by Jason Parker
Faith. Iíve never had much of it. It never made sense to me.
Faith is not something that I grasp well; itís something that I fake. Kneeling here on this padded cushion on the cold, cracked stone floor, incense wafting in the air Ďtil its cloying scent fills my lungs and brings the taste of sick to the back of my throat.
Isnít fait just another word for ignorance? And the priest is moving slowly, giving communion to the others gathered here, kneeling in subjugation as Iím slipping, as Iím falling through the cracks. I donít believe, but time after time, I find myself here, shoulders slumped in fraudulent genuflection. Faith without action is a mask for making the same mistakes over and over. What mistake? Is the mistake in trying to lie to myselfótrying to be something Iím not? Or is the mistake in not going after what my heart tells me?
Long ago, I asked a priest about my feelingsónot here of course, no I wouldnít want that mark on me always in their eyesóand he filled me head with condemnations and those fearful words of ĎSiní and ĎHell.í But Iíve sinned before. Iím not humble, and Iím not meek. So Iíll never inherit the world. Every now and then Iíll try to give money to a charity and I like to think that maybe that helps to wash away some of the things Iíve doneÖ But itís hard to believe isnít it? In sin and Hell and Heaven? Who amongst us is free of sin? Would any of us really get into Heaven? Still, thereís that nagging thought. What if? What if there is a God out there somewhere, and what if these thoughts of mine are just beyond the limits of his forgiveness? So I find myself in prostration, making desperate supplication for deliverance.
And the priest is moving closer, bearing wafers and wine and giving blessings to the devout. I donít believe, but Iíll take it all the same. Just in case. Somehow thoughÖ I find beauty in our failings. In the handsome man who hands me my coffee and whoís fingers linger just too long on mine. Somehow I find meaning in these lies I tell myself. But whatís the bigger lie? That itís wrong to feel this way? Or to tell myself I donít? I open my mouth to accept the thin wafer on my tongue and somehow Iím made perfect in this fracture of morals.
I chew it carefully, this body if Christ, this sacrament, but my back is begging sweetly for their knives to find me out. I want someone to catch me and punish me, just to make this torment end. Iím denying myself or denying Christ. How can you make that choice?
And the chalice is placed at my lips and Iím spilling blood. Glancing down to hide my face and itís back to the cracked stone floor. The swish of his hem on the stone and Iím slipping as Iím falling through the cracks all over again.
I rise and walk with eyes closed tight through monuments of grace to my seat in the pews. Itís not that I donít like churchóbecause I do. I love to sit here in the peaceful atmosphere, soft voices, soft light as it plays through the colors of the stain-glass windows all around. You can keep your dazzling white sanctums and gold tailored drapes. Give me the old stone beauty, the quiet comfort of rock, carved from the earth and set to stand for generation upon generation to take shelter beneath. I just donít like the sermons. For a faith of forgiveness and love, an awful lot seems to be forbidden.
The sermons start anew. Leviticus 18:22, ďHomosexuality is an abomination unto the Lord.Ē There we go againÖ condemnation begins afresh. Self-denial re-started. I make my promises for the week. But only momentarily. Iím not listening anymore, and Iíve read Leviticus enough times to know it by heart. Homosexuality isnít the only thing it tells us is an ďabomination unto the Lord.Ē 11:06 Eating hares! 11:10 Eating shrimp! 19:19 Wearing polyester! 19:27 Shaving! 19:28 Tattoos! 19:30 Working on Saturday! All of these are equally forbidden by the lord. I look around at the congregated masses. How many of us gathered here this day can say they are pure of these crimes? And despite these teachings, somehow I find beauty in our failings. Somehow I find meaning in these lies we tell ourselves. The Bible is out-dated, you canít take all of it as truth. Thatís called selective faith, and that my friends, is no faith at all. So what makes one thing no longer a sin?
I smile inwardly. Somehow, Iím made perfect in this fracture of scripture. I am freed from my worries and woes.
My faith is a front. Iím spilling blood with every drop I swallow. Who else here harbors a dark secret that pollutes their lives? Weíre told not to fear our secrets, for we are trusted with angels to protect out souls. The Sermon ends and we begin to file out, passing the chaplain by the door. Glancing down to hide my face, I walk with eyes closed through monuments of grace and past his smiling face. Outside, I can feel the blood in my stomach move into my veins, into my lungs, and every time I breathe, Iím spilling blood.
Out on the street, I inhale deeply. The week is fresh, the air is clean. The young man in the park across the street is smiling and kicking a ball between his friends. Isnít it sweet how, trusted with angels, and so quickly, I break my promise?
He turns as if sensing me watching him and looks at me, smiling still. I smile back.
Isnít it sweet, isnít it sweet, isnít it sweet?