Once upon a time, I was a young girl creature who went faithfully to Sunday school each week. I climbed on the bus wearing a pretty dress, the week's Bible verses dutifully memorized, and eagerly anticipated singing hymns and making macaroni crafts in the Sunday school class taught by my aunt. My parents didn't force me to go. I wanted to go because I liked Sunday school. I liked the Sunday school teachers, liked the pretty stained glass windows in the church, liked riding on the bus my uncle drove. And I liked believing, liked having faith as much as a child of 6 or 7 can understand the concept of faith.
I grew older and my family moved to a different part of the city, so I stopped going to church with my aunt and uncle. But I sought new experiences of my own, went to church with my friends. I seem to recall I even tried vacation Bible school once. But none of the new ones really stuck, and I was becoming more sophisticated and more cynical about religion as I realized the only reason most kids got on the bus was because the driver passed out free candy.
I had always been a bit odd anyway. I was never quite devout to any particular Christian doctrine, having attended churches Apostolic, Pentecostal, Baptist and I can't really remember what other denominations, but there must have been others. I was Christian as a child and adolescent because that's the religion I was exposed to, but I recall telling one of my Sunday school teachers back in the day that I thought the various gods people worshiped and all of the different religions were really all the same. I have a vague recollection of an expression of shock.
Somewhere along the way, I could no longer see any logical reason why someone would choose one religion over another. None of them seemed any more right or wrong than any other.
In 8th grade, I learned the words "agnostic" and "atheist" for the first time. They were on a spelling test. By then, it had been a couple of years since I'd been to church, and something about those words seemed to fit. By high school, I had lost interest in religion altogether and embraced my identity as a nonbeliever, but some part of me missed having faith.
At age 19, I read St. Augustine's Confessions
for a college course. A year or two later I read Mahfouz's The Beggar
. Both nagged at something in my soul that wanted the comfort of belief.
After college, I tried church again with a friend who invited me to her non-denominational church, The Vineyard. It was one of those megachurches with a coffee house and dance ministry and a "Christian contemporary" band, and no stained glass anywhere to be seen. It just didn't speak to me. I sat there with my friend, watching people with their hands raised to the heavens and dancing to the music, and I waited to feel something. Anything. But nothing came. I concluded that Christianity was no longer for me.
But that nagging never really went away.
I came close to feeling something like faith once about three years ago. I had to cover an event at a church -- a choir of young African orphans singing cheerfully about how their lives had changed through God. It was the people who almost inspired me to go back. They were open, accepting, friendly. For a few moments, I thought it was a place I might be loved. But I never went back.
I've tried other forms of religion or spirituality. My inner feminist tends to like the goddess-based religions a little better than most, and the compassionate part of me finds certain tenets of Buddhism appealing. Again, nothing ever really stuck.
But now I'm having a life crisis (Again? Still?) and discovering that what I thought was depression is really malnourishment. I'm starving in my heart and soul and, try as I might, I can find nothing to fill the emptiness. I've tried food, shopping, relationships -- all were illusory balms. So my thoughts have turned once again to religion. Perhaps spiritualism would be a better word for it, since I don't think I'll ever be able to embrace organized religion the way I did as a child. I've changed too much for that.
I also think that religion is, in fact, an illusion to which we cling to repel darkness and pain from our lives. I don't believe god is a real entity hovering out there in heaven or space. But I do believe there may be a divine spirit emanating from humanity, dwelling within us, if we can tap into it. So, perhaps delving back into religion, or spirit, is illusory, but no less so than the human relationships I've looked to for comfort that I haven't found.
Anyway, when I came across this book on the clearance rack at Hastings, I thought reading a poet's interpretation of the stories of the Bible -- distilling them down to their essence and, I hope, stripping them of the bits that are so maliciously twisted in service of hate and oppression -- might spark something.
I do know that any god I could ever embrace has to be one of compassion, tolerance and love, not wrath, hate and spite.