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Personal Essay | Hope Springs Eternal

How to answer unanswerable questions

By Julia Park Tracey

My 10-year-old daughter asks me where Jesus stood in the line of human evolution—was he before or after Cro-Magnon Man? I beg the question for a moment, try not to burst out laughing while I ponder the irony—some people don’t even believe in Cro-Magnon Man. But rather than delve into evolution versus creation, I simply answer, “After. Definitely after.”

Some questions are not so easily answered. I overhear her discussing with her sister the earth-shaking issue of whether Jesus had blond hair. One cannot take the queries of childhood too lightly, so I politely intervene and begin a discussion of how Jesus probably looked—long, dark hair, a beard, probably olive or tan skin. “But no one really knows what Jesus looked like,” I conclude.


“I know what he looked like,” she says. Of course she does—she went through six years of catechism, has holy cards in her dresser drawer, wore the white Communion dress and veil. How could she not know? But the journalist in me perseveres.

“Well, there are really no pictures of Jesus,” I say.

Now, to get her response just right, you have to practice your most withering, scathing tone. Try saying, “You’re a complete idiot.” That’s how Ana replies. “There are pictures of Jesus—I’ve seen them.”

I bite back a laugh and tell her that the camera had yet to be invented for, oh, close to 2,000 years after Jesus departed the planet, and that any pictures she’s seen have been artists’ renderings.

She is not convinced. Her mother is a moron. She leaves the room in a huff.

I am grateful that there haven’t been harder questions put to me—like trying to explain the existence of God, or why there is hate and hurt in the world. Because inevitably such questions would bring up my own issues of faith, my own faltering belief system, my selective practice, and I would have to say, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

How to explain why I still have the rosary beads hanging from my rear view mirror but no longer use them for prayer, or how we used to say grace at meals but now find it difficult to even get to the same table in the same house at the same time? Why we still light the Advent wreath at Christmas, how we bless ourselves when we leave the house or someone dies or we get onto the freeway, but no longer darken the doorways of any house of worship?

How can I explain so many things that I don’t know the answer to? Like how to account for the marriage-shaped hole in my heart that took away the greater portion of my faith when it left? I don’t know.

When their father and I were still married, we lived in a house with an orange tree in the backyard. Whenever the weather was nice, my little girls chased butterflies and picked dandelions while I weeded and hung out clothes to dry. We’d play for a while in the sunshine, then pick oranges from the tree and peel and eat them right away. We’d wash away the sticky juice from our fingers with the garden hose.

In those days I was sure of everything—my house, my family, my future, my faith. But how can we be really sure of anything? The things we thought were set in stone have vanished, and we are flung out into the world on our own. It is difficult to tell my daughters that everything will be as they plan, that everything will work out exactly right, when I am no longer convinced, when I can no longer choke out pleasantries about our religion, or the family we used to be.

None of us feel strong enough in our beliefs to kneel and pray, to repeat prayers by rote anymore. A new pope gives us hope, while politicians with rigid agendas, professing our same religion, take it away again. Perhaps we light candles or cross ourselves when we are so moved, but immense questions in the world, about war and peace, about love and hatred of fellow and sister humans, give us pause.

When I can’t explain anything to my daughters about the world, the heavens and life now or if there is one to come, I go to the garden and sink my fingers into the dirt, where everything is simple and real. The dry seeds go into the ground, they come up in the spring, they die and are reborn. It is the simplest resurrection. It is the smallest inkling of faith.

It’s nice to know that there’s still hope.


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About Julia Park Tracey (29 Articles)
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, blogger and author. She is the Editorial Director of Sweatpants & Coffee. She is the author of six books including the Veronika Layne mystery series, and the Poet Laureate of Alameda, CA.

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