Michelle Martin

Touching Jesus

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Teresa likes to know what is what. Or maybe she just wants to make sure I know. That’s the only conclusion I can draw from her habit of pointing to things in her room — every day, often multiple times a day — and demanding, with an almost-2-year-old’s insistence, that I name them for her.

It started with “window,” then went to “light” and “door” and “bed.” Then she added “Jesus.” Jesus on the crucifix on the wall next to her door.

The first time she pointed to Jesus, from the floor where she was while I got her dressed, I thought she meant the door itself. She pointed; I said “door.” That’s the way these interactions go.

But instead of smiling and pointing out something new, she kept pointing to the same spot while she shook her head. No, not door. So I looked over my shoulder and saw the crucifix, a metal corpus on a light wood cross. “Jesus,” I said.

She smiled and laughed and agreed, saying “Jesus.” Only it sounded more like “Chee-sus.” She must have gotten the idea from the nearly life-size crucifix that hangs on the wall in the vestibule of the church where we have been attending Mass on Sunday evenings. With Theresa being a toddler — and an energetic one at that — we tend to spend a good portion of the Mass back there. It’s less disturbing for the rest of the congregation if she’s running back and forth in the area between the inner and outer doors than if she’s running back and forth on a pew, or screaming because I insist on holding her when she’d rather run.

But when she runs in the vestibule, she stops in front of the crucifix and points to it and asks to be picked up. When someone lifts her, she reaches out and touches Jesus’ foot, while she looks up at the statue’s face. I tell her, “That’s Jesus.” She doesn’t smile, doesn’t laugh, doesn’t cry. Then she wriggles down and continues running around, trying to reach the holy water font and picking up dry leaves from the floor.

After that happened a time or two, she started recognizing Jesus in the crucifixes inside the church, too. Now she is looking at Jesus on her wall.

Now at church I’m pointing out images of Jesus in other situations — ascending to heaven in a stained glass window, or presiding at the Last Supper. She’s also starting to pick up on the images of Mary. It’s kind of like looking at photographs of relatives, those nearby and those far away that she doesn’t see often enough to recognize in person.

When she looks at Jesus, especially on the crucifix, I’m not sure what she thinks. Her spoken vocabulary is limited to pretty simple words at this point. But her reaction seems to be similar to her reaction when she realizes she’s hurt someone, by scratching or pinching too hard.

When she does that, she wants to give a hug or a kiss and make it better. She seems to know Jesus on the cross is hurting, and she wants to help.

I hope she keeps that compassion as she grows up, and I hope she keeps the faith that touching Jesus will help make it better.