A Reflection on Religious Traditions – and Passing Them to My Children
December 7, 2021
We went to church on Sunday. We went two weeks ago for the first time in two years and the kids looked surprised, unused to such music, procession, candles and murmurings, but perhaps sensing a familiarity in the scene of their baptisms not too, too long ago. This morning we entered again, encountering Advent making its familiar promise that I still want to believe.
We walked out two hours later with Walter cast in the role of a lifetime – Shepherd. People urged us to consider putting Glenn in the show as well, but we know better. Let’s stick to the “silent night, holy night, all is calm all is bright” version of Jesus’ birth, rather than the truer chaotic mess of the birth in the manger in Bethlehem that would be re-produced if our 3-year-old was in the role of Sheep.
We went to buy a tree after the service, and Walter and Glenn eventually landed on a beautiful one, the tallest we’ve had, with the star almost scraping the ceiling. After our traditional spaghetti dinner, prepared by Brad, we all sat on the couch and gazed at the tree and began singing the Christmas songs that we sing every year – which involve Brad and my best efforts at the first verses of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and Walter’s current favorite, “Joy to the World,” as he loves the line “and heaven and nature sing” – I love that line, too. We also sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Jingle Bells.”
Halfway through the singing, we stopped, remembering the Advent wreath Walter had made in church two weeks ago, and lit the second candle of Advent, with an accompanying prayer urging us to prepare, to make room for God in our hearts, I think.
We sang a bit more, and after cleaning up the Magna-Tiles in the bedroom, the kids climbed in, and we said an evening prayer that I stitched a few weeks back in an effort to put together an evening prayer for my kids that does not raise the specter of the soul being snatched away during the night.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I thank you God for your love so deep
Thank you, God, for another day,
The chance to learn, the chance to play.
Thank you, God, for the love we share
Thank you, God, for your world and care
When in the morning light I wake,
Teach me the path of love to take.
Why am I writing all of this? I guess because I am aware of viewing myself as a parent, an identity that I’m still amazed is me, watching Brad and me, along with Glenn and Walter, craft together traditions that will be our family’s own and as real to my children as the traditions my parents crafted were to me. It is becoming clearer to me that this work of translating tradition is our own to do – it is a responsibility, a privilege, and a right. No tradition is “pure,” passing untouched from one generation to the next. It is all handcrafted, all homemade, homespun. I am writing a book now that involves looking back generations and generations of my family and seeing how much I am unlike my ancestors and yet there is a kernel, an essence, an original intention that remains. I, in turn, offer tradition to my children with love, hoping that it will give them something to hold onto, that gives them life.
This includes the tradition of faith. I hope Brad and I can offer an expansive, open faith with Jesus at its core, that teaches them the way of love and an openness to people of all faiths and none. We offer it with an open hand, hopeful that such things as wonder and joy and the possibility of radical new birth and a new heaven on Earth are a part of our own lives and the lives of our children. Glenn and Walter already receive what we offer with grace and curiosity, and thanks be to God, even now they are forging something new as new lives consider what is wheat and what is chaff for them.
And so it goes and I feel so grateful for it all, thinking of the new words that Walter is learning to read this month in school like beautiful, friends, family, together, gazing at our tree with the star almost touching the ceiling, waiting for Christmas Eve when a familiar shepherd will offer his one line reminding me that a great light is being born into the world.
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