As a child I loved getting ready for mass. Dress. Hat. Purse. Sunday shoes. I felt so princess like. I loved the singing in church. The sound of the ping which my coin made in the collection basket. The lighting of candles. The smell of incense. I liked standing in prayer, my hands together at my heart. I imagined I was a saint. I was in love with the rituals of my religion.
Later, when I was about twelve, I joined the Legion of Mary. One of the sisters at the convent I attended saw me as recruiting material and told me that I had been chosen for “the calling”. At first I was flattered but then when her talks started to impinge upon my recess time I began to resent the idea of becoming a nun and one day I made her pay for this. Not intentionally, of course. To a twelve-year-old psyche this is all sub-conscious. It was a spring day. May, the month of Mary and the class was outside on the balcony. A young worker on the grounds passed by. A boy a little older than my age. I whistled at him and when I turned there was sister scowling at me. I had betrayed her. I had betrayed the entire religion. I was going to hell.
After that incident, I found myself drawing away from my religion. It wasn’t something intentional. It was something which happened naturally. Until I went to college. There, I had as my roommate a devote Anglican. In the face of adversity I felt compelled to stand up for my religion and so decided to go to confession at the church in the small college town.
Confession had always been an integral part of my education. Every Friday afternoon, the priest would come over to the convent and whether I had sins or not I was forced to enclose myself in that dark box with its wooden grid between me and the priest and a stench that made me nauseous. I knelt on the hard pew and began my confession. Bless me father for I have sinned and then I would rattle off a few sins such as hitting my younger brother or using my older sister’s make-up when she told me not to. The priest would then give me a penance of either three Hail Mary’s or a Our father or both. I’d compare my penances with those of my classmates and secretly envy those girls who seemed to have longer ones than I did for I imagined that their lives were full of excitement. Confession was both a religious and a social event.
I don’t remember what sins I confessed to the priest at the church in my college town. One of them surely that I had neglected going to church for so many years. Another that I was allowing boys to touch my breasts. I don’t remember what penance he gave…whether it was the standard three Hail Mary’s and a Our Father or the dreaded entire rosary. What I do remember is that was the last time I ever set foot in a confessional box.
I still had a long way to go before I would lose my religion. My religious trajectory took me to a farm in Seattle Washington in a commune of Jesus Freaks…This was in the early seventies. They all welcomed me as if I was part of their family, and I suppose that was how they saw me. Because of my desire for community I was drawn into their embrace. Through religion I would find my spiritual home. I would heal, what Carl Jung called, the sickness of my soul. Although, until I read Carl Jung, I never realized that my soul was ill.
This is by Colin James