catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 19 :: 2008.10.24 — 2008.11.07


Tale of two children

Peter Pan and The God-Man

As James Matthew Barrie tells it, when Peter Pan escaped from being a human at the ripe old age of seven days, he had no trouble removing himself from his mother.  He found flying came quite naturally to him as well.  He ascended from his window ledge without any effort.  All Peter had to do was forget that he was a little boy, which was easy since Peter still thought he was a bird.  And since all babies are birds before they are born and Peter Pan never really was born at all, he was easily confused about his situation. 

Peter Pan got his first clue that something wasn’t right when he flew over the rooftops that night to Kensington Gardens and tried to strike up a conversation with his fellow bird-folk.   He clearly didn’t fit in.  They were under the impression a human had entered their midst and so didn’t give him the time of night.  Perplexed by this cool reception, Peter flew off to speak with Solomon Caw who easily determined Peter’s problem. When Solomon pointed to the empirical evidence proving Peter was not in fact a bird, Peter lost faith in his ability to fly and was trapped on the island.  He could not return to his mother, even if he wanted to.

“Then I shan’t be exactly a human?” Peter asked.


“Nor exactly a bird?”


“What shall I be?”

“You will be a Betwixt and Between,” Solomon said, and certainly he was a wise old fellow, for that is exactly how it turned out.

Poor Peter grew up with the birds but still longed to be a boy.  He had many adventures but couldn’t shake the desire to return home to his mother’s embrace.  But when he finally was granted a wish to be able to fly back to his mother, he could not return all the way.  Leaning over his sleeping mother, he found himself caught between two minds.  He wanted to curl up in his mother’s nest of hair but he also cringed at the thought of being trapped in his mother’s grasp if she woke and found him there.  Once he returned, she might not want to let him go again.

Peter Pan’s dilemma reflects what Karl Jung calls an archetype of the collective unconscious.  This Peter Pan-ish fantasy is a projection of the male psyche: 

His Eros is passive, like a child’s; he hopes to be caught, sucked in, enveloped, and devoured.  He seeks, as it were, the protecting, nourishing, charmed circle of the mother, the condition of the infant released from every care, in which the outside world bends over him and even forces happiness upon him. (The Portable Jung 148).

This male fantasy can be seen over and over again in movies, magazines, television commercials and pornographic entertainment.  Jung writes,

Every mother and every beloved is forced to become the carrier and embodiment of this omnipresent and ageless image, which corresponds to the deepest reality in a man.  It belongs to him, this perilous image of Woman; she stands for the loyalty which in the interests of life he must sometimes forgo; she is the much needed compensation for the risks, struggles, sacrifices that all end in disappointment; she is the solace for all the bitterness of life….  Because she is his greatest danger she demands from a man his greatest, and if he has it in him she will receive it. (150)

According to Jung, females also have their own fantasy projections and both the anima (the female soul) and the animus (male soul) are played out in male-female relations over and over again.  Sadly, Jung’s analysis pits male and female against each other and even against themselves.  But we can’t blame Jung for this broken relationship.  His analysis is drawn from a wealth of literary myths and fairy tales that confirm this unfortunate pattern of brokenness. 

Certainly we could even point to the biblical narrative as evidence supporting Jung’s observations.  The account of The Fall describes a moment of lost innocence.  Before the Fall, God the Father tells His children they have authority over the animals, but it’s not too long before Adam and Eve are taking advice from a serpent.  This is a break from the intended relationship the Creator established for humans with the rest of creation, which simultaneously disrupts the harmonious relationship between Adam and Eve and God.  In the moment of sin, Adam and Eve seek to usurp the Father.  They are rebellious children whose actions force them to leave the comfort of God’s presence.

Because of their willful disobedience (typical adolescent behavior), Adam and Eve are thrust violently into adulthood.  No longer is food provided for them with ease.  They must toil-or, as the wise old teacher of Ecclesiastes puts it, live a “meaningless” existence where the work that is done turns to dust in an endlessly repeating cycle, like the tiresome circuit of the sun.  Humanity has grown up.  The naïve innocence of the Garden of Eden can never be retrieved.

