Today we celebrate Grandparent’s Day.
If I had to choose the person who had the greatest impact on my devotional life, it would have to be my great-grandmother, Mary Taylor. When I was a small child, I spent a lot of time with her. There was no mistaking that she was a woman of faith. As you passed through the front door into the main room of the small farmhouse in which she lived, you were greeted by two large framed pictures. One was of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the other of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. While her faith was strong and pervaded her whole life, I never experienced an ounce of judgement or self-righteousness in her. Her faith was always a great big “yes” to me.
Each night, when it was time for bed, we would have a little snack. Quite often, for her, this was a thick slice of tomato covered in a mountain of sugar – a taste for which I never did acquire. Then we would go into the pantry for her to take her medication. She would pump water (yes, she still hand-pumped water) and take out one small pill from her little orange bottle. I wanted so much to be like her so I asked if I could also have a pill. As she was inclined to do, she said “yes” and took out a small bead of tapioca from a bag and let me have my “pill.” I knew it wasn’t the same as her prescription medication, but it was good enough to satisfy my desire to participate in her ritual. After this, we would head upstairs, passing the crucifix that housed the home sick kit that every Catholic household of the era possessed (and which is now a treasured possession in my own home). We would climb into bed and she would hand me a rosary.
I was too young to have any idea what this prayer form meant. But I knew the ritual. At least I thought I did. She would say her “Hail Marys” out loud. Simultaneously, I would silently pray my “Holy Marys.” For some reason, I had concluded that the goal was to finish the prayers at exactly the same time. At the end of each prayer, I would proudly declare, “done.” My great-grandmother would then proceed to the next bead. She never heard me speak aloud the words of the “Holy Mary.” Why she never corrected me remains a mystery to this day. Did she understand my little game? Was she grateful to get through her rosary in half the time? Did she just accept my behaviour for what it was without needing to understand it? I have a hunch that it was the latter. As I said, her faith was a great big “yes.”
It was from my great-grandmother Taylor that I learned to sprinkle the house with holy water when there was a lightening storm. Once I was so scared, I used up a whole bottle that had come all the way from Lourdes. She let me do it without calling me to temperance. Another “yes.” It was also my great-grandmother who taught me to anoint my wounds or weezy chest with holy oil. Sometimes I pretended to have a headache just so I could get a little dab of holy oil on my forehead. She always said “yes.” That smell of old (semi-rancid) holy oil still comforts me.
Grandparents are uniquely positioned to show us God’s accepting, comforting love. Grandparents do not bear the burden of responsibility for making sure we eat healthy, go to bed on time or do our homework. We have parents for that. Grandparents can be God’s lavish “yes” to us. They can show us an indulgent sort of love that parents, who must provide structure and discipline, are not able to do as freely. Grandparents can be one step removed from the power struggles between parent and child. They can be less frazzled by the frustration and less exhausted than parents who are working full-time and parenting full-time.
There are many kinds of grandparents. Just like there is not one way to be a parent, there is not one way to be a grandparent. Just as some of us are good at being parents and some of us are not great at it, the same is true for grandparents. There are also grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, grandparents whose health or location prevents them from participating fully in the lives of their grandchildren and grandparents for whom the role is a burden. On Grandparents’ Day, we give thanks for the gift of all grandparents. Quite literally, none of us would be here without them!
I was fortunate to have a wonderful great-grandmother in my life. And I am especially grateful that I learned about God from her.
–Christine Way Skinner is a lay minister and author. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theology degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. Christine loves trying to find inclusive, compelling and creative ways to pass on the church’s 2000 year old traditions. She also loves art, playing music, reading, gardening and playing board games with her children. Christine’s numerous publications can be found and purchased here.