It feels strange to write to you of God, when it’s quite possible that you know more about him right now than I do.
I could be wrong, but I imagine that embryos’ knowledge moves in reverse, so that by the time they are infants, they’re amnesiac and have the overwhelming task of relearning things they knew when they were wise and ageless spirits luxuriating in an open heaven. (I think F. Scott Fitzgerald might’ve agreed with me, which you’ll understand when I read you “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” before bed. I’ll probably read you Fitzgerald till you groan. Do try to be tolerant, until you’re old enough to develop your own literary interests.)
You will hear me say this a lot, this “I could be wrong”—especially in our conversations about God. This is because I’m not always sure what I know. I’m not entirely confident that the truth as I understand it is the way the truth should be understood. My life—and quite possibly everyone’s lives, from the evangelist to the atheist—is full of the unexpected and the unexplainable. No one has developed so precise a formula for understanding, that his life is entirely exempt of uncertainty.
And so I can’t say with complete confidence whether I’m right about many of the things I’ll teach you. The more we know, the less we know; for me, this has become something of a mantra.
But in our household, God exists. He is quite real, as real as oxygen or hydrogen or any other element on the periodic table that’s invisible or intangible to the naked eye. God is ever-present, listening and watching closely. In crisis, people often expect Him to, but He does not always intervene. Sometimes, when unspeakable atrocities occur, our belief in the existence and presence of God helps us to cope. Sometimes, it doesn’t help nearly as much as we’d like it to.
In our household, we believe that God can be felt in wind and seen in sunrise. Sometimes, we think we hear Him when we think. Sometimes, we stop in the midst of our toiling and it occurs to us that we’ve gotten to where we are and we’re heading toward wherever we’re destined, not due to any particular foresight of our own, but because of propulsion from a force far greater than our Selves.
And in that moment of pause, we thank God.
You will hear many of His names, uttered and sung, over the course of your childhood. But I cannot guarantee how often we’ll go to church. I went just about every Sunday of my little-girl life, and there’s part of me that wishes this for you. There is an irreplaceable sense of community you’d find, growing up in pilgrimage to the same building and seeing the same people, listening to and learning the idiosyncrasies of their worship, listening to and learning the poetry of the bible.
There is nothing more lyrical than a sermon. I’ve found this to be true, regardless of denomination. The minor melodies of the Jewish cantor’s Hebrew are as beautiful as the recitation of the rosary; the slow and rocking baritone the Baptist minister rolls up from the barrel of his gut can be as fascinating as Arabic incantations prayed eastward five times a day.
This may sound confusing. It isn’t always. Our world is full of faiths, and our family has espoused one. In tandem with the tenets of our faith, you will learn about free will and how the decision to accept or decline a faith is personal and individual. But you will also realize that we are born into traditions of worship—or born into an absence of them, and this free will to decide your faith doesn’t really kick in until you’re grown. Even then, you’d be hard-pressed to eradicate all of the rituals with which you were raised, and it’s likely you won’t want to.
In our house, we believe in Christ, crucified and resurrected. We believe in the Trinity. We believe in asking for salvation from sin, even though sin is inherent to humankind. We believe in an afterlife that includes both a heaven and hell. We believe that the occurrences recorded in the bible are historical and instructional, not fictional.
But we do not isolate ourselves from those who don’t. And we do not respond defensively when people question our beliefs. They are ours; in the end, the only people who need to understand why hold fast to them are us.
Perhaps this is why you’ll need church—because I don’t always understand why I hold fast. And ultimately, that will be a knowledge you’ll need to acquire on your own.
In the meantime, before you arrive, I’ll look out for a place to which I feel I can entrust the delicate acquisition of each point on your moral compass, the infinite beauty of a life aimed toward a higher purpose than its own caprice or pursuit.