… Every time we try to identify God, we are sure to identify what he is, what she is certainly not. So we don’t know what God is. And the genius of God, to dwell where we would least likely look, within the depths of our own being, our own shallowness, our own darkness, our own humanity. That’s the genius of God. — Martin Sheen
I have a 13-month old daughter. Her name is Evelyn, and she is one of the many reasons I believe wholeheartedly in a divine source of life.
One day soon (maybe my next post) I will write much more about this, as it certainly deserves it’s own elaboration, but for now all I want to offer is this theological shorthand: I believe that Jesus’ most salient – and most misunderstood – message to humankind was one of our shared divinity. Meaning, that while we are all fully human, we are all also of completely divine origin, and we may choose at any moment to surrender into that equal inheritance and receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
But back to my daughter. I believe it is my job to introduce her to both the full range of humanity and the full depth of her divinity, and I want to try to do this by way of the person, the example, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. I would especially like to be able to do this without the baggage of literalism and legalism I so often find in mainstream church culture. Yet, I also want to be careful not to create some kind of weird, home-grown, fringe movement, “Logan-family-only” religious identification that would keep us (her) from being able to connect sincerely with other faith-practicing folks.
I’ve been church shopping here in the Kansas City metro area somewhat vigorously.
For some stubborn reason – despite my misgivings about organized religion – it’s important to me to TRY to make “a go of it” in a good old-fashioned, well-organized, well-attended Protestant church. Maybe this is connected to a feeling about how I was raised, or maybe I just know that churches with deep roots in the community and lots of organization on the ground provide a lot of services for families that you just cannot get anywhere else. There are mom’s and couple’s groups, kids programming and youth groups, community service opportunities, pastoral care and counseling services, and mission trips. As a parent, I feel strongly that these types of resources offer something invaluable to the families that make use of them.
Last week, I went to a Mom’s group through one of these local churches in order to talk about how to include faith in the daily structure of our family’s lives. I worried that this might become a slightly awkward conversation for me, as I’m no longer very comfortable with a lot of Christian phraseology, and am downright opposed to adopting any spiritual rituals or practices into our lifestyle that would create anything other than religious and social inclusivity in our hearts and minds. And while I did wind up feeling a little bit like a fish out of water at times, I also felt welcomed and respected. In turn, I felt a warm and full feeling in my own heart towards all of the other women in the room. It seemed to me that we had all shown up that night because we wanted to talk about how to “safe-guard the souls” of these precious babes we all love so big and so deeply.
During the meeting, I had this one moment in which I realized that I had not started using the word “God” around my daughter yet. She is a very verbal kid, and works pretty hard to repeat nearly everything we say to her already, and so I found it somewhat noteworthy that I had been shying away from using this word with her. It’s a pretty loaded word for me given my personal relationship with the church and church culture over my 32 years, and I suppose I hadn’t wanted to burden her with it yet. Upon some reflection, however, I remembered that my daughter is not me. She does not have the same psycho-social-spiritual history with the word “God” that I do, and now that I was face-to-face with this linguistic conundrum, I wondered if I might be able to give her that word in a different way than it was given to me.
Throughout my career as a psychotherapist, I have met so many teenage and adult persons that have described a tremendous amount of psychological suffering related to the absence of a genuine spiritual life. Consequently, I cannot – in good faith – withhold any opportunity to expose my daughter to the concept and the presence of the divine. I also know that her brain will not be able to process the ambiguous, abstract, amorphous concept of God that I myself have adopted until she is much, much older. And I do not feel that it is wise to wait to introduce to spiritual life to her at “a later date”. I want to give her a spiritual language as early as she can receive it, and help her to weave these miraculous notions into her understanding of herself as soon as possible.
The day after I attended this mom’s meeting, while my daughter and I were going through the usual list of people that love her (“Mama loves you, Dada loves you, Nana and Papa, and Gamie and the other Papa love you, etc…”), I decided to say “and God loves you too”. Without missing a beat, this tiny little person looked right at me and said “God. Yeah”, and nodded her head enthusiastically. So then I asked her “And where is God? Where do you think God is?” She didn’t look around the room like she typically does when I ask her something like “where’s Dada, or where’s Mama?”, but remained looking straight at me. So I answered as best as I could for now saying, “God lives in your heart. Right here in your heart; that’s where God always is”.
She looked down at her chest, and then up at me and said “harr” (heart), and nodded her little head.
It feels like a good start.
Here’s the thing.
I grew up loving my religion.
It helped me to feel safe, and loved.
It offered me a moral compass,
And connected me to generosity.
It also taught me some unkindness –
Mostly towards myself.
And later still, it became too narrow
For my wild heart –
Much too reckless for these rules.
Doubting their simplicity, and mistrusting their cruelty.
Who gives me this authority?
There’s a questions I cannot answer,