During the homily last Sunday, the priest made a comment about “opening your heart to God.” Â Matthew, who was playing with his Matchbox cars on the seats, suddenly stopped and turned to me, with a look of slight consternation.
“We can’t open our hearts,” he said, â€œbecause we have bones.”
I pulled him a little closer. Â â€œWhat?” I asked.
“We can’t open our hearts, because we are mammals, and we have bodies and things,” he said.
“No honey,” I said, Â â€œthat’s not what the priest means.” Â I cast around in my mind for a way to explain. Â â€œOpen your heart’ means to let yourself think new thoughts, and be open to God and to other people when they talk to you.”
Matthew looked thoughtful for a moment, then resumed his play. Â I settled back in the pew and tried to pick up the thread of the homily, but it was hard, because I was diverted by a few thoughts.
On one level, the practical: Wow, I told myself, that preschool tuition is totally worth it. On another note, I marveled at the fact that, in spite of his vehicular pursuits, Matthew was actually paying attention to the homily (who knew?). Â And I also realized this was the first time I’ve ever explained the difference between literal and figurative language to my son. Â His comment was an amazing little glimpse into a tender mind that takes things at face value, that has no reason to believe it could be otherwise. Â It was a reminder of just how much he doesn’t know.
One of the most amazing parts of being a parent is simply seeing, over and over, how a human being develops. It’s all there, right in front of our eyes, the stages and phases. Â And we’ve all been there. Â This incident Â made me recall that when I was in kindergarten, I thought “heart attack” was when someone literally attacked your heart. Â I remember hearing my mom talk about some acquaintance who had been thus afflicted, and I envisioned this woman standing in a field, clutching at her chest as people shot arrows at her. Â (Yes, it was disturbing.)
It must be challenging, to see the world so literally. Â As an English teacher and writer, I’m glad I don’t anymore; I’m so glad I’ve grown into a stage where I can appreciate poetry and metaphor and hyperbole and all those other things that make communication so fascinating. But at the same time, I have to wonder: Is there some way in which I am like Matthew, stuck in a rather basic level of understanding? Â Is there some way in which I am too literal, too unaware of what is really being said or communicated?
I think it’s true with faith, actually. Â Don’t get me wrong; I read about my faith, and I study it, and I pray. Â But the longer I live, the more I recognize that when it comes to certain knowledge about God and the workings of this world, there’s aÂ lot I just don’t get. Â I don’t think any of us, with our limited human understanding, can totally grasp the mind of God, or why things happen as they do. Â I’ve blogged about this before, as it relates to my own pregnancy history, and somehow, I just keep coming back to that quote from Scripture: Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12). Â There are a lot of things, I think, that we humans just won’t be able to grasp in this world and in this lifetime. Â There’s a mystery to God that eludes philosphers and mystics alike. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand; it just means that we need to remind ourselves that, in some fundamental way, we are like a preschooler, not able to grasp some higher Â level of truth and insight.
And when we know that we don’t grasp it, we’re making progress. Â That’s when we open our hearts to the mystery of it all, letting ourselves prickle with the awareness of things unseen and unknown.
In spite of the Matchbox cars, Matthew learned a lot in that homily. Â So, it seems, did I.