One of the greatest mysteries of motherhood is how my two children can be such polar opposites in almost every way.
As I discussed last week, our recent return to Catholic school has drummed up a lot of “God Talk” in our house. Emma, as I mentioned, takes things literally. She is also not satisfied with an answer that involves the word “symbol.” So I try to put things in more tangible terms, but that usually backfires, too. As I curled her hair for her spring chorus concert, she says:
“So I get Jesus. He was a real person, like…Abe Lincoln, right?”
“Yes. It is documented.”
“Then what’s the deal with the Holy Spirit?”
“The Holy Spirit….is….something that helps us in time of weakness. That helps put us on the right path. Kind of Glenda that Good Witch from Wizard of Oz.”
The minute I said it, I wished I could take it back. Wrong answer, Jessie. Buckle up.
“So the Holy Spirit is a princess-witch??” Her voice was getting tense. “Or like, a symbolic princess-witch? Why can’t anything just BE WHAT IT IS? AND CAN WE PLEASE GET HONEST ABOUT THE EASTER BUNNY?”
Now, I love Emma for exactly who she is, and I can relate. My last letter to Santa said: “Show yourself, old man, or the jig is up.”
But sometimes I need a break from these probing philosophical inquiries. Which is why I have Phoebe.
Phoebe is more like Phil in that she seems immune to the Catholic guilt of sin and unworthiness.
Don’t let this angelic pic fool you.
Phoebe is also on a God-streak as of late, but she doesn’t ask me many questions – in fact, she speaks with authority on the topic. While eating her lunch at the kitchen counter, it is not uncommon for her to get quiet for a few minutes, and then say:
“God is here, you know.”
“Yup. He’s eating a hot dog.”
“Does He want mustard?”
“Let me ask.” She cups her mouth and whispers to the empty chair next to her, then reports back: “Only if it’s Dijon.”
Since starting Catholic school, Phoebe blesses herself incessantly, which made me a little nervous at first. Why is she doing that? Does she feel she needs to do that to feel like, cleansed? Is she sad? What is she praying for?
So when she blessed herself for the fifth time in an hour, I asked her:
“Hey Pheebs, you ok? What are you praying for?”
Now I know she’s only 4, and things could change as she gets older….but I am pretty sure Emma was not praying for french fries at 4. In fact, that was about the age she drew this cheerful Easter picture:
That’s around the time we decided to take a break from Catholic school.
Phil, on the other hand, is 42, and I wouldn’t put it past him to pray for french fries. And a Coors Light to boot. So I asked him:
“How did you get through all those years of Catholic school without a guilt complex? How do you still feel so good about yourself?”
“I just don’t give a shit about rules,” he said, “and I hear what I want to hear.” “People get all bent out of shape about the word Commandment, because it’s such an authoritarian word. But I just ignore that word and choose to hear “Love your neighbor and yourself.”
“I don’t think that’s one of the 10 Commandments…that was Jesus.”
“See? Details, details. They will bring you down.”
I had to admit he was on to something. Why choose to be heavy when you can be light? And for me, listening to Phoebe’s theological ramblings is music to my ears. Emma must feel the same way, because it’s the one time she will let Phoebe talk uninterrupted. On the way home from school yesterday, this conversation happened in my back seat:
“Hey Emma, I’ve been to heaven you know. Before I was born, I was with God.”
“That’s cool Pheebs. What did you do in heaven? Was God nice?”
“Yeah, He gives me gummy worms. And He has a hamster who pooped on my hand!”
“Gross! Was anyone else there?”
“Yeah. Nannie, Ellie-dog, and Bob Marley. They are in a band called God’s Rockin’ Angels. And George Washington. He plays the tambourine.”
Emma caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and smiled. If that’s heaven, we want in.
Theologian Evelyn Underhill said:
The fundamental difference between [mysticism and magic] is this: Magic wants to get, mysticism wants to give.
So, ok. There is definitely an I Dream of Jeannie element to Phoebe’s mode of prayer. She actually does a little Walk Like an Egyptian dance after blessing herself. But I am not going to tell her to stop praying for french fries, or My Little Ponies, or talking hamsters. Because it is my experience that the guilt about the getting eventually blocks the giving.
And Phoebe gives me a lot: hugs, finger paintings, sloppy-on-the-lips-kisses, and joy. Lots of joy, in the present moment…and the realization that there are many ways to pray.
* Phoebe highly recommends rolling down a hill as a form of prayer. Just not too many times or you might puke.*