Jim Keen is the author of the book Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner's Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and two daughters.
Dad, Daughter, Dog and a Talk about God
Previously published in the Detroit Jewish News and reprinted with permission of the author.
On a cold night in February, Gabby suggested that we take our dog, Sandy, for a walk. Gabby, my oldest daughter, is nine years old. Sandy is a one-year-old goofy Labrador who is always up for a walk. I jumped at the chance to get some dad-daughter-dog time. Somewhere, in the middle of our neighborhood, we also included God in our walk.
As we started from our driveway, we noticed the constellation Orion up in the southern sky. The stars were big and bright. It was one of those cloudless evenings that lets all of the heat escape from the earth's crust. So we wrapped our scarves a little tighter and pulled our hats down to cover our ear lobes.
I think looking up at the heavens prompted me to tell Gabby the story of the first time she ever asked me about God. She was five years old and totally caught me off guard. My daughter is Jewish; I am Protestant. I tried to explain God in a way shared by both Jews and Christians: there is only one God, God is everywhere, and God is a loving God. I also recalled stumbling over myself not to say the wrong thing.
When I told Gabby this, she laughed. Sandy looked up at us, and then crossed the sidewalk to check out a blue spruce. I asked Gabby what her impressions of God were today.
"He's a nice old man in the shape of clouds--wispy, of course--looking down on us from a bright blue summer sky. He watches over our every step and helps us with our journey."
I couldn't believe she said that. It was so beautiful. It's pretty much how I've always pictured God, although I am certain that I never explained it to her that way. I've also been conscious of not portraying God as any gender. I had to ask her, "Why do you suppose we picture God as a man?"
"I don't know," she replied. "I think some people see God as a woman. He probably can look like whatever he wants us to think he looks like." I had to chuckle a little to myself. Despite our best efforts to make God gender-neutral, it just hasn't caught on.
My curiosity over Gabby's view of God compelled me to ask her more. Sandy still wanted to see what was going on over at the park, so I had time. "If we know God is good, why do you think bad things still happen?"
"I think to test us," she replied.
Hmm. Not a bad answer. I thought back to George Burns' line in the movie, Oh God Book II, and added, "I suppose you're right. How could we ever know pleasure without pain? Happy without sad?"
I found speaking with Gabby enlightening. It was a very touching conversation. I have another daughter, Molly, who is six years old. I recently asked her what she thought God was. "One." she replied. That's it; that's all she said. I thought this great answer was just as illuminating--straight from the Sh'ma, but simple and to the point. It's amazing how complicated we adults can make things. I'm glad I've got my daughters to help me see the universe more clearly.
As Gabby and I wrapped up our walk with Sandy, I had to ask one more question: "Do you think that we believe in the same God?"
"Yes, just different religions," she answered.
As a Christian dad raising Jewish girls, it sure feels reassuring to hear that. Turning back into our driveway, my cheeks were frozen, but my heart was warmed.