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And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
Andknow the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot, "LittleGidding"
My family has never been overly religious: my motheris Catholic but never goes to church, and I have never talked enough to my fatherto discover his beliefs. Neutrality was the foundation of my spirituality, yetthere was always an undercurrent of "fear God in all His glory," aforce that permeated my thin skin and made me tremble with its power.
Mymother did not speak much about God and religion, but made references to Himoften enough to firmly establish his presence.
"God is definitelywatching out for us," she would smile confidently. "God is definitelygreat."
God was a foreign, frightening, flimsy concept to me for theearly part of my life. At five, with tears leaking from my closed eyes, I prayedin bed every night for God to protect my parents while they slept: I feared theywould somehow slip into oblivion if I did not exert my will enough. Come daylightI would wish for things ("God, please make my parents let me stay with myfriends a little longer!"), and when my wishes were fulfilled, I fought theurge to drop to my knees and thank Him.
As transparent and obtuse as Godseemed, He had a powerful grip on me. My heart stilled in reverence upon hearingHim mentioned, freezing for fear of being pummeled to the ground by His mightyhand.
Even more terrible was the concept of evil. I hated the very word,not daring to think it lest it mar my mind and taint my soul. The few times itdid snake into my thoughts, I was overcome with shame andself-disgust.
When I was old enough to question, I peered into the face ofGod, with trepidation prodding at the mystery of His substance. I stared at thecrucifix propped carefully on the bureau in my mother's room, and for the firsttime was struck with the rebellious idea that perhaps Jesus and God did notexist. Perhaps they were lies. Who could prove they were real?
With fearcurling in my stomach, I pushed the sudden doubts into the dark recesses of mymind, from which they doggedly resurfaced again and again. I could no longer bearthe turmoil. Feeling silly, I prayed one night.
"Please, God," Imumbled, my breath ruffling the fur of the stuffed rabbit companion I heldagainst my chest. "I know you exist. I know I'm wrong when I think youdon't. Please, give me a sign that you do."
Sleep was peaceful thatnight. My eyes drifted open the next morning, immediately searching for proofthat He did indeed exist and loved me enough to show me. I expected somethingmagnificent to appear before me, perhaps a cross etched in sunlight on the wall,or maybe even a deep voice echoing in my ears saying, "I do exist. You haveto believe in me."
I beheld nothing. On closer, more desperateinspection, I found a tiny cross-like shadow created by the synthetic fibers ofmy stuffed animal, falling on the snowy whiteness of its fur.
It was notenough.
I wanted with all my heart for it to be, but the closet door in mymind creaked open yet again, the temptation of forbidden doubts sliding out andpulling me closer and closer to that darkness.
Playing in my mother's roomone morning, I was struck with an idea. Feeling foolish, yet determined, Igathered her jewelry: two rings, a bracelet, a chain and pendant. I laid them outon the bathroom counter.
"Angels - if there are angels - pleaseaccept my gift." My voice came out rattling, dry and weak as a skitteringdead leaf. "These will make you look pretty. They're my gift to you. Pleasetake them."
I left for half an hour, andre-turned to find the jewelry still untouched.
"Please, you don'thave to be afraid. It's just me. I know you exist. Pleasecome."
Three hours later, still nothing.
Later I took interest in Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles.The books not only allowed me a feeling of belonging, but stirred the old,dangerous questions, and instead of providing an answer I could not accept, wovethe delicate confusion into a grandiose struggle. In the books, the vampires heldentire conversations arguing for and against the idea of God. I was firstshocked, then relieved.
I was no longer alone.
Wicca and othernon-mainstream religions became an interest. I was determined to reject theChristian concept of God. The more I thought about it, the sillier that conceptseemed. Imagine! Some old man sitting in the sky directing our fates. Ridiculous!I needed to escape that tyrant, to deliver myself into the arms of somethinggentler.
In time I fully denounced my belief in an omnipotent presence ofany sort. I was not atheist; I was, I proudly told myself, agnostic.
Oncewhile shopping with my mother at a thrift store, I came across a porcelainstatuette of the Virgin Mary and promptly fell in love. I bought it and starteddrawing it, writing poems and songs to it. Finally, I thought, I had found mygod.
Never did I think that I would believe in the old, terrible Godagain. I was free now, no longer wandering the gray trail of indecision. In away, I had found my home.
I was right, yet wrong.
I dreamed onenight that I was pushed off a cliff, plummeting into a black canyon towardcertain death. I could do nothing to save myself. I clawed at the air helplessly,watching the sky fall away. Instinctively, I clasped my hands together andprayed. I prayed with a passion I did not realize I had, with an eloquence I hadnever achieved.
I awoke weeping, realizing that the God I had prayed towas the God of my childhood, that mighty presence I had so feared and laterdismissed. In a time of crisis, I knew I could not pray to Mary, or the WiccanGod and Goddess, because I simply did not believe in them. The old God, in myeyes in times of desperation, was the only one powerful enough to save me. Hewas also the only one, I suspected, who cared about me.
I was embarrassed.My "beliefs" had been toppled yet again, leaving me bare and confused.The old tyrant was no longer an enemy and had never been an enemy. I was simply arebellious child, too blind to see myself.
It took me a while to realizehow lucky I am. If I had never doubted, had never strayed from the old childhoodconception of God, had never explored, I would never have been saved by a dream,and I would never have returned.
I have true faith.
I cannotprofess to know the true nature of God. I only know that God exists. I am tooweak to ac-cept the idea that we are alone in the universe, that we willdisappear, that there is no superior being to smile down upon us and say, "Ido love you, I do see you, I do feel all that you feel, and I understand you morethan anyone else can."
That is my faith.
It's stubborn asHell and sweeter than Heaven.