Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Losing My Religion -- What There Was of it.

At some point, after we moved into my father-in-law’s house on Cobbs Street, winter came and I got sick. I mean really sick sick.  It may have been the flu, but whatever it was bad and I was miserable. I lay in bed sweating, unable to move. I don’t think I ever felt so ill before or since.
I wasn’t delirious. I was aware of every ache, every pain every moment of agony. It was so bad I would have welcomed delirium as a relief, but I couldn’t even go to sleep to escape. I was certain I was dying. If I did go to sleep I wouldn’t wake up, that I was sure of and I felt so horrible that such an outcome was perfectly fine with me. There was nothing I could do about any of this. I could only lie on my back in bed and stare at the walls.
Evening had settled in. The only illumination came from a street lamp through the slight
crack down the sides of the window blinds. The room had become dark and suddenly there it was. It just magically appeared across from the foot of the bed where I couldn’t help but see it. It was a cross. It glowed white. It was well defined, very distinct and undeniable. There was a cross of light on my wall.
At that moment I felt my body cool, my fever break and by morning I would feel well as could be. I looked for the source of that image and there was nothing that could have caused it. The little illumination escaping in beside the blind was not bright enough nor was there anything to make a cross shape. I had never seen such an apparition before and I never saw it again, and every night I looked for that cross. I mean for like a couple months anyway.
Now if we were scripting a movie here, our hero having miraculously recovered from death’s door under the mysterious presence of a cross would experience an epiphany of faith. Our movie hero would seek out the nearest minister or priest and go on to live a pious life in service to God, helping the poor and invoking comparisons to Mother Teresa. (Yes, that is her. You know she was young once. You seldom see anything but the old woman.)
I was no Mother Teresa. Yeah, I wasn't the baddest dude in this good old sinful world, but I was not saint. I did not do the hallelujah thing. If that night was a knock on my soul’s door, I basically shrugged in off and went about my normal life. Maybe hitting me on the head with a solid oak cross would have got the message through, but more likely such a heavy blow would have finished me off. Still at some time Lois and I got the urge to join a church.
Perhaps the losses we had suffered had something to do with our sudden religious awakening, I don’t know. The big question for us was “where?” One certainty was we weren’t going back to our parent’s churches. Oh, no, no, no, when we married we were both eager to escape
those places. This ruled out consideration of Bethel United Methodist, where we married, and Resurrection Lutheran, where her father was still treasurer. The photo to the right shows the early days of Resurrection when they met in the Llanerch Hills Community Hall while raising funds to build the church. Lois and her parents and others in her family are scatterd throughout this scene. The church was eventually built, but that building has since disappeared from the landscape to be replaced by a bank.
As far as past religious faith, we were both nominal Christians, both forced to reluctantly attend a church by our parents. True, I did become President of MYF, but I was really pretty apostate trying to sue doubt. Neither of us had a clear picture of Christianity was all about. In fact, I dickers about some with Buddhism for a while. 
We began out soul searching in nearby mainstream churches, which did include a large Methodist congregation on the main line. That was probably our first stop. Walking into that church was like hacking our way through an iceberg considering the far from warm welcome we received. Not only did no one greet us as we passed through the narthex to the nave.we were visibly shunned by more of the ladies and gentlemen within. Definitely no usher appeared to guide us to a seat.
We went about halfway into the sanctuary and then slid to the middle portion of the middle section. I swear people avoided that pew as long as possible and when some did venture to sit there, they stayed a comfortable distance away from us. When we left the minister did shake our hands, rapidly, with that pulling motion that moves one along and out. We got the distinct feeling that these people viewed us as interlopers who didn’t belong in their pristine chapel.
We found this to be the model for most of the churches we visited. When you talk about whitewashed sepulchers full of dead men’s bones you could have been talking about any of these places.
Of course sometimes it was our own bias that sent us packing never to return. For instance, we stopped at a small, but long standing church along West Chester Pike in Springfield. We sat in the parking lot and watched the arrivals walk in. I should say hobble in. I guess it was cruel, but the people entering this small worship house were fairly close to entering the mansions in the sky. It was a parade of walkers and canes and very gray heads, and mostly elderly ladies. It was not a long parade because this was a dying church where the parishioners had grown old along with the building and no youth had followed suit to save it. I don’t think we even went in. We simply backed out of the parking space and left.
Having exhausted the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Episcopal churches in our purview, and wishing to avoid the Lutherans, Pentecostals and Fundamentalist denominations, we went on to a more outer ring. We went into the city and attended some services at a Unitarian Church.
It was a large building. I do not recall going to anything that resembled what one would normally call a service. There was no singing and no sermon. We met as this group of people not being called to God, but being called to the faddish cause of the week. It might be the homeless this week, then a minority group seeking equality. Often it was a demonstration against the war. Mostly this consisted of coming together to protest in some way. Perhaps circle about city hall with signs and chants or on one outing play a dead body in the middle of Rittenhouse Square; that being an anti-Vietnam activity. Most of our church activities were this, walking about and chanting how bad somebody was being to somebody else. At least with the homeless, we distributed some food and clothes.
After a few weeks of this we left that church to its chants and continued our search; after all, we weren’t looking for protests, we could get in many protest anywhere and had. We were seeking something higher than ourselves and so far the churches were letting us down either by snubbing us or by envoling us in social causes that had nothing to do with God.
Our final stop was the Ethical Society.
We went to the Ethical Society, which was located on the backside of Rittenhouse Square.
We sat in a balcony. I could have been attending my mother and dad’s church, except  Bethel doesn't have a balcony. God was excluded from the proceedings here.
It opened with the prelude, a piece by Bach I believe. Then someone stepped behind the podium and read a piece of text, but not a Biblical passage. Oh no, they read some paragraphs written by a well-known philosopher praising the mind of man. There was a classical musical selection. There was a sermon, but it did not speak of anything divine or touch too much on morals; instead it ranted on about the advances’ of technology and the genius of the human mind.
I had a couple thoughts as we left. First of all, if you don’t believe in God, why mimic a typical church service? Secondly, the attendees struck me as an egotistical bunch who considered themselves above the common man and thirdly, if they really thought the problems of the world were going to be solved by the evolving brilliance of human kind they were going to be greatly disillusioned. Frankly, I though the whole thing was silly. It would have made a good skit for the future “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.

