Losing My Religion

When did this happen? When did I lose faith in the fundamental beliefs of Christianity that I'd been raised to respect? What caused me to lean toward atheism? Did I miss something in confirmation class?

My pre-teen brain wrestled with the lessons that I hoped would bring me closer to participating in Holy Communion. Knowing there was no escaping this tedium, I nodded in agreement with most of what the vicar said. Truth was, I desperately wanted to wear the white dress and veil. I'd envisioned taking my first sip from the large silver chalice; the one everyone else had slobbered on, before joining the rest of the port-scented-breathing congregation. Perhaps subconsciously I realized that the confirmation ceremony would be the only time in my life, when I would get to walk up a church aisle, adorned in white, with my virginity still in tact.

During a term at high school, my Friday evenings were spent inside the church hall, where the place was lit up like a freeway under nightly construction. Beneath the subtle glow of naked fluorescent tubes, a few dozen clumsy pubescent teens whirled and twirled the night away. Ladies in floral dresses taught us stylin' dances such as The Gay Gordons. This dance, of course, quickly became our favorite, purely because we were free to use the word, gay. After class we'd all slosh down drinks crammed full of sugar, and plates of homemade cream cakes made by our proud apron-wearing dance instructors. Once sufficiently amped up on sugar and red dye, we'd race off to smoke cigarettes and drink copious amounts of cheap booze. Church was great!

Skip forward a few years to two-timing boyfriends, broken hearts, getting high, and ailing grandparents. It seemed that God had stopped listening. No matter how much I prayed, the lessons in my life became more difficult. Growing up was painful.

Years passed, and as I climbed the stairs to the dome at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London, it was with a heart empty of God. Albeit the feat of ascending the multitude of steep steps was in itself, somewhat miraculous, particularly with the hangover I endured. Sadly, this feeling of religious insecurity followed me to every magnificent church and piece of hallowed ground I visited on my travels across Europe.

Later, in Los Angeles around 1982, when I saw my first Hasidic Jew walking along Fairfax Avenue, I thought I'd hit the heart of extreme fashion. Had I stumbled upon L.A.'s equivalent of Kings Road? Any religion that required wearing long black coats and large hats was a winner with me. Turned out, the coats were only for the men, and the women didn't wear Doc Martens.

Next came my interest in Eastern philosophy: paychecks spent at The Bodhi Tree bookstore, meditation groups, and yoga classes. For a while, this kind of spirituality held my interest. I read anything to do with New Age. Crystals and incense, oils and gongs, were scattered on any free area of bench space in my Venice walk-street rental. Then I got sober, and my spirituality vanished along with my New Age pot-smoking friends.

None of us are immune to traumatic situations; moments when we find ourselves needing comfort and searching for answers. Seeing our children suffer pain or life threatening diseases, can bring us to our knees in prayer. But after hearing of a child's death, or yet another avoidable mass shooting, my faith has been weakened.

This is what I do know. Those who give to the less fortunate in the name of God, don't brag about it. They don't push their beliefs onto others because they're too busy building homes, cooking food, or delivering clothing to the poor. They don't vomit lies about protecting children, while polishing their right to bear arms.

God was not there when my mother suffered from dementia, or when she winced in excruciating pain as the cancer claimed her body. God was not there while my siblings and I waited impatiently for Mom's next dosage of morphine to be administered: her nurses were. But in the moments before she inhaled her final breath -- when she opened her eyes and smiled -- I felt something. And as quickly as I had that thought, that "something" was gone, and so was my Mother.

I've accepted that something hovers beyond this reality. Maybe that something was with me when I took my first steps of The Gay Gordons, because to this day I remember that dance. Or maybe that was just "something's" way of telling me that life's a dance, so keep dancing!

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