It has taken me a while to figure out what to write and to make the time to do it. But here goes …
Having a child is an excellent, if challenging, way to figure out what you actually believe and whether it is simple enough to explain to a small person new to this world. When you are a minister and theologian used to using — and hiding — behind long-ish words, this is hard. You have to spell it out. You have to commit.
In church last Sunday for All Saints, we sang the standby “When the Saints Come Marching In” and my four-year old son fell in love with it. It is now one of our “lullabies” along with “Simple Gifts/Lord of the Dance” and “Rock my Soul.” (I tend to forget the words to all but church songs, it would seem, so those have ended up being our songs before bed, even the really up tempo ones.) Anyway, he loves the line in the song “And when that Hallelulah Day has come” and so he asked me to explain what that is. Hallelujah is one of his favorite words, an almost magical word. I remembered that one of the advice books I like about child rearing said kids tend to remember best the feeling conveyed in conversations with adults and how it makes them feel more than the actual content at times and wondered how to convey the excitement of God’s kingdom, of the vision of shalom, wholeness, wellness, restoration, the joy and relief but also trepidation of the “Last Day” in Christian tradition. I tried to explain that one day God would help make things all better again, that, to borrow the language of Isaiah and Revelations, there would no more crying, no more death, people would be happy and would not do bad things to each other any more and Jesus would be there and it would be a big party. But I also tried to say that this was not just one day a long time far away but that we see little hints of it now. And we can help God now so that God’s will may be done “on earth as in heaven.” “Make sure people have their daily bread to eat, that people are safe and loved and cared for.”
He liked the idea of no more crying and said “and all the dead people will come back” (which I had not said, but he got that somehow). He does not understand death at all really yet, of course, so this was harder to grasp but then he exclaimed. “I don’t want to die ever,” not worried but defiant. Who can blame him? I kissed him on the forehead and on his mop of curls and said I hoped very much that he would live a long, happy, healthy, good life. And I squeezed my sweet, squirmy, curious little boy a little tighter and prayed that it would be as I had promised him. That there will be a time of reconciliation and wholeness and restoration and peace. And that he will be propelled by that vision, that hope, to help, in some small way, to make it so. Hallelujah.