Talking about religion on a rainy car ride. All things holy.

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.”

14 thoughts on “Talking about religion on a rainy car ride. All things holy.”

  1. Unitarian Universalists often use this poem by Sophia Lyons Fahs as our Christmas liturgy–I'd say Grace cut right to the heart of it:

    And so the children come.
    And so they have been coming.
    Always in the same way they come –
    Born of the seed of man and woman.
    No angels herald their beginning,
    No prophets predict their future courses,
    No wise men see a star to point their way
    To find the babe that may save [hu]mankind.
    Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
    Fathers and Mothers –
    Sitting beside their children's cribs –
    Feel glory in the wondrous sight of a life beginning.
    They ask: "When or how will this new life end?
    Or will it ever end?"
    Each night a child is born is a holy night.

  2. Just lovely, Lindsey. I think there was some serendipity involved in your inspiration to name your daughter Grace.

    This story made me a little nervous about how to answer those Big Questions – the ones that I know are just a heartbeat away. Hopefully the conversation will be as organic as yours, with my children providing as many answers as questions.

  3. The insight you and your children provided into this holiday season gave me courage to post my own thoughts.

    What struck me in your post was your children's questions and answers about presents. Lindsey, I am struggling with these questions in my own life. I am wondering whether I should even do presents. Perhaps you can hop on over to my blog and provide some answers. Or maybe your children can : ).

  4. Wow. Love this story. Isn't it amazing that these little creatures can crack our cool facade so quickly with innocent and pointed questions. We think we know so much until we have kids to show us otherwise. I am really interested in the question of how much to teach our kids about the holidays. What is the right level of knowing? What should we tell them and what should they figure out for themselves? I don't pretend to know, but thank you for making me think about these important things. (Glad I have a little bit of time to figure this out too!)

  5. That is amazing…

    As an aside, I do know whey we give presents. Jesus was of course not born in December, but rather several months later. Back in the day (aka, about 1,000 years ago), landowners used to give parties and gifts to the peasants after the harvest. Wild partying ensued. The church moved up Xmas to piggyback on the celebration. The two got mashed together over the years.

    Same deal with Easter. Spring/pagan fertility rites + plus resurrecton = Easter Eggs.

  6. What a lovely conversation to have on a rainy night, or any! One of the hardest parts of parenting is keeping the answers to their question at their level. Telling the truth in ways they can grasp, and yet not underestimating them. Seems like your kids really have a wonderful handle already on their faith. (and I had good chuckle at the IVF bit… I've been known to go down those roads also, which don't go very far with a three year old!)

  7. A beautiful post indeed. I just love the innocent, sweet conversations with our kids. No judgement, just curiosity. I have started reading up on all of the holidays we celebrate because I NEVER have the answer. Although, when Hannah asked me recently if Geez is Jesus's nickname, I was able to respond, "yes". 🙂

  8. And I have chills. Can you thank Grace for that? Because clearly she IS grace.

    I have no idea how to talk about religion with my kids. Armed with such limited knowledge and such wide ideas of God, I shrivel at the small questions I have already been asked, and fear the bigger answer I have yet to conjure for my kids.

    How can I be so inept, I think? How can I not have the answers I need–for them AND for me?

  9. Miles (my four year old) is asking these questions already. He goes to a Lutheran preschool, so sometimes he says things that BLOW MY MIND that I haven't been teaching him. We're Christians, and we teach him things slowly, hoping to mostly teach him (them) with how we live and love, but we don't really get into the bigger things like resurrection and such. And yet he asks about these things and I find myself attempting answers and then saying "I think God will tell you in you spirit as you grow and then you'll have an understanding, you just need to believe that." Cop out, maybe? I don't know… so tricky.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. That last part about Grace being born on a holy night. Ugh, yes…a divine moment both then and in that car. Beautiful!

  10. This could not be more beautiful or more perfect, Lindsey. I love who and how you are with your daughter and son; who and how they are with you. Indeed, incredibly holy. Total gift. Sacred. And oozing the Divine. Thank you for being the mother, woman, and writer you are.

Comments are closed.