Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity you get three as a magic number.
-Three is a Magic Number, School House Rock
I cannot explain the Trinity to my satisfaction. I try. I think I understand it, best as a finite human mind can, but I cannot explain it, out loud, in words. As a child, the best illustration I ever heard was the egg analogy. The Trinity is like an egg, the lady at the front of the church said; the egg has three parts, the shell, the white, the yoke. Each is an egg. Together and apart. See? And she held up the egg, all parts other than the shell, still hidden, invisible to us sitting in the pews. Examined close enough the egg analogy falls apart, as all trinity analogies do. Most of us, whether we are conscious of it or not, have made peace with this undefinable quantity by creating a formula similar to what my son Miles came up with when he was six: God is the father and in charge. Jesus is the son and Number One Christian and the Holy Spirit is your conscience.
God is mysterious, and in general I like that. I like that he is not manageable, not easily put into a box, that there are things about him that make my brow furrow and my brain fuzzy. Believing in something beyond my complete understanding seems appropriate. But liking the mystery and living in the mystery is not the same thing. Recently, in the midst of some research for a writing project, I asked my seminary educated father about how he wrestles with the mystery of the Trinity. His answer? “We are encouraged to understand, but we are called to believe.”
Ah. Thanks dad. More mystery.
I don’t know what it is about me but I can wear holes in my favorite cardigan sweaters faster than you can say “snap!” In fact I am fairly confident that from the moment I pay at the register, to the moment I hang the fresh-with-the-tags-still-on sweater in my closet, at least two barely perceptible holes will have begun their grand unraveling. So you can imagine what happens when I actually wear them out in the world. Holes galore. But I hate to throw them out, these perfectly lovely, well broken-in sweaters – they are security blankets disguised as clothing – comforting and predictable. Because of this I have begun to patch and stitch over the holes and rips that seem to multiply in my sweaters while I sleep.
My Granddaddy died in October. We sat by his bed for a week, while he left this life, one goodbye at a time. Across town, my Nana lay in bed, in a nursing home, recovering from a broken hip, unable to travel the last leg of his earthly journey with him.
During the weeks that immediately proceeded and followed, I took to wearing down the road between our house, in his hospital room and the nursing home, bringing the holiest of my sweaters and my stitching bag, filled with fabric scraps, thread, needles- the very trinity of sewing – with me wherever I went.
In the beginning, while he was still conscious and lucid, before hospice took over, there were conversations, and stories, sweet laughter and spoonfuls of ice cream. But as the days wore on, the room filled with the weight of the inevitable, and my Granddaddy began his exit from this life into a mystery that I try to understand but can never fully grasp.
During the final late night shifts, we took turns holding his hands, checking our emails, discussing his vitals, and waiting. And I pulled my cardigan out of my bag and continued what I had started, needle and thread and tiny scraps mending tears big and small.
Other nights I drove across town to the nursing home, to fall asleep on a bed that self-inflated automatically according to my weight in order prevent bed sores. I was there be present to my Nana, and stand as a witness as she watched the life she had known for sixty years disappear like a vapor without her consent. On those nights, I would pull out fragments of crochet doilies to stitch and patch my sweater, as we watched Christian Television’s finest gospel singers and episodes of The Walton’s on the big screen televisions my uncles had brought from her home. While John Boy mulled life’s quandaries, I would sew until eyes would become too blurry to see the needle, until my stitches were so sideways that I would have to start over in the morning, or until the night nurses would arrive to turn off the lights, tucking us in with their shuffling feet and brisk conversations.
One thing that I have always appreciated about my parents is that they raised us in an environment where questions were encouraged, where we were allowed to express our doubt, fears, and opinions freely. Of course if my parents did not agree with my theories and opinions about faith, morality and ethics, they would of course say so. But they never dismissed me and my questions as “silly” or “sinful.” I hope that my husband and I are creating this same environment for our boys. Sometimes it can be a little nerve wracking if one of them expresses a different belief from mine, and I have a sudden fear that I have failed as a parent. But in these moments it is always helpful to remember that I am their mother and not the Holy Spirit. In fact I am neither Father God nor Messiah Christ either. I am simply mother Jerusalem. While this does not get me off the hook– I still must teach, guide and encourage my children in the way I believe is best for as long as they live under my roof– it does put my role in their spiritual life back into perspective. My boys are not an extension of me, but instead they are individuals. Individuals whom the Holy Spirit will minister and speak too according to who they are, how they were created and their own unique journeys. My job is not to map out those journeys for them, but instead to give them every tool I know of that could aid them as they go, leaving it up to them to determine if, when, and how to use those tools. Living a life that is comfortable (as one can be) with the intersection of Mystery, Understanding, and Belief is one of those tools.
Family Reflection Questions
I find that asking family reflection questions as a formal event almost always backfires. If you want to engage your kids with these questions, consider asking these questions while you are cooking dinner, pushing them on the swing, walking the dog, or while doing some stitching and mending of your own.
What mystery would you love for God to explain?
What part of your faith do you find most challenging to understand?
Is there a part of your life that has been torn or ripped that needs some mending? How can your family help in that healing?
The book Make Do and Mend is my favorite resource for learning how to mend and repair clothing. But if you are not a stickler for perfection all you really need are some scraps of fabric, thread, needles, embroidery hoop and a seam ripper to get started.
Jerusalem Jackson Greer is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, nest-fluffer, urban farm-gal, and author of A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together (which includes a chapter on Candlemas, complete with crafts and recipes.) Jerusalem lives with her husband and two sons in a 1940s cottage in Central Arkansas at the crossroads of beauty and mess with an ever-changing rotation of pets, including a hen house full of chickens and a Hungarian Sheep Dog mutt. As a family, they are attempting to live a slower version of modern life. She blogs about all of this and more at http://jerusalemgreer.com