I’m working so of course I’m way behind on my Inner Christmas Musings.

But Lynn Jericho’s Second Holy Night focused on the need for divinity.

And coincidentally– unless, Mother, did you tell her to do this when I wasn’t around?– my five year old is suddenly wanting to say  her prayers each night at bedtime.

I take her to church with me but I don’t really comment on it one way or the other.  I have this weirdo feminist, deconstructed, materialist/Marxist literary way of seeing the liturgy and Christian / Bible-based worship. I love it. I can spout scripture from King James on demand, I swear I can. But my belief system is this weird combination of literal and superstitious and completely new age, Eastern and probably completely heretical.  As long as the belief system does not include or justify harming/oppressing women or children or anyone else, I’ll worship with anybody, however and whatever and whenever. Yoga, meditation, pagan ritual, it’s all good.

When I talk to her about spirituality I really try to give her a very simple line– Christmas is about a baby, about all babies, this is a creative, loving Universe, it created you, and the Universe loves you and has its arms open for you and exists for your happiness like I do only more– and that is a whole, whole lot, can you imagine even more? I want to hardwire the expectation of happiness, comfort, positive thinking, joy, play, fun, responsibility, order, pride in her achievements, the journey not the destination, the process as much as the product, can do as much as I can in her mind and heart.

This year I’ve started throwing in a little science and nature into the mix… how our traditions today started with observations of nature and the fears and hearts’ desires of people thousands of years ago, how science and theology intersect (for me) (and only in very general easy terms that make sense in the context of whatever we’re doing at the time).

But now she wants to say her prayers. Well, okay. Telling her not to do or believe something is to me just as intolerant and wrong as telling her to believe only one particular thing. So, okay. We’ll say prayers.

She looks at me and says, okay. Do you know how?

Do I know how???

What to tell her?

The chaplain at the hospital caring for my grandma said a prayer that really knocked my socks off. He just claimed it straight up– Lord, cover Elva (my grandma) in blessings and healing from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet.

And that is how you are supposed to pray.

It was amazing. She knew exactly what was going on, and actively reached for our hands and his to join the prayer. It was also, if I remember right, the occasion of her saying her first words after her stroke — ‘ya’ (yes in Swedish) and ‘amen.’ I knew then she was on the way.

What are prayers for, really? We used to do ‘Now I Lay Me’ when I was little and I didn’t think a thing about ‘if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.’ Didn’t bother me none. But somehow between then and now it filtered into the collective consciousness that those words might upset a kid, so is that out of fashion or what do kids say nowadays? And my worst nightmare, if I die, is not where my soul’s going. It’s leaving my loved ones. I know we’re all connected. I KNOW it. I know it’s all part of the divine plan. I do. But I love my family, my little girl, so much– I can’t get my mind around leaving her, especially, or anyone else I love, or any of the work I think I am on this earth to do.

So, what to tell her? I maybe should take the example of the chaplain, tell her to claim it. I think I will.

But here’s what I’ve told her so far. Whatever we ask in your Son’s name… Part I is to ask for blessing for everyone we can think of, people we know and people we don’t. Tonight she said ‘bless everyone in the whole world.’ I like that way of thinking! When she said ‘bless my Mommy’ I just felt so covered in love and joy.

Part II is to think of things that happened during the day that made us happy– playing in the rain, playing on the porch, a Mayfield ice cream sandwich, whatever. I tell her to do that because I want her (and me!) to make a habit of revisiting the goodness in each day, and really touching on how that felt– flying updside down in the swing in a gentle summer like rain the day after Christmas, dragging her hair through the mud puddle under the swing and then stomping in every single mud puddle under every single other swing in the park before peddling furiously home on her little bike, her legs and clothes an Alabama clay orange that will never come out of her socks or her skirt– and who cares?  Really touching that physical feeling of joy matters ever so much to emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing.

I guess there needs to be a Part III as taught to me by the chaplain at DePaul.

The title of this post is Ladder of Angels because that’s the title of a book my mom gave me to share with my little one. It’s by Madeleine L’Engle, one of my dearest childhood favorites ever ever ever, she and Ursula LeGuin.  It’s been on my bedside table just forever, since whenever Mom gave it to me. Now… I’ve been given books meant to assure her salvation and proper Christian education in the past… I had her marked with holy water as an infant, we’ve never mentioned it again, it’s taken care of, and I don’t want her growing up thinking that most people are ‘unwarshed,’ with an us and them mentality. So those books, well…

But Ladder of Angels is so sweet. I had no idea.

It’s easy, unpretentious poems of one page or less, about lots of Bible stories, with illustrations by children. It’s lovely.

And what I had forgotten is how those stories lit my imagination when I was a kid. Jacob’s Ladder? Leah and Rachel? The pillar of salt? Water from the rock? Jacob and Esau? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? the hand writing on the wall? My personal favorites to this day, Ezekiel’s wheel and the dry bones? I can’t wait to share the story of the baby Moses with her. This isn’t about some obscure and forbidding right wing evangelical faith… this is about a baby. It is about life and the supernatural. It is about story, and heart, and soul, and love which isn’t always a choice, and screwups and failures.

We read several of the poem/stories. I tried to explain ‘Better a Dinner of Herbs’ (Proverbs 15:17) to her. She said, so it’s better to be poor? Sigh. No. You can be rich AND have love and joy, the two are not mutually exclusive. So why is it better to be poor, then? Sigh. I said, so if you could have one leaf of raw spinach with your Mommy, knowing how much I love you, or a big gooey choclatey cupcake but there’s a mean old witch who’s going to smack you and call you hateful names when you reach for the cupcake which would you choose? She said, I’d feel bad because I really wanted to eat the cupcake.

When we said our prayers I ended up praying that she would trick the witch and get the cupcake and have lots of love too.