Hanging out with our young granddaughter Mary once a week is the total package. That kid touches my heart, my mind, my soul … and covers my shirt with mushed avocado, to boot.
Truly, loving and caring for this short person resonates through me, reminding me so much of me and my relationship with God.
I have long been a spooky little Catholic girl who wanders around looking up at the clouds, occasionally muttering and smiling. Prayer to me has long been about two things.
First, to try to remember to shut up and listen. Seriously, if God is in, around and through us, what we want has got to be pretty obvious, yes? Continually yammering on about it is much like our son Nick giving me his first draft Christmas list in August, and then rushing me updated versions every few days until Christmas Eve. Like Santa, God already knows.
Second, I try to remember to keep breathing, and trust that God is looking out for me. In both a big eternal picture sort of way, and in the immediate what-I-need-this-exact-second sort of way.
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One day when Mary handed me the shiny red plastic receiver from her toy telephone, I grabbed it from her like it was the first time, every time, and answered in different silly voices: "Hello? Hello! HELLO!" over and over and over, until I ran out of goofy voices, and she grew bored and started chewing on one end of the handle.
As I watched her distractedly trying to work out that second bottom tooth, I had to smile. Yes, because she is simply adorable, but also at myself. I often feel that God is so crazy patient with me, when all day every day, I silently (or if I am alone in my car, not so silently) say "Hi, God." Over and over.
And, like it is the first time, every time, I feel the answer flow through me, flooding me with peace and relief. "Hello, Amy."
God seems to have such infinite patience for my general state of worry and feeling of aloneness. Hi God, Hi God, Hi God. Just like handing him that plastic phone receiver, over and over and over. Talk to me. Play with me. Keep me company, and busy, so I don't descend into a spiral of total panic.
To my eternal amazement, God is right there. Doting. Loving. Reassuring.
But it was not always this way.
Like most Catholic school kids, I saw the pictures of God the Father, this white-haired being on the ceiling, pointing haughtily at us. His demeanor seemed to imply: "Here, have life. Now, don't bother me too much. I have a lot on my plate."
Certainly, the Old Testament did not inspire a warm and fuzzy relationship with God. He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, then kicked their naked selves out over one apple. He sent a flood to wipe the earth of sinners -- except Noah and family, which seems awfully selective, yes? -- and turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt simply for looking back. Even compared to the nuns at St. Euphrasia Elementary, this guy was strict.
So, I grew up imagining God as this easily irritated King. Each day, when I recited "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done," it was to someone far away, who may or may not be listening, and whom I seriously did not want to tick off.
Then the New Testament told us about Jesus, God's son on earth, who was kind to children and animals, touched lepers and embraced people on the street. He came down to heal our broken bodies -- he even woke up Lazarus after he had died -- plus to die himself, then rise, to show us not to fear death.
Jesus said we were all eternal children of God, brothers and sisters, and that we needed to treat each other as we want to be treated. He was the kinder, gentler version of God. He liked us. He really liked us.
But still God the Father seemed remote and just plain judgmental. When we died, the nuns told us God had three options. If we died with mortal sins on the chalkboards of our souls, He would send us straight to Hell. If we only were carrying a few menial sins, He would let us hang out in purgatory for however long it took to wipe our dusty souls clean. Only if we died sinless and pure could we be ushered directly into Heaven.
It was a lot of pressure for a kid, let me tell you.
But then, when I grew up, something horrible and wonderful happened.
After son Nick was born, I suffered an eclamptic seizure and died. I was dead for 20 minutes. When I came back to earth, I found I had a paralyzed left side and a whole new relationship with God.
Instead of anticipating harsh judgment, I now knew that I was loved and understood, all the way forward and all the way back. And instead of thinking of God the Father -- with all the patriarchal vengeance that once implied -- I now relate to God as Daddy and Mommy. To me, God is a They not a He. And They love me even more than I love my kids and grandkids, which is a lot.
When I pray for something and don't get it, it is not because They are mad at me, or I don't deserve it. It is because They know that for which I prayed is not what I really need, and They have something even better in mind for me, if I can only be patient.
Just like when Mary tries to stick a fork in an outlet. I only yell and leap and pull her away out of love, and the fierce desire to keep the silly kid alive, whether she likes it or not.
Like Mary -- who cries with shock and anger when I don't let her hurt herself, when she doesn't get exactly what she thinks she wants -- I am of course continually frustrated and scared.
And just like with Mary, when I hold her and rock her and assure her that I love her, and only want to protect her, I struggle to remember the same is true for me and God. To trust. To keep breathing. To shut up and listen.
And so I keep holding up that big red plastic receiver, over and over, saying: "Hi, God."
[Amy Morris-Young graduated from and taught writing at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.]