I have a confession to make: I’m not a religious person. I was born Catholic; I even went to an Episcopalian school for six years, coupled with church every Sunday, but I viewed church more as a social event—a meeting place where I saw my friends.
As I got older, religion faded into the background. My Nana constantly praying for me was about as religious as I got: “God, please let my granddaughter find a well-paying job…and a nice man to take care of her. Keep her safe on the subways, don’t let her open the door to strangers, and please God, help her to wear more pink and less black. Amen.”
When I learned about different religions in college, I decided I was more in tune with Eastern religions, namely Buddhism. My beliefs tended to be more “spiritual” in nature, so whenever anyone asked me what religion I was I simply told them I was a Buddhist. It seemed easier than staring at them blankly, mumbling, “Ummm, well, er, hmmm…”
The message displayed on Central Baptist Church’s sign in Ghent back in 2009 pretty much summed up my devotional practices: “Staying in bed shouting, ‘Oh God’ does not constitute going to church.” And I had no problem with this…until the boy came.
I realize all children have questions about religion as they’re growing up, and when they’re young those questions are easy to answer, for the most part. Heaven was a place you went after you died, but only if you were good; if you weren’t good, then you went to that “other” place—you know, the one without video games and ice cream. Jesus was “this holy guy” and God was who you prayed to when you wanted a Wii for Christmas. Anything more in depth than that, and I was at a loss.
My son witnessed all his friends going to church on Sundays. He wanted to know why we didn’t go to church. “Because Mommy would rather stick a fork in her left eye” was not an acceptable answer, so I found myself trying to distract him from the bigger issue at play. “We can go to church if you want to, honey, oh hey, wanna get some Baskin Robbins right this very second? Come on, let’s go!”
But my son is stubborn. He wanted to know WHEN we could go to church. The fact that parents usually have to force their kids to go to church rather than the other way around was an irony that wasn’t lost on me. “I have to find a church first,” I told him, “and then we’ll go.”
I went to Google and typed in Churchs. Yeesh. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Methodist even if I tried. Friends suggested we go to a Unity Church, but the closest one was twenty minutes away, and I knew if I had to travel to go to church, it wasn’t going to happen on a consistent basis.
I needed a church close by, and I needed services that were late in the morning. 10:00 on a Sunday? Waaaay too early. It was a challenge to find, so I went back to what I knew and googled Catholic Churches. Bingo! There was one three blocks from our house, and they had a service at 5:30 every Sunday.
We went. It didn’t kill me. The singing was nice, and the priest sounded like Apu from The Simpsons. My son didn’t like holding hands with the strangers next to us, but he managed all right. “Can we go again next Sunday?” he asked. “Absolutely!” I smiled, my left eye twitching slightly.
But the following Sunday I bought a Christmas tree, and as I struggled to put it up, the dear boy reminded me, “It’s almost time for church.” I looked up at him from the floor, pine needles sticking out of me like I was getting an acupuncture treatment and said, “Church is cancelled, so everyone can get their holiday stuff done.”
I know! I know! I’m going to Hell, because his friend three minutes later announced, “Well, I’ve got to leave now to go to church.” “There’s no church my mom said.” Dammit. “I was lying, I mean, kidding,” I quickly told him. “We’ll go during the week, okay? Hey, you want some ice cream?”
I can do this for my son. I WILL do this for my son. It’s important to him to go to church, and even though it’s somewhat painful for me, I can always plot books in my head during the hour.
I CAN DO THIS.