My “godless” childhood
Last weekend we had my husband’s company Christmas party in Newport, RI, which is where I lived as a child. We decided to stay over since it would have been a long, late-night drive back. I thought it would be fun to go to my old church on Sunday morning and called my best friend to see if she wanted to meet us. We grew up in that church, that is, until I moved away, and attended a different church of the same “religion” in Massachusetts.
I further disagree. There was really nothing spiritual about the service at all. I do know that the primary useful thing this church taught me was that there are many ways of doing things. I remember reading and rereading “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” a Judy Blume book about a girl in sixth grade who grew up without a religious affiliation. I spent my teen years wishing I was Catholic, because all my friends seemed to be; then attending a Baptist church for a while with some friends from my high school cross country team; and then into the dark void of college – occasionally brightened by my fascination with Martin Luther King, Jr., who got his Ph.D. in theology at the same school I attended – and young adulthood, until I landed in a Protestant church after finding God in a self-help fellowship with spiritual guiding principles.
The service started out with “Oh Come, Emmanuel” but that was the only reference to God or Jesus in the entire hour and a half, and I guess that was supposed to cover the topic of advent as well. No Lord’s Prayer, no “peace be with you,” and no “Glory Be.” The minister talked about “storytelling” and the fact that stories get diluted and changed as they are passed along, how foolish our ancestors were to think dreams were reality (e.g., if you see your loved ones in a dream and think they are real, you must be really simple minded, which is insulting to me, because my dreams about my parents who have passed and my memories are what keep them “alive” for me), and suggested that the Bible was just a bunch of made up stories. Even though I often wonder why the Bible was edited the way it was and believe it does not contain all the gospels, as well as the fact that it’s no doubt translated differently by different people, I didn’t think discounting the Bible the way this minister did – especially in a supposed house of worship – was even remotely appropriate. My husband later told me he almost got up and left at that point. I replied that I wouldn’t have blamed him.
Then, on the drive home, I had a light-bulb moment that brightened my reflection on my supposedly spiritually barren childhood. I remembered a big gaudy yellow button with a bright green frog that I’d stuck into the cloth speaker on the clock radio next to my bed. It said, “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.” I have no idea where I got it but was fascinated by that saying and it has stuck with me my whole life. I did not grow up godless! And this is why, in our family we do talk about gifts and talents and try to remember to thank God for our sports skills; our academic gifts, or our creative talents like music, art, and writing in our prayers.
She reassured me, “You were not Godless…God brought you into this world for a purpose…and had you experience what you experienced so you could do His will in the manner that He had planned for you. So continue to seek and He will order your steps.”
“And remember, if you don’t use your gifts, you will lose them,” my colleague admonished.
…but what better way to prepare for Christmas than by appreciating my God-ful life, reflecting upon Christ’s first coming to Earth as a baby, and for feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit…and sharing this with others?