God, shoes and play-doh
Five years ago, while stuck in traffic on the 5 freeway, my Oldest Daughters, then aged seven and six, sprung the God test on me. You know the one I mean, where your kids ask unanswerable questions like: What does God look like? Why can’t we see God? Where is God?
“God is everywhere,” I answered.
“Does that mean God is in our car?” Oldest Daughter asked. I wondered why kids have to take our words so literally and make us think so hard.
“Yes, God is in the car with us.” Hoping to fend off more questions, I added,
“Actually, God is inside all of us. The God inside us shows us how to do the right things. How to be kind. How to share. That kind of stuff.”
“Is God outside the car?” Middle Daughter asked. I wondered why, in Southern California, even God gets tied up with cars and traffic. Looking out the window, I saw the sun shining down, making diamonds on the Pacific Ocean, and surfers riding the jeweled waves. “Yes, of course,” I answered, “God is in all of nature; in the sun, the moon, the waves, the dolphins — all the animals and plants.”
“Is God even in the bottom of my shoes?” Middle Daughter asked, looking at the worn soles of her tennis shoes.
“Yes,” I answered, my patience near breaking point, thinking how grateful I was that Youngest Daughter, strapped into her car seat, couldn’t talk yet.
“Why would God be where I can step and jump on him? Did God make my shoes?” Middle daughter persisted, refusing to accept yes for an answer.
I reached to turn NPR on full blast and drown out all further questions when Oldest Daughter piped in. “God didn’t actually make the bottoms of your shoes, but God made the person who made your shoes.” Brilliant response. Why didn’t I think of that?
“The person who made your shoes did it to protect your feet so you wouldn’t hurt yourself,” I added.
“Oh, I get it,” Middle Daughter said, “God didn’t make the soles of my shoes so I’m not really walking on him. My shoes are to help me.” Yes!! I thought to myself. Middle and Oldest Daughters figured out an explanation of God that made sense to them.
Flash forward five years. After picking up Youngest Daughter, now seven and talking, from her summer Jewish day camp, she announced to me. “God is everywhere.”
“How do you know that?” I asked, surprised by her certainty.
“Rebecca told us that a long, long time ago, before the world, God wanted to make the world. But God was so big – bigger than the world. So he had to push his stomach in like you do when you go around a crowded table at a restaurant to get to your seat. But God was still too big to fit so he had to take pieces of himself off and put them in Play- Doh containers. Mom, do you think Play-Doh containers can hold all those pieces of God?”
“Probably not,” I answered.
“Of course not. The Play-Doh containers exploded and pieces of God flew out. Our world would be such a good world if we found those pieces and put them back together. The way you do that is help your friends, recycle, pick up trash and do good deeds.” Youngest Daughter paused. Was that it or did she have more to teach me?
“If you put the pieces back together,” she continued, “then our world would be like heaven and we’d all become angels except for the people that didn’t help put those pieces back.”
“Wow, what a great story. I want to meet Rebecca. Will you show me who she is tomorrow?”
“She’s one of the counselors. But wait, Mom, I’m not done. So basically, God’s little pieces exploded everywhere. That’s how God is everywhere with you. Putting the pieces back is Tikkun Olam, you know, repairing the world.”
Youngest Daughter explained my sense of the Judaic spiritual concept of God to me better than I ever could have to her. Why don’t grown-ups think of Play-Doh or shoe soles? Maybe it’s because our children, like us, have to understand God in their own words and on their own terms.
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