We have a tiny blue wooden house – a miniature replica of sorts – that my wife acquired at an auction. It’s handmade and from Ecuador and holds some sentimental significance. In our old home, we placed it on a windowsill in our girls’ room. Miraculously, it was never stepped on, crushed or otherwise dismantled.
In that little blue home lived Finger Puppet Jesus.
This was an equally tiny toy that my eldest discovered at the bottom of her Easter basket one year. Finger Puppet Jesus is one of those miniature toys that can – and does – easily wind up lost under furniture, buried between couch cushions and forgotten at the bottom of toy chests.
I guess it was some instinctual reverence for our Lord that earned Finger Puppet Jesus a place in this tiny and surprising sturdy artisanal home. There he lived happily for many years, where my daughters often and eagerly pointed to his ongoing presence. They forgot Finger Puppet Jesus was a toy and instead treated him more like a neighbor.
Then, we moved. And, as is inevitable in a new home, old things found new places.
That blue house is on a new shelf, high and out of the way and no longer a quasi-toy but the display item it was always meant to be. When my daughter noticed it – well above her line of sight and in a room not her own – she was dismayed.
A good question, to be sure. But in this instance, I didn’t have an answer.
“But we’ll find him,” I assured her. “And when we do, you can keep him with your other toys.”
My daughter would have none of it. “But that’s Jesus’ house,” she insisted. “That’s where he goes.”
In the end, Finger Puppet Jesus was found. And – despite my assurances that he could live elsewhere – he’s back in his house, safely waving at us from the tiny wooden balcony.
It’s a silly story, sure. A little girl stands determined to return a toy replica of the Second Person in the Trinity to a colorful miniature home.
But that determination, that sense that this is where Jesus is to be found, is illuminating to the spiritual life.
We all have places where we expect to find Jesus, right? Our local church is perhaps the most obvious – and within the tabernacle, to be specific. We know Christ is present in the Eucharist, as well as in our neighbor. And, perhaps, we have those prayer places – those sacred thresholds, that holy ground – upon which we sit and experience Christ’s love and delight.
These might not be as eccentric as a tiny, colorful, artisanal craft with its finger puppet celebrity, but still. We can see it, that place where Christ meets us.
But what about when we don’t find Christ in that expected place? What about when we gaze up at that would-be shelf, peek into those tiny blue windows and utter: “Where’s Jesus?” Do we throw up our hands, assume he’s lost for good (the couch!) and abandon that previously holy place?
Or, do we insist that Jesus still belongs there, is still waiting there for us in that holy place, that perhaps it’s us who must bring that Christ light back? Does our determination to encounter the Christ in fact reveal Christ already present?
To be honest, I don’t know where my daughter found Finger Puppet Jesus. Jesus is, after all, everywhere at all times. But clearly, when she discovered him somewhere in that ultimate everywhere, there was a need to bring him back to that place that was familiar, that place she knew he could be found.
So to is it with us, I think. We encounter Jesus in a myriad of places. But where is that place where we encounter him in a unique way, a reliable way? And do we think of him expecting to encounter us there in that same reliable way too?
Do we think of Jesus, content and pleased to know that we’re just there, just within reach, always available when he needs us or just wants to talk?
Eric A. Clayton is the author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian.