that pretending is viewed negatively for adults?” We don’t deflate our 5 year old when he is running around pretending to be Superman. “What do you think you’re doing? You’re not a superhero; you’re a child! Get a grip!” On the contrary, imagination is the world of a child. Whether they are their favorite major league baseball player while at little league practice or a daring spaceship pilot as they ride their bike around the neighborhood, imagination and imitation are part and parcel of their day.
It is the imitation part of imagination that has special merit for us as adults. I picked up on this toward the end of the exercise of answering, “Who or what do you pretend to be?” I said, “Norm Abram, in my garage some weekends.” Norm is the long-time host of “The New Yankee Workshop” on PBS. He makes furniture mostly, and never (at least on camera) makes a mistake. I have learned things watching his show over the years, though I am nowhere near his level of skill when it comes to woodworking.
But Norm is not the only person I attempt to emulate. Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Merton, Michael Casey, and Dallas Willard are all Christians who I have tried to emulate either in writing or in speaking. I also try to emulate their practice as well. Am I pretending to be them? It depends on your definition of pretend.
I don’t dress up like any of them or try to speak in Latin or Greek as some of them did. I haven’t joined a monastery or become a college professor. But I do try to imitate them in sanctity, intellectual rigor, insight, and clarity.
That is what All Saints Day is about — being reminded of those who have gone before us who inspire us and whom we seek to imitate in some way. Not every saint speaks to every person. We each have different temperaments, vocations, and settings. But it is helpful to have some we can look to. We should have some from whom we can learn through their attempts to follow Christ, just as others will someday learn from us.