Sunday, June 27, 2010

The June of Abraham's peoples

On Thursday as I left daycare one of E's teachers stopped me to tell me a story:

"Someone said 'Oh, my God' and E yelled at her."

I said the next line with Ms. B as she told me what happened next. It's a reaction of E's I've seen before.

"She said, that's not respectful to God!"

Ms. B told me this story with a mix of approval and amusement. That's E, I told her. She takes her God very seriously.


About the halfway point between our work and school  / and our home sits a little mosque. One of the girls' favorite teachers is Muslim so when they ask questions about the mosque I encourage them to ask their teacher. E is particularly curious, and so Ms. H has always said one day, she'd take E in there.

Twice a day we pass it, and twice a day E wonders aloud when that promise will be realized.


At the beginning of the month we went to our synagogue for Saturday morning services on a particularly busy day in the building. We were there primarily for the children's service but that morning also saw the celebration of a bar mitzvah and an aufruf. The building was stuffed with bodies and happiness. At the end of the children's service we joined the end of the main service in the sanctuary. We sang familiar prayers in an ancient language, the lovely husband and I, but also the girls. They do not yet understand a word-for-word meaning, but they know the syllables, the rhythms and the melodies. It's a good start.

Then the baby fell asleep in my arms while a man one pew over whose daughter recently died cooed at him and squeezed his tiny toes. My two-year-old climbed into her favorite nine-year-old's lap, and convinced him to read story books to her. My four-year-old found her favorite college student and disappeared with her.

There was a fantastic sit-down lunch in the social hall after services and the lovely husband and I ate contentedly and without distraction. Another college girl had swooped in and taken the baby from my arms. The two-year-old had followed one of her favorite five-year-olds out to the playground with her family, and the four-year-old was chatting up one of her favorite high school students.

How wonderful, I thought, that our children are dispersed among this crowd and across the grounds of this building, and I don't have to worry at all. I will go get seconds, because this food is good and my arms are free and I can. They're happy and safe and a thousand voices will tell me in an instant if that changes. How wonderful that we function so communally. This is our community; this is our family.


The next day we went to a Catholic Mass to celebrate the baptism of a baby girl whose family we love and who will spend the next five years (minimum) being G's best friend just as soon as she begins daycare next week (whether she knows it or not). Our children's only experience with Christianity before that has been that Santa will give them presents, too, and that Easter time means Mommy will buy yummy chocolate eggs at the store. I have a graduate degree in art history and wrote my thesis on early Rennaissance church iconography and I could explain what would happen in the baptism ceremony and I could explain the depictions on the walls of the fourteen stations of the Cross and when we sat right up front in the baptism party's reserved section I could answer L's easy question of who's that big bleeding man up on the big stick? and E's harder one of who did that to him and why? and I could explain the Transubstantiation but I could not reassure my girl who loves a good set of instructions why it was okay, when the priest asked the congregation to come forward and partake, that we stayed in our seats.

So you can imagine that the girls asked a lot of questions afterwards and I answered them all, to varying degrees of satisfaction. I told them that Jesus was a man who lived a very long time ago, and that he was a Jewish man who began to believe some not-Jewish things. The things he believed upset the Jewish community and also the Roman community, (and the girls know a fair amount of Roman mythology so they understand polytheism) but a lot of people listened to Jesus and began to believe what he believed. The Romans killed him on the cross for his beliefs but the people who believed what he believed eventually became the Christian community.  I told them that it happened between the time of the Chanukah story and the Tisha B'Av story of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and I think for their ages they have a pretty good understanding now of religious differences.

But at the ultimate why? - that is, why do they believe that and we believe this? - I said only in the end, they are our friends, and we go because we love our friends. Friends don't always believe the same things. And now added to our repetoire, besides the Venus story and the Moses story, we tell the Jesus story, too.


Somalia's Independence Day is July 1st and the little mosque at the halfway point of our lives is celebrating. Ms. H said she wanted to take E, and E was so excited to go. We met in the parking lot and I thought I'd drop off E in Ms. H's care, but she wanted me to come inside. I felt privileged and honored and inappropriately dressed in my jeans and scoop-neck shirt and uncovered hair but dozens of women (for in every part of the building, we were on the women's side) looked me in the eye with smiles and greeted me warmly. L was along for the ride and the three of us were the only white faces in a crowd of hundreds and I had never experienced that before but I say it only as an interesting observation to ponder later, because we were treated so lovingly. We took off our shoes and Ms. H and her daughter showed us the prayer hall with its intricate Arabic calligraphy and expansive, soft prayer rugs. We toured the building and we sat in on a poetry competition honoring Somali heritage and then E pushed me on the shoulder and said you can go now, I really want you to go, so L and I did. I left E there to drink in another culture and hear their language and observe their prayers and sample their food and partake of their customs:

After the mosque the questions were harder, but fewer, because E was distracted by the exoticism and by her pretty hennaed hands. We talked a little bit about Isaac and Ishmael, and I told her what little I know about Mohammed and I promised her I'd learn more. I told her what I told her about visiting church: that lots of people believe lots of different things, and how wonderful that we have friends who share these special parts of their lives with us. And then I thought, that's not so different from our synagogue experience at all.


I hope we're crafting a worldly, faith-filled, open-minded and accepting person out of this inquisitive child.  We talk about the biggest subjects, she and I. I think she's going to be a remarkable adult. We'll pass the mosque tomorrow morning and when we do, I wonder what we'll be discussing.

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This Heavenly Life said...

I can't see how she'll NOT be a remarkable adult! Really, the things you're teaching her about openmindedness and acceptance and just a good old-fashioned love of discovery -- she'll be remarkable for sure :)

Jill said...

Wow! Thank you for sharing this. I love your journey and her journey and seeing that others believe that we can learn and love together even when our claimed beliefs and places of belonging are different. Thank you for your intentionality. You inspire me.

Inna said...

I think this is my favorite post! I love how you incorporated so many different perspectives and are raising such open minded, loving children.

SmartBear said...

So wonderful! We strive for the same exposure. As Unitarian Universalists, he learns about all religions in Sunday School. It warms my heart, as does this post. Beautifully written as always...and yes, I think there is no way to avoid the remarkable, tolerant, educated adult she will be.