I’ve always been a fan of Disney. Since I was a little kid, the idea of going to Disney World was so exciting that I couldn’t sleep for days knowing that we would be driving up to the Magic Kingdom.
I remember as we approached Orlando, my father would turn to us and tell us that he would give one dollar to whoever was able to spot Cinderella’s castle first. Since money was tight back then, my parents would rent a small room at a local motel and sneak us all in where we would sleep on the floor and anywhere there was an open space. It didn’t matter to us. We thought we were on top of the world.
I’ve often wondered what was so magical about that place. There’s no question that Disney has discovered the secret of intriguing and sparking the child in all of us. They awaken a sense of wonder and adventure unlike most. Their extraordinary creativity and imagination is so attractive and responds to such a basic human instinct, that people from all over the world flock to all things Disney.
Want to know just how creative Disney is? Do you know about the hidden Mickeys? Every park that Disney owns has hidden images of Mickey Mouse strategically placed all over the place. On lampposts, restaurants, in the bushes, even on the rides. My favorite one is in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Just when you are about to float under the bridge where the drunk pirate dangles his hairy leg over the side, if you look to your right there is a kerosene lantern that has a hidden Mickey hanging from the bottom. If you are not aware, you will not see it, but if you’re always looking for them, you will.
Just recently, I discovered something else about the Disney “imagineers” that I didn’t know. In all of their animated films they cleverly hide images of characters from other films. They call these Easter eggs. Here’s a few examples. If you watch Frozen, there is a scene when the characters walk into an inn to get out of the cold. Next to the burly innkeeper, on his desk, you can catch a glimpse of Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when Quasimodo is dangling off one of the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, the gargoyle to his left is Pumbaa from The Lion King. One more, in my favorite film Aladdin, when they show a pile of toys in the Sultan’s palace, one of them is the Beast from Beauty and the Beast.
This is part of the magic of Disney. If you are aware of these things, you will always be on the lookout for them because you know they are there. Part of the appeal is the mystery and surprise. The viewer can allow his imagination and sense of adventure to be sparked. You look and look and look and when you find the hidden gems, you are amazed and left inspired. It keeps you coming back for more.
But while hiding Easter eggs in their films and images of Mickey Mouse in their parks is ingenious, it is not a Disney creation. For as creative as those guys are, they are not the first to come up with the idea and use it to rouse our sense of interest and imagination. God came up with it first. He is the first true imagineer.
Christmas is a great example of this. God chooses to hide Himself in our world in order to spark our sense of imagination and wonder. He promised Abraham and announced through the prophets of old that He would always be with us and then, at the appropriate time, proceeded to hide Himself in a little child, born to a young girl, in the little town of Bethlehem. Not everyone was aware, but those who were found Him when they looked closely. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and Wise Men were all aware and, looking for the presence of this precious manifestation of the love and power of God, found Him in a manger. They appreciated the creativity of God and realized that He would be there, they simply needed to look with open minds and hearts.
Another great example of this is the Eucharist. As Catholics, we believe in the true and real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This is another incarnation of Jesus in our midst, a manifestation of His love, and it happens every day at mass. Jesus chooses to hide Himself in simple bread and wine and calls us to be aware, to seek, and to find. Most people have no clue. Their imagination and sense of adventure is not willing or able to go so far. They focus on the material and not on the sacramental because it’s easier and ultimately safer. This is why just like the sign at the entrance of Space Mountain in Disney warns that the ride is not appropriate for those with certain health conditions, the fathers of our Church would say that our faith is “not for the faint of heart.”
You may ask yourself why would God make it so difficult. Why doesn’t He just show up in full and awesome regalia and make it easier for us? The answer is the same as Disney’s. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth it. You appreciate much more what you have to work for and take for granted what is simply given to you. The Incarnation of God sparks our natural sense of adventure and wonder. If you are aware, then you will seek, and when you seek you will find.
I once heard Fr. Bob Vallee, Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. John Vianney College Seminary, say that the modern world does not suffer from a crisis of faith, but from a crisis of imagination. I agree. That’s why as Christians we should always feel like we are on an adventure. We should always use our sense of wonder and imagination because that is what God is trying to provoke. You don’t have to wait until Christmas or mass on Sundays, God is everywhere and always.
So, enjoy Christmas. Exchange presents, sip the egg nog, kiss under the mistletoe, but never underestimate the greatness of the challenge. Find the hidden Christ because he is most definitely there. In both the good and the bad, in sickness and in health, in a clashing cymbal or a whispered murmur, Jesus is there. Be aware and look for him.
Have a merry Christmas.