My introduction to religion came when my mother sent me to Sunday school while she and my father stayed home and played Bridge. They were in a really high level Bridge league. They read about Bridge and studied the Bridge column in the daily newspaper. And so since they were playing Bridge every weekend morning, my mother asked the lady from across the street to drive me to Sunday School at the First Methodist Church and all the while we drove there the lady from across the street would be asking:
Your parents should believe in God.
You need to tell your parents that they will suffer great pain and torture if they don’t come to church too.
Do you know what will happen to them if they don’t? The devil is always walking under our feet.
I’m not quite sure if that lady was actually a Methodist, but regardless, my relationship to faith as a child related mostly to worry and shame and duty and paranoia and the sense of being judged, not only by God, which is exhausting enough, but by everybody else. I mean, Jesus seemed like a simply wonderful person in all the stories, but I didn’t want to ride in that car with that lady!!
From the beginning, I found more pleasure in Art. I used to love to draw. I used to sit at the bus stop after school and draw until the bus came, and lots of times I would miss the bus. And once when I was drawing, this girl came up to me, maybe she was about fifteen or so, and I was eight or nine and she said “That’s a nice thing you’re drawing there.” I said “Thanks.” And she said, “Do you want to draw even better?” And I said “Okay.” And she said “You’ll draw better if you accept Jesus as your Lord and personal savior.”
In fact, I had such a bad taste in my mouth about church and religion and what it meant, that I broke up with my high school boyfriend because he confessed to me that he had belonged to a Christian youth group in the past and was considering joining back up.
“Forget it,” I said. “We’re finished here.” And once he dropped out of it completely, once he had ripped up his phone list and severed all his ties to the group, I told him we could get back together.
In fact, over the years, I’ve been very promiscuous about faith. I always knew there was something missing in my life, but I didn’t know what to look for. So I acted with faith like someone at a party. I would sample different faiths like hors d’oeuvres. I would take small bites. Just small bites, so my relationship to faith wouldn’t get too intense, because I didn’t want to spoil the bouquet.
I was Jewish Monday, Wednesday and Friday and a Buddhist on weekends. I had Hindu friends. I liked to have long conversations with Sikh cabdrivers in New York. I went to séance parties where people were channeling everything from reptilian aliens to the nephew of Nicodemus.
I tried to give myself to political causes as if they were religions. Feminism became my religion. And for the last fifteen years or so, it was my career. Ambition was my religion, and the misery it caused almost drove me into the ground.
Until I noticed, about 9 years ago, my husband, after growing up in the Baha’i Faith and leaving it for a decade or so, he started to explore a relationship with the Faith once again and he started to pray. And fortunately this time, I didn’t break up with him because of it.
Instead, I snuck a look at the prayer books once in a while when he wasn’t home, at first out of alarm for my welfare. Because what if my husband was behaving well, for instance, and God gets suddenly pleased with him or whatever and things start to go well for him and then God will look down on me and say “Hey, wait a minute. You need to be punished for just living there and ignoring the fact that prayer and good behavior is going on in such close vicinity.” So I started to pray secretly, out of fear. And not a small bit of guilt, but then strangely enough— The Hidden Words, which I quoted before, they started to speak to me. I’d be completely baffled by something in my short story writing (which was my religion), I would be just up in arms over a character, about to rip up the page, and I would read:
O Son of Man, veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence I knew My love for thee and therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.
And then I was surprised, then I was refreshed, then I realized that my work did not belong to me, it belonged to God. I realized that someone loved me regardless. I just had to accept it. And I realized too, how much pain God must feel, loving us. God wasn’t cold and angry. I imagined God was filled with an ineffable sadness for all the love that couldn’t reach it’s destination.