I was on the phone yesterday morning trying to have an adult conversation when Beckett bursts into the room and announces:
“I found Jesus, Mama!”
I tried to remain calm and unphased, but I also wanted to celebrate with her and share her enthusiasm. I laughed a bit at what it must have sounded like on the other end of the phone.
“Could you hold on just a second,” I said into the receiver, and turned my attention to Beckett. She was holding up a bracelet she got for Christmas from a family friend. It has two parallel elastic strings with 10 or 12 icons on oval shaped beads all the way around it.
I asked Beckett if she could wait until I finished my conversation, managed to pacify her for the moment by offering her another hit of her drug of choice (the television), and finished my phone call. Afterward, I went to her and said happily, “Now let me see Jesus.”
She turned the bracelet around inspecting one bead at a time. I had never looked at the bracelet that carefully. There was a bead for Mary and one for St. Christopher. She thumbed past a bead with the baby Jesus by himself, also one with the baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph, and then a bead with Christ hanging on a cross. I bit my tongue as she passed the bead with the scene of the crucifixion.
Looking intently at the bead, she said, “Where is he?” to herself outloud.
And then she exclaimed, “Here he is! Jesus!”
The bead she topped on displayed the 19th Century version of the Jesus, with fair skin, light brown hair, and blue eyes, with a metallic dome of blue light surrounding his head. It was the Jesus that had hung on the wall of my grandmother’s home when I was a child. Even though the facts of his appearance are likely historically wrong, it was a Jesus I recognized – a celebration of the triumph of love over life, a persistent and relentless love that has the power to unite communities over centuries, a repository for the human spirit.
“Yes, Honey, that is Jesus,” I said.
Last night at bedtime, I prayed with her. We have been saying the serenity prayer. I think she likes it because it’s shorter than the other choices and moves us along to story time faster.
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Such big words for a little girl – serenity, courage, wisdom – such big concepts that I am still today trying to completely understand.
After the prayer, I played the running commentator to see if I could gain access to her thoughts.
“You are sleeping in your bracelet,” I said.
“Uh-huh,” she said grinning “I found Jesus.”
I smiled and took a deep breath. I said “Jesus was a great teacher who loved everybody in the world…”
A few moments went by and she said, “Like Santa?”
“Kind of,” I said. She’s only 3. That will have to work for now. I am thankful that yesterday was not the day for me to explain the crucifixion, but I am certain that day will come.
It pains me to think that she, too, will likely be betrayed as her life unfolds. She, too, will have to be born again and again over her lifetime, dying to old ways of understanding herself and the world and making space for new life to take root. Even my beautiful little girl, so innocent and sweet, will have to walk across the valley of the shadow of death.
My job as a mother and as a minister – in my collar, in my stole, or in my pajamas – is to offer tools, touchstones so that even when she – or a member of my congregation or someone like you – is in the valley, she will know she is not alone.
Whether it is a Tzadik, a Mu’min, a Rishi, Guru, a Saint or Jesus, I pray that she finds what she needs to make it to the other side feeling held and without bitterness or resentment. I pray that she can make it through the struggle of this world still able to see the beauty and be able to feel the joy.
The church’s job is to do the same – to help us find Love that transcends death while we are still able to celebrate having found it.