|Not our cathedral, but a lot like it.|
Yesterday, I was telling some school parents about our latest Girl Scout field trip. "So, we went to the Cathedral: two Muslims, two Jews, two Mormons, four Atheists, one Baptist, one Lutheran and one Catholic and some I don't know about--"
"This sounds like a joke," said a parent and the rest of us burst out laughing. "A very long joke," she added.
My little hijab wearing girls, (sisters, age 10 and 6) were worried that people would be mean to them in the Cathedral. I reassured them that we are Jewish, and it's okay for us, so they should be fine. We've had atheist parents pull their children from scouting over the Girl Scout pledge, and we had some atheists along, but I decided not to worry.
We talked about behavior and being respectful. We tiptoed past the wedding rehearsal taking place in the main sanctuary and headed to the circle of shrines. Everything was huge and quiet and overpowering, except for the soft velvet of the kneeling rail and the allure of lighting candles at each shrine. (We said no.)
Our girls have never, ever, been so quiet and well-behaved. Even the little one wearing Cinderella-clear-plastic-heel slippers that clop-clop-clopped everywhere managed, by walking on her tip-toes, to keep silent the entire way.
In the last shrine, there was a man passionately praying, immersed in grief. The girls were awed. Outside, they wanted to talk all about it. And ask questions.
One grownup asked what "amen" meant. Nobody knows what it really means, and I said so. Our youngest Muslim girl breathlessly explained that it was like when they say, "insha'allah," which she told us meant, "If I don't die first. Like when I ask if I can go to the mall, and my mom says, 'insha'allah--if you don't die first.'"
I carefully did not burst out laughing. "Actually," I said, "It means 'if God wills it.'" And the little one nearly exploded--these are very bright little girls--in her eagerness to recite, in Arabic, the ninety-nine names of God. Fully half of were virtual replicas of the 100 Hebrew names used for God. How much different is Rahamim (merciful one in Hebrew) and Ar-Rahim? (The exceedingly merciful one in Arabic.)
I asked the girls what the Cathedral was designed to make them feel. Did it make them feel running and jumping around?
No, they said. Like being--scared. Sad. Quiet. "Intimidated," I said. "Awed."
"Where were the girl statues?" they asked. (Hurray, girls!) We did stop at the shrine of St. Theresa, which I had pointed out, but honestly, you could not tell from the statute that she was female.
What's a Saint? They asked.
Here, my Mormon fellow-leader, whose mother was raised Catholic, said, "By doing holy things."
I disagreed. "By refusing to convert so you got killed with lots of blood and torture," I said--kids this age love lots of blood and torture.
"And then, by having people say that your memory created miracles," said my partner-mom.
I think we did a fairly good job of explaining Catholic Sainthood--observed by the Atheist mom and grandma. At least, we have had no complaints so far.
I am so grateful that I live in that small part of the world where my wonderful girls can visit a Cathedral and not fear hostility or harassment no matter what their explanations of the Great Unknown.
I wish, so much, that people who are afraid of Muslims--or Mormons--or Jews--or Baptists--or Lutherans--or Catholics--or Atheists--or White People--or Brown People--or mixed-race people--could get to know our girls. They are splendid folk and I love them deeply. I am a peaceful soul, but I would physically fight anyone who harassed any of them or made them feel small. Though, right now, they are small people, they won't be for long. They will, all of them, improve our world, so filled are they with ideas, and energy and enthusiasm and love.