My relationship with God has always been, um, complicated. When you grow up with a mom who frequently converses with God, and those conversations often lead her to pack up all your stuff and move somewhere overnight, you might occasionally want to give God the finger. And not the You're Number One finger. Now, before you go condemning me to Hell, try walking a day in my Childhood's shoes. Try living in a cultish community of Charismatic Catholics. Try having a mom who dressed like a nun for a year. Try also living with a real nun, random families, and/or college students who were coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs over Christ. Everything anybody did in my childhood was guided by God, and you better believe no one took a crap in those days without praying about it first.
Even though I'm flip about it now, the little girl I was back then earnestly believed everything she saw and heard. People speaking in tongues were actually speaking their own language that only God could understand. People being slain in the spirit were actually falling unconscious to the floor, inhabited by the Holy Spirit. My mother was actually able to hear God and see him too in various "visions."
Pretty crazy, right? That's what I think now, but back then I bought all of it -- hook, line, and sinker. I can't even imagine what my father, who divorced Mom when I was one and was raised a North Carolina Baptist, was thinking back in those days when he'd come to pick up his two daughters and was greeted by all sorts of nuns, holy rollers, and an ex-wife wearing a nun's habit. Back then, I was such a mama's girl that the tears would roll down my face as we drove away in my dad's Datsun for the weekend. As a sort of talisman, I would cling to a small Mother Mary statue and weep as quietly as I could in the back seat.
When I was around 12, I watched a documentary on "Fatima." In case you're not familiar, Fatima is a town in Portugal where three children vowed that Mother Mary had appeared to them. The kids stuck to their story, even after being jailed and threatened. I wanted to be those kids SO badly. Every night for weeks after that, I read books on miracles, saints, and apparitions. I knelt on the floor and said the rosary, and I begged the Virgin Mother to appear to me. She didn't, of course, and it made a small ripple in my previously unwavering beliefs.
By the time I was 15, my mother was re-married and we were no longer living with nuns and college students. Although Mom was still a devout Catholic, she no longer had time to attend Mass every single day in order to live, breathe, eat, and choke on the body of Christ. My mom and step-dad had lots of financial struggles, and with 4 younger siblings, my responsibilities around the house quadrupled. After some major arguments with Mom, my older sister and I decided to live with our dad and new step-mom, who lived 10 hours away. For several months, we made an effort to attend Mass on Sundays. After awhile, though, those efforts just faded away, as did my relationship with my mother. One day I woke up to realize my Old World, fraught with visions, miracles, and Faith, had permanently fallen away.
Twenty years later, I had a better relationship with my mother, but no beliefs whatsoever. In coming to terms with the strangeness of my upbringing, I felt the wool had been pulled over my eyes for years, and when I finally pulled it off, I left no remnants. I was a mother of three sons by then. One night my oldest son, at 5 years old, clutched at me and cried, "You're going to die someday, Mommy. What will happen to ME? What-what-what about when I die?"
I felt the room spinning and my heart pounding, and as he gasped for air, I did too. What should I tell my child? That there is nothing more than this, that there will be no comfort for him to cling to when I die? That when he dies, he will be cold and lifeless and buried in the ground, and that will be the end of him? I held him and rocked him, and I searched for an atheist's words, but they didn't come. I told him, for the first time in his five years, about the existence of God, about a place called Heaven, about his soul living there forever and ever. I didn't get into Jesus, resurrection, the saints, spirits, speaking in tongues, apparitions -- all of the noises from my own childhood that had ended up finally deafening me and distracting me from what was in my heart. Because what was in my heart as a child, when the lights went out and I was left alone in the silence of my room, was a presence, comforting and calm. Someone who had always been with me, keeping my fears and worries at bay. Someone who was there, no matter which house we moved to, no matter what chaos each new day could bring. Maybe that someone was still there.
My eyes filled with tears, and I taught my son an old and simple prayer -- the "Our Father" -- and after we practiced it a couple times, I went out of the room and brought back a cross I'd inherited from my grandmother. I didn't go into the meaning of the object, only that it was known worldwide as a symbol of God's love. I placed it on my son's nightstand, tucked him in, and kissed him goodnight. The last thing I saw was his little hand reaching out to pat it for reassurance just before I turned out the lights.