Monday, 18 July 2011

Religion in England and America Part 3: Like Folks Were Up There Dying

Manver's Street Baptist Church

I promised Gram that I'd say a prayer for her at St. Patrick's. Steph and I had caught a New Year's Day flight to Dublin. Her pristine sense of direction failed on account of the curving streets and my organizational skills had flown out of me during the terrible year. Two things: Never use churches as landmarks in Dublin and always travel with someone who will think walking in circles for hours is hilarious. We stayed up and out well into the night because I had managed to book us into the world's worst hostel and got up early because there is only so much time you can spend on top of blankets worrying about previous tenants. Steph tried to get me to talk, something I had forgotten how to do. I tried to make sure her hands didn't freeze, something they do easily. And between us, we made a nearly perfect weekend.

And when we made the necessary trip to St. Patrick's, we separated and made our necessary pilgrimages alone. I pulled my lighter from my pocket and lit a candle before sinking to my knees in front of the Virgin Mary. I hadn't prayed in years, tried to take up a conversation with God in such a way that I might expect to be heard. I envy the high churches their saints, their priests, their numerous beings who might intervene. I grew up in low church protestantism, my conversations were, by necessity of doctrine, with God.

My path out of first organized religion, then Christianity, and finally into Agnosticism was so typical that it hardly bears the telling. First there was the great event that made me cling to the Church and its teaching. Second I began to question the church's reaction to that crisis. And then I wondered at the Church's teachings. I stopped participating in the parts of services I didn't believe in.I remember too well the moment I realized that I could sit through an entire service without standing or speaking or sitting.  I kept God and rejected the church before asking the question: What kind of God...?Certainly not the one I was raised to believe in. God and I talked a lot in the intervening years, until I found I was simply talking to myself.

When I was young and still believed, I did not so much converse with God as write long letters to him in my head. So began on that kneeler in Dublin. Dear God and excuse me entity for talking to you when I don't believe in you, but I made this promise to my grandmother. Her soul, it could use a little help. You know just in case I'm wrong and she's right. I wonder if perhaps you'd bring her some comfort even if the request came from a giant hypocrite who thinks this is a pretty amazing piece of art standing in front of me. Um, the end.

I didn't leave my religion is a giant kerfuffle. And your faith, your belief, your ability to comfort with the promise of a prayer, I envy.  As I hold hymns and the psalms as sacred, so too I hold hard physical work and grief. So too I hold I love yous and goodbyes and echoing silences. As for the profane, I believe that is sacred too. But there are two things that I still cannot endure: the belief that one cannot have faith and spirituality without God or religion, and the certainty that one's own beliefs entitle them to mock the other.

And so you would think that I should be entirely comfortable living in a country where most folks hold their religion or lack of religion close to their chests. I'm not, and I'll tell you why just as soon as I get through the week.

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