Another Day in the Country
God, the devil,
and all that stuff
© Another Day in the Country
When my sister and I moved to Ramona in 2000, our little neighbor girl was around 6 years old. She was going to catachism class at her church. One day when she returned and was playing around outside, I asked, “Em, what did you learn today?”
She looked up with her big blue eyes and innocent face, screwed her mouth sideways thinking, and then said, “Oh, you know, about God, the devil and all that stuff.”
I loved her reply and said to my sister, “I think it would be fun to write a book about how children view religion and I’d call it ‘God, the Devil and All That Stuff.’ What do you think?”
She gave me her you’ve-got-to-be-kidding, serious look and said, “Don’t go there!”
Being back in California, getting a daily dose of my grandson’s wisdom, set me to thinking about how we pass on our own wisdom in the mix of daily living.
Morning time seems to be Dagfinnr’s philosophical time. Early in the morning, 5 days a week, his mother leaves quietly for fencing camp, where she spends the day teaching fencing to someone else’s much older children.
When Dagfinnr hears his mother leaving, he usually crawls in bed with me. If I’m really quiet, he’ll drift back to sleep, and all is still in the household for another hour or two. Gradually, he wakes up and gets ready to start the day.
So here we are, one big bump and one little bump lying quietly in the bed. Sometimes I put on my glasses and read.
All of a sudden, Little Bump moves and sits straight up in bed. “Baba,” he says, “Do you know how you can tell there really is a God?”
“How?” I ask innocently, without telling him that people have been talking about this one for ages.
“Well, if something magical happens, then you know there is a God!”
He peers into my eyes to see whether I’m really listening and taking all this in.
“And,” he goes on seriously, now that he’s sure of my rapt attention, “I don’t really believe in a devil because he’s just pretend, I think, like bad guys in movies.”
I happened to pretty much agree.
Dagfinnr’s parents were both raised in pretty conservative, religious homes, but they have, as adults, chosen not to belong to any church. In fact, they’re pretty averse to the whole idea. Jana’s always been a spiritual person but deeply questions religious dogma.
Meanwhile, D’s 8-year-old cousin goes to church every week with her mom and Bible School during the summer, getting a pretty healthy dose of needing to save the world.
When Elana realized that her little cousin’s religious instruction was minimal, she undertook the task, bribing him to sit and listen with chocolate chips. Hence, this discussion passed along.
“When you want something, you need to ask God for it, and He’ll give it to you,” Dagfinnr continued. “That’s another way you know there is a God — Magical!”
“Really?” I answered with a tiny note of skeptism, “so what happens when you don’t get it?”
Long quiet under the covers and obvious thinking.
“Then you know there’s NO God!” he says dogmatically shaking his finger at me. “Easy, right?”
Wrong, not that easy.
It seems that Elana also covered the concept of Heaven, briefly, with proper emphasis on being good, getting there, etc. In bed, once again, the other night he followed up with his mother.
“What exactly is ‘heaven’, Mom.”
I think it happened because he’d spilt his milk in the bed, and she had to change the sheets while muttering “heaven help us,” under her breath. She was, after all, tired!
“Okay, here goes,” I thought to myself, “let’s see how she handles this one.”
“When people talk about a place called Heaven they are talking about a magical place (there’s that word again) where everything is beautiful and everyone is kind and nothing bad ever happens,” she said.
“Like car crashes,” Dagfinnr asserts, “Who wouldn’t want there to be a God? But is heaven really, really, REAL!”
He’s pressing the issue now with all of his 5-year-old might, looking into her eyes for truth.
“It’s a nice idea,” says mom with an existential sigh, “but we don’t know for sure, so we just try to make it heavenly now, right here.”
“We wish it,” baby D says explaining the theory, “like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.”
For real now, I’m reading this column to myself out loud to check it before sending and Dagfinnr comes into the room and listens.
“Is that how it went?” I ask. “Did I get it right?”
“No,” he says “you forgot the part about bad guys going to heaven and then some other magical guy tricks them into making them kill themselves and that’s the end of them.”
(I know he didn’t get this from his mother.)
“Forever?” I ask.
“Forever! Good guys die and then go to the graveyard and from there straight to God.”
So, evidently this 5-year-old has seen enough unexplainable magic in his life that he does believe in a God.
I wonder how all this will turn out? I wonder whether his spiritual teeter-totter will tip the other way once he’s an adult and he’ll feel a need for religious structure as firmly as his parents feel a need to keep the coast clear.
How will magic appear then in his life? Will he recognize the simplicity of it — how breath is magic, life is magic, and minds are magic?
A playmate’s parents are devout Muslims. Even though nothing is said about their belief, he watches the mother stop and pray in the midst of play dates.
The other day I heard her explain to her son, “We can’t have friends over tonight because this is the special night that mommy and daddy are going to be praying.”
“What happens on special nights?” I wonder.
She says, “It’s a night when God must give you whatever you ask. There’s several occasions during the year.”
Once again I’m saying, “Really?” and then, “And what if He doesn’t?”
“It’s never happened.” she said. “I guess it depends on what you ask.”
It’s another day in the country, another day in the city, another idea, another practice, another faith, another child, another question, another answer, another chance.