As what you might call a “Recovering Catholic” (I know that I am one, I have accepted that I can never be anything besides one, but I can’t go out and practice it except at what I perceive to be my peril), I have a complex relationship to the idea of Jesus.
Drummed into me from an early age was the fact that God was the Father, which led to my thinking of God as somebody home only at the weekends. I also thought of God as somebody on my mother’s side of the family because my own father never went to mass, washing the car or reading the paper instead, which suggested to me that, in going to church, my mother was visiting one of her relatives–we would say hello for my dad, but it wasn’t really his business to go through the whole routine. Thinking about God as a Father also meant thinking of Him as a distant sort, One who wasn’t to be disturbed with trivial matters because He was busy, One who was concerned with rules and punishments, and One having a short temper (backed up, not by the threat of no cartoons for a week, but with the threat of Hell. Heaven was sort of vague; Hell I understood. No cartoons ever).
But Jesus was always presented as young, handsome, sometimes even smiling.
God never seemed to smile, as far as I could tell. Maybe He’d nod once and a while if you nursed the sick or something, but Jesus seemed to be somebody you could sit next to at a party and have a good time. Jesus was like an older brother instead of a father, someone who was still above you but not so distant that you couldn’t approach with questions or tears or even anger. You could bother Jesus with requests for a good grade or new skates or a Barbie carry-all but you’d never ask God for that because he was busy doing stuff like Ending Hunger and Healing the Wounds of the Church.
With God you had to line up and get a number, like at the bakery; with Jesus you could just walk over and see if he was busy at the moment. Not that he’d always look after you (I failed math and never got new skates) but sometimes he’s come through. (I got the carry-all and I still have it, in partial talismanic hope that I am indeed one of Jesus’s favorites. But I’m too embarrassed to have it blessed.)
Not much has changed in my spiritual life since I was a child.
I’m still scared and hypocritical and uncertain and envious of those who have real belief in their lives. For now, I’ll raise a glass along with my hopes: Here’s to a God who smiles.
crossposted with psychology today