I FLY WITH PAPA
A black girl journeys with the God she calls Papa and expresses her emotions in a relationship steeped in love and freedom.
I AM A STORYELLER, POET, EDUCATOR, SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR, CONSULTANT, AND PROFESSOR. I
believe children can teach us how to cultivate a meaningful relationship with God. Children of all hues can show us that God journeys with us through every emotion and season of our lives. God embraces our feelings and acknowledges our experiences. God is not as stuffy as we often make God out to be. God knows how to play with us, laugh with us, be silly with us, and fly with us.
I believe we can allow God to help us revel in unfathomable joys, heal our hurts, and redress inequity. May children discover the God who will stand by them and nurse them through the lessons and experiences of life.
I believe we can experience our communal lives together with the God who knows us intimately — warts and all. It amazes me that we can be co-partners with the God who loves to be known and loved. I hope that children of all ages can learn to love themselves, God, and others for the greater good of humanity.
I love to spend time with the God I call Papa—my best friend, confidant, and the essence of love in my life. Alongside my readers, I soar with the possibilities available to all when I choose to fly with Papa again, and again, and again . . .
I THINK IT IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT THAT CHILDREN BE ALLOWED TO DREAM and feel their emotions and develop a curiosity about why they feel what they feel. Our emotions marry with our first breath. We are born crying. We are born with the ability to feel. We have to unlearn the message that encourages us to numb ourselves to our emotions. Studies are finding that children as young as kindergarten experience anxiety. Fears shadow us, abide in us, and consume us. But children's curiosity, imagination, playfulness, and ability to express emotions in liberating ways is not lost.
I WAS AROUND FIVE WHEN I ENCOUNTERED RACISM FOR THE FIRST TIME. Until we moved to a diverse urban neighborhood, my brother and I were the only black children who attended our school. We did not know how to process the racism we experienced. My brother and I were confused and afraid. We did not want to worry our parents and so we told no one about the racial slurs children hurled at us as we walked home from school. Our church and school failed to create spaces where we could talk about our encounters with racism.
I do not want children to hide their feelings and experiences from God when they do not know what to do. I do not want children to lose sight of their imagination and their ability to dream as they encounter trauma.
As an adult, I began to wonder how children can learn to experience emotions at an early age with the God of love that liberates us to be fully ourselves. I don't recall anyone in Sunday school ever telling me that I could be mad at God or share my doubts with God or have fun with God or ask God questions. I want children to be free enough to speak their minds and listen radically to God in ways that make sense to them.
I purposefully do not explain the reasons behind Winnie's emotions because I do not want her feelings to be fixed to one experience. I want her and children and adults alike to be free to experience their emotions without inhibition. I also want them to be able to identify why they feel what they feel.
In step with the spirit of freedom, I wanted Winnie to explore her emotions on her own terms. Winnie dares to live a life of outrageous emotional bravery without shame or embarrassment. As a smart, witty, gorgeous, curious, fun, serious, and artistic seven-year-old black girl, Winnie refuses to rein in her feelings to a set of emotions as she joins this sacred relational dance with Papa. I love that Winnie does not have to be nice or smile when she communicates with Papa.
I love that Winnie can be goofy and revel in holy silliness with Papa. I love that Winnie can be sad and angry and have questions and not look to others to rubber stamp her emotions as legitimate. I love that Winnie and Papa can wallow in introvert heaven and be silent and content just to be.
Some may relate to Winnie's experiences and others will not. Winnie does not speak for every child, gender, or individual. She is unburdened by having to shoulder the responsibility of representing all peoples. Still, there will be many who will be inspired by her journey with Papa.
I AM SURROUNDED BY AN EXTRAORDINARY TEAM AT WISEINK, a company who places the art and vision of an author at the center of its mission. This company is co-owned by women I absolutely love and support. To have a seasoned African American businesswoman and entrepreneur shepherd the publication of my book has been a dream. The WiseInk team is made up of consummate professionals. They are kind, hard working, and not so business driven that they lose sight of the personal touch. Though I could have published my book with the publishing houses, I decided to publish with a company willing to invest time and energy into holistically nurturing my life as a black female author. As writer, I feel seen, heard, cherished, and valued by the staff at WiseInk and that is a new experience for me in the publishing world.
My incredible illustrator, Jena Holliday, is a storyteller in her own right. Her creative mind astounds me. She is a fierce African American female artist whose love for humanity abounds in her illustrations. I consider it a privilege to work with such a talented and young visionary artist.
