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aka Big Mama,
As he was getting ready for bed last Thursday night, Ian decided that he wanted to put his three baby teeth under his pillow for a visit from the Tooth Fairy. Now this came as a bit of a surprise to Will and me, catching us without three $1 or $5 bills handy to pay the Tooth Fairy’s tab. Out of the nine baby teeth Ian has shed, only one thus far had been put up for sale. And to top it all off, this decision of Ian’s arrived ten days after his teeth were pulled at the dentist’s office. In other words, we were blindsided.
“Well, we need to make an appointment with the Tooth Fairy for a visit, since you didn’t lose your teeth today, Ian. We have to reschedule,” I said, trying my best to sound businesslike, and thus credible, to my boy. “What?” said Ian, incredulous. “Are you kidding me? Who is this Tooth Fairy anyway? You’re teasing me, Mama!” This was not going well. I made another attempt to make the incredible sound credible: “No, Ian, think about it. She can’t just be on-call, ready to come at a moment’s notice to any kid in the world. Santa has all year to get ready for Christmas. The Tooth Fairy needs at least a day’s notice.”
Ian was having none of it. Either this Tooth Fairy was magic, or she wasn’t. Back and forth we went for a while, until Ian exclaimed “It’s all a baby story!” and started to cry. “Tell me the truth! The Tooth Fairy isn’t real. Santa isn’t real.” Red-faced, he yelled, “And Jesus didn’t’ walk on water! There is no such thing as magic! It’s all made up!”
You know, I had mixed feelings about the whole Santa mythology from the very start, partly because it can lead one to believe all stories of the miraculous are nothing more than that — just stories. And if ever there is a soul-killing thought, it is that miracles can’t happen.
It’s interesting, but until this moment in time, faced with my son’s intelligent, questioning mind, and his obvious distress at my not being as honest as he rightfully deserved, I wasn’t sure what, exactly, I’d been trying to teach him about life, meaning, and God. Then it rolled out of me — familiar, clear, and tangible — almost like some well-worn rosary beads I’d been handling for decades.
“Ian, don’t tell me for one second that there is no magic in the world. Tell me it isn’t a miracle that you breathe, all the time, without thinking about it. Or that the atmosphere has in it what you need to breathe. And what about sunsets? They’re not magic? We don’t need sunsets, but we get a new painting in the sky every night, don’t we? Or what about the food that grows on trees, or comes from the seeds we plant in the garden? Isn’t that magic?”
I was describing my theology, naming the tangible signs that point to the presence of the living God in the world, the small happenings that signify to me that magic is real. These daily, life-giving miracles are so much a part of the fabric of our world that we tend to overlook them. Noticing these ordinary miracles, taking a moment to feel gratitude for the warmth of the sun, or the sound of the birds, or the breath that constantly ebbs and flows through me — this is my attempt to “pray without ceasing.”
And to my quiet delight, Ian knew exactly what I was talking about. That breathing was a miracle wasn’t news to him. “I know, I know, Mama. Of course those are miracles, but don’t give me any more of this baby stuff about a guy flying through the air with reindeer.”
“What about Jesus walking on water?” I ventured. “Nope,” said Ian, “I don’t believe it.”
I have no proof to offer Ian, and I have no desire to try and “make” him believe in the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth. After much reflection, I realize what I most want to teach Ian is that he, too, can be a miracle worker in the world. I want to teach him that miracles don’t begin and end with the natural world, but instead point to a far larger, more intelligent, and wildly creative being who seeks to support us in innumerable ways, that we might choose to become far larger, more intelligent, and wildly creative beings in our own right.
Jesus probably didn’t want folks to believe in his ability to produce miracles, so much as to inspire people to follow his example, to try and take the next right step in their varied lives, even if with fear and trembling. What I am learning as I step out into unknown territory, and scary newness, is that when I take that next right step, what appeared to be quicksand, or water, inexplicably turns into solid ground under my feet.
You can’t teach what you haven’t lived. And faith grows from even the smallest seed of action. Maybe, just maybe, seeing us start this farm and build a shared life of joy, awe, and gratitude will convince Ian that miracles are indeed possible. The irony is that until this little man arrived on the planet, I only talked about the stories of the bible to make my living. Now I live them. And that is a miracle of no small order.