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. (Use index at left for specific chapters; here is the previous episode.)
Fragment 3 — Excommunicated into Hellfire
One day there was a tennis ball laying on Patty’s lawn not twenty feet away from the side of my house where I used to hunt for flecks of mica among the soil and pebbles. It was greyed from the rains, but looked to be in good shape. I thought it probably had a really good bounce left in it. What was it doing there? Wrong object, wrong place. Girls didn’t hardly play with balls and Patty only had sisters, no boys in her family. Yeah, sometimes they liked to bounce pink balls under their legs while reciting rhymes. And there was that doofus peculiar game of jacks they played on sidewalks sometimes, but that used a miserably tiny ball you could neither play catch with or smash with a baseball bat. I watched it for several days and the mystery only deepened. Nobody cared about it except me; it never moved. Until finally, able to contain myself no longer, I dashed across the expanse of green grass and snatched it. For a day or two I bounced it with delight in my driveway.
Third grade plodded along. For the most part I greatly enjoyed myself engineering my own explorations about science, math, and geography — I loved maps of all description — and reading Hardy Boys detective tales, and widening my territory in the neighborhood with friends on our bicycles. Religion never changed much. Just the catechism Q&As you had to memorize got longer. I gradually became more sensitive towards the minor hypocrisies noticed in the behaviors of priests and nuns in my orbit. We had lay teachers too, and I always tended to find a respite in their presences. Holy days of Obligation came and passed. Ash Wednesdays, when the charcoal splotch on Eileen’s forehead was always perfect as an Indian lady’s ruby red bindi, while my own was shapeless and smudged beyond recognition. Once a week or so our entire class would trek across the parking lot to the old warm church for a Mass for some reason or other. And I would try but fail to unravel the rhyme or logic behind the priest’s choice of vestment colors that day. And of course, by now all of us fully eligible, there was Communion, the wafer of transubstantiation. These usually occurred on Fridays. And the reigning powers always arranged for Confession the day before on Thursdays in this case, so that the kids were all cleansed and ready for “this is My Body”.
My soul life was about to undergo a fundamental shift. My mother had kept me home that Thursday with a throat cold or something. Next day, sitting among my classmates during the early portions of Mass, a horrid reality began to dawn on me. Holy Communion was maybe half an hour away, and I had missed Confession the day before. Normally no biggie. But this was the same week as the famous Patty’s lawn tennis ball incident. Pre-meditated evil greed-driven Communion-disqualifying sin. My mood blackened as I realized my predicament. I would be the only kid in the entire class, maybe the entire church who did not go up and receive Communion! The next twenty minutes transformed into some kind of time warp of inner turmoil. I thought about just going to the teacher and explaining in private. But that would be quite irregular and besides she did not look very inviting. I traced through all the religious lore I had accumulated, stuff I’d half forgotten. Receiving the host while in a state of unforgiven sin was a sacrilegious transgression. WTF. Although it seems hilarious from your vantage point, patient reader, I was embroiled in the existential crisis of my young existence. Conscience, creed, rules, decorum, obligation, salvation — all of it blurred into a directionless miserable daydream trance. Dimly, I noticed the row of kids in front of mine in the pews begin filing out to their right to go up and take the Christ.
I went up. I won’t say I decided. It decided within me. I opened my blackened graceless tongue to intake that splendid blessed miracle, no doubt besmirching my suitability as a dwelling place for the Divine for all eternity. Just like that I was worse than condemned. I sat back down in a private tragedy. This was my actual belief for days on end, that I was secretly but in the Church’s eyes excommunicated from the Congregation with no access to future salvation, although publicly I continued to behave normally. Thereby further compounding my damnation by taking even more illicit sacraments routinely. I was in the army of Satan now, an infiltrating spy within the camps of the faithful. And no future confession could possibly begin to admit to the scope of this Judas-like evil.
I was undoubtedly doomed. But then a week passed, and even a month. Oddly I felt more and more normal. I began to see how my classmates were participating in the routine rituals with an unengaged nonchalant boredom. I even caught the priests in this, some of them. They would recite the liturgies in a distracted blandly secular manner, often plowing through Latin paragraphs at warp speed to hurry things along into the next phase. I got the impression that I had taken things far more seriously than most. On top of this, my guilt evaporated. Yet I felt no disruption in my periodic bouts of experienced grace. Something was off about the presentation of this creed, as the Catholic schooling had given it. The underlying foundations had a ring of truth to them. The stories in Genesis and the unfathomable mystery around the Crucifixion had something compelling about them. But the entire organizational structure of the religion including the externalizing of conscience about what was sinful and what was good seemed corrupt to me. I could sense who was involved within a moral questioning in their inner life and who couldn’t give less of a shit about it. And these things did not map sensibly with what the community of nuns and doctrines considered holy.
My independent soul life was blossoming. And I was beginning to claim my inalienable right to spiritual truth discernment as naturally as a teenager asserts their suddenly possessed sexuality. I was 8 years old and certain that, though I had to bide my time, this Roman religion was not going to be my intimate pathway. (Too bad because I really loved the smell of frankincense.) And yet I felt no danger of losing salvation and no diminishing of my spiritual inquisitiveness. In fact it was on the increase. I was confident that the gods were with me, though as of yet, I knew them not.
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. These are a pair of pink lady slipper flowers, members of the orchid family. They grow in deciduous forests of all places, and are a distinct treat to come upon as they are not particularly common (in NJ). They also exist in yellow, but I have only seen that in the wild once. ]
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