National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 23, 2003

Embracing infinity and the light


Recently my 5-year-old nephew, Benjamin, announced, “You know what? Infinity never ends.” He smiled his goofy smile. “Where did you learn that?” I asked. “My daddy told me,” he said. The boy is my godson. It was Good Friday. I saw a teaching moment. “Well guess what? Jesus never ends,” I said. He looked at me, underwhelmed. “Jesus is already infinity,” he replied emphatically, frustrated by my medieval notions.

I must say that Benjamin’s theology has advanced markedly. Last year I was pushing him on a swing tied to a tree in his front yard. Apropos of nothing, he proclaimed, “Jesus is strong. He can hold up 64 ships.” He went on, nearly shouting. “His mother is even stronger. She can hold up 100 ships. She can hold up the whole night shift!”

I suppose he was thinking about his parents, who were away on a cruise. Still, I’d like to think my godmothering has something to do with his turn of mind. Benjamin was 3 years old and his little brother, David, was 1 when I warned their parents that if they didn’t get the boys baptized soon I would personally dunk them in dishwater and do it myself.

They called the church. On a glorious spring day Benjamin let out a loud giggle as Deacon Lorenzo Castillo poured cold water on his forehead. David fell silent, but at least he did not hold his breath and turn blue, which was his habit then.

Back to Good Friday. Just as Benjamin and I got clear on infinity, David began to scream bloody murder. I ran to the playroom. A cross he’d made at school had come unglued and landed on his foot. I would think this would shake the faith of the most resilient 3-year-old. But by Sunday he seemed to have recovered. He gripped his basket full of chocolates. I asked him, “Now what happened to Jesus today?” He looked irritated; he wanted to hunt for eggs. He thought for a few seconds, then shouted, “Easter!” He took off running.

It is not easy being an aunt nowadays. I dread the day when the boys ask me why women can’t be priests and why so much killing happens in the name of God. I believe the answers to the two questions are connected. I just hate to be the one to break the bad news.

For now, I try to respond to our times with creativity. The other day David was running his finger over the letters of a yard sign that read, “No War Against Iraq.” He thought the Q was an O. He wanted to know what the sign said. I offered my interpretation. “It says, ‘Use your words.’ ” He is one proud little boy, now that he knows how to read signs.

My niece, Rachel, is 7. At my urging her parents took her, after our family Easter egg hunt, to “The Easter Different: Harmony and Peace” -- a program at a gallery called Space D, in Albuquerque.

At least 70 people gathered to hear the program: music by The Rebbe’s Orkestra, a klezmer band, and poetry by Palestinian-American poet Lisa Suhair Majaj.

Drummer Lynn Gottlieb, a rabbi and peace activist, opened the set of music with a statement. She said she takes to heart what her Palestinian friends have told her time and again. “Jesus was a Palestinian-Jew living under occupation,” Gottlieb said. The group went on to play Middle-Eastern music, including an Iraqi melody. For an instant I believed peace was possible.

I looked over at Rachel. She was mesmerized, watching the musicians. Her eyes drifted upward to take in a photograph of Jimi Hendrix by Douglas Kent Hall. Her cheeks were turning red as a beet. Before the program ended, her parents hustled her out and drove to Urgent Care to treat her hives. But she got to hear most of Majaj’s work, including “A Few Reasons to Oppose the War”:

because our bodies are soft and easily harmed
and destruction is a way of dying, not living
“because we are so utterly human
and so prone to grief …
because each morning the wildflowers outside my window
raise their yellow faces to the sun
because we are all, each one of us,
in love with the light.

Demetria Martinez is the author of three collections of poetry and a novel, Mother Tongue.

National Catholic Reporter, May 23, 2003

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