My faith has evolved over the course of my life, and as my life is by no means over, I’m sure my faith will continue to evolve. It would be nice to think of faith as a rock solid, unquestionable constant, but this has not been my experience. In the beginning, when I was very young, faith meant nothing to me beyond the occasional church visits my parents took me on. I guess I should point out that my father was a Catholic who converted to Lutheran, and my mother was/is a Seventh Day Adventist. This could have seriously ruined my weekends if either one of them had ever been adamant about it.
When my father died, I remember my mother sitting my brother (5) and me (7) down on my bed to explain things to us. At the time neither of us knew anything about death. We’d never even had a goldfish die, so no basis for comparison. My mother, doing the best she could, explained that our father was dead and that he wouldn’t be coming back from his work–being an active Marine we were used to him going away for long periods of time. When we asked why he wasn’t coming back (clearly not getting it), she tried the “he’s gone to live with the Angles” explanation.
This didn’t help my understanding any more than saying he was dead because to my seven year old understanding the Angles were real. To me it meant Daddy liked the Angles better than us, and that was why he wasn’t coming back to live with us. I even remember yelling it at my brother who didn’t understand any of it. It must have been hard on my mother to watch us figure it out and come to terms with it.
Don’t ask me how because I really don’t understand, but I know that my father got a Catholic funeral service, during which I remember being antsy and trying to play on the floor with my brother. At one point during one of the gazillion prayers (I was seven, remember) I looked up at my paternal grandmother and then at my mom to see them with their heads bowed and crying. I thought I should be crying too, but not really knowing the reason I should be crying. It wasn’t until we were sitting in the back of the limo that it hit me.
My brother and I were seated on someone’s lap, propping me up high enough to see out the front windshield where the pallbearers were loading my father’s flag draped coffin into the back of a hurse. I knew in that moment that my daddy was in that box. That knowledge sent me into a torrent of sobs so violent that I literally have no memory of anything else until we were back at my grandmother’s house playing with the cousins. I’m told that I cried harder than anyone else, and that it scared everyone.
For a while after that my mom took us on what we jokingly refer to as the church hop. Every Sunday, and a few Saturdays, she would dress us up and visit a different church. She says she was trying to find the right one for us. We tried them ALL, every church in town, every denomination. We never did join any of them.
I attended summer Bible camps with friends when invited, going to three in one summer once, and for a while I attended Sunday School regularly with one of my neighbors at a Baptist church. Up until high school if anyone asked I’d gladly accompany them to the service of their faith, whatever it was, but none of them ever spoke to me. I heard everything from loving to wrathful, forgiving to condemning. I asked questions, I read, and still nothing.
Finally I had to admit to myself that I just wasn’t Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other formalized religion with a house of worship. So where did that leave me? That’s when peers who didn’t claim a particular faith began to talk about being agnostic or atheist. To me those terms just spoke of ambivalence and obstinance, neither of which I felt applied to me.
I had formed a foundation of what I believed. I didn’t have a name for it, but it had power and substance. I felt it as surely as I drew breath. There was something greater than me; it added to my strength, comforted me, and guided me when I asked. I doubted the words spoken by others, but never the power that moved inside and around me. I began to truly listen and feel.