We watched one of those TV news specials tonight. Not a particularly noteworthy event, however the content of this particular program left me feeling incredibly...
I'm not sure what was supposed to be the main focus of the program. It seemed to jump around a lot, or maybe I was just so lost in my own thoughts that I didn't catch on. But basically, it was focused toward religion, and faith.
Unquestioning faith. Unrelenting faith. Just plain old blind faith, that never wavered or weakened.
They all looked a little nuts to begin with. Hands open to the sky, tears flowing freely. Hundreds of people who climbed mountains, or waited in lines for hours, hoping for just a glimpse of someone claiming to be a healer. Collapsing into hysteria or unconsciousness when touched by such a person.
People claiming visions of, and even conversations with the Virgin Mary.
All of them so sure of their faith. So unmoved by how they appeared to the "outside" world.
And I felt sad.
I felt left out.
I felt sorrow in my own lack of faith.
What is it that they have, that I don't? It isn't that I haven't tried. I went to church as a little kid. My mother tucked four quarters into my little palm every Sunday, and sent me off to Sunday school to get my Jesus on. I got up early on Sundays to attend services as a teenager, and even sang in the church choir for a number of years. Even in my adult years, I've sat thru sermons, sometimes even arriving an hour early to sit in the sanctuary, and hope for something "holy" to fill me up.
I talked right out loud to whatever deity would listen.
I let my seven hundred year-old preacher dip me in the magic water.
I even dove nose first into a bible a time or two. Or twelve. Or more.
I wanted to have faith. I wanted to feel what it seemed the church-goers around me were feeling.
I didn't. Even a little.
Oh, sure. I felt good singing hallelujah songs, and being "joyful" near those people who were more righteous than I. I liked the company, and the happy feeling I got when my adorable and feeble preacher put his hand on my shoulder at the end of every sermon, and told me how special I was to him, and how happy he was to see young people like me in church every Sunday.
But as far as being hardcore, dead sure about anything "godly," there was nothing.
I questioned the bible. I questioned it's authenticity, and it's authors, and it's messages that I found to be, at times, entirely contradictory. I questioned the sincerity of people I encountered who preached love, while using it to justify hate. I questioned my own sanity and morals, wondering why my naughtiest thoughts took place in church. I questioned why, if all of this was "real", was I allowed to feel such doubt. And why nothing I did was enough to "make" me a believer.
Not that I'm not a believer. It's just that I'm not sure what I believe. I don't know the answers, and I find myself feeling a sense of longing when I run into those who seem so sure.
I ran away when I was seventeen. With a man. I stayed gone for somewhere near a week, calling once or twice to let my family know that I was ok. It was a weird time. I returned to a lot of very angry people, naturally. It was hard to articulate what I'd been thinking, and I know I must have been asked that question at least a hundred times.
One evening after church choir practice, I found myself sitting on the steps outside with our song leader, smoking together, and talking about my brief ordeal. He listened intently, and with great empathy. He advised me, he hugged me, and he warned me, gently, about the potential folly of my path. He finished with "men can be real bastards sometimes."
I didn't know he was allowed to say that. He was religious, after all. And they don't say words like "bastards." Do they? They're not real people, are they? Not flawed and messy, like me...
From there, I began to wonder if perhaps that isn't the "real" god. Maybe he was, in that moment, some kind of "god" in a sense. A real person, with real compassion, and real concern, reaching out where he knew he could help. What if it's truly that simple?
And if it's not, then what is so wrong with me, that I can't just accept all of these things on faith, without questioning the logic of it all? Without noticing the contradictions? Without being constantly bombarded with my own inner voice, saying, "something about this doesn't jive..."
Do "good" believers feel this uncertainty? How do they settle within themselves the seemingly endless list of questions that I have asked for so long? How do they just believe it all, without question? Part of me is glad that I have the capability of independent and logical thought, and have not been swooped up with the religious "crazies," climbing some foreign mountain to touch someone claiming to talk to angels. And another part of me is a little sad that I can't be filled in such a way. That I can't just "know" what they seem to know. That I can't feel sure, the way they feel sure.
Our song leader died a few months later. And while I missed him so terribly, I felt such a sense of great gratitude for having been able to share such an altering and important moment with him on the steps of our church. I think of him often, and wonder where he is now. If he is now. I wonder if he is with his deity, or if he's currently a fourteen year-old sheep herder in New Zealand. I wonder if he's just ceased to be, infinitely, and secretly hope like hell that's not the case.
And that's all.