For my pedagogy class this afternoon, we were asked to reflect briefly on our “childhood experience of religion.”
I was so amused in writing my response, that I decided I really wanted to share it with you.
As a child I experienced God as my companion, physically (if invisibly) standing beside me in much the same way as I experienced my invisible friends. (Except that God was a constant; whereas I had a line of thousands of invisible friends and if the one next to me annoyed me, I would simply “pow” her up to Mars with a swift right hook and the next invisible friend would step into place beside me.)
I began to attend church regularly while in elementary school. I felt like a newcomer to the church, as it was clear some kids had always gone there. I also felt deeply invested in learning as much about faith as I could. I was asked to preach a sermon at the youth service when I was in fourth grade. I took this responsibility extremely seriously.
I read the Bible in the sixth grade, underlining and noting sections which troubled or confused me. I wanted to set an appointment with the pastor to discuss my questions, but could never find my entry point.
I took home the hymnal one Communion Sunday to re-write the communion prayer because I despised the embedded theology of “We are not worthy even to gather the crumbs under thy table, O Lord.” I planned to submit it to the Hymnal People (whoever they were) so they could do a better job next time.
I designed Bible Studies for my neighborhood friends. I talked with my friend Lori about co-leading the Bible Studies. (They never got off the ground.) I talked with her about the Scripture that tells us not to use the term “father” for anyone but God (it was on my list of questions for my pastor). Lori was Catholic. We tried to get our parents to let us visit each other’s churches, but they would not allow it.
Beginning in Middle School, my family became devoted to the teachings of the televangelist Kenneth Copeland who preached a health-and-wealth gospel message. At this time I “named and claimed” a horse. (I loved horses and desperately wanted one of my own.) I gave God a specific day that I wanted the horse to be delivered. I asked for the horse once. Then every day would thank God for answering the prayer. (Thus fulfilling the formula of naming and claiming, you see.)
It turns out that within days of God’s deadline, our family went to the circus. That year, you could walk around in the midst of the circus animals and talk with their keepers. We stopped to pet the horses and Dad engaged the keeper in conversation: “What does it cost to keep a horse? What do they eat? How much? What if you don’t have the space in your own yard? How do you go about getting a horse stabled?” I listened with an increasingly heavy heart as I grew slowly aware of the burden I was about to place on my family’s finances. God was about to deliver my horse, but I didn’t think we could afford to keep it. That night, not without tears, I cancelled my prayer.
I also cast Satan out of my pimply, adolescent face saying, as I glared passionately into the bathroom mirror: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I cast you out, Satan!” But the prayer/spell hadn’t been strong enough to actually make me wash my face every day, so results were limited.
In high school I became obsessed with Hal Lindsay and the end of the world. I read every book I could by him. I “saved” my Catholic boyfriend. (Clearly we still had lots of issues with Catholicism!) I petitioned the Christian Education committee to allow me to teach a senior high Sunday school course on The Late, Great Planet Earth. I had nightmares about the rapture and getting separated from everyone and everything I loved.
My junior year in high school I engaged in a time of intentional and rigorous agnosticism while also pursuing New Age perspectives espoused by the likes of Shirley Mac Laine and Richard Bach. I attended a Transcendental Meditation seminar with the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi. (I had a kid in my youth group drive me to the hotel where the seminar was being hosted and lied to my parents about going to a movie in order to do so.) By the end of my junior year, I re-embraced Christianity because I was overcome by an experience of Easter, as I recall, feeling that the resurrected Christ was a meaningful reality in my life and therefore undeniable.