|Dancing in the Light on Pentecost at the African Refugee Mass in Boise|
She's on a mission. My nearly four year old daughter urges me to follow her, "Come on, Mom!" She runs to a picture of Jesus and points. I catch up to her, lugging the baby in her car seat along with our coats. Daily Mass is done, and I have emails to answer and phone calls to make. But her excitement bids me to set aside the cares of my day and follow her.
"What's He doing?" she asks without looking at me. Her eyes never leave Him.
"He's carrying His cross," I answer simply. I am tempted to say more, but her steady gaze on the scene above keeps me silent. She's doing what most adults can't do. Though she's unaware of any methods or rules, she's meditating on Him.
Her motives are not to gain peace or insight. She has no goals to become holy or for spiritual wisdom. She only knows He loves her, and she cannot help but love Him back.
Without warning, she breaks into a run across the back of the church to the first picture. She waves at me to come quickly to where she's standing. She silently points to Jesus being condemned and jumps up and down. I hurry over, worried she'll start yelling. But she only whispers, "Tell me, tell me!"
My daughter is waiting as I mentally go through my list of tasks to be done. There is one email that hangs over my head. I have to say no to someone. I have to say that my plate is full and the direction of my life is leading me to other things. I must tell this person that my energy needs to be focused elsewhere. But I don't want to. I want to hold onto this opportunity as a safety net. I want to say yes, because I'm afraid that I won't have enough work down the road if I say no.
"Mom?" she asks, again.
I bring my attention back to her and Jesus, back to the First Station of the Cross. I finally answer her, "This is when they say that Jesus has to die."
"Why?" she asks as she turns her head towards me. Her eyes are puzzled. Jesus is good. Jesus loves everyone. Who would say He must die?
"Because they don't understand that He's God's Son." I keep it simple, just as my mother kept it for me. I wonder briefly if I'm not failing, if I should try to explain more, but I decide to follow my mother's path.
My daughter steps over to the next picture of Jesus and looks on without a sound. Then she moves onto the next. No more questions. She only pauses and looks. I look, too, and I remember the novena I prayed at the end of Advent — the Surrender to Jesus Novena.
I began the novena when the words of de Caussade's Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence still lingered in recent memory. The novena calmed my swelling fears of what God would want of me if I completely surrendered to Him. It beckoned me to simply rest in Him, without any worries. Now I was standing before the Stations of the Cross, not wanting to leave something behind, even though I knew to my core that it was time to let go.
My daughter broke her pattern of silence in front of Veronica with her veil. "What is she doing?" she asks.
"She's wiping His face," I answer, just above a whisper.
"She wants to make Him feel better." I look at Veronica holding up the veil. The pragmatist finds it futile that she wipes blood and sweat from His face while He's trudging to His death. There are no accolades for helping a condemned man, and helping could incur the wrath of Roman soldiers. However, Veronica is overcome with love. Her reckless act of abandonment is set in eternity as a thing of beauty. The world's foolishness is God's wisdom.
My daughter continues on her journey through the Stations of the Cross. She loves these pictures of Jesus. She wonders at wounds and blood. When she sees the Blessed Mother holding her Son's dead body, she reaches out for Mary's face. "That's Mama Mary," she says with a reverence I haven't heard from her before. "What's she doing?" she asks.
"She's holding Him because He died. He's her Son, and she's sad," I say as gently as I can. I think of how during all of Advent the lessons of Mary's Fiat! were proclaimed in Mass after Mass. Without her complete surrender, Jesus could not come to save us. I look at Mary and think of how obstinate my will is in comparison to hers. I want to cling to all the work I can get, but my family is suffering from my being too busy. I know after praying for months that it's time to let go, but still my mind toys with alternative solutions.
Then my daughter goes to where He is laid in the tomb. She asks what happened. I tell her Jesus had to be buried, but on the third day He rose again. "He's all better?" she almost yells.
"Yes, he is all healed!" I get caught up in her joy that He is not hurting anymore, that He's happy and alive.
I think her pilgrimage around the church is done, but I am wrong. My daughter spots prayer cards to the Holy Family. She is excited that Mother Mary holds baby Jesus on the card, and she barely notices poor Joseph. I point him out, but she gushes over Mary holding her baby. I show her the side with the prayer. Without another word, she marches to the altar steps and kneels. She can't read, but she prays in her own way in solemn tones.
I wait and pray, too.
She jumps to her feet and exclaims that she must give the card to Mama Mary. I try to direct her to the little altar to Mary in an alcove along the church wall, but my daughter is stubborn. She is adamant that the card be given to Mama Mary who is holding Baby Jesus behind the altar. I convince her to leave the card by the steps. She hums and smiles as she lays the card down. She is done.
"Mama Mary will come and get it, right?"
I hesitate to answer, but then I remember.
I remember my own childhood with its simple beliefs. I remember that span of time when God was everywhere and was my friend, and I couldn't imagine how anyone could not believe in Him. Belief at that time took no volition because I had no reason to question His existence. I remember looking for angels in the empty sanctuary and sneaking up altar steps to ask God to hold me on His lap. I remember longing for communion, because I wanted so badly to have more of Him. I remember thinking adults were funny for talking about mysteries, and I couldn't understand why they thought the Trinity and Christmas and Easter were complicated. I remember naming my guardian angel Rose and asking her each night to hold me while I slept.
I knew God because my mother lived out her faith in everyday life. It wasn't so much that she taught me about God, but rather that she included me, and my siblings, in her relationship with Him. My faith grew because she let me believe in Him as children do. If she had forced my childhood faith to fit adult-size criteria, it would have become overstretched and thin. It would have snapped.
Children need to be children. They need freedom to experience wonder and awe through their fanciful and adorable faith.
I know that the phase that my young daughter is in, is relatively brief. Friends and I sometimes lament over the change that comes to our children's faith over time. It goes from a natural flow from their hearts to something they have to choose from their will. But children must ask questions and grow. Life brings paradoxes and exceptions and disappointments. Platitudes ring hollow, and Truth demands exploration. Mysteries stop being idiosyncracies of adults and become deep necessities. Our world is not just. There are times our omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God seems silent and absent. If faith does not have growing pains, it dies.
Fiat! Abandonment. Surrender. When you're a child, there is no doubt that God will catch you when you leap. When you're an adult, you can struggle over leaving even small fears in His hands.
My daughter will not leave the sanctuary until I answer her. "Will Mama Mary come down and get my card?"
"Yes, she will," I say as I look into her face. My daughter lights up with joy. She hums songs as we bless ourselves with holy water. I know I cannot delay any longer. I do not know for certain what the consequences will be after I send my email, but how could I not trust Him when He has never failed me?