Friday, October 4, 2013

Each day in the Senate chambers Barry Black, the senate chaplain, delivers words to remember. His prayers grow more political and memorable as the government shut down continues.  “Save Us From Our Madness” he implores.  So far the Tea Partiers scoff him, but like so many others I cherish his words of wisdom, delivered with passion.
Last Sunday’s outstanding presentation at Oakmont’s Sunday Symposium (Herb Silverman, Candidate Without a Prayer) brought to the foreground once more my own closet behavior about being an atheist.  Not that I don’t fess up to it when asked, but neither do I proclaim it, whereas Herb proudly appeared in his favorite attire, a t-shirt with a happy face proclaiming “Smile, there is no hell”.  Herb, a Jewish atheist from New York, retired as a mathematics professor from a university in South Carolina. He applies mathematical logic to the question of God and the bible.  He is a hundred times more comfortable with his position than am I., but then I am no mathematician.
As a child, I clung to the concept of God and Jesus, like the paste I made with flour and water for my paper dolls. I think I learned all this dogma from the crumbling brown Sunday school a few blocks away.  I think Magnolia Presbyterian was on its last legs and mostly run by volunteers who tended to be evangelical. It closed down when I was about ten, leaving a big hole in my life.  My parents were not athiests, but neither were they church-goers. Sometimes we sang “Jesus Loves Me” on car trips, but I think it was because it was a simple ditty. Likewise my big sister kindly put up with my eccentric belief system, but then she was always kind to accept my eccentricities. No one stopped me from saying grace before meals, or kneeling to say prayers before bed, but I was very much alone in this. I surely needed the crutch. My belief seemed like the most stable element in my strange and highly dysfunctional household.  Also, memorizing things came easy for me, so I always got the most stars for quoting bible verses.
I remember about age nine making a private  appointment with my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Hansen.  She was a kind, rich, stout lady and it took a lot of courage on my part to ask to see her alone.  “I wake up a lot in the night with dreams” I told her. “They seem important and I can’t figure them out”, I confessed, “and then in the morning try as I might I can’t remember them.”  I felt guilt ridden, struggling to hold back the tears.
Her response was serious and comforting. “Don’t worry, Bonnie, if God wants you to remember them he will tell you when you grow up.”  What a relief I felt. Small wonder that forty years later as a psychotherapist one of my favorite activities was helping clients interpret dreams.
When at 15, my father died of a sudden heart attack I turned even more deeply toward God. I prayed and prayed to God to help me understand. Lo, he never did.
Though out college and my early career years I was drawn to the episcopal church, mostly because I loved the ritual and the music.  I thought of it as a sanctuary and a place of safety and beauty.  I loved singing in the choir. It helped that I had the good fortune to have ministers who inspired me and accepted my homosexuality. I would turn to them in times of illness or life crisis.  One is still important in my life today.
Sometime in my late thirties or early forties I began to question my belief in God. Though I occasionally said prayers, I thought of myself as a phony, or fraud, because I only half-believed in what I was doing. I couldn’t stand the feeling of deceit. I liked to think of myself as still spiritual, but I slipped comfortably into non-believing.
Ironically, when Lee and I joined the ranks of AA, I became obsessed with honesty and the remnants of pretending to be a Christian melted away.  But it wasn’t until my sister died that the final something in me “clicked”. One might even say it was a spiritual experience. All at once I knew in the deepest part of me that there is no God.
           I’m indebted to you, Herb Silverman, for through your humor and mathematical applications you force me to hold up the magnifying glass to my own belief systems.  I’m indebted to you, too, Barry Black, for the eloquence of your words in challenging the Senate to look at their own behavior. 
          Even in my most religious days I never embraced the concept of heaven or eternal life, but living without God is a big loss.  I miss the comfort.  I miss the beauty.  I grieve for you, God.  Whoops! How can I grieve for you if you don’t exist?

1 comment:

Beth said...

Kahlil Gibran “In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans."