A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Littlest Heathen
Saturday, November 28, 2009

Today Lauren went to a Brownies camp out in Abbotsford so we only had Rebecca to spend the day with us. We had a Jewish lunch. I prepared coleslaw and made some pastrami sandwiches on rye with strong honey mustard. I served it with some pickles and we drank Doctor Pepper which is one of Rebecca’s faves.

I am trying to keep my shutter button finger from atrophying by taking pictures when I can. Rebecca is a great model but now always a willing one. She was reluctant but she posed for me in the end. She might have been attracted to my little candle altar in the dining room. I told her she was La Santa Muerte the patron saint of the Mexican drug mafia.

At age 12 Rebecca has some opinions on religion which are probably based on little knowledge and mostly hearsay at that. Of all the Polaroids (the Fuji version) I took (we used film after) she liked the one with my grandmother’s Mass vail over her head. “I look like a nun,” she told me. But then she gave me a mouthful. “I don’t see how anybody can worship death.” I tried to explain how Mexicans are more willing to accept its inevitability. But this was to no avail. I don’t understand this Virgin Mary thing. I simply don’t believe in God.

I am in an uncomfortably strange position of being an atheist who believes that atheism (for those who will come to believe in it) must come to one slowly. How can one be a 12-year-old atheist?

Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, goblins, the Three Wise Kings are childhood beliefs that I think are important. Children must have a fantastic and an imaginary life to protect them and to serve them when in later life the reality of our existence becomes only too obvious. I think that parents who would stop children from having such fantasies would be in error.

I went through my own rite of passage and I made my first communion. I believed in something and that belief at the very least has made me appreciate sacred music, sacred art, the soaring Gothic cathedrals and trying to figure out the Holy Trinity and transubstantiation has been, in itself a rite of passage for many including St. Augustine.

The story as St. Augustine told it began with him at the beach trying to understand how three distinct persons (God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Ghost) could all have one nature (God) while being three distinct persons. He spotted a little boy who was scooping water from the sea with a shell and emptying it into a hole in the sand. The little boy kept doing this and this made Augustine curious. “Little boy what are you doing?” “Sir, I am emptying the sea into the hole.” “Why that’s impossible!” “Sir it is far easier than to try to understand what you are trying to understand.” And the little boy then suddenly vanished.

Special effects in modern films have eliminated the question mark on most impossibility. We now live in a purely logical world where we make friends with people we will never meet and essences have been blurred. A telephone is now a book. It is a book that can help me find the closest Pizza Hut and tell me where I’m at in perfect latitude and longitude.

That the Virgin Mary went up to heaven in body and soul (and if you don’t believe this and you are a Catholic you are in heresy, believe it or not!) is a mystery that is illogical and because of it is beautiful and necessary if only until you might not believe it anymore. That Isaac almost sacrificed his son in his blind obedience to God also has something to instruct us that is illogical in its logic.

Rebecca told me that at age 8 or 9 she began to have her doubts about that fat man being able to deliver all those presents in one night. It is tragic but inevitable when a child stops being a child. But it is also important to try to understand that the willingness of those Christian martyrs to face hungry lions has some merit even if it does not fit the logic of our 21st century. If I were to tell Rebecca the story of those martyrs she would probably tell me that they were silly.

It was not all a loss today. I placed 21 sheets of blank paper on the living room floor and instructed Rebecca to start with the first where she was to write 1 to 100 (I erred here as it should have been 1 to 99), and then 100 to 200 and so on. When she finished she wrote the names of those centuries (she had figured it out by then). I then told her that if we were to continue back in time to our African ancestors the line would extend perhaps as far as Oakridge Mall. She then wrote events, deaths and births on each paper. I was pleasantly surprised that she correctly put the crusades in the right century and knew all about Henry the 8th.

St. Augustine famously had prayed to God: da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli mod (Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.) I would pray (hope) that Rebecca believe in something and not be the little atheist, at least not yet.

Goya's Ghost


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