(This is part one of a three-part series)
My faith journey up to now might more accurately be described as a series of day trips, some extended, but all of them bringing me back to much the same place.
I was born into a not very religious family. Nominally Catholic at that time, my family might better be categorized as disinterested on uninvolved where religion was concerned. Part of that apathy, at least in my immediate family, likely stemmed from the fact that my mother spent time in a Catholic youth home growing up. Some of those facilities at that time had an apparently well-earned reputation for hardness, if not downright cruelty.
For the first eight years of my life, God, faith, religion, and church were unknown terms and concepts to me (although I believe God and Jesus were referenced in certain phrases I won’t repeat here). It wasn’t until my mother and her second husband separated that I had my first church experiences. (I suppose you might say I also had my first mystical experience at this time, a hallucinatory afternoon in the hot Mojave Desert sun where I imagined our dogs were with me protecting me from snakes and any wildlife that might be around. They were at home, and everyone except me thought I was lost.)
As a single working mother with two pre-teen children, my mother was not always able to be with us or care for us. To fill in the gaps, she paid an older couple to look after us during the week: feed us, get us on the school bus each day, provide a place to sleep five or sometimes six nights a week. Jack was an elderly English immigrant with what seemed a live and let live approach to life. Nora was stern, almost Puritanical, and while she was 20 years younger than her husband, she seemed older in many ways. To this day, I’m not sure I remember ever seeing her smile.
Nora first introduced me to church and religion when I was eight, taking me to Sunday School and then to Sunday services at the local non-denominational church in the small desert California town in which we lived. She gave me my first Bible, a King James version given to me for my ninth birthday. The nameplate inside the front cover had been decorated by her husband, and it was inscribed with my name, though it used the last name of my stepfather, who while separated from her was still married to my mother. I received a second Bible the following June from the Sunday School teacher. 48 years later, I still have them both, kept as physical reminders of my childhood, the good and the bad.
A few years later, we moved to the Seattle area, where most of my family lives to this day. By this time, the connection to Catholicism was broken. Some in the family had joined the Mormon Church, in part, the story went, because of their concern for my grandfather, who had been hospitalized after a heart attack.
My grandmother would make quilts each year for them to sell at church bazaars, but I don’t recall the family attending services regularly. However, I did belong to a Mormon youth group for six months or so while we were living with an aunt. I only remember two things from that experience: learning to read a compass and how to step off a pace, both useful skills but hardly religious or spiritual. After this my religious/spiritual/faith journey stalled. I was 12.
For the next 15 years, my only experiences with going to church came from attending weddings and funerals. My own beliefs were not well formed, though I did believe there was a God. I wasn’t sure, however, what else I believed beyond that.