Needless to say, we never went back.
Our formal search ended. However, there was three blocks behind our home a Catholic
Church called St. Bernadette Parish. It wasn’t huge as Catholic Churches go, but it had all the accouterments.  For some reason I began stopping there for the early morning Mass. I was walking back for this service every morning before heading to work. The ritual of the place began to get to me. I did the Way of the Cross. I bought a Rosary and a book on Catholic beliefs. It had a title somewhat similar to, Father Smith Teaches Mister Jones, I can’t recall the exact title.
For the first time I had a feeling toward a church. What I figured out later was the rituals and trappings caught me up. In the Protestant Churches of my youth I was there, just sitting there on my own not feeling I was involved in anything. At this Catholic Church I felt I was doing something, I was going to Mass daily, I was sitting with these beads and repeating prayers, I was lighting candles, I was really caught up by the “doing”, by all the busy work, not so much by God.
Still, I got Lois interested as well and we decided to join the Catholic Church. I even had my Confirmation Name picked out, Francis. Why not? I had an Uncle Francis and my grandfather’s name was Francis; plus my nickname in high school was Frank, which is often the short name for Francis. I bought a miraculous medal depicting St. Francis of Assisi, who would be my patron saint.
Lois and I met with a Priest at the Parish. Eventually we arranged for the official steps to become Catholic and a date was set for us to meet at his office. I knew this was a big decision that would infuriate both families. Maybe that was part of the attraction. Neither my parents or her father were very receptive toward Roman Catholics, but we decided o go through with the conversion anyway. Heck, I was defiant enough to do something like this just to annoy them.
The priest stood us up. We were in his office on time as instructed and we waited around a good hour, but he never showed and he never called or anything. We left. It was cold out and snowing, but I was steamed. I stomped my way back home through the laying snow. Okay, if that is how they’re going to treat us, then the Devil with them. We never went back, never spoke to the priest again and we gave up on Catholicism.
In fact, we pretty much gave up on church.
I had been reading a number of books on Spiritualism and soothsayers. Jeane Dixon was a predictor of future events who became popular during the ‘60s. She wrote a book in 1965 called, A Gift of Prophecy that became a bestseller and she became a regular guest on TV. She also wrote a daily syndicated column for the newspapers.
I also became very interested in Edgar Cayce  who was known as the “Sleeping Prophet” because he gave his prognostications while unconscious. He was considered to have the power to heal and many people flocked to him for that reason. Even with his death his influence went on. The Edgar Caye Association for Research and Enlightenment has a website even today.

It was an easy jump from the spiritualist to the occultist. I was writing a lot about the “other world” and the supernatural. I read a lot of fantasy stories as well. Now I began reading Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible. I was getting deeper and deeper into the dark world and then…poof. I chucked that whole kit and caboodle aside as malarky. I had stopped believing in God, so how could I pretend to believe in the Devil.  I became an Atheist and an activist one at that.
Now that I had no religion, because I didn’t consider Atheism to be a religion, which it is, I needed a substitute to fill n for faith. Well, after writing Couples, John Updike claimed that sex was the new religion
I had found my new religion.

1 comment:

Ron said...

We all do the Search Lar. And if we're lucky we find our own Path. I'm glad you found yours.