Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

Tonight at dinner Sweets complained that she wished her cell phone had a front-facing camera, so that she could Skype her friends. Hearing this Bud muttered, “That’s such a first world problem.” Sweets looked at him quizzically. “What do you mean?” “Well, the richest countries in the world are the First World countries. The next level are Second World. Then poorer countries, are Third World countries.” He paused. I looked to see if Sweets recognized the terms he was using. That’s when I heard Bud say, “Dad? Can you help?” I turned toward him. “You’re doing fine. Why don’t you give her some examples of what you mean?”

It’s Passover, and Easter is just around the corner. This morning while searching for a Passover quote by Walter Brueggemann–my favorite Hebrew Scripture scholar–I stumbled across this article by Carol Sowa about a talk he gave in 2002. In the talk, Brueggemann considers the important role Scripture plays in offering a sense of reality that contrasts with our typical understanding of the way things are:

The narratives of the Torah are designed to construct an alternative world. The oracles of the prophets are basically designed to subvert…. to call into question, to expose its (the world’s) inadequacy and phoniness.

Interesting words. Most of us don’t walk around thinking that our sense of reality is limited or inadequate. It’s more typical, I think, to believe our personal understanding of the way things are is as considered, and well thought out. At the same time, when we meet someone with a different perspective, it the experience is flummoxing. We find ourselves wondering how it is possible that such an otherwise decent person could think the way they do. We can’t imagine the possibility that this other person has given as much care to thinking through their thoughts and ideas, as we have. This is true, even when we live in the same neighborhood, and our kids attend the same schools. We don’t know how to value their different perspective.

My kids often take pleasure reminding me that my way of looking at things is limited. There was a time when their mom and I were two people with all the answers they needed. Our word, and God’s? One and the same. That time has passed. Tonight in that same conversation, I talked about wanting to see a new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Hearing that Sweets responded, “Dad. Do you know what going to a museum with you is like? You spend an hour in front of a single painting. Then you say something like, “Do you see the bit of yellow in the corner? That changes it completely for me!” She laughed and continued. “At least it’s not as bad as when you take pictures.” She mimes holding a camera. “You’ll look at a flower from every angle you can so you don’t miss anything.” Bud waited for her to finish, then asked wryly, “Isn’t your major Visual Arts?” “Shut up” was all she said in reply.

In Sowa’s article about Brueggemann’s talk she notes that:

He sees the missionary task of the church…”to enhance the human for the sake of our common humanity….I propose that our task is to help people host an alternative world of imagination that arises from narratives and oracles.”  [T]his is accomplished through the telling of stories which “invites the children into an amazed, dazzled world of miracles.”

It’s Passover. You can see the edge of this happening during Passover Seders. Throughout the meal, it’s the kids who have the most fun. Before the story of the Exodus is read, the youngest asks a basic question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The Four Questions follow, all to help the kids understand why this meal is celebrated the way it is. At the end of the meal, they search for the Afikomen, and hope for the reward that comes with finding it, first.

From time to time, Sweets asks me, “Why do we have pasta every night?” When she does, I’ll sometimes walk her back through her last week of meals. Even though I can show her that before the evening’s meal she hasn’t had pasta in nearly a week, it’s hard for her to let go of her conviction. Letting go is often one of the hardest things we do. We fear that when we let go, we’ll lose something in the process. The result is that we’re good at holding on tightly.

What we don’t see is that when we let go, we create space for things to happen. Things we didn’t imagine we could see or think, understand, feel, and express can take place. Things that are different. As a parent, a chunk of helping to created those spaces involves keeping my mouth shut. That isn’t always easy to do. It’s easier for me to explain a concept I’m familiar with, than it is to let Bud work through his ideas as best he can. In many ways, the best thing I can do for him, is be encouraging. Help is affirming him, and no more. He has do it on his own. That’s me, letting go so that he can stretch. It’s also remembering that Sweets tells her stories out of love, even when she complains.  She’s reminding me that the way I experience things isn’t the way she does. We help each other grow, and adapt when we’re able to listen, and accept.

I want to them to feel comfortable stretching.What my kids don’t know is that life is full of impossible crossings. When I look back, I see many times when my imagination failed me. Something happened and I couldn’t see any way I would get through. And then, I did. What seemed impossible, and a threat, passed over. Catching moments like that has always amazed me. Of course they did. They’re the sort of miracles we live in our every day. Examples of possibility that made a day, or night, different from any other before it.




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