The other day when our four-year-old granddaughter Luna was visiting, she looked at me and said, “Grandma, why are you and Grandpa church people?” This was no doubt prompted by the fact that her mother had packed “church clothes” just in case we got everybody up, fed and ready in time for the 10:30 mass on Sunday at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, Hollywood. (Nico can be a challenge to get all that done in less than 3 hours so there is always some doubt.) Anyway, being the good Episcopalian I am, which means we don’t usually evangelize (and knowing that Luna’s parents appreciate a light touch on these matters), I said, “Well, Grandpa and I want to go somewhere and be with people who want to talk about important things in life like love and kindness. Plus, I have faith there is something bigger than just this world. And, besides, we like having a community of friends in this big city.” (Yes, I know I omitted the words, Jesus and God. This is part of that “light touch” since Sarah told me a while back, “Mom, I definitely don’t have the ‘religion’ gene.”) Anyway, Luna looked at me with her big round eyes and said, “Well, I don’t like church.” I nodded. “That’s okay. But when you come to Grandma and Grandpa’s, we usually will try to go on Sundays.”
Sure enough, we did manage to get Luna and Nico bathed, dressed and fed (then rebathed for Nico) and still got to church just as the sermon started. Luna, who was sitting next to me, said, “I love the ceiling.” She pointed up. “Yes, it is beautiful,” I said. And those pictures are pretty,” she said, pointing to the Stations of the Cross hanging on the wall. “Yes, they are.” However, once the organ began to play, she rolled her eyes. “I don’t like the music.” “You don’t?” I said. “That is one of my favorite parts.” She sat quietly then said in an annoyed voice, “Are we going to have to sing now?” “You don’t have to,” I said. “That’s okay.”
We made it through the mass, then went into coffee hour. After lots of hellos from my fellow St. Thomasites, who are especially fond of these two little tykes, Luna was ready to go to the Sunday School room so she could do some drawing. I was happy to go too since Nico needed to be contained for just a little while since he had made two beelines up the side aisle during church and I had literally had to sprint to catch him. While Luna was drawing and Nico was busy climbing up and down on a chair, I had time to think just for an instant about church and them.
I am a great believer in respecting people’s beliefs. I think that is a fundamental kindness we need to offer to one another. And while I have a deep spiritual side that brings me great comfort, I am not inclined to move into a sales pitch about why my beliefs are the right ones or even why they are right for me. I will, of course, have a discussion with any adult who wants to talk about faith in a kind-hearted and open way, but I don’t feel comfortable speaking about these things with a child, not even my own. I am completely fine with them experiencing the community of our church, feeling the love that is extended from one person to another there (and to them), and even for them to sit in mass and experience what I think of as the magic of that experience. But what is magical for me can be something entirely different for someone else. That is his/her journey, not mine, even if they are four-years-old.
I realize this won’t sit well with some of the people I know who believe that children should be taught about Jesus and his life and the miracles he performed and his ultimate sacrifice, which subsequently provided His saving grace for us all. However, I will just have to say that I believe children will find this information on their own when it makes sense for them.
I received some wonderful advice from an old priest friend of mine early in my marriage to Ray, who was an ardent non-believer. Father Forrest said simply, “Don’t be rigid and don’t make coming to church a constant fight. Stay home some Sundays to show Ray that you respect his beliefs too. I predict over time, he will show you the same respect and be fine with you coming to church.”
I agreed, though my mother’s words were a strident, “But it’s your obligation to be in church every Sunday!”
Alas, Old Father Forrest was right. Over time, Ray became much more accepting of my beliefs. He has his own connection to the church at this point, which is, of course, his own story to tell, not mine.
So, I have accepted that I will not be evangelizing to my grandchildren. I will simply take them to church when I can and let the love and kindness of that community speak for itself, however that translates to Luna and Nico.
After all, love is the message, yes?
In my mind, absolutely.