Funny things religions. Some of us have been lifelong practising members of one of them since early childhood, others have never had much if any contact with them, some discover them later in life and others still abandon them for various reasons.
I lost both my parents over a four-month period when I was 13 and, as they used to take me to church occasionally, I had understood that the idea was that apart from having to atone for being a sinner from the day we were born, which seemed downright daft to me, we could pray for ourselves and others and hope that god would hear and help us.
I liked the second option so that’s why, two days after the death of my father, who had never really managed to overcome his grief at my mother’s death, I walked into a church my parents had taken me to in the past, albeit rarely, and knelt down to pray for them. It was rather cold in the church, although outside it was the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful spring day, so I was the only person in the church, or so I thought.
So there I was, praying as best I could and hoping that I was doing it right and that god would hear me, when I heard heavy footsteps coming down the aisle.
Ker-lunk ker-lunk ker-lunk ker-lunk. Until the footsteps stopped, just behind me.
“What are you doing in here??!!” boomed a male adult voice. I was only a boy so his words hit me like a thunderclap. I almost jumped up with fright.
Looking over my shoulder, I saw a priest. He looked at me more than suspiciously and I said “I’m here to pray for my parents.”
“No you’re not! You’re here for the same reason as all kids come here in the afternoon when they should be at school, which is to steal candles and even the silverware!”
“B..bu..but no, I’m here to pr..”
So (and I’ve never forgotten a second of this as far as I remember, or exactly how I felt) I stood up slowly, entered the aisle, and walked slowly back up it without looking back, towards the wide open doors, through which I walked out and into the warm and blinding sunshine.
I have never set foot in a church since. Not once. Because I believe that if my parents had seen me walk out of that church in quiet revolt at being prevented from loving them with my prayers they would have been mightily proud of me and very angry at the priest who stopped me from trying to ease my pain.
(p.s. and for what it’s worth, I may have lost any faith I had in religion that day, but that episode convinced me nevertheless that I had genuine spiritual needs and aspirations, which is why I have spent much time over the years thinking about these aspects of life. It’s just that I don’t do so in the context of an established religion. I do so alone, and I am quite happy with that.)