|Irene at 4 in Swtizerland, thanking God for the waterfall and Zoe behind her.|
Once, when we were travelling in Switzerland with Irene aged 4, she needed the loo in a mall. A lady left, and held the door open for her, and she entered, omitting the 25 franc coin you pay to open the door.
Well, outwitted by the Swiss! If you enter a loo without the coin, the door won’t open when you want to leave. I was frantic. Somehow found the receptionist, after some delay, who came and opened the door.
Oh, Irene–she had been alone for a while, locked in a loo.
And when the door was opened, we saw a curly headed cherub, sitting on the toilet seat, smiling.
“Aww,” said the dour Swiss lady, inspite of herself.
“Irene,” I asked, “Weren’t you scared?”
“Well, yes, at first,” she said. “Then, I prayed, and I wasn’t scared.”
The faith of children!
All that holiday, she spontaneously joined her hands and prayed thanking God for the bears she saw in the pit in Berne (which means Bear), the bears in Berne Cathedral, and for her own stuffed bear she called, “Bearly.” Thanked God for the waterfalls, and the flowers and the Alps and the snow and the high passes. It was as spiritual a holiday as my own, and I couldn’t have been prouder of her.
* * *
I often tell the girls that prayer immensely improves one’s IQ, and one’s thinking. Now the answers one gets when one prays are not necessarily logical, may seem crazy or quixotic, but hey, they work. And as one obeys directives received in prayer, you trust the internal voice of God more, and your family trusts you more when you say you have received inner guidance as to a business or family decision.
When Irene played chess, she would frequently bury her face in her hands and pray when she either didn’t know what the best move was, or when she hoped her opponent wouldn’t see what the obvious best move was. (She was very good, ranked among the top two female players in her age group, but she has very sadly given it up.) And often, the inner voice would suggest moves, and she would startle us, by winning against far older players with far higher rankings.
* * *
Irene at almost 12 has developed into a serious minded young lady, who takes her studies very seriously, loves them, and excels at them. Her Mother’s Day card today was in three languages–Chinese, which she is learning at School, French and English. (Zoe’s was in Latin, Greek, French and English. Their school, Oxford High School, is linguistically strong.).
Sadly, however she finds the church we have been attending for the last 6 years boring. Part of it is that her school (private, all-girls, academically selective) has a lot of well-behaved, well-disciplined girls, and Sunday school has rowdy boys and girls who let down their hair, behave badly, and who are indulged and jollied along. Contests like stuffing marshmallows into their mouths while saying chubby bunny which she complains don’t teach her anything, about God or anything else.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Irene refused to have anything to do with it. She cries, quite literally, to the point of looking rather ill, at the thought of an hour of rowdy jollification.
* * *
Roy thinks we should insist that she goes to church. That children should be taught to obey their parents. Once Irene reached Year 7, I no longer forced her to go to church. Would Jesus have made a child who sobbed at the thought of having to worship him worship him anyway? Perhaps not.
I remember the excruciating boredom of church. I went to a Catholic boarding school and had to go to Mass 5 days a week until I was 16, to 2 choir practices a week, a hour Benediction every Sunday, an additional hour of contemplative prayer, “Adoration” every first Sunday, Blue Army in Middle School, Cathechism 5 days a week…Oh, I am sure there was more.
Like Irene, I have a freak verbal memory. Both of us can memorize poetry or well-written prose very easily, almost without realizing that we are doing so. So I emerged from all that forced religion knowing the Gospels almost by heart. (This helps in learning other languages;when I read them in French or the original Koine Greek, it’s easier, because I pretty much know them by heart in English.) I know the Psalms almost by heart, and Proverbs because I heard them read out every day in my childhood, and of course, have read them, and listened to them on tape often as an adult.
In times of stress, and crisis, and emotional need, comfort came to me in the words of hymns I learned as a child, psalms I had unconsciously memorized as a child, or the words and actions of Jesus when I knew so well. Wisdom, guidance, comfort, peace.
And so, I believe there is some value in requuring children to go to church. But facing with a crying Irene, I relent.
The church we were going to, St. Aldate’s, is obviously not meeting her spiritual needs, and we are exploring other options for Irene. Think we have found one, which I will probably blog about as the star of guidance shines brighter.
* * *
Irene however does know her Gospels very well. We play them in the car on family trip in a variety of translations, and frequently read a chapter after dinner.
When the girls were younger, we attempted some of the family devotions suggested by Dick Woodward the pastor emeritus of the church we attended, Williamsburg Community Chapel. He suggested family prayer and Bible reading.
Well, Irene was 2 and Zoe 6. Irene completely confused God and her parents, which was rather flattering. She bowed her curly head, joined her hands, and asked, “Please may I have some mukie (milk)?”. “No, no, Irene, don’t pray for milk,” we said
She frowned, closed her eyes, bowed her head, joined her hands and tried again,
“Then, please may I have some joocy (juice).”
Irene’s next prayer attempts were, “God please hep Zo-Zo no poosh me, no peench me, no puuul my hair!”
Zoe prayed earnestly when it was her turn. Dick Woodward however suggested an hour for family devotions, which was an awfully long time. Finally, Zoe burst out exasperated,”I wish God had never invented those Woodworks!!”
* * *
So, will my kids grow up to be Christians? You know, I believe they will. When all my attempts fail, I oddly relax, and try what I call the nuclear option, soaking the situation in prayer.
I told Irene, “If you show no interest in anything spiritual, I am going to start praying that God will grab you, and he may need to do something dramatic to get your attention, and you may not like that.”
Well, Irene has great faith in my prayer, since we’ve seen so much change and changed around once we started praying seriously. Her little face grew troubled, and earnest and dark.
“If you think God might let sad things happen to get my attention and convert me, why should you pray that I would become a Christian?” she asked.
Why indeed? Because life truly does not make sense without God. Life without God is like a very long, complex equation, the sort of thing Roy would work out, covering half a page, which never ever finds a solution, a logical, satisfying answer.
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