This Advent, The Table will feature weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.
I have two cats that I simply adore. One of them, LuLu, is eighteen years old. I’ve had her since I was a teenager. She’s loud, is starting to lose her vision, and is scared of her own shadow. She’s the sweetest, most loving creature you’ll ever meet but has, at times, accidentally scratched me when she got over-stimulated or startled by a sudden noise or movement. LuLu was a part of my life when I graduated high school, and I can’t wait to introduce her to my first-born child in a few months. But I’ve also been increasingly worried about the risks associated with having her live with our upcoming baby. As much as I’m sure that she’d never intentionally hurt our child, and as hard as Alex and I are working to take every possible precaution, there’s still a worry that something could happen. I’m committed to keeping my cat and making her a part of the baby’s life, but I know that comes with some level of risk.
Given my fear of introducing my child to a housecat, you can imagine how I feel about reading about babies playing with vipers in this week’s lectionary.
I’m already so aware of the dangers lurking around every corner for this child. Risks that were acceptable for me to take alone are no longer acceptable to take while pregnant. But I wonder: at what point should concerns for a child’s safety be weighed against other concerns: the concerns for their happiness, their spiritual and emotional growth, their ability to engage meaningfully and responsibly in their community?
I’ve been struggling with those questions a lot in the last few weeks. These seem like frightening times to prepare for a birth of a child. I suppose every mother—from Mary to my own mother—has thought that. In the last few weeks, as our country feels more divided than ever and many people struggle with uncertainty and fear, that has felt particularly true for me. I worry about the risks I am birthing my child into, the harm that could be done to them or people they love and what sort of values they will see passed down. A very large part of me wants to try to shield them from the ugliness of the world, and from the heartbreak that I’m already feeling about it.
But as much as I have a desire to create a protective bubble around my child, it seems impossible to shield them from any possible harm. Children are born into an unsafe world full of vipers and leopards and wolves, many of them are born into situations much less safe than the one my own child will be born into. But even I, in my privilege, can’t shield my child from every danger. There is only so much any of us can do to protect them from harm.
The prophet Isaiah, who parented children during a particularly trying time in Israel’s history, seemed to understand that truth keenly. Like me, I’m sure there were times when he wanted to form a protective bubble around his children, shielding them from any possible danger.
However, Isaiah reminds us that God’s reign is not brought about by building up walls or trying to shield children from the realities of the world. Isaiah knows that fear makes our world smaller, and he wants a big, rich, adventurous life for children– and for all of us. To him, God’s reign is not a safe fortress but an interspecies playpen, where peace is made as children explore and play together. In fact, Isaiah argues that salvation is brought about by these risk-taking infants: babies who play with vipers, and lambs who make friends with lions. It is in that risk-taking that we are able to grow, encounter one another and make new things possible.
Yes, we live in an unsafe world, but as I prepare to parent my own child I am reflecting on how I can best teach my child about the risks of the world, rather than trying to shield them from those risks. I hope to raise children that will be, in Jesus’ words, as wise as serpents and peaceful as doves (Matt 10:16). I want them to be aware of the dangers that they and others face, but still go out into the world boldly to make it a more loving, just place.
So, even though it scares me, I’m going to slowly and gently try to introduce my child to my old, grumpy cat. I’m going to talk to my child honestly about the risks of the world so that they can make the best decisions on how to engage with danger. I’m going to speak honestly about the injustices in our country and in the world so that my child can work with others to become peacemakers. But I’m still going to worry.
Christine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.