I was driving the children home yesterday evening when they started asking me about Christmas. It was a dark, rainy night and the car felt like a little self-contained universe, moving through space. Grace and Whit wanted to know all about Christmas and why we celebrate it when we do. I floundered with some general answers about the virgin Mary and the manger. Grace told Whit confidently that Christmas was “When baby Jesus was born.”
He then asked, “So why are there presents?” Grace immediately replied, a withering note of duh! in her voice, “Because it’s a birthday celebration.”
Whit thought about this for a moment. And then, “But why do we get presents if it’s his birthday?”
He managed to stump both of the wiseass women in his life with that question. I don’t know. Do you? I did change the subject to remind them that Santa has nothing to do with the official religious meaning of Christmas.
Then Grace took Whit’s question and with a blinding ability to switch sides that will likely make her a great debater, said, “Well, Jesus can’t really have presents anyway, since he is not alive. He’s up there,”
“Where?” Whit asked.
“Up there,” I took my eyes off of the winding, wet road to glance back and saw her shrug her shoulders and cast her eyes heavenward.
“Well, he’s not really dead, though. A lot of religion is about waiting for him to be reborn,” I offered, immediately wondering why I said that (and remembering my friend who famously told her daughter about the birds and the bees at length. When the story was finished, the daughter hesitated and asked if there were other ways to make a baby. The mother plunged into a description of IVF. The daughter furrowed her brow in thought and said she thought that sounded like a better way to do it). I think bringing up Christ’s resurrection was akin to mentioning IVF. Factually true but unnecessary to bring up at this level of inquiry. Damn.
Grace began peppering me with questions from the backseat. What is resurrection. What do you mean he will come back? (I had “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end” running through my head – oh years of weekly church you did your work!) How do we know? When?
This is far from an area of expertise for me. I talked about how he was not “really human” but “divine” (necessitating a sideline into the definition of “divine”). Grace finally interrupted me, saying with finality and no trace of irony, “Something smells fishy about this, Mummy.”
Um, yeah. I fought back a giggle, thinking about how in this humorous conversation we were tackling some of the biggest questions of faith and religion. The conversation paused and you could hear Josh Groban singing “Oh holy night” in the background.
Grace asked, “What is holy?”
I answered, “It is like divine, anything to do with God,” thinking as I spoke how insufficient this answer was. Thinking: this moment is holy.
Grace responded, “Like the night I was born.” Where that came from I have no idea. Out of the blue, a searing bolt of truth.
“Yes, Gracie. That was a holy night.”