Friday, March 17, 2006

The Religious Imagination

I am becoming very curious about the making of the religious imagination -- is it nature or nurture?

On Tuesday, A (aged six and a half) got a sliver in her finger while she was running her hand under her dad's closed office door trying to get in while he was working/on the phone. Much howling and tears, as he carried her up the stairs for me to examine it.

She was wild about this sliver -- first she wanted me to look at it, then her dad to remove it, then she didn't want it done, then questions about how much it would hurt, then lamentations on why did this have to happen to me? As I held her on my lap, preparing to investigate further, a sterilized needle cleverly concealed in the folds of my sweatpants, she set up the sobbing anew.

"I think God should do this, not you," she said. "God can make this better."

"But God gives those jobs to his angels on earth, like mums and dads, who are here to care for you and feed you and take slivers out," said I.

The howling increased, and A ran to her room to pray. She knelt on the floor, hands clasped in desperation, and directed her mumbled request heavenward. She then scuttled back and asked if the sliver was gone. I said it didn't look like it, but maybe. She ran back into her room for more prayers, all the while sobbing.

This drama continued for a couple of days until going to her grandparents. Her grandfather looked at the finger and said if she didn't get the sliver out, then the finger would have to come off. Finally, she tossed a coin, saying if it's heads the finger comes off, and if it's tails, she'd let grandad take it out. As she described it, "the first time was her finger was to come off; the second time, the finger to come off; the third time, K (grandfather) to take out." So she let him use the needle to take it out. She told me later, that during the operation, she filled her mind with pleasant thoughts -- a particularly special playdate she'd had with her little friend Sydney.

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