Faith and the Nine Year-Old Skeptic
It’s a cistercian monastery that sits with the most beautiful pastoral view of central Virginia and is lorded over by an intellectual priest and a body of warm, pious nuns who always make our children feel not only that they are welcome, but that everyone there is giddy for their arrival.
It’s the only church I know of where the Easter Sunday sermon references Nietzsche and “Perpectivism.” I didn’t know what Perspectivism was until this past Sunday, but it basically means that there are many possible truths. And it was a perfect introduction to the nut of the sermon, which centered around faith: its meaning, its contradictions, its place in our lives, its tenuousness at times, its controversies.
It was also an eerily appropriate follow-up to a conversation I had with my middle daughter – my nine year-old, Charlotte – the night before, as we were sitting down to dinner at a “fancy” new hamburger joint. (By fancy, I mean they serve alcohol as well as milkshakes.)
My husband and I had just taken our children to see the new, re-envisioned biblical epic, Noah, and my daughter had some issues.
Aside from the fact that Charlotte really hated the movie, which she called “dark” and “mean,” she also confessed – for the first time after years of Sunday school, Catholic masses, and getting her sweet cheeks pinched by the above nuns (whom she loves), that she sees “absolutely no proof for the existence of God.” Furthermore, she feels her Sundays are wasted by Sunday School classes that teach a concept she doesn’t even believe in.
I was at first tempted to counter her smart-alec tone with my own and say something like, “Yeah, well I don’t know if organic food is any better than regular food, but I still pay twice the price for the fruit I put in your lunch box.” But something stopped me.
Perhaps it was the hand of the God my daughter denies 🙂
Instead, I told Charlotte that doubt was a part of faith – not separated from it. Faith, I said, is about believing in the absence of hard evidence one way or another. It’s how we go about love and art, which we also can’t prove. Love is an act of faith. Art – as an artist or someone who merely loves art – is an act of faith and interpretation. And I also told her that it’s her journey – not mine – and I’m not forcing her to believe. I’m just giving her information, and – if she’s interested – my point of view.
She was NOT interested in my point of view. So, I dropped it. She’d attended a sleepover party the night before and had a grueling soccer match that afternoon, so I knew she was tired and crabby and not exactly in an open-minded mood. I did slip it in there that she still has to go to Sunday school, though.
“I figured you’d say that,” she said, barely above a whisper.
Charlotte is our most intellectually restless child.
And she is also our most fragile.
She has a heart that she can barely contain, and wears it on her sleeve, her lapel, the buckle of her shoe. For her, a B+ is equivalent to failure, and the slightest hint of a reprimand sends her bottom lip into a quiver. She’s overly generous to both her friends and her enemies – a trait that has been pointed out by every one of her teachers. Charlotte is most proud of winning the “Good Citizenship Award” at school.
And I fear, more than any of our other children, she needs faith – an internal resource that will be there for her when we can’t be.
Charlotte sat on my lap for most of Easter mass. As we stood and recited the Rites of Baptism – as is the custom on Easter – she held my hand and looked at me as she gave her responses.
Do you believe in the God the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth? I do, she said.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? Again, I do.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? I do.
This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church, we are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
She probably didn’t mean it.
I knew she was trying to please me, and she did, but not for the reason she might think.
I was pleased because of the almost unbearable love I feel for her. I was proud of her independent nature and innate skepticism. She always thinks things through before drawing a conclusion.
And I was happy – for her – that she wasn’t quite finished thinking through faith, despite her assertions to the contrary on the night before.