I felt such envy, reading that.
My religious upbringing was eccentric, to say the least. My father's family is Christian Scientist, my mother's Catholic, (two groups that
Fast forward to the summer after fifth grade. My only real friend in school was the daughter of Southern Baptist parents, the kind who hosted a Bible Camp in their back yard every summer.
I wanted to go like it was Disneyland, I tell you what. I can't really tell you why, I just wanted it, so much. I wanted to know what God was, and they said they knew! My parents were nonplussed, but I was allowed to go--Bible Camp is a pretty safe place to send your ten-year-old if they're clamoring for it.
And after singing a few songs and reading from the bible in Leigh's back yard, the pastor's wife said that if any of us little children wanted to accept Jesus Christ into our hearts, we should stay after lunch.
Well, to me, this was IT. I was finally going to Figure It Out. The Mysteries would open to me, I would Understand Something Big. There would be a Fell Ritual of some kind. I could not wait for juice and cookies to be over.
And I sat with a rather nice lady from Tennessee on a porch swing in the late August sunlight, and she told me to picture a door in my heart, and let Jesus walk through it, and then I would be filled with His light. I was so ready, I was so happy, I shut my eyes in the sun and smiled.
I pictured a door, deep in all the red meat of my heart. (After discovering that hearts are not in fact shaped like Valentines at age four I became indignant about this and made anatomically correct Valentines in day care. The door was still made of red construction paper in my head, though.) I pictured the door opening. It was dark in my heart, and empty. I waited. I tried to picture Jesus, just to help him along a little. A nice man with long hair and blue jeans and my dad's work shirt. I tried to picture him walking into my heart.
"Oh, darlin'," the pastor's wife said, "Can't you feel Him? His warmth and His light?"
"Yes," I said numbly. But I felt nothing. I couldn't even make my mental Jesus go into my construction-paper door. There was no warmth, no light, nothing, but the pastor's wife acted like a miracle had happened. She hugged me and kissed me and cried a little, another child saved for Jesus.
And I walked home, feeling bitter and cheated and lied to, and at 10 years old, rejected by God.
I wish I had felt warmth and light. I wanted to, to make the pastor's wife happy, to know something real. But I felt nothing, and that was a tremendous guilt--I hadn't been good enough, or faithful enough. God didn't want me.
Religion is pretty awesome for kids. You just have no defenses against what they pitch.
In my room, I looked at my mom's book of saints that she let me borrow when I went back to my dad's for the school year. I wondered if maybe some of them didn't really feel anything either, but acted good and wise and did great things hoping that someday they would. Like I did. I wasn't one of those half-Catholic kids who think they'll be a saint. I knew I wouldn't be. I was pretty sure I was a bad kid, and I liked boys, and it pretty much looked like you needed someone to want to marry you to be a female saint, so that you could virtuously reject them, and at 10 I was more or less resigned to that never happening. But I wanted to believe that some of the people with gold around their heads were like me, trying to feel it, wanting it so much, and still faced with a hole in the meat of their heart at the end of the day, and no god walking through.
I'm not sure when I got over that--I'm certain I'll never forget the bitter, awful disappointment of that day. Maybe if there were wine and bread it would have worked. I skipped out on catchecism at sixteen, so I wouldn't know. (That is not my fault, though. My teacher didn't know who Dante was. It was clear it wasn't going to work out.) Maybe not. But then, if I 'd found an answer that day, I wouldn't have kept looking the way I have, and that looking has lead me to much that I wouldn't have found otherwise. I have always held mystical experience to the test of physically feeling something, and that isn't an easy test, but it's mine. I feel I've benefitted from that.
But when I think about that afternoon when I was ten, and I'm still ashamed that God didn't come for me.