As a priest and mom, I’ve been a little worried and wary about my kids’ formation. I want them to grow up in a healthy church community and with the values and beliefs that are dear to me, but also want to spare a heavy hand in their formation and church attendance. After all, most kids in the pews and Sunday school rooms aren’t listening in on a parent practicing her liturgical chant at home. Few children endure quadruple clergy godparents. I want them to love God, their faith, and the church, but this p.k. life is a lot.
Aside from clergy parent anxiety, I’ve spent the better part of a decade demolishing and re-evaluating, grieving and raging, departing and returning to Christianity. After a childhood in evangelical fundamentalism, it took years of therapy, spiritual direction, two rounds of graduate level theological education, and countless hours and journal pages to land in a committed yet critical home in progressive, mainline tradition. With each chat about God, there’s a little whisper of doubt in the back of my head. Am I going to mess this up? I don’t want to saddle them with those years of grief work and unweaving.
But as they get older, I can’t wait and see; we can’t trust osmosis to take care it. Now they’re beginning to ask those big questions that demand attention, pondering the weighty things that need more engagement. It seems that church, mom, and the painstakingly curated children’s books on faith around our home are indeed working magic on these fine, curious little hearts and minds, and I can’t keep up with the questions.
It was a bunny funeral that really pushed me to the limit. In a fairly predictable but not terribly gruesome episode, our Coronavirus adopted puppy found a litter of baby bunnies, and for the toddler’s sake, we were compelled to co-officiate a service. A few hours after the committal, I found my child crouched by the graveside, carefully watching.
“What are you doing?”
“Waiting for God to resurrect the bunnies from the dead like Jesus.”
I’d gone above and beyond, sought dignity beyond a quick shovel of dirt, all for the sake of religious formation. Now my good deed was being punished by this theological quandary: “Waiting for God to resurrect the bunnies.”
In other words, “What is Christ’s resurrection for the rest of us?” A question as ancient as the first century letters to the church at Thessolonica, now shoved at me by a precocious kid, asking me to dive deep into a topic I can’t fully explain and translate it for a pre-school attention span. All I wanted to do was to finish that four times reheated cup of coffee, but here we are in the depths.
I know I’m not the only one.
Friends text me or mention offhand impossible questions from their families: I had to pull the car over when out of nowhere she said “Was Jesus was even a real guy?” and I realized I didn’t know what the answer is!
Kids at church bring their questions to me, too. I swear they’re just trying to stump me: How do we know that the Bible is even true? What happens if I don’t want to take communion? Are there people buried at our church? Why? And what happens to us when we die?
I find myself searching for a theology resource I could feel comfortable with, not just in content but in approach. I don’t just want a different set of answers, but whole new directions for holy questions. I need a pause for the weird, inconvenient, life-interrupting moments when the holy questions seem to emerge from my sons. I want language to talk with young parishioners posing their quandaries during acolyte vesting, wedged into my elbow in the potluck line. What I want most of all is a way of asking questions, translating and wondering; what I need is a way to really listen, a willingness to be interrupted.
The interruptions are not inconveniences; they are holy questions asked by holy questioners. The holy questions children ask are sometimes looking for answers. They are occasionally in need of theological translation. The holy questions are always inviting us to ask and wonder with them, and most of all, to keep us honest and asking, too.
Editor’s Note: Witnessing Claire Brown parent and pastor over the past six years has stirred up immense joy, awe, and gratitude within me. She takes seriously the questions and wonder expressed by her young two children in the same way I imagine she responds to her spiritual directees. Claire’s new book written with Anita Peebles is called New Directions for Holy Questions, and is available for sale tomorrow! I hope you’ll check it out. —Allison, ed.
Donna Penman says
These are not just questions of a four year old. We had a Bibe Study group of Senior Citizens, we asked the same questions minus waiting for bunnies, but asking do our pets go to heaven.