My son is on his knees in his seat at the dinner table, rocking back and forth, looking at me intently. He motions a little as he explains, “It’s just funny that we worship a King that we can’t see, dad. We don’t really know what he looks like.” I point out that we know he is a man, and probably he looks like a Jewish man. But I also admit that he is right; we can’t see our King.
Where is Jesus? I ask him. “In heaven, and dad? If you went up into space, you would have to go waaay up to get to heaven.” Yeah, I don’t know if you could get there or not, I nod. “What is Jesus doing in heaven?” I ask him. “Fighting sin and bad guys,” he explains. “But dad, we love him better than everything else, dad, better than toys or moms or dads or anything.” I nod my head. “But when Jesus raises us up, dad, where will we be?” Maybe in Idaho, I suggest. “Will there be velociraptors?” Probably, I nod. “But they’ll be good ones, dad. I’ll probably like ride on one.” Our conversation lingers for a minute on how Adam might have done that in the garden.
I proceed to read the passage for the evening. It’s from the gospel of Luke, and it’s about Jesus healing on the sabbath day. This time it was a man with a withered hand. Jesus asks the Pharisees if it is lawful to do good on the sabbath or evil, is it lawful to give life or kill on the sabbath. The Pharisees refuse to explicitly label themselves. Jesus heals the man, and the Pharisees immediately enact their implicit answer to Jesus’ question. They begin plotting what they will do to Jesus. They begin planning to do evil and to kill on the sabbath. But Jesus heals on the sabbath; Jesus gives life on the sabbath.
We celebrate the sabbath every Sunday. We usually begin Saturday night, and the meal begins with “cheers.” The kids have their little wine glasses and we toast our King, our mom, and frequently River offers simple toasts to his sisters. There’s chocolate, mom’s best meal of the week, candles, and probably more sweets after dinner.
It’s Tuesday. My daughter has a lunch box. It was a gift from her cousin. And of course it is pink, and let there be no mistake, there is a cat on the cover of this lunch box. I believe the text above the cat actually reads “Hello Kitty,” but my daughter is much too deft for that. She knows that the inscription is far deeper than something so trifling as that. Try to tell her differently, and she will not be persuaded. Those runes actually say “Happy Sabbath.” And so she proceeds to tell us, repeatedly. “Dad, look my lunch box. Dad, look my lunch box. Happy… Sabbath!” I nod cheerfully. It’s only Tuesday, but I trust her instincts on pink lunch boxes with kittens on them. She certainly knows that field far better than I. “Dad, look my lunch box. My have pink lunch box, dad,” she points with her finger and opens her eyes wide up into mine, “Happy… Sabbath!” She proceeds to pull off the lid of the miniature lunch box and exclaims, “Happy Sabbath!” Inside there is a plastic corn on the cob and matching plastic banana. Yellow food inside the pink lunch box. I express my enthusiasm, and she proceeds to replace the lid and begin the liturgy again. She will tell me about her lunch box and the inscription on its lid and display its contents to me another dozen times or so before she is distracted.
I ask my daughter, “Who made you?” She smiles. It’s exciting when dad asks her questions during family devotions. She keeps smiling until I tell her the answer. “God made you.” “God made me.” How many Gods are there? “Two!” she blurts out excitedly and holds up two fingers. She’s two years old of course, and we obviously haven’t gone over this enough. You can tell which liturgy we have practiced more. River corrects his sister, and there’s a momentary controversy over how many gods there are. We are wavering between monotheism and polytheism. The whistles are blown, and we come down on the side of orthodoxy. Heresy is averted for the time being. We move on to the next question. “What is God’s name?” She smiles. I begin, “Father…” And she picks up “Father, Son, and Spirit!”
My third descendant loves her older siblings. She watches them with admiration, and laughs at them and with them with next to no provocation. Her mother and I are mundane compared to them. We are old and boring. We are practically dead already. We can elicit little squeals and chuckles with great effort, but she looks at her brother and sister and erupts with delight, dancing in her high chair. She’s alive and she’s attracted to the life bursting from her older siblings. Her participation in evening prayers is already noticeable. She’s our charismatic influence in the home, leading us in clapping during our singing of Psalm 47 most nights. Of course that’s just what it says to do, and she at 10 months is what we must become like in order to enter the Kingdom. But she really wants us to clap to all of our songs, and we’re still a little too presbyterian for that.
Felicity is standing in her high chair. She holds very strictly to that little known decree of Nicaea which forbade sitting or kneeling in worship, since that would symbolically deny the resurrection. Christ is risen, and therefore all Christians must worship standing, the fathers declared. So my daughter stands in her chair. Sometimes she stands on the arms of the chair. She wobbles and bounces and gesticulates while standing on the arms of her chair. Of course we’ve seen her fall before. Several times. And sometimes we strap her into the chair, but she’s standing tonight. She’s standing and looking around at the food on the table. We’re having ham tonight. There’s ham and potato salad and cole slaw, that sort of thing. “Dad, my have pink chicken?” she asks. Glancing at the contents of the table, I’m forced to conclude that the ham must be “pink chicken.” This is understandable since she would notice the fact that the meat is pink first before anything else. That scores several points automatically.
“Jesus is God, dad,” my son explains. That’s right, I say. “But how does Jesus obey himself, dad?” He obeys the Father, I explain. “But Jesus is God.” Right, but God is three persons, I remind him. “Oh.” He seems satisfied for the moment. He’s like the early church, getting his trinitarian theology all straight. I fully expect that next year we’ll be working on Christology, and we’ll just make our way through the ecumenical councils, I suppose.
We finish prayers, and the evening routine continues. Usually at least a half an hour of which consists of me on the bottom of a pile of kicking, giggling, squirming little bodies.
Maybe a bath, always books, then blessings, and lights out. And the house quiets down for a few hours.
I realize more and more that the gift of children is the gift of life. Children, my children, are sabbath life to and for the tired and weary. How easy would it be to come home and collapse on the couch and do nothing? How tempting would it be to sit in silence after a long day? But my children teach me to live. They teach me to laugh. They teach me to dance, to move my body, to sing, to pray, to ask questions, to read between the lines, to demand more from the world, more from my time, more from life. They won’t just leave me alone. They won’t let me miss life; they love me too much for that.
We do worship a King that we cannot see, but perhaps that’s so we aren’t distracted from the task he’s given us at present, the task of living well, loving well. And my children lead me. They teach me to focus on them, to focus on their mother, my wife, they tell me the same things again and again. They ask me the same questions again and again. They call my name, “Dad, Dad,” again and again, all as if to keep reminding me that I’m alive and to remind me to live. “Dad, my have pink lunch box. Happy… Sabbath!”