“Would the church school kids please come forward?” The call came as it does every Sunday, and William went running to the middle of the room with his sister.
Wasn’t expecting him to lunge at the priest, though.
Ugh, I thought to myself, and jumped up to pull him back. He just does stuff like that. “Sorry,” I muttered to Father Joel, who smiled good-naturedly and continued on with his kid homily like nothing happened.
Then he did it again. But this time,
“SNUGGLE,” William said loudly, lunging at Father Joel again. A few people chuckled and made “aw he’s so cute” eyes at me.
“Not right now, buddy,” I whispered in his ear. “We can talk to him later.”
He lowered his voice, but still rather audibly, he said, “I want hug. Want hug Father Joel.”
“Later,” I said, and pointed him front-ward again.
The redirection miraculously worked, and I forgot about it.
But the next Sunday, the kids were called forward again, and once again, William lunged at Father Joel, desperate to hug him. As I pulled him away from my poor assaulted priest, I glanced back at my husband, bewildered. What is it about this moment that requires a hug from Father Joel?
I wrapped my arms around him from behind–my go-to restraining move–and held him there to prevent any more priest-bulldozing he might yet be considering. And I admit, my mind wandered.
I glanced around the room, my eyes bouncing from the iconostasis to the altar, to where the chalice rested, post-communion, on a table to the left of the altar. And then I saw the cross above it.
That’s where it goes, I thought. I remembered the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, when the cross had been front-and-center, decorated with flowers and basil. William had liked that. He kissed it. He smelled the flowers. He especially loved that he could reach it himself, without having to be lifted. I remembered what Father Joel had said to the kids that week.
“What’s Jesus doing with his arms here?”
The kids, who are mostly pretty little, stared at him.
“They’re stretched out, like this. Right?”
“What are people normally doing when they stretch their arms out like this?”
“Is it…is it kind of like a hug, maybe?”
Bam. I knew what William was doing.
William used to think the priest was Jesus. He used to call him Jesus. He used to point and shout, “Gold Jesus!” or “Purple Jesus!” depending on the season. Again and again, we told him, “No, that’s not Jesus. That’s Father Joel. But he represents Jesus. He’s like Jesus and he reminds us of Jesus, but he’s not the same.”
So if I added that information to the fact that he’d just learned that Jesus was holding his arms out on the cross like he wanted a hug…and William can’t hug an icon…there it was.
He just wanted to hug Jesus back. He’d waited two Liturgies to do it, and the priest had come out from behind the iconostasis at last, so now, finally, this was his moment.
It was awkward, but the next time William stretched out his arms to Father Joel, I let him. I offered, “He wants a hug; is that okay?” It was, of course, because he’s cool like that.
It must have been a Mission Accomplished situation, because he never did it again.