Saturday night, at bed time, Alma and I were doing our normal bedtime thing (reading and rocking and singing). Lately, the song repertoire has mostly consisted of e-i-e-i-o and b-i-n-g-o because she's pretty sure that reading, and therefore all things adult, is really just about reciting random letters, and she's got that. I try to make e-i-e-i-o bedtime worthy by singing, "on the farm there was a sleepy alma, ... with a huuuuuugh shhhhhhhh here and a huuuuuuuugh shhhhhhhh there". It doesn't really work.
Anyway, we were in the middle of that and Alma says, "Mommy, sing the Jesus".
My blood went cold. My heart stopped for a second. Everything went ------blank----------.
My therapist warned me about this. She warned me that my convoluted, caveat laden, swishy swashy ideas about God were fine enough for me but would not fly with a two year running around. At some point soon, she urged me, I was going to need to define what I believed and what I wanted Alma to believe using actual english words, words that meant something. My therapist warned me that the issue of what I believed would come up even quicker for Alma than for others because Alma was exposed to family and friends, like my mother, who hold beliefs different than my own.
And, so here we are, sitting in the dark with "The Jesus" hanging in the air and I have to make a decision. I, the one who seems to not be able to stop believing in God even though it would make my life A LOT easier and, damn it, I've tried so hard. But, I just can't muster up the machismo needed to say out loud that God doesn't exist; THE THING I have spent so much time and energy and ferver and sweat and anxiety pursuing for the first 25 years of my life, the very cloth from which I have been cut, doesn't exist and I am alone in the world. I can't say that. I don't believe that. I don't WANT to believe that.
What do I believe? That is where all the caveats come pouring in. In the end, I know more about what I don't believe than what I do believe. How do you build a faith a child can hang her hat on from a bunch of "not thats?"
Some things I do believe:
- It is a very comforting thought to think that something/someone thinks of me and wants really good things to happen in my life.
- Belief in a religious idea is a very constructive helpful practice for a lot of people. The belief that some larger power is on their side, tides people through the darkest of dark nights and the longest of long days. It is a terribly powerful pattern of thought.
It is hard for me to go beyond that. In short, I do not believe that there is only ONE way to do anything, let alone believe. For me, I see a lot of ways to find "God" and I see many different patterns and traditions of belief as valid and helpful to people. I think that the Christian tradition is full of many stories and parables. Many of them are helpful in figuring out how one wants to live in this world. Some of the stories have become so detached from their historical context and imbued with social and political meanings of different times that it is difficult to see the stories' real meaning anymore.
But, I'm still in Alma's bedroom with "The Jesus" ringing in the air. It feels SO uncomfortable to sing the song I am assuming she wants me to sing. Jesus? I barely have the existence of something even vaguely similar to the Judea-Christian idea of a God down. And, Jesus? In the progression of disillusionment in one's childhood faith, virgin births are the first thing to go.
But, I DO believe that Christianity is a valid belief for a lot of people. For many, it can be a helpful way to organize the world. Isn't the point of motherhood to help your child find a valid and helpful way to organize her world? I suppose it is. Even, if it is not my way. Even, if I knew what the heck MY way was.
I want Alma to find her own beliefs. I know she is only two and a half but she can't believe or not believe something she has never been exposed to. If I don't expose her to it, there is no choice involved. This does not mean I should let her play in traffic or blindly sit by while she joins an unhealthy cult. It just means that if I am going to say that there are many valid ways for a person to find their way in this world, then I have to expose my daughter to those ways. Even if those paths are littered with the anxiety-ridden, limiting, hurt-filled baggage of my past. I guess the real meat of parenthood is helping your child to be able to identify the good bits and troubling bits in all the millions of available ways to live and help her to find the language to use to really investigate things for herself and make decisions that are going to be right for HER.
And so, I took a really big breathe. With every fiber of my being aching with discomfort, I sang,
"Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so"........