“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. ”
Thank you Judy Blume, for those words…and for that book.
That Margaret was 11 going on 12 when this best seller hit the bookstores in 1970. This Margaret, best known as Peggy, was 18, but oh, how I loved that book. I related to it. I identified with the Margaret in the book.
Huh? I know, I know. I hear you…what does an eighteen year old have in common with an eleven year old…other than a name?
I too, was what they call a “late bloomer’….I had crooked teeth, was a shapeless stick until my early twenties, mousy brown hair that was as straight as a pin.
I grew up in a home where my mother was Baptist, and my father, an excommunicated Catholic who had converted to Baptist to please my mother. I like to joke and say I am the product of a mixed marriage.
My paternal grandmother raised her children Catholic, the religion of her husband, my grandfather, yet she attended a Pentecostal church.
All ‘hell broke loose’ when, after my Grandfather’s death, she had him buried in the Wesleyan – Methodist cemetery. Her children were aghast. In a conversation with my elderly neighbour, a childhood friend of my grandmother, she was stunned that I would even dare suggest that my grandmother had become Catholic, let alone married one!
I also remember seeing my maternal great grandmother’s shock when I one day innocently mentioned that I was thinking of attending Catechism classes that were held on the neighbouring island on Saturday afternoons. I thought it might help me better understand my father’s background. ‘Catholics are going to hell’, she said. ‘They don’t believe in the true God and they worship idols.’ WHAT???
Oh yes, I was indeed the product of a mixed religious background! Denying, and even lying about, your religion and bigotry ran deep in the Christian roots of my family tree.
My father used the analogy that God was the hub of a great wheel, and ALL religions were the spokes….each trying to make their way to God…just taking different routes. And so, with that in mind, and with my father’s blessing, and encouragement, I delved headfirst into a search for my own religious identity at the ripe old age of 14.
By the time I was 42, I had read everything I could about a few religions, (given there are some 4300+ in the world, I’d still be reading) including about 15 sectors of Christianity; Islam; Hinduism; Buddism (which in it’s purest isn’t considered a religion); Judaism,;Baha’i Faith; Wicca; Mormonism, and yes…Satanism.
To understand my journey and search, let me first take you back to my childhood and the early influences on my young, impressionable mind.
The small island fishing village where I grew up in didn’t offer much in the way of “different”. There were no people of colour, only a handful of men that I knew that spoke anything but English…they all spoke a version of French, but conversed in english; and certainly no other religions than Christianity….and Protestant at that. We had two churches on the island: The Baptist and The Church of Christ. That was it.
As a child I was expected to attend Sunday School and church every Sunday. My mother sometimes went with my sisters and I, but more often than not, particularly as we got older, we went alone, or I’d go with my grandmother. My father would attend the Christmas concert and occasionally the roll call service once a year. It was a time of “Do as I say, not as I do” parenting.
In addition, for years, I attended Bible study classes, which would be the foundation of some wonderful conversations with my father, who rather than tell me what he thought a passage or a lesson meant, would encourage me to think it through and tell him what I thought (what a concept: an adult who cared what a child/teen actually thought!)…and then we’d discuss his thoughts on it and how it related to, or differed from, my own.
I also attended several church groups for teens over the years and CGIT…Christian Girls in Training. Concerts, picnics, socials….so much of my young life revolved around the church, or as some would say, ‘in service to the Lord.’
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
As a child, Sunday School was the place where I first began learning about God and Jesus and the Bible. We did say nightly prayers and “grace” before meals, but that was the extent of religion in our home. Well, except that we were expressly forbidden to play cards, do laundry, or play music on Sundays….all the work of the devil I expect…..although I often wondered if the devil had a hand in those things on Sunday, what did he do the rest of the week?
To my young self, the God of my childhood was not love. The God of my childhood was vengeful, frightening, terrifying .
The God of my childhood was full of retribution and anger. Hellfire,brimstone and damnation at His hand would be your fate if you were not a believer.
Even hymns held visual terror for me…His terrible swift sword conjured images of beheadings and death; are you washed in the blood, in the soul cleansing blood of the lamb? a dead man’s blood or a slaughtered baby animal? Why would those mental images bring comfort, peace and feelings of love to a child? I had no concept of metaphors in those years. All I had were nightmares.
As a child, I did not sense the grace of God. I feared the wrath of God.
Even the hymns without those terrifying images in them, seemed to me, sad, not joyful. As a young teen I joined the choir in our church which meant another commitment of time for practices. I remember wondering why so many of the songs we sang we ‘draggy’, mournful and filled with sorrow and question.
And yet, even with so much of my life revolving around the church, I had doubts. As many of my friends were being baptized, I had a knot in my stomach even thinking about it.
As minister after minister came and went from that church on the hill, many tried to pressure me into baptism. Again, I went to my father and told him I wasn’t ready…it just didn’t feel right….the teachings of the church sounded hollow to me…so much didn’t ring true. My Dad told me to follow my heart. “Find your own truth” he said. I was 14. The dichotomy of my life and my thoughts had begun.
So began my journey of questioning, of doubt, of understanding, of denial, of acceptance and ultimately of peace in finding my own path; my own truth; my own faith.