One of the last times I visited my grandmother, she wanted to give me 'a little money' (I think it was $20 or so; she liked to tell me to 'get myself a treat'), and I followed her into her bedroom so she could get her purse. Looking at all the family pictures on her dresser, I noticed one that wasn't a relation. Neatly tucked in among the shots of my mother and aunt, sister and cousins, of my great-grandmother and my great-uncle and my nephews, was a small framed picture of Christ. I didn't really think much of it until I was headed home, but it says something profound and significant about my grandmother's relationship with her faith.
She had, of course, all the other pictures of Jesus that Midwesterners have, the one over the TV, the one in the guest room, and so on. But here was one that made a statement that defined her: Jesus was part of my grandmother's family. He was not a remote and unknowable being, a distant mythical figure to be worshiped but never understood. He was a friend, a brother, a father to her. When she prayed, she genuinely believed that he heard her, and that feeling of being heard gave her comfort whether her prayers were answered or not. Though, my grandmother's prayers were usually answered -- not because she was better than the rest of us, but because she knew what her God could give her. She wouldn't pray for an end to a sickness, but for the wisdom of the doctors and the courage to endure. She wouldn't pray for a good harvest, but for the strength to work hard and the skill to make the most of weather and circumstance. When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, she didn't ask God to take it away: she prayed for smart doctors, and her own courage, and her husband's comfort. She understood that faith isn't about waving a magic wand to get what you want; it's about having support and comfort for your journey.
I'm thinking today about my grandmother's relationship with her gods because it's Easter, the most holy and joyful day of the Christian faith. A lot of my friends like to mock it with faux-clever quips about zombie Jesus, but I can't really see my way clear to mocking something that meant that much to someone who's meant so much to me.
When I was little, I didn't really like Easter because it wasn't as fun. Sure, there were eggs and candy, but Christmas had a TREE and PRESENTS and maybe even SNOW and time off school. I left the Christian faith at 19, before I fully understood the idea of self-sacrifice, of making life choices for the love of others. Within paganism, as I've chosen a path of duty and service, I've finally come to understand Easter, to understand why this story of incredible love and compassion is so powerful to those of the Christian faith.
My grandmother believed that once upon a time her God had looked forward to everyone who would ever be, and had known that someday she personally would exist, and he had asked his son, "I love these people. Will you also love them enough to die for them?" And she believed that Christ had looked forward, and had seen her (and everyone else who would ever be), and said, "Yes, I will."
In the Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, a character named Kevin Laine swears an oath: "Though he be a god, and it mean my death ... to this I will make my reply." Later, another character references that promise and points out that you give a little leeway to a man who says that sort of thing, even if he doesn't quite know how he'll accomplish it when he says it.
That's sort of how I feel about the Christian promise. I am not a Christian theologist, and I have my own ideas on the nature of free will and redemption that may or may not jibe with the Easter story. But the gist of it is that one man said, "Yes, these people, I love them so much, even the ones I've never met, that I'll go through this horrible thing for them, just because of my own belief that somehow my sacrifice will make something possible for them that they couldn't have otherwise managed." And...I have to give a certain amount of respect to a man who swears that sort of oath, even if the fundamental mechanics are sort of unclear to me.
If you've read Fionavar, you know what Kevin's reply was. If you haven't, you should. And it remains to be seen what Christ's reply really means in the long run; people have their own beliefs ranging from 'nothing' to 'everything'. Maybe he never existed. Maybe he existed as a man and teacher who's been expanded to the Son of God to fill a mythic role. Maybe he was the literal Son of God. I don't know. I can't know. Personally, I don't need to know.
But I do know that my grandmother loved him deeply, with all her heart, and that her love for him was profound and important enough to her to inform every single aspect of her daily life, to color every interaction, every conversation. And just as I wouldn't mock someone's dead father, or dead brother, and just as I would be hurt by someone mocking my grandmother or the best friend I lost in 2004, I simply cannot find it in myself to disrespect her love that way.
I love you all.