There are moments when a mother looks at her child and thinks, “I messed up here.” The subject of God is one of them.
God has always been quite good to me. I grew up in a community where everyone truly lived out the meaning of that word. No person suffered a loss or victory without the group. The church was the focal point of our existence, but it was more than a church. It was a cohort of young parents who stood by each other through births, job losses, recessions, parenting issues, marriage stresses, tragedies and struggles. They lifted each other into life rafts and helped each other swim to shore. Though we’re all over the universe, I carry many of those friends to this day.
I remember masses, guitars, Easter egg hunts, and solemn ceremonies. Latin. English. Guitars. Folk music. Revival. Ritual. The old priest who told us to stop running around. The new priest who was made us feel closer to God.
That sense of community is something I miss from my childhood. My friends are far away. The life rafts are still there, but in a different sense of the word. No dinners together or meeting for a holiday. We commune around the theme of love for each other. And we do it on Facebook and Skype.
My definition of God has grown as I traveled the world. I see God in all things, all people. I see how other people interact with and worship God. I realize the truth in “the Church is the people, not the building.” And the Church is every person on the planet. But I’ve never found a building like the one of my childhood. Over time, as it happens with adults who clutter their lives with–life–I stopped trying to look. I accepted God in a butterfly, the eyes of a child, the universe sending me what I need at the precise time I needed it. I gave back what I could. My church without walls.
I became one of those things that as children we couldn’t comprehend–the Christmas and Easter Christian. Was I even a good Christian at all, watching Declan tell Grandma that if she said that word, she’d get bad karma…
Declan recently picked up a book of Bible stories. He reads one to me every night. When he was little, I tried to read them. He said, “the Jesus book’s too long and I only like Dr. Seuss.” I bet God likes Dr. Seuss too.
Declan reads the Bible stories in order. So far, we’ve read about how God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden. How Cain’s gift was rejected by God and Cain killed Abel. How Abraham had two sons and sent one away. How Lot’s wife was turned to a pillar of salt. How Abraham was instructed to kill his son…
“Mommy why didn’t Abraham love Ishmael and Isaac the same? You wouldn’t send me away?” “Mommy, why did God tell Abraham to kill his son? Why did God reject Cain’s gifts and not love him? God isn’t being fair. God’s mean.”
I try to explain. History, stories, warning people to be good, looking into the hearts of evil, making sure people are dedicated and faithful to God. Tests. Trials. Tribulations. I try to say God is not mean, he gives people the choice to do good or bad in their lives. Their choices affect them.
“Like karma?” He understands karma.
I don’t remember questioning these things as a child. “God told Abraham to do something. Abraham obeyed. Then, God saved the day.” Lesson: Go clean your room obediently.
I don’t remember being angry at God about these things. “Cain was not nice, Abel was nice.” End of story. “God punished Adam and Even for not listening. You don’t want that to happen.” Lesson: Go clean your room. And do it right this time.
But Declan is fixated. Obsessed. He’s getting really angry at God. He’s not seeing the God of love that saves good people. He’s saying things like, “God sent a flood and killed all the animals except for two. How did Noah pick which ones would live or die? Why would God kill all the animals?”
Maybe I’m a glass-half-full person who gave birth to a glass-half-empty?
It’s getting serious. I don’t know what to tell a six-year old boy burdened with a sixty-year old mind so I try to skip to New Testament where Jesus is born, where he helps people and tells stories about vineyards, and does really cool things with water like turn it into alcohol and walk on it.
Jesus doesn’t kill people and reject things, he makes sad people feel awesome. I imaging Jesus walking around giving high-fives to everyone down on their luck rather than smiting people. We need to read some of those stories. Stat!
He won’t let me skip pages so I say, “Hey, I really like it when you read Dr. Seuss.” He reads Hop on Pop. Again.
The next day, I take him outside where we see butterflies and plant our garden. I dig the holes. He plants the seeds. Some are growing. He smiles at them and steps on the rest. Kind of like the Old Testament God he’s been questioning.
We look for frogs, see buds on trees, and talk about spring. We watch everything grow. I explain about Easter again, how Jesus loves him so much he’d protect him from anything.
“Just like you, Mom?”
“Yes. Just like me.”
I tell him God is good, not angry. If he needs empirical evidence, it can wait for another day. Meanwhile, we examine the beauty of the universe, and I tell him God made that just for him. Someday he’ll understand. God is the wings of a butterfly and the very essence of the cosmos.
Not angry. Magic.