“Dad, what does heaven look like?”
Thankfully, I was lying down, so I only rolled off the couch. Had I been sitting in a chair, I would’ve fallen off it.
Questions about “heaven” weren’t something I would have expected from my little girl, who was not even four years old when she asked it. She was coming to grips, at the time, with the death of our dog. While our three daughters don’t get much religious influence from us, grandma and the nanny often make up for it.
You could say my wife and I have “strayed” from the flock, as it were. If our daughters set foot inside a church once per year, it’s been an especially spiritual trip around the sun for our family.
“Who told you about heaven?” I asked.
She shook her head, unwilling to divulge her sources (that’s my girl).
“Why do you ask?” I kept pulling at threads.
“Because Lulu is in heaven.”
Yes, the family dog had recently left this mortal coil, breaking free from her bonds to chase ethereal squirrels and slow-footed mail carriers for evermore. The trouble is, she’s probably not in heaven; Lulu led a troubled life. Anyway, the spirit of Charlotte’s question remained.
“Is she in heaven with her friends?” Charlotte continued.
Yes, it’s possible the dog had some friends remaining when she died.
“Well. Heaven looks different to different people. Everybody’s heaven looks different.”
This is not the kind of response a four-year-old appreciates, but it satisfied her for a time.
It got me thinking, though, about religion’s place in the lives of our three girls. Having grown up Roman Catholic, the church has more than disappointed me in how it views important social issues. After about age 13 — and graduation from Grade 8 at St. Frances school in Saskatoon — my trips to mass were made only to appease my grandmother.
Now, having three girls, the church’s views on women’s rights feel that much more outdated and I have little desire to return.
Pope Francis is doing a great job convincing me there’s hope, but I’m still not quite there.
And reading Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church has tempered anything the pope has said up until now. The book inspired the Acadamey Award-winning film Spotlight, about the investigative journalists who pieced together decades of corruption within the Boston archdiocese.
The church shuffled priests who abused young boys (and a few girls) from parish to parish in hopes of hiding the problem.
They paid the victims for their silence, but the sheer volume of corruption was too much to contain.
What broke the story wide open was the Boston Globe finding bishops who knew for years that dozens of priests had been serial abusers, but did nothing about it.
Bishops would put priests on “sick leave,” send them to psychiatric hospitals and reassign them once they’d convinced doctors they were “cured.”
The depths of this scandal continue to emerge even today, 14 years after the first story appeared in print.
It wasn’t just in Boston, either.
According to BBC, the Vatican has received reports of 3,000 priests around the world who have faced accusations dating back 50 years.
Where does it leave average parents like my wife and I? In purgatory, perhaps, stuck somewhere in the middle.
There is a place for spirituality in all our lives, regardless of what you base it on: a benevolent, all-knowing Judeo-Christian deity, a collection of earthly spirits from native folklore or something more personal.
The next book on my list is called The Blue Zones, about regions in the world where people live the longest. Among the findings of this National Geographic-backed research is: people who eat less red meat, incorporate natural movement into their daily routines, live near family and have faith live longest and are generally happier.
There’s something to be said for that idea, that having connections to family and faith make you happier and translates into longer, more fulfilled lives.
If that’s not exactly what we want for our children, I don’t know what is.
Dave Trifunov is managing editor of The Daily Courier and dad to three girls under five years old. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.