But a child is born, one that will be a “Betwixt and Between,” human and divine.  Unlike other children who are born, this one is an obedient child.  Strangely, he desires to remain in the hand of his father long past adolescence, even into his 30s.  He goes to his death like a child, believing that nothing can separate him from the Father of life.  His simple trust of the Father reminds us of Isaac’s naïve willingness to obey his father Abraham even unto death.  And like the Abraham and Isaac story, the Heavenly Father intervenes, raising up His son on the third day, breaking the endless cycle of human toil and replacing it with an eternity of life which makes all work done in the name of this Christ-child meaningful.

Sadly, though Christ’s model for humanity in right relation with God the Father has been provided us, we still resist the loving embrace of our Creator.  We do not follow Christ’s model of childlike obedience.  We are more Peter Pan than Christ, caught between the longing to return to the comforting embrace of God and a desire for independence from God.  We are indeed still caught up in the conflict Jung observes.

We must be careful not to take the Bible’s theme of childlike faith and dependence to mean that it is psychologically more healthy for people to remain children, however.  Clearly God has created us to grow and develop as adolescents and adults.  But I believe God wants us to remain childlike, even as we continue to grow in our relationship with the Father.  We must never grow up. 

The idea of growing up hints at a condition of arrival.  The expectation here is that one can and must reach a certain state where one feels the goal of adult life has been achieved-everything is squarely within our control.  In a materialistic society such as our own, growing up also has connotations of settling into a life with a stable income, buying a house, becoming serious about life, starting a family, establishing a career.  There is nothing wrong with these practices in and of themselves, of course, but we ought not consider them grown-up things to do.  All of these practices are to be lived in childlike faith. 

And what does it mean to see the world as a child? 

When I was about four years old, I remember staring out the living room window waiting for the garbage men to come by.  At that time, I was telling everyone who asked that I wanted to be a garbage man when I grew up.  Why a garbage man?  Did I enjoy the stench of rotting food?  Did I like the idea of heavy lifting, the early hours, working in the heat, the monotony of the same routine every day?  No.  I saw these guys riding on the back pegs of the truck, jumping on and off of the moving vehicle.  It seemed like lots of fun! 

My attitude toward hauling garbage was certainly based on ignorance.  But I like to think that this childlike attitude toward work is what God intends.  The first aspect of the job that I noticed was the playfulness of the men hopping on and off of the truck.  I’m not sure when this sense of playfulness starts to disappear in school education.  It seems to transfer itself to video games and television, sports-things we call entertainment.  But this childlike playfulness should always be part of our daily tasks.  We should never grow out of playtime. 

I don’t want to grow up.  I’m willing to accept the adult responsibilities of feeding my family, of making ends meet, of paying taxes.  But we ought to resist societal pressures that force us to grow up.  Childlikeness must be cultivated.  The structure of work is so heavily influential, that we have to remain committed to reforming that structure in society and in our own lives to maintain the sense of newness and wild-eyed expectation that is part of a journey with the Father.  Our trust in the Father’s providence will be confirmed if we disembark as Abraham did, following God’s leading to places beyond what is familiar and old-hat.  Sarah learned her lesson.  She thought she was grown up, had seen everything.  She laughed at the playful comedy of our Lord-a child given to an old barren woman! 

We can receive the lesson of a child from the old Teacher in Ecclesiastes, too.  In the face of all his life experience, he seems to be returning to the perspective of childhood, of youth.  Focus on the now, obey God in this moment, leaving the future to God, he tells us.  Trust that your labor is not in vain because it is in the Father’s hands.

Even though knowing and trusting that the world is in God’s hands frees us up to be playful children, we still wait outside the window like Peter Pan, unwilling to let go of our independence.  Caught “Betwixt and Between.”  We cherish independence from-but long to be held by-the Creator.

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