When I was a little girl, I used to believe in God. I was raised Catholic so I never directly read the Bible, but I had an imagination and I loved the great stories I was told by my grandparents and CCD teachers. I think I probably loved the stories most. And the prospect of a magical world beyond what I could see and feel enchanted me, ignited my imagination.
My mom and I would go to church together–sometimes I even asked her to go. I really got into the ritual aspect of the religion, as I’ve seen myself get into the ritual aspect of everything else in my life: weddings, commencements, Girl Scout bridging ceremonies. My First Communion was a big deal to me, perhaps even moreso than it was to my brother just three years younger. I saw it for what it was: a rite of passage. I remember agonizing over how I should accept the Host from the priest–directly in my mouth or in my hands, which was the preference of all my classmates. I ultimately decided to go old school, the way my mom and grandmother had to before me in the days when it was believed that touching the Host somehow tainted its power. I took pride in the fact that I wasn’t squeamish like my classmates as I opened my mouth and accepted the Host as the priest set it on my tongue where it dissolved instantly (as the styrofoam quality of the Catholic wafer does).
Likewise, I really got into the mystical aspects of Star Wars. I, like many in my age group, earnestly believed that if I followed Master Yoda’s teachings–if I just concentrated hard and submitted my will to the Force–I could truly move objects with my mind. I wanted to be a Jedi Knight so badly it burned in my young veins. Even though Star Wars was fiction, it was as real to me as any story told in the Bible. I saw no separation in between the stories; they were both as equally possible to me.
My mom had told me once–or maybe it was my more religious grandmothers–that when people die they go to heaven with God. I understood that you could talk to God through prayer and I somehow reasoned from this that the same communication method could be used to access everyone who had ever died. In my prayers, I was never interested in talking to God. I didn’t know God personally after all and what did I really have of interest to say to the Almighty? God was for the priests, for adults with real problems who better understood the trinity of the Lord. Rather, I prayed, talked to the great grandparents on both sides of my lineage whom I’d never met (since no one I knew at that time had died). I didn’t know who these people were or what they were like, but I imagined them to care about what I was doing because we were kin. I told them all about myself, my family, my life and I waited for signs that they had heard me. Later in life, when I dabbled in paganism, I vaguely recalled my childhood prayers, realizing how distinctly pagan it was for me to invoke the spirits of my ancestors. I wondered if I had some innate sense of the timeless rituals of the ancient ones, if perhaps we as humans were drawn by the natural forces of our history, our desire to know ourselves better. It was always a beautiful part of the pagan rituals I attended when the participants invoked the imagery of a great pantheon of our own lineages. I imagined a gigantic hall–much too tall for mortal humans–with a huge bonfire blazing in the hearth, warming the immense room and all who entered. The door between worlds would open and my ancestors–by then, my dead grandparents who looked young again as I’d never seen them, and Mike too–would lead me into that hall by the hand. Throughout the ritual, I would envision my time in that great hall, learning my way on the path of life from the wisdom of my ancestors. And Mike, their newest member.
I guess in a lot of ways paganism suited me well for awhile. But as with any faith I’ve tried, I wake up from the dream in which I want to believe and I realize I really can’t buy it enough to truly believe it. Somewhere amidst growing up my belief in a god or afterlife diminished, probably about the same time that I came to accept that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy weren’t real. If the magic of those characters was just a contrived fiction, how could I believe in the magic of God?
I remained an atheist, for all intents and purposes, throughout most of my life, questioning it only upon my husband’s death–a time of crisis. I had a small awakening point at which I was receptive again to religion. I tried the paganism; I gave Protestant Christianity a whirl; I eventually, as you know, landed on Unitarian Universalism where it was safe to know or not know–a faith that could weather the waning and waxing phases of my most turbulent faith, the ups and downs of my codependent relationship with the Divine.
What I’ve noticed, though, since Mike’s death–which is what I inadequately tried to explain in my last entry–is that I have again found myself praying. Not to God. To Mike. In my saddest moments–when I’m shaken and tired, when I’m depressed, disappointed, scared, alone–I call out not to God but to Mike.
Misha, I’ll whisper. Then one or more of the following pleas:
Please give me a sign.
Please listen to me.
Please hold me.
Please help me.
Send me a love you would approve of.
Sometimes, I’ll ask:
Are you out there?
Are you ashamed of me?
Did I do you wrong?
Other times, I just lament:
I miss you.
I love you.
I’ll always love you.
It was in the middle of one of these quite verbal tirades that an ex-boyfriend once caught me and it changed the course of our relationship forever. Later, at the end of our relationship, he brought up that night and explained how he felt so inadequate at that moment. He misunderstood my prayer for longing.
Some would say I’m clearly not over my husband. I don’t think that’s really the case. I think I call on Mike because his love was the first magical thing for me that was ever real. And it was magic. It made an atheist believe in soul mates and admit to it quite often. Even Mike, who was himself not particularly religious, referred to our relationship to each other as soul mates. What we had was unique. And maybe the reason none of my matches since have stuck is not because I’m still pining for my husband but because I’ve not found a match quite like that. Perhaps I expect too much but when you’ve met your soul mate, it’s hard to settle for anything less than that. Maybe it’s hard for a guy to compete. But maybe a person can find more than one soul mate in his/her life. I want to believe I can find love like that again.
I pray to Mike because our love was the magic I sought so often in life. Because Mike was real, it’s easier for me to envision him as a supernatural being than it is to envision some almighty creator. From Mike, I received actual warmth, love, and acceptance. I can believe in the reality of a person once tangible. It’s easier for me to pray to someone I knew was once here. Unfortunately, though, like the mythical God Creator of All Things, I get no sign from Mike that he’s there listening either. I also haven’t received a sign from my grandma Herrmann who did promise me in life that she would come back to give me a sign in death just so that I could share her faith. And so I continue on my way, bereft of faith; the only thing I have to believe is the truth that we all will die and disappear forever from the grasp of mortals.
Still, in depths of my own sorrows and valleys of my sullen meanderings, I pray to Mike, to my grandparents, to ancestors I never met. I never give up on the hope that there is, somewhere out there, a magic I have yet to see. For now, all I have to believe in is the power of the one magical thing that does not die with the soul: love.