HUNGRY FOR FAITH
by Tom Imerito
I write about humankind’s enduring quest for religious faith because my own, admittedly half-hearted effort has failed. It’s not that I don’t want faith. I hunger for it. As a child, I tasted of it. But I seem not to have gotten a full helping.
My mom tried her mightiest to instill faith in me. But despite what seemed to be an inordinate amount of urging for either me to find faith, or faith to find me, faith and I did our best to elude each other.
As an adult, I told my Mom that my belief in God was inconsequential because I could find no evidence that God believed in me. She responded with downcast eyes and a forlorn voice, “You don’t have faith, Tommy.”
Searching for the roots of my innate agnosticism, I recall my first Sunday Mass with a sense of vividity usually reserved for puppy dogs and Christmas trees. Three years old, dressed in a brown and tan houndstooth suit with high socks, short pants and a matching peaked beanie, I held my mom’s hand as we walked the five blocks to our church.
When we arrived, the doors were closed, which meant Mass had already started. With the stealth of a burglar, Mom cracked the massive oak door open and peeked in. She pulled the door wider and pressed her palm against my back to urge me into the dim light of the vestibule. I balked. Where is she taking me? I thought. Its dark in there.
“Go ahead, Tommy,” Mom whispered, applying more pressure to my back. Resisting the force of her hand, I leaned backwards and reluctantly slid my feet ahead of my hips into the church. After wetting her fingers with holy water and blessing herself with the Sign of the Cross, she lifted me to reach into the holy water font. “Dip your fingers into the water, Tommy and bless yourself like when you say your prayers at night.” She held me horizontally over the holy water font while I made a clumsy Sign of the Cross on my forehead, heart and shoulders. She put me down and led me by the hand, down the center aisle where, following a hasty lesson in genuflecting, we entered a pew and took seats.
As the adults around me variously sat, stood and knelt, I stood on the kneeler, grasping the back of the pew in front of me, trying to see the altar, without success. Mom pulled me into my seat. “Listen to the priest, Tommy,” she whispered while moving her eyes toward the pulpit. Now, I could see the priest standing high above the crowd, reading the gospel and delivering the sermon in words that rang familiar to my ears, but which, like the unintelligible Latin words that came before, I could not make sense of. As the priest spoke, I savored the aroma of melting votive candles, and wondered about the glassy-eyed minks chewing each other’s tails, wrapped around the shoulders of a lady two rows ahead of us.
I cannot recall leaving the church or walking home. I vaguely remember Mom telling my dad that I was too rambunctious to sit still and too young to understand. All the same, I can only imagine that my mother was pleased to have opened my soul to the gift of faith. If only faith had opened its soul to me.
(more to follow)
If you found this soliloquy entertaining, you might enjoy Heretic’s Prayer, my novel about a young heretic woman in the year 1203. Her name is Marie Guillamette and her faith makes mine (maybe yours) look like that of a flea.