A thing that happened

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What I feel like is a man slowly drifting away from his faith. It’s not an intellectual process. My commitment to Christianity is far deeper than mind games now. My faith is of the body. And my body is telling me some things. I have no desire to pray. I have no interest in doctrinal or theological conversations, which used to be a passion of mine. Such discussions are of no more interest to me now than an extended conversation about latex paint.

When I was a professional Christian, my job depended on me being spiritually engaged with the faith. And since I abhorred the idea of hypocrisy, I always found ways to stay in the game. But now, with no one paying me to be spiritual, well, it’s a whole different thing. If I don’t want to pray I just don’t. Sometimes for a long time.

And I can’t lean on service to others – the classic liberal saving throw – because I’ve developed an almost paranoid fear of anyone needing me. I fear any such obligations. I fear the anxiety and guilt that obligation brings to me. In my mind, I never ever ever loved people enough or cared about them enough to be a good pastor. It’s my problem. I’m sure I was fine at the job. People say I was. But that’s the point, isn’t it? I have a bit of a problem with this. So now I mostly just stay in my house, where I work. Or ride my bike. There are four women to whom I am greatly obliged, and that’s all I want.

Also the cold, uncompromising voice of Reason, my ancient foe, has been whispering in my ears again.

The universe has no interest in you. Celestial systems, of which you are a part, pay homage only to greater forces of gravity, circling them obediently while the cosmos expands with energy from a source we cannot comprehend. Your value in this unthinkably vast reality is exactly in keeping with your size in it, just as you’ve always suspected. A galactic moment or two from now, humanity will disappear, along with your solar system and perhaps your entire galaxy. When that happens it will be as if you never existed at all.

But by all means, Gordon, make sure you don’t miss Sunday school tomorrow.

So I think you can understand why I stared blankly at someone the other day when he asked how I could become an Episcopalian, since Episcopalians practice infant baptism. I blinked a few times, trying to understand the meaning of his words. They were vaguely familiar words. I myself might have talked about the cosmically important question of whether or not one should put water on a baby’s forehead when I cared about such things.

The other day I was writing at McDonald’s – I prefer it over the Starbucks down the street – and I saw a bird in the parking lot pecking at a scrap of bread. I leaned forward until my forehead was touching the window and stared. The bird plucked a bit of bread from a dirty place in the concrete and flew away, soaring over Loop 1604 where the cars were slogging along in rush hour like blood squeezing in spurts through a capillary.

“That,” I said out loud, “is a thing that happened.”

So that is the state of me. Not giving a shit about baptism conversations, not praying very much, becoming Episcopalian, muttering about birds at McDonald’s, and trying to hang onto my beloved theism.

So now you understand why I cannot afford to miss a single Sunday at Saint Francis Episcopal Church. Not one. Because the humble offering of a parishioner in attendance on a Sunday morning might be the only thing I have to offer God this week. And my only chance for some sort of epiphany. I will be there at 10:10 for the Spiritual Formation hour, to hear Walter or Brian or Cristopher read from our Book and make observations. I limit myself to one small comment a week in this hour, since I used to talk so much in church.

And then forty steps away and one hour later I will be in the worship service. I prefer the late service without the modern music. Who gave these nice Episcopalians guitars, I want to know? I will sit and stand and kneel, assuming I can figure out in what order those things should be done. And then I will move softly to the end of my aisle, bow, and head for the railing. A small wafer will be given to me. Yes even me. Even this doubting wayward boy is welcome to the source of our deepest mystery.

It’s funny. No matter how deep my doubts, one thing has always seemed clear to me in its paradoxical absurdity. It is entirely possible – I believe – that all the wisdom of our feeble species, in the moments before heat death takes us, might fit nicely into a single wafer of bread.

I rise from the railing, the taste of Jesus in my mouth.

And I say, “That is a thing that happened.”

Gordon Atkinson

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