Written and illustrated by Ray Buckley
Abingdon Press, 1999.
This Christmas picture book is a powerful telling of God’s plan for the birth of Jesus. The story is told as a folktale and based on the Native American tradition of give-aways. In this story, the oldest and wisest of every walking and flying animal gather in the oldest forest to to discuss the state of humanity. They recognize how humans have forgotten their connections with God, each other, the animals, and the Earth. Then, the wise turtle proclaims that she will give of herself – her shell – and in her giving, she hopes that humans will be reminded of who they are in connection with all creation. The other animals follow her lead and offer to give the “most costly portion of themselves.”
But then, God, called “the Creator,” appears and warns the animals that the humans will not know that the animals have given these gifts. Instead, the humans will believe that they have taken from creation as demonstration of their power. The Creator offers the solution: He must give himself away. The Creator says, “I must choose to become small, so that they can choose to know me large.” The Creator then explains that he will come to Earth as a baby bringing light, hope, and love. The story really shows its power at the end when the oldest tree asks how it can give to this baby, and the Creator answers that the tree will be his support and place of rest at the beginning and the end. The final page reads that the oldest tree wept, “partly for joy and partly for sorrow,” as many of us may feel at the news of Jesus’ birth and death.
This story gives some insight into the purpose of Jesus’ life – to reconnect humanity to God and all of his creation. It shows how all of creation supports each other and God designed us to work in harmony together. It also depicts Jesus as God’s gift to us and communicates the greatness of His sacrifice. The ultimate themes are giving and connection, two beautiful and important lessons for children and adults. The illustrations are rich and beautiful in a Native American style.
Buckley is a Native American and has worked for good relations with the Native American community and the United Methodist Church in many capacities including interim Director of the Center for Native American Spirituality and Christian Study. There are strong Native American elements in this story that deftly combine the emphasis on the oneness of creation with the reverence for God and Jesus. As Buckley explains in the introduction, the animals are illustrated with red on their faces as a sign of hospitality and friendliness. The story itself is based on the Native American tradition of giving away possessions or sacrificing oneself for the community. Children in mixed and Native American communities will learn a great deal about the relationship between Native American spirituality and Christianity.
Consider reading or performing The Give-Away along with a giving event during the Christmas season. The message of the story is for all and would be a great addition to a family or intergenerational event.