Okay, so I had this great plan about blogging about coffee every day in January. Then I got bored. And my own mother got bored! A killer combination for a blog like mine with a tiny following. So it’s been hard to start up again, and I thought I’d start by getting this embarrassing lapse out of the way. ‘Tis the season, after all, for making apologies, necessary or unnecessary, and moving on to the joy that awaits us. Any embarrassing lapses of a quasi-public nature you need to get over?
I’m reading Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City, loving every moment of it. Every paragraph is a prose poem, a hymn to life in his particular world in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in the prewar 20th century.
He describes his early religious instruction and it reminds me of the story I grew up hearing from my Jewish grandmother. She was the daughter of a rabbi, who tried to raise his family to be observant and kosher. As she tells the story, she was told that if she or her sister ever broke the Sabbath, God would strike them dead. One Friday evening when she was twelve or thirteen, she was out playing with friends and late getting home. She missed the Shabbat Kiddush and incurred the wrath of her father. She shed a few tears and then went to her room and waited patiently for God to strike her dead. It didn’t happen and she lost her faith.
And this is how my grandmother explained to me that she became an atheist. I’ve told this story a bunch of times, and often someone will say “I grew up with my Jewish grandmother telling me the same story!”
Do you have a Jewish grandmother story? Or your own story of losing your childhood faith? Let’s hear it.
Here’s an Advent poem from 1994. Do you have an Advent poem?
My cactus blooms again:
last year it surprised me in March, now
the faintest hints Thanksgiving week.
Just days ago, hard leathery leaves dismayed
all but their own mild thorniness.
Now they pinken at the tips with something so
incongruous and yet ~~
it’s inevitable, and
these buds surprise only me.
A cycle is not a circle
and seasons move only forward.
These are not the same buds
nor even the same leathered leaves.
As I am not and we are not,
as we were.
Twelve years ago I enrolled my son into a lovely, if somewhat precious, alternative preschool in Southeast Portland. Twelve children and two wonderful teachers gathered some combination of two or three days each week from nine to noon to play outside (rain or shine), make art, make friends, play trains, eat snacks, and generally be about the business of transitioning from toddlerhood to kindergarten.
As the fall unfolded, the rains began, and we all looked toward the darker season, I learned that, as for the rest of us, December was going to be a busy month for preschoolers. They were promised a different special guest every week, giving presentations on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the winter solstice. I decided it might be fun for the kids to learn about Advent, the Christian tradition’s four-week countdown to Christmas. I would show them the Advent wreath, teach them how to make a simple one using greens from the school’s huge backyard, and talk about lighting the candles one by one as we wait for Jesus to be born, the same way many of the kids had waited for their baby brother or sister to be born.
Some humorous conversation ensued, in which the more experienced teacher had to interject the assurance that Jesus was not actually going to come to anyone’s house on Christmas Eve, at which point some of the kids began to focus on Santa, who most certainly was coming on Christmas Eve.
My three-year-old then made piped up to ask: “But mom: what’s Jesus?” I could’ve been mortified that the son of a church lady and aspiring clergy mom didn’t know who Jesus was, but really I thought it was hilarious. And a good question. How would you answer it?
Quick: what’s the first image that comes into your mind when you hear the “J-word”? Chances are it’s the “Breck Jesus.” Jesus with the long blond hair, looking off into another world. For me, it’s different every day. Some days it’s the Che Guevara Jesus (bottom left in the picture). Some days it’s the National Geographic Jesus. Lots of times, the image of Jesus I most readily imagine is the icon from true old-time religion, called “Christ Pantocrator.”
Most of the people I know who are put off by Jesus don’t really know about the upstart guy that I try to follow, who was all about sharing food with friends and strangers, preaching about economic justice, and making food, health care, and hope available to everyone, regardless of their gender, socio-economic status, age, moral fiber, nationality, or religion. That’s what I think Jesus is.
And – bonus fun fact – there are tons of great stories about Jesus and food. What’s not to like?