I’m going to do something crazy. Serialize the narrating of my inner unfolding in a shamelessly autobiographical manner. This is my truth and intimate meaning. I do not care if it offends, but that is light years away from my intention.
Fragment 1 — Five Year-Old Kid
I was always just about the youngest. 5 entering first grade, not 6 till late October after the sun was colored by Scorpio and the winds of mystery threatened the colorful clinging leaves jeweling woodlands all around me. It was Mother who pushed for the Catholic school. Dad didn’t have conviction either way. Neither did Mom, I eventually worked out. It was just that she was young and Irish and not inclined to buck what she took for authority in those days. She didn’t even go to Mass much, because housewiving took its toll during the week, and she needed a break, slept in Sundays. And believe me, I do not criticize here one iota. But when you are a kid you do not entirely grasp why adults sleep late once a week. And depression, if applicable, is not within your worldview. But when it came to her kids she was a vigilant warrior on the matter of ensuring the holiness within their education. And I was the first, so the experiment began.
I don’t remember many of the specifics of very early Cathechismic indoctrination that first year. Just Q&A memorizations. Question 1 was definitely: Who made me? And the sanctioned response: God made me. Question 2 was: Why did God make me? Because he loves me. After that my memory disintegrates. Not cause I wasn’t bright. I was. Maybe too bright. It is because, I eventually figured out, the whole delivery and engagement mechanism for the subject of religion was memorization. Nothing expansive, like discussions or details about how, etc. But I did succeed in auto-stimulating my imagination in this realm that first year. It was because of the pictures, and the architecture. We had classes in the basement of the church in the beginning, and would head upstairs once in awhile to sit in those oaken pews with the scattering wafts of enormous beeswax candles. Huge paintings of Christ undergoing the various stations. Windows with spectacular blue and red colored images inside them. Saints with gold disks sprouting about their worthy heads. The glowing rows of red votive candle racks for special wish prayers, it was mentioned. The nuns in their severe black and white uniforms, ladies without hair. And the ceilings, God, the rafters! Insufficient light penetrated those heavenly regions making it child’s play to author elaborate ‘true’ fantasies about possible angel faces moving about in the high shadows. Or if one was particularly wholesome that day, maybe it was even possible to glimpse the eye of one of the exalted members of the Trinity.
Two other semi-scriptural concepts lodged in my being by the end of that first year. The first was ‘grace’, a word tossed about by priests and nuns fairly often but without anything approaching a definition. I knew it a supremely pure and good thing though. And pictured it inhabiting the holy golden canister wherein numerous hosts, bodies of Jesus, were stored. I imagined the holiest bestest most love-laden and perfect liquid I could think of. And that was my grandmother’s golden brown gravy poured down in selfless divine altruism upon her sauerbraten or roast beef and mashed potatoes upon occasional wonderful weekend visits. It was thick and brimming with goodness, blessing nostril and taste bud and eyeball. And so it was this that became the visual symbol of Holy Grace for me, my grandmother’s gravy. Heck they even started with the same three letters. Had to be correct. If I could clearly imagine the gravy in its absence, I knew I was in a sanctified mood. This image single-handedly conducted me past a lot of boring drivel in the first year of my exposure to Roman Catholic catechism.
The second abiding concept was the numerology within Genesis. One of the kindlier nuns would tell stories from the first chapter of the Bible. Sporadically reading verbatim that strange and ancient vocabulary, but usually she would just regale us from memory. What stuck? The cosmic mysteries of 12, 7, and 3-ness. Why was it mentioned so pointedly that Joseph’s coat had many colors? And why exactly twelve brothers? It was not lost on my flickering imagination that this was also the quantity of Apostles. And months. And why was it that exactly seven days were utilized by Yahweh for Creation, one as a rest day? Kids were confused by rest. Seven days of the week, and rainbow colors. The number of holy sacraments. Exactly seven times two stations of the Cross. The years of Egyptian famine. (Much later I would learn there were seven cardinal sins.) And three! The wise kings. The members of the Godhead Trinity. The gifts to the Child, the hanging bodies on Calvary. Then there was the arranging of the commandments on those stone tablets handed down to Moses. Three on the left, pertaining to God. And seven on the right, for society and men. When I got a little older this actually became a serious driver for me to move away from the ‘religion’. Not even so much the fact that nobody, priest, mother superior, nun, or even visiting bishop, demonstrated any knowledge as to the significance of these numeric scriptural facts. You know what it was? The absolutely total lack of curiosity about the question. Not a catechism question: so ignore it. God is wise, good, and perfect, and yours is not to ponder why.
Yes! Mine was to ponder why! Deeply. And soon as I possessed enough concepts, I realized that any approach to spirituality which did not honor this human inquisitiveness within me as a core value was not an uncorrupted spiritual legacy at all! That was MY faith. And it was sacred. Like Jefferson said: We hold this truth to be self-evident!
But before dispensing with the Catholic religion altogether, I need to tell you about First Holy Communion and it’s youth-shattering prerequisite: Holy Confession…
This tale is to be Continued… The next installment will be linked right here.
[ Image : some enduring obsessions of mine include musical instruments of the world, wildflowers of America’s northeast, and birdsong calls. To lighten the narrative I choose one such example each installment. This is an Indian sarangi. I fell in love with its sound and ambience when I first heard one, aged 17. It is played with a bow, and has been referred to as ‘the voice of a thousand colors’. To hear one: link. ]
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