"Mama, is God a girl?"
My 3-year-old has been fascinated by the players of the Christmas story since we took him to church on Christmas Eve with my husband's parents, and many nights since, he has peppered us with questions at bedtime.
Who is Jesus?
Who is Mary?
Who is God's dad?
Why are the wise men there?
I stumble through his questions as best as I can, and I don't always know the answers. If I don't know, I tell him I don't know, or I tell him what I think. I am not a member of any particular church, but I want my son to understand spirituality and the religions of the world, so we say our prayers and we practice being thankful at this stage.
The questions are coming fast and furious, and his memory is amazing. If I tell him an answer today, he'll remember it tomorrow. So I take it very seriously, and try to stay consistent. He considers it, and asks me again and again, as if he is memorizing my answers.
I wonder if I asked the same questions of my parents; surely I did. My dad had a full serving of religion as a boy, and he really wasn't into church as an adult. My mom was brought up with a healthy dose of Catholicism, but she wanted her girls to grow up on a different path. At 11, I stopped going to church altogether, and then found peace and beauty in Catholic churches in college and in Paris in my early 20s. I studied philosophy and religion in college, and had a friend majoring in Jewish Studies, and I asked her question after question.
I don't know all the answers. I have my own ideas and plenty of questions too. I don't have any verse memorized. I can't tell him where to find the story about Daniel and the lions, or why the wise men brought frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus when he was born. (Although now that I've been to the Middle East and have seen how easy it is to buy it in the market, I have a better understanding of the context. It was a bit magical to see buckets full of the resins in person.)
What I really want my son to understand is that freedom of religion means that he can explore and learn about any religion he chooses. If it's Buddhism, I'll be right here waiting for him to tell me about it. If it's Islam, I'll want to know more about it. If he follows the Episcopal church, his father will be able to lead him. If he decides not to believe at all, we will be right here offering all of our love, as always. We will allow him the room to grow and change his mind at will.
And he will know that it's OK to question... to wonder... to doubt. I want him to understand that he should keep asking questions throughout his life, and never accept anything at face value if it doesn't make sense to him. He will learn that no authority figure has all of the answers, and if they say they do, they are pretending. He will learn the art of respectful questioning.
Being a questioner is sometimes the difficult path.
Looking down the road, I can see that the questions are only going to increase and get more and more interesting. Years of explanations and serious conversations unfold in front of me, and I wonder how well I will do.
I marvel at his insight at his tender age. I wonder what other questions are in that growing brain of his.
"Mama, is God a girl?" Yes, I think so, I tell him. I believe he is girl and boy and man and woman.
I look at him somberly. What do you think? I ask him.
"Mama, where does SpongeBob live?"
There we go. This one, I can answer.