Bean is sick. Since starting preschool it's been a nonstop barrage of sick all winter--for him, for me, for everyone in our family. It makes my heart ache whenever he's sick. I want to just wrap him up, snug him into a pocket like a kangaroo; keep him close. Right now he's next to me on the couch breathing faster than usual, eyelids heavy. My little boy. ***
On the way home he looked out the window at a passing church. "Who lives in that castle?" he asked.
"That's not a castle," I replied, "It's a church."
"What do they do there?" he asks, earnestly, his question empty of irony.
How do you answer this to a four year old who hasn't gone to church? It's not that I don't want to bring him--it's that I haven't found a place that feels right, that feels free and expansive and generous and un-dogmatic.
I grew up with so much faith in my house--my father was a minister in fact, in a small esoteric church whose brand of Christianity was at once both utterly progressive and utterly archaic. Religion saturated everything my family did in some way: from church on Sunday among a forest of adult knees and elbows; to the way we celebrated holidays, or said grace over meals, or prayers before bed.
On one hand this certain web of faith held me, buoyed me up, carried me through childhood with a certain cyclical rhythm that was satisfying and uncomplicated. On the other, it made me feel like a pushpin stuck into a map. You are here, this is the way--the right way--possibly the only way. Rigid, certain, definite.
As an adult, it didn't quite fit--nor did anything else. I feel closest to God in the middle of nature; when the sky is the color of melon and ice and opal; when the grass is wet with dew; when, sitting very still, I am witness to wild animals speaking to each other or shooting stars falling.
"They talk to God," I answer.
Bean is quiet for a moment. Then he says, "Do they see God there?"
"No," I say. But then I change my mind. "Maybe they do."
Who am I to say? Who is anyone? As Rumi says, 'There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth."
Bean nods. "God is in all of the churches."
Now it is my turn to nod. "You're right," I say.
"But I can't figure out if God is a he or a she," he says almost as a question. Then after a moment. "I think its a she."
I exhale. On the telephone wires above a faded red barn, pigeons, silhouettes against the paling sky. "I think you're probably right," I say.
*** We listen to Feist, side by side in a pale circle of light. His fever climbs. He falls asleep. All I want is to stay home with him tomorrow, to hold him close. He is fitful. Wakes. Turns to me, eyes glassy, lashes long. "I love you," he whispers.
This is the part you can't even begin to convey to someone who isn't a parent. This, this breathless wonder, this enormous love.