By: Barbara Matousek
“Maybe there is a big giant watching us,” he says as he pops the last of his cupcake into his mouth.
“You think so?” I say, piling the dishes into the sink and wiping the counter in front of him with a damp rag.
“And he’s moving the wind and the clouds so that sometimes it rains and sometimes it doesn’t.”
“Maybe that’s God,” I say.
Since before Sam was born I’ve been prepared for discussions about why our family doesn’t have a daddy. I’ve made books explaining his conception and our story and what a gift he is. But I’ve never even mentioned God to him? God hasn’t ever come up when we snuggle at bedtime and talk about things we’re grateful for or the people we love? Nobody has ever mentioned God to him? How did this happen?
When my best friend was trying to figure out how to teach her young boys about God, whether to bring them to church, I admired the balance she struck between her beliefs and her husband’s beliefs, the way she wanted to educate her children about what others believed without forcing them to believe anything in particular. A decade later when my sister grappled with the decision to send her son to a Lutheran pre-school, I understood her reluctance. She and I had stood up during her children’s baptisms and vowed to raise her children in the Catholic church but at the time we both had our doubts and questions about religion and God.
Standing in the kitchen with a wet rag in my hand, all of my earlier pronouncements to my friends that “I want to teach my children about spirituality, not religion” come back to me. How do I teach my child about God if I don’t know what I believe about God?
In Buddhist teachings there is a description of a huge net reaching in all directions called the Jeweled Net of Indra. This net teaches about the interconnectedness of us all. We are all part of something bigger than just ourselves, part of a whole that includes plants and animals and friends and neighbors, people across the world and people right next door. What we do to the least of our brothers we do to ourselves. I know I believe this, but how does my idea of God or a creator fit in with this?
I was raised in a Catholic home and from the distance of my adulthood I look back gratefully for the tradition and the community and the center the church gave our family. My earliest and most pleasant childhood memory is of my head in my mother’s lap as she stroked the hair back behind my ears as the priest’s voice droned from the pulpit. I look back and see how no matter what was going on in our lives, we made time for God on Sunday. We got out of bed and got dressed and rode in the car together, whether it was raining or sleeting, whether we were healthy or sick, whether we were getting along or fighting. Every week we traveled the short distance to St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, and we sat in the pews together. My Sunday memories include silver-dollar-sized pancakes at The Village Inn, peeling apples for pie, and watching football in the family room. Together.
I’m still forming my ideas about the spiritual traditions our family will follow, but when I think about what I want my children to know about God and religion and spirituality, THIS is what I KNOW I want them to learn: that we are a family, the three of us as well as the greater human race. That there is no “us” and “them”. That each human being has as much value as the next. That those who have a different skin color or speak a different language or form families with two moms or ride in a wheelchair or follow the teachings of Mohammed or believe that Christ was the son of God or don’t believe in God at all are all human beings. I want them to learn that families can come from anywhere, that what we do and say can influence others and we don’t always see the effects we have on others, and we’re all in this together.
I stand in the kitchen and look at the frosting smeared into Sam’s hair and the blue sprinkles caked to the corners of his mouth, and I do not even know how to begin to talk to him about God, how to even put a human word to something I consider to be so grand and awesome that even the act of naming it diminishes the greatness of God. But I know that it is time for our family to begin forming our spiritual traditions, our Sunday memories. Better late than never.
“God is love,” I say. “God is all of us. Together. Love.”
It’s not perfect and it never will be. And as my son grows he will develop his own ideas about God and religion and community and tradition and humanity and love. So while it may not be perfect, it’s a start. We are finally talking about God.