Choosing My Religion

Religion is one of those things I think about a great deal. At times I obsess over it. Now, I’m not talking about faith. Faith is something I don’t worry about. I’ve got faith in spades, up the wazoo, coming out my ears. Religion, though, seems much more subjective.

As a kid I was exposed to opposing experiences in Christianity. Through my paternal grandparents I was introduced to the Pentecostal Church. Faith healers, speaking in tongues, arms raised in praise and dancing in the aisles to an exuberantly played piano, were de rigueur in Sunday services. Every time I visited I left a bit worried I’d be left behind in the Rapture that they assured me was coming any day. That’s a scary thought for a little kid. I had nightmares for years and flat refused to read that once popular Left Behind series.

https://www.facebook.com/JungleVT/videos/2455207547954406/

In my maternal grandparents’ Primitive Baptist Church, services were much more restrained. There was no instrumental music, and every line of every hymn was intoned with what seemed a lack of enthusiasm. The sermons seemed interminable, as well, but I wasn’t allowed to complain or squirm–my great grandfather was the minister. And while there was some hellfire and brimstone preaching it was done more in lesson form, for the promise and security of predestination were deeply ingrained in all the members. I left church each time fervently hoping that I had more Primitive Baptist blood in me than Pentecostal, even if their services were much less interesting.

That’s the New Salem Primitive Baptist Church of Floydada, Texas, below, where I spent many Sundays.

To confuse matters further, my parents raised my brothers and me in southern Baptist Churches where services were much less somber than those of the Primitive Baptists, but a good deal more sedate than those at the Pentecostal meetings. In the Southern Baptist churches we had to get saved to go to heaven, and the Book of Revelation was mentioned quite often, but no one made me think that I’d be forgotten on the day the trumpets sounded. The organ and/or piano accompanied hymns were better, too. And instead of having to sing every verse, we generally only sang the first, second and fourth verses.

The carousel of religious choices in my life was often confusing. Why did parishioners in one church have to sing a cappella? How come we could celebrate in the aisles in one service, but would be frowned upon if we did it in another? Did God care how we worshipped? Was I truly going to be left behind or could I relax in knowing that my name had been written in the Book of Life from my birth?

As an adult I seldom go to church, but when I do I attend a progressive Methodist service. And, I love going to Catholic mass with my mother-in-law when we visit her in Texas. In both cases there’s a steadiness to the worship that calms and reassures me.

If you’ve lasted this long in reading this you might wonder what prompted my post. Well, on Monday afternoon I was driving home from Tallahassee as a thunderstorm threatened. Towering cumulonimbus clouds promised one heck of a storm, but there was a break in the clouds through which a golden column of sun shone through. My thoughts instantly went back to the days when I was pretty sure everyone around me was going to be gathered up and raptured into the heavens leaving me behind. I guess some lessons, especially those invoking fear, never die.

I’m still here. Are you?

(By the way, I found the amazing cloud photos on Pinterest.)

Peace, people!

Placing Faith

 

where do we place faith?
in dreams or golden idols
in myth or magic?

fear and faith at odds
“if God be for us” they’ve said
then discard, hateful.

so call me naive
in choosing faith over fear
and love over hate.

I can’t be heartless
for life has given me much
and others little.

Peace, people!

Tears as Prayer

i pray,
Father, forgive me for my sins.
i pray,
Father, thank you for these blessings.
i pray,
Father, let me be my best self today.
i pray,
Father, please protect the ones i love.
i pray,
Father, guide us through these times.
i pray,
Father, my words are inadequate.
i pray,
Father, my tears will say what i cannot.
i pray,
Father, I ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, your son.
amen.

  

Steps

Clutching her handbag tightly in her left hand, Mary Riley gripped the rail at the top of the steps outside St. Vincent’s with her right. For the hundredth time that winter she wondered why she hadn’t requested communion be brought to her home. And for the hundredth time she smiled to herself, knowing how much she looked forward to Father Mark’s homilies and the feeling of belonging she received from attending mass.

Although a chilly wind swept across the steps they were clear of snow and ice, yet Mary knew the three sets of four steps could be treacherous for one her age. Just last fall her friend Ruth had taken a tumble on the last two steps and broken a hip. That same Ruth who’d once raced her to the top of the steps so many years before had never recovered from her accident and they’d buried her two days before Thanksgiving.

Mary stopped to rest on the first landing from the top, looking back to see Father Mark visiting with a young couple. He gave her a wave when he saw her standing there. 

“Mary, do you need a hand?” he asked.

“No Father, I’ve got this. Just remember your promise.”

He smiled, “Of course, but we’ve got years yet.”

She hadn’t wanted to like this young priest. He’d come in and stirred things up after Father Thomas left the diocese ten years ago. But Father Mark’s heart had shown through and soon he had revitalized the old church, bringing in new families and making everyone think about social justice.  

Just last week she’d made him promise to officiate at her funeral, fearing that he’d be moved to another parish and forget all about her. If she and Robert had been blessed with a son she’d have liked him to be like Father Mark. 

Of course Robert might not have liked the priest’s liberal views; he’d always been so conservative. But he was practical, as well. After both their older girls had found themselves in a family way while still in high school he’d instructed Mary to take their youngest, Regina to the family planning clinic uptown. “They’re breeding like rabbits!” he’d ranted. 

She shook her head ruefully, thinking of how she’d changed after Robert’s passing. He’d died of a heart attack months before Father Thomas left and had never known the younger priest. 

Robert had been a good man, Mary knew, continuing her descent, if a bit controlling. She’d never have gotten so involved in Father Mark’s peace protests had Robert still been alive. What would Robert have made of her striding around in slacks, of all things, singing anti-war songs? 

At the second landing Mary leaned heavily on the railing. She could clearly picture standing there with Robert posing for pictures after their wedding. He’d been so strong and handsome, his black Irish charm devastating. It was right there he’d swept her up to carry her to his Buick. Of course she hadn’t weighed much back then, but oh! It still made her heart beat a little faster to think of him carrying her down those last few steps.

Ruth and the other girls had been quite envious. But then Ruth had gone off to university and before long had started teaching in public school. Ruth had never married and sometimes Mary had envied her friend’s freedom. 

“The grass is always greener,” she mused aloud.

Getting her third wind, Mary pushed against the railing and carefully placed her foot on the next step. There was a little scuffed out place there where she always feared losing her footing. Almost to the bottom, just three steps to go, she looked up, surprised to see her Robert standing at the bottom looking just like he had on the day they’d wed.  “Well,” Mary sighed.

She looked back up to see Father Mark still visiting with parishioners.  With a smile she acknowledged he’d be keeping his promise to her sooner than he’d thought.

“What’s the smile for, my Mary?” Robert asked.

“I’m just thinking you could’ve met me at the top of these steps,” she laughed.