Lunch With A Goddess
I had lunch with a goddess this summer.
No, I’m not talking about my wife, although I can see how someone could mistake her for a goddess. I’m talking about one of our neighbors. Our home is in a neighborhood with a strong Indian population. We’ve enjoyed getting to know our neighbors and learning a little about Indian culture. My son is on a cricket team and one of my daughter’s best friends is named Pooja. Christine and I believe God has put us in this neighborhood to be a blessing to these people.
But that means I’ve had more exposure to polytheism in the last few years than ever before. Many Indians are Hindu, so my kids are being exposed to other religions much earlier than I was. In kindergarten, my son got into an argument with one of his Hindu friends. His friend was insisting that there are millions of gods, but my son corrected her as only a five-year-old can. He said, “No, there are only three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!” (So maybe the polytheists are in my house too.)
On July Fourth this year, we threw a party for a few of our neighbors. Immigrants often don’t get a lot of opportunities to celebrate Independence Day. They were grateful for the invitation. We cooked veggie burgers (no cow, of course) and talked about holidays they celebrated growing up in India.
And that’s when Anu announced that she was a goddess.
Anu is one of the other moms in the neighborhood. The night before, she had participated in a Hindu ceremony in which eight women dressed in ceremonial garb and “became” goddesses of various cultural blessings which they then bestowed on their children. One was the goddess of good health. Another of family. Anu was the goddess of education. She said one little boy at the ceremony kept following her around asking to help her because he wanted good grades in school.
While Anu described the cultural process of training children in what I believe to be a false religion, I kept asking myself, “How would Jesus respond to this? How did Jesus respond to other religions? How did the apostles?”
My response, which horrified my wife, was, “It’s a good thing you weren’t the goddess of video games. The kids never would have left you alone!” (When I’m not sure what to say, I usually just go for a laugh.)
But what I wish I had said was, “What can you teach me about Hinduism?”
Anu is genuinely interested in matters of faith. She kept bringing up religion — both hers and ours. And I could see that she was facing the same ambivalence we were: a desire to connect with us, balanced against a desire to defend her faith.
There are plenty of people in my faith tradition who would say it was wrong for Christine and I to invite Hindus into our home. That breaking bread with polytheists is tantamount to endorsing their beliefs. But the Jesus I encounter in scripture — the one who ate with sinners and recruited zealots and syncretists — doesn’t seem given to that kind of exclusion. I’m sure Jesus would have had a more loving and compelling response to Anu’s declaration of her own deity than I had. I’m sure I could have done better in that situation. But I don’t think Jesus would have asked her to leave or bellowed at her beliefs.
Last night, Christine told me that Anu had reached out this week. She and her husband want to have dinner again. I’m hoping this time the meal will include more masala than veggie patties. I’m hoping we get to talk more about religion. I’m hoping Anu feels, somehow, both comfortable and challenged. And I’m hoping our acceptance of her can translate to more than invitations to dinner, but invitations to worship the one true God.