autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

A Sunday Memory (how I lost my faith)

Looking back, I know when I lost faith; it was pretty much the same, small trigger that it always is, some inconsequential something that, simple as it is, pulls the curtain back from an imponderable truth that is so pervasive and perfect in its revelation that it cannot be avoided.

I was very small, I think I was seven years old, possibly eight. We were riding home in a Dodge van; rows of seats and all of us packed in like sardines; Sunday best getting mussed, but it was ok because no one ever cared how dirty your clothes were once you made it safely through the sermon and mingling as you went out the door.

Roughly fifteen of us, smushed along the four rows and the houseparents in their captains chairs up front; and singing one of those tried and true ditties of the faith because it was simple enough that even little ones like me could remember the words. Of course, I didn’t think of that at the time;  mostly I was all snugged up in a feeling of belonging to something larger and grander and beautiful… for the first time in my young life, I knew without a doubt that I fit in somewhere, that there really was “a reason” for the things I had known before getting to that moment, and that somewhere, way up high where little eyes could not see, was a being who could see right inside of me and who knew how truly good and beautiful I was. Naturally, I didn’t think of it that way at the time, either, but I have found that telling for many reasons in the years afterward.

I felt grand. I knew the words. Every one of them. And like anyone who feels perfect in their knowledge and certainty, I was doing my best to send my voice up to that great god so he could hear me; I wanted him to know that every piece of my heart was ready, willing, and able to fly to him except that it was locked up in this pesky little body that didn’t know how to do anything but sing.

Forgive me, father… is that a sin?

The older girls decided amongst themselves to change things up. Instead of singing the song the way I knew it, they’d sing a verse and then stop, point at someone, and ask, “And how do you know that Jesus loves you?” I didn’t know this way of doing it, so I was glad no one pointed at me and I payed special attention to those who were pointed at so I could learn. Each dutifully gave a reason that sounded proper and meaningful and the next verse rolled on as we rolled on toward the home; “He died on the cross”, one said. “Because the bible tells me so…,” was another (but I didn’t think this one should count because it was in the song), and so forth.  Eventually, they finished off the “big kids” and got ’round to the “little kids” and that pointed finger stopped at me. All eyes turned, the hush fell, and everyone waited to hear how I knew that Jesus loved me.

So I gave the answer that made the most sense to me, “Because he made the flowers and animals.”

And suddenly, there it was; a moment of silence as they heard it, considered it, and then… snickers, laughter, and that look that I knew all-too-well. I’m sure you know it too; the one where they look at you like they feel badly that you’re just not wise enough to understand how silly and improper your thinking is?

Yeah, that one.

I wasn’t real sure at the moment how that answer could be wrong; after all, god did make all this, right? And, according to pretty much everyone, god made it for us; so why couldn’t that be the very proof? But it was very clear, even to a “little kid” that this was impossibly wrong. And in that moment, the abyss of distance between faith and reality opened before me and though I did not know it in that moment as what it was, I knew the feeling beyond all doubting; this was the feeling of mom and dad going away and never coming back, this was the feeling of living at grandma’s and wondering if they ever would come back, this was the feeling of waking up at the children’s home to discover that grandma had decided I would live there “from now on” while I was sleeping. Oh, I knew this feeling all too well.

I watched the red flow up into all the faces as they snickered and struggled not to laugh out loud, and I watched as the houseparent turned in her passenger seat to see “what was going on” and, upon hearing it restated, declared as if declaring law that mine was a perfectly good reason. But I knew better. I knew by how the eyes lowered but the expressions didn’t change; well, except the ones that went from humor to anger for being caught out for making fun. Naturally, that anger was directed at me; after all, it was my stupid reason that made them laugh, right?

But I only noticed that for a moment because it paled into insignificance beside the pit of awareness that had opened previously; knowing without knowing how I knew, I realized that there could not possibly be a god. How could there be, when everyone already knew that the flowers and animals were no evidence? And how could there be when that most obvious reason, a reason everything we sat in that little brick building to hear, could be not only easily dismissed, but actively ridiculed?

Of course, my temporal lobes weren’t quite capable of stringing together the thoughts as I state them now, even as the tadpole that is today called “Croc brain” deciphered it immediately and knew it as it was. All I knew in that moment was that a wonderful warmth had been taken away and I couldn’t quite figure out why.

But I knew how, of course; the same way it always happens…. they tell you how it should be and then, they show you how it never will be, and you’re left to figure out for yourself the why of it.