During our visit to Seattle, some Catholic friends invited our family to attend a. Christmas party held at their cathedral’s fellowship hall. Our collective eight little people enjoyed meeting each other (again – the nature of living in Thailand is that our kids “meet” their Stateside friends anew about every two years), doing some Christmas crafts, singing carols and eating treats.
When we got up to leave our friend suggested giving us a small tour of the cathedral just next door, where their family worships. Walking through the doors into the beautiful and amazingly-high ceilinged cathedral, whose doors are always open, we were struck as a family with the hush of holiness that filled the air. Our friend, Sarah, pointed out the icons, statues, and different parts of the cathedral and explained how they celebrate mass together in that space.
As we stood quietly talking near the wall, our five-year-old, Izayla, who has been attending Thai preschool for two-and-a-half years, watched intently as a man approached the altar at the center of the vast room, knelt down to cross himself and then walked out.
She looked up at us and clarified, “This is a place where people worship Jesus, right Mama?” I answered with a confident, “Yes,” and she quickly turned away from us and hurried toward the altar. Without missing a beat she knelt down, pressed her hands together in a high Thai “wai” (the well-known gesture of Thailand used in both greetings and worship) and then returned to us, her face beaming.
Our friend Sarah didn’t think much about this, but Iven and I were a bit dumbstruck by the significance. Our little girl, who learns at home and at church that Jesus is the manifestation of the One who made the heavens and the earth, and is worthy of all our worship. At the same time, she watches all of her Thai classmates and teachers lift their hands in worship to images symbolizing spirits, and chanting prayers together during the daily general assembly. Izayla holds these experiences in tension all the time, as just one of the many ways the complexities of our context marks her,
Many times, as we walk home from the bus, past the shops that build the gold-painted idols and images, she has asked questions about who those gods are, how Jesus is different, the significance of our family choosing to worship Jesus alone, and on and on.
There, at that Catholic cathedral, so far away from the Thailand she calls home, our daughter was overcome by what she saw as an opportunity to worship the God who loves her in a form that quietly reflects the style of worship she sees in her everyday life. The colliding of worlds, and honest desire to worship was both beautiful and holy, expressed in our five-year-old.