When I Fly With Papa is an enchanting and captivating poem in seven movements that transports the reader far beyond the language of words on the printed page. It resurrects the imagination and sets it free to fly and discover new insights about the holiness of playing, trusting, sharing, listening, eating, and praising with Papa. It is a love song where the melodies soar and dip, prance and somersault, cry and cradle, and even in anger, they ride the wind with joy to the drumbeat of our lives. When I Fly With Papa opens the heart to the songs of love that serenade the soul. Above all, Claudia May’s poem is a song of belonging, a song of home. This is more than a book for children, for do we not all long for a Papa like this, a Papa who calls us by name and welcomes us home?
—Rev. Helen Bruch Pearson, Professor Emerita of Theology
Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA
Author of Do What You Have The Power To Do: Studies Of Six New Testament Women.
When I Fly With Papa invites us on a journey of sacred experience and promise. The poem is playful, reassuring, and comforting. Children in nurturing homes and those who feel abused and neglected (a substantial percentage of all children) will know the hope that comes from the presence of One who is so available, intimate, and tender. No observation, thought, or emotion escapes the loving attention of Papa who is always with us. I rejoice that Claudia May’s creative powers have given us a poetic rendering of the relationship our hearts fervently desire.
—Luther E. Smith, Jr., PhD
Professor Emeritus of Church and Community
Candler School of Theology, Emory University
Author of Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet
Claudia May's When I Fly with Papa captures not only a soaring, lyrical poeticism, but a visceral experience of what it means to be authentically present in our whole beings before God - unfiltered, unhindered, embodied - and to still be met by an abiding love and grace. As a reader, I was swept up in the current of experience so much that, at times, it felt as though I was breathing with the character. With each unfolding movement, May invites us into full transparency, deepening intimacy, growing adventure, and a precious pilgrimage that can only be captured through the tender trust of a child. At its core, this book is a healing and joyful work that offers each of us - no matter our age – the chance to (re)discover what it means to truly BE as a child before our Papa.
Soul Care Practitioner - Spiritual Direction and Trauma Care Certified Director, Producer, Dramaturg & Consultant - Professional Theatre, Film and Television
Not every learned university trained scholar can enter into the world of children and correctly use their language in communicating mature ideas about their lives from a Christian context. Finding such a gifted and creative writer is a rare discovery. But I am serendipitously happy to say that such a person exists in Claudia May of the Bethel University faculty. Having heard her preach with ease, connecting cross culturally with millennials and other diverse groups, and having been enriched by her book, Jesus Is Enough: Love, Hope, And Comforts In The Storms Of Life, I am certain that this book for children will introduce them to JESUS who, according to the gospels, magnetically attracted children to himself. You will bless yourself and your children by taking my recommendation to heart.
—J. Alfred Smith Sr.
Pastor Emeritus, Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, Ca.
Professor Emeritus, American Baptist Seminary of The West, Berkeley, Ca.
Through her descriptive and carefully chosen words, Dr. Claudia May paints a picture of a healthy, secure relationship developing between a young child and Papa. Through the seven parts of the story, May describes the types of interactions and responses from Papa that create a place of peace and security for the child. Papa is the trustworthy partner who infuses his strength, wisdom and kindness into every situation.
When I Fly with Papa is a window into the mind and heart of a young child who discovers, in Papa, the kind of deep love that provides both a safe haven and secure base. The story begins with the child and Papa delighting in playful antics together – simply enjoying time together. As the story progresses, we see the child and Papa developing a deepening bond. A sacred space is created between them where words need not be spoken for the child to feel the comfort of Papa’s presence. Feeling secure in Papa’s presence, we see how the relationship buffers the child when she experiences fear and doubt. So strong is the bond, there is even a safe space for the child to push back and disagree with Papa. The child has come to know Papa will never leave. His love will never change.
When I Fly with Papa portrays how relationships that provide safety and security can shape a child’s self-image and stimulate the growth of the heart and mind. Through a child development lens, this story eloquently describes how the child and Papa develop a secure attachment. Beyond implications for earthly relationships, When I Fly with Papa is a reminder that our heavenly Papa is always ready to fly with us.
—Jolene Pearson PhD (IMH-E® (IV)
Associate Professor and Director of Early Childhood, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, Author of Pathways to Positive Parenting: Helping Parents Nurture Health Development in the Earliest Months