Sunday, 18 May 2008

My earliest religious influences

Since my last post was about the "bad guys" I adored growing up, I thought I'd share some of my early religious (read "good guys") influences. Talk about conflicting values! Grams was PENTECOSTAL (with a capital P). Pentecostals -- like Grams -- did not associate with Catholics. Pentecostals taught their good little boys and girls that one could end up spending eternity in hell for stepping into a Catholic Church or even a Catholic home! (The ecumenical movement had not begun yet in the 1950s or 1960s, and even if it had, it certainly had not reached small town BC!) Grams said all Roman Catholics worshipped idols and drank Christian blood. This led to some serious confusion on my part. 1960. Roxy's birthday party. Red Koolaid. Needless to say, I didn't drink any of the stuff!

Grams dragged me to Church with her -- whether I protested or not, and usually I did protest vigorously -- and she did her darnedest to ensure I did not associate with non-Pentecostals (except for our Baptist friends -- they were encouraged). However, Grams was not with me every moment of my life. For example, she wasn't with me when "Mommy F" let toddler me play with her little porcelain dollies and pretty beads. ("Mommy F" was a good old-fashioned Catholic whose home was filled with Holy Statues and Rosaries. "Mommy F" taught me how to make the Sign of The Cross and kiss her pretty beads.) Grams wasn't with me when "Mom" (I had a lot of chosen mothers and grandmothers in my upbringing.) dragged me to this lovely little Catholic mission one Sunday. Okay, Protestants might want to stop reading at this point. Please know that I'm not criticizing Protestants or Pentecostals. Honest. I'm just relating my own experiences and the religious things that influenced me while I was growing up. The above lovely little Catholic mission had a huge and profound effect on me! For the very first time in my life, I walked into a church and felt a sense of peace. I felt like I had just arrived home. (I still have that feeling every time I walk into a Catholic Church today. Can't stand a lot of Catholic doctrine, but that's another story for another time.) I loved the service, even though Mass was still said in Latin and I couldn't understand the words. There were no fire-and-brimstone-preaching evangelists. There were no emotional outbursts of "tongues". Mass was like beautiful poetry to my ears, or maybe like soothing music. It's not necessary to understand the words if one listens with one's soul.

Grams wasn't usually around when I watched television. She preferred to go to bed (and get away from us) and read her Harlequin Romances. (Hmm ... do you suppose her Pastor would have approved of THAT?) My Dad and I watched television together, and he was game to watch most anything. (In those days, we only had one or two channels so there wasn't a lot of choice.) My Dad and I also went to the Public Library together, and he was game to let me read whatever caught my fancy (neither of us were interested in Harlequin Romances). One of my favourite stories was A Nun's Story, a fabulous book and 1959 movie. Oh how I wanted to go to a convent and become a Bride of Christ ... to have my horrible red hair shorn away ... to take the habit like Sister Luke / Audrey Hepburn! And I wasn't even Roman Catholic! Had my Pentecostal peers ... who also firmly believed all Catholics worshipped idols and drank Christian blood ... known my secret, they would have called a big tent prayer meeting with a dozen fire-and-brimstone-preaching evangelists just to straighten me out! Despite the danger to my immortal soul, I wanted a visit from -- indeed, a relationship with! -- the Blessed Virgin Mary like young Bernadette Soubirou in Song of Bernadette, the account of Mary's miraculous appearance at Lourdes, France in the 1850s. I kept those secret desires to myself -- "pondering" them in my heart -- and did not share my profound admiration for Sister Luke or Bernadette Soubirou with my Pentecostal peers.

And they turned out to be difficult secrets to keep! Back in the 1960s, the times they were a'changin' ...

First of all, the small and relatively homogenous BC town I grew up in experienced a new influx of immigrants. Catholic immigrants. Catholic immigrants from a European country that had experienced its own May 13, 1917 miraculous appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I already knew about that event. My Dad and I had enjoyed the 1952 black and white movie, Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima each Christmas. (I have no idea why CBC repeated that particular movie each Christmas season!) Then one May evening, our small town's new immigrants launched their very own candlelit procession in honour of Our Lady of Fatima. The first time I heard that lovely hymn, A Treze de Maio, something became very clear to me ... that adoration of Our Lady was much more than a young girls whims! However, I continued to bide in silence around my Pentecostal peers.

It all fell apart in 1970 when the Beatles released Let It Be. Now remember, I was NOT a Beatles fan. I was a Johnny Cash (and temporarily, Waylon Jennings) fan. I thought the Beatles were loud, obnoxious, and irrelevant ... until Let It Be (and maybe Yesterday). Let It Be spoke to me! Let It Be MEANT something! That song meant I could no longer keep my Catholic secrets secret. So I didn't. One Friday evening at a Pentecostal youth meeting with an open mike, I picked up my guitar and sang Let It Be. (Actually it was a rebellious duet. Shirley B., an age-peer and neighbour who was busy rebelling at her own Mennonite upbringing, performed with me.) The pastor's wife turned six shades of red and barely contained herself through the second chorus before informing me the likes of that was totally inappropriate!

And I didn't care anymore! I had finally acknowledged that I was influenced by ... indeed, WAS ... not what Grams envisioned for me. And I still am ... unique and religiously complex.

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