|money from my grandmother to buy. As she read, I inevitably raised my eyes to the single other treasure we owned — a purple velvet picture hanging on the wall,
showing a little girl on her knees with her hands clasped together, with some fancy gold script writing underneath.
I still can recite many of the words and lessons repeated to me over and over in that tiny bedroom, and I don’t know which I learned to actually read first – a
Childcraft poem or the “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” prayer, but books and prayer were always a part of my life.
My first church experience was with the Salvation Army. Alongside an ever-changing congregation of homeless alcoholics and folks down on their luck, we were
faithfully fed after Wednesday night and Sunday morning services. The pastor gave us groceries, taught Bible school class, led us in song, and helped my mother
keep the family cobbled together through church-sponsored foster care. I enthusiastically sang hundreds of rounds of “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and
“The B-I-B-L-E, that’s the book for me!”
When my mother remarried, we were upgraded to a better neighborhood and sent to the First Christian Church. It had a hell-fire-and-damnation preaching
orientation. At age 12, I was baptized by total submersion in a tank, wearing only underwear and a thin white “robe” fashioned out of a sheet. I still have the
humiliating memory of walking across the stage to get my first very own Bible — wearing a clinging wet bed sheet.
On a more positive note, I loved the singing and the splendor of the sunlight coming through the stained glass. Our church encouraged Bible reading, and my favorite
television show was the animated David and his faithful companion dog Goliath. I coveted the weekly tradition of passing the silver trays with the little glass cups of
sweet, dark grape juice – the symbolic blood of Christ. His body was represented by individual little oyster crackers, which we plucked from a walnut tray. The
congregation in general felt somewhat superior to our Catholic relatives and neighbors who drank sour wine from a single cup.
The God Squad
The church briefly hosted a traveling missionary evangelist who spoke in tongues. I was in junior high school — an impressionable age. Inspired — and armed with
the new conviction that I was called to be a disciple of sorts –I soon rounded up a small band of young teens to form a “God Squad”. Okay, yes, it was loosely
modeled after “The Mod Squad”, but in my mind, we would reclaim souls with the power of Group Prayer.
Since it wasn’t saints who needed a prayer group, I had purposely worked hard to recruit some of the more fringe kids at school. One of them made connections for
a place to meet. It was surprising, how easy it was to convert them, and we came together to pray on Wednesday nights at a rural farmhouse. The majority were
happy enough to pray for orphans or cripples, but several smirked when I asked them to pray hard for wayward friends. Oh, ye of little faith, I thought. But it
proved to be more of an uphill battle to save their souls than I had imagined — most of the dozen quit coming after the mandatory month it took to get the t-shirt. (I
decided they had to attend four meetings before earning a maroon t-shirt emblazoned with “The God Squad” in gold because I paid for them with the money I had
earned by selling seed packets door to door. )
Who’s the dope who needs prayers now?
What I did not know until later was that the hippie who owned the farmhouse was growing weed in his back yard. Several members of my prayer group used the
meeting as an excuse to get their parents to bring them to his house. Meaning they used me (and God) to steal or buy weed. I later put it all together when I heard
that the hippie was busted about the same time they dropped out of the meetings.
I had bought into the idea that it’s important to pray for sinners as well as for the virtuous victims, but being used as a front to score dope was not the Great Design
I thought God had in mind for me. Suddenly I was a morally outraged 14-year-old girl on a mission to save an ungrateful world, and what irked me most was the
realization that the shirts didn’t mean anything to them after all!
At about the same time that my little cult fell apart, I also was becoming more aware of the greater real world, having stumbled across Dow Chemical and napalm. I
coincidentally overheard our pastor’s wife make a racist remark after Sunday service. Stung by the hypocrisy, I indignantly declared myself finished fighting to save
Humanity, which no longer deserved my prayers. It was too much cognitive dissonance. I’d rather be an atheist or maybe an agnostic and hope God damned all the
hypocrits to hell!
All of this black-and-white versus shades-of-gray thinking left me quite depressed and confused. Denouncing God’s existence was absurd, like hiding from someone
who could see me no matter how invisible or sulky I became. I was a natural rebel, but not against authority – only to be true to the highest authority. This religious
questioning tore my soul apart.
