write one
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write one

on faith

here’s the church
here’s the steeple
open the door
and see all the people

My mother would repeat that rhyme to me when I was a small child, in her singsong voice, while opening and closing her clasped hands. She’d wiggle her fingers around to represent all the people and I’d picture our small church, and picture myself inside it, legs dangling in one one of the wooden pews, surrounded by friends, relatives, people from my town, all gathered to worship on a Sunday morning.

I had faith then, as a little child. I accepted what I was told as gospel and went to church each week to worship, pray, sing. When I was old enough to receive communion, it was a coming of age for me, something I had looked forward to for years. I felt at one with God. I felt like all good things in life came from him, and if I had faith, good things would continue to happen. My family would be safe and happy, my father wouldn’t die in his job a fireman, my grandparents would always be healthy, the world would provide.

With God all things are possible.
Believe in Jesus, the rest will follow.

I heard these things over and over again and I believed, I believed in the power of prayer, in the goodness of a benevolent God. But insidious things crept in as I got older, things I didn’t want to hear or know.

God knows when you’re lying.
God will punish you for that.
God is watching you and will judge you
.

I started reading the news every day. I read about people in other countries starving to death. I read about young men dying in a war. I read about kids being abused by their parents. And I began to doubt a benevolent or interventionist God existed. Because the God I was told to believe in as a child would not let these things happen. Either I was lied to, or God didn’t care. I still went to church, but because I had to go, not because I wanted to, not because I believed. Once I received my confirmation and fulfilled my sacramental obligations, I started to beg off church. My parents were no longer attending with us, so I’d walk up to the church for 6:00 Saturday night mass, but meet friends in the back of the attached school instead. We were all disaffected youth, bored with God, bored with being good for the sake of being watched. Eventually my parents stopped forcing the mass issue on me and I effectively left the church. I left behind the prayers, the hymns, the fellowship. I left something that had started to ring hollow to me.

Many years later and shortly after my divorce I went off in search of God. I went back to church, knowing full well I didn’t believe in God but hoping against hope that I would find something to cling on to, some shimmer of his presence that would turn me around and give me something to believe in again. I was lonely, feeling hollow and empty inside. My soul was aching. My Catholic upbringing reached out to me and said “Go back to God. Go back to church. Find something to erase the darkness from your life. Find hope in religion.” It was against everything I did (or didn’t) believe, but I was desperate. I was sure I would find something in church to give my life meaning.

The first time I sat in the pew, in the last row at the 10am Sunday mass, every Sunday morning of my childhood came flooding back to me and it was all there — the incantations, the recitations, the hymns, the kneeling, the standing. It was like going to a concert by a band I hadn’t listened to in ages; I still knew all the words to every song, but the passion I once had for those songs had dwindled until the words were just mumbled as rote memorization.

That lasted a few months before I realized that the camaraderie I found in the mother’s group or in mentoring the youth group was just masking my pain, and I wasn’t any further into believing than I had been when I first went back. I was living a lie and, once again, I left the church.

I have been searching for something to believe in ever since. I have been yearning to feel faith in something, to believe in something bigger than me. Every time something tragic like a mass shooting happens, I look at all the people offering up prayers and I wish had that faith would allow prayer and the belief in God and heaven to bring some comfort. I want to have faith that things will get better, that a loved one who passed is in a “better place,” that there truly is a benevolent god.

Sometimes I miss the hymns, I miss the ritualized kneeling and standing, I miss the comfort of reaching for my neighbor during the sign of peace. But it’s just not in me to believe the god they believe in, one that offers peace and calm. I look around me and see a world torn apart by violence and hatred and wonder how people can believe in God, how they can believe that everything is going to be okay, that through God all things are possible. I don’t believe any of that and I am admittedly jealous of the faith they have.

I forget what it was like to have that strength of belief needed to pray every night for the well being of my loved ones, to acknowledge a higher power had authority over me, to truly believe that someone was listening, hearing about my need to keep my family safe. I forget what it was like to walk into a building surrounded by like minded people, all heads bowed and strong in faith.

Where do I find something like that now, especially in these times? Am I left to my own devices, to find strength in myself and the rest of humanity? I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in a just world anymore. I don’t have faith. And that seems like such a failing on my part, like I’m missing something vital in my soul. What do I reach for when I need comfort and hope?

They tore down my small church and made a bigger one on the property, something so large as to be sterile. I remember the comfortable confines of my old church, how it felt like home, and I know I could never be comfortable in this bright, open church they offer now. It’s not the kind of place I grew up in. Still, I wonder what it would be like to walk through those doors again on a Sunday morning, to find joy in the hymns, wisdom in the homily, comfort among neighbors. I’m just afraid if I dared to try it again, I would find everything but the faith I’m so desperately in search of.

here’s the church
here’s the steeple
open the door
and see all the people

I picture my mother moving her fingers around, the church busy with people, and I don’t see myself there in the pews.

I’ll have to look elsewhere.

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