I roasted marshmallows over my God Squad shirt to make myself feel better, but that only reminded me of the last time I’d roasted a shirt. It had been cut out of an
old chenille bedspread that my mom was finally going to throw away. Lacking access to new material for a blouse, I’d pieced together a pattern from the bedspread
parts that didn’t have worn holes, and then sewn into a shirt. I’d embroidered “RF” on it — stood for “rat fink”, a kind of cool expression, to make it seem purposely
odd and, therefore, way cool. Then later, catching a glimpse in a downtown store window of myself wearing it , I decided it still looked ridiculous. And there I was,
standing in the middle of downtown, in a bedspread rat fink shirt. So I roasted that shirt in the backyard to destroy any evidence that I’d ever done anything so stupid.
From Rat Fink shirt to God Squad shirt. They were both stupid ideas. Inspired, but ultimately humbling.
Back to church
At the age of 16, I began attending the United Methodist Church for the simple reason that it provided me and my [then] boyfriend with one more excuse to spend
time together. But even as he and I secretly held hands less and less often during the sermons, I gravitated more and more toward the “God is Love, not Hate and
Fear” faith. It was one of my more mature decisions a year later to be confirmed and to join the membership.
When I later married a Catholic (oh my!), our children were alternately raised in both churches and attended Catholic schools. The priest allowed me the privilege of
drinking the sour wine from that single cup at their first communions, though I never changed church affiliations myself. I’m humbled to say I realized it as a
privilege to share in that moment with my children. That we were a family of faith was not in doubt; how it would be expressed was a little less defined. I was
experiencing and appreciating more and more shades of gray, I was growing in my faith. I’d grown much more liberal in my thinking about what faith was and all
the many ways it could be experienced, just as I learned that prayers are not “earned” any more than taking a breath is earned. And turning the other cheek is a much
more radical and brave act than I had imagined.
My son, in search of Jesus.
Daniel-Paul, my oldest and much beloved child, always talked about God without reservation and felt that Jesus was a real presence in his life, too. He actually was a
little preachy to his siblings, just as I had been with mine, and it secretly pleased me that the nut didn't fall far from the tree. But, also like me, he sometimes was
conflicted about those feelings.
When he was a wee lad of about three, after being punished for pulling the stuffing out of his bed mattress, Daniel walked outside with a stick, raising it high up into
the air – up and down, up and down went the stick – as he marched around in circles in the farmyard where we lived.
I watched him from the window for several minutes. Then, somewhat bewildered and more than a little exasperated with his unusual behavior that day, I joined him
outside. “What on earth are you doing, Daniel-Paul?”
“Poking Jesus where he lives,” he sulked.
It made me chuckle then, and still does today. The little sheep had strayed from the Shepherd and earned a time out; it made him mad!
So what has my faith evolved into today?
I don’t care to attend any church these days, though I enjoy the rituals on behalf of my children, as they marry, baptize babies, and help me bury my family members.
A person I hold dear — the Web Chef as he’s known, if you want to google Paul Gibler — told me that every blog should have a take-away that can be summed up
in a paragraph. I’ll do you the honor of trying to do that now.
When Daniel died (all those years ago now, at age 16), he had the police prayer that he had so carefully written. It was folded up, carried faithfully in his wallet. He
had wanted to be a police officer, and had given me a copy to carry in my wallet as well.
My faith was not shaken. The first person I called was my pastor. The second was my mother, and the third was my best friend. Faith, family, friends, in that order.
I believe we all have a journey to make, and I was honored and enriched that my journey included being Daniel’s mother. Whether I believe Death is predestined or
not, my faith allowed – insisted – that God would be present to welcome my son home, and to take away any fright or pain he would have felt here, on this plane of
existence, after his accident. Admittedly, I lived the “Footprints in the Sand” poem. I was carried along, exhausted and stunned and fighting mad, as hopeless and
helpless in my grief as anyone could ever be… but I was carried along, and then supported by my faith in a loving God and the promise that my son has an enduring
energy that will exist through all eternity, and so I am never separated from him – by God’s grace and in God’s love.
And it is from this place that I write for you.
This article is copyrighted by the author. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reprinted without permission of the author. ©Copyright 2009: Glynn
Patrick & Associates