Forgive us our Trespasses…

LordsPrayer.jpeg‘Let us pray’.

With hands clasped and eyes closed I bow my head solemnly but the anger racing through me makes it impossible to communicate with God in a meaningful way.

Surely the most blasphemous deed is presuming to know the thoughts and wishes of God, yet these so-called preachers, these ‘messengers of God’ – of all religions, commit this sin every time they open their dirty putrid little mouths. Wars are started because of these people! Conflicts that wipe out entire generations and scar those lucky (or unlucky) enough to survive.

I love God with every fibre of my being so it hurts – I mean really hurts when these fraudsters claim to be speaking on behalf of God.

My boyfriend is nudging me and as I open my eyes I see that he’s pulling faces and trying to make me laugh. The site of him creates a warmth within me that is so powerful I want to cry. I don’t know if Tony will ever fully understand how I feel. He’s an atheist so the notion of me being offended by people manipulating and mis-interpreting the word of someone who, as far as Tony is concerned, doesn’t even exist, makes him laugh.

People think it’s strange that I’m in love with an atheist. “How can someone as religious as you be with a non-believer?” they ask and I have to remind them for the millionth time that I am not religious but spiritual. People laugh at me when I say this. They ask me what the difference is and I tell them that religion is man-made but spirituality is something that we’re all born with.Every single person on the planet has their own individual relationship with God. Some choose to acknowledge it, some don’t. Either way, it’s there and no Church, Mosque or Synagogue, Bible Koran or Torah, no sect, cult or collective can penetrate that relationship. All they can do is present some deeply flawed alternative, filled with corrupt and corrupted man-made laws that leave people feeling guilty, empty and confused.

That’s the difference.

It’s because I’m not religious that I can love, be in love and be loved by someone who doesn’t believe in God. I love Tony because he is a good person and by being a good person he is honouring God whether Tony believes in a supreme being or not.

The preacher is droning on about something but I am purposely forcing myself not to listen because there is nothing he can say that’s worth listening to. I look up at the clock behind the organists head. 13:47. It’s nearly time. We’ve been here since eleven and now I’m tired, bored and hungry. Why do religious people insist on such long ceremonies and services? Why can’t they connect with their God in a more succinct way? Why must they hold us hostage like this? Tony says it’s because they like the sound of their own voices and that they get a kick out of being the centre of attention so they drag it out for as long as possible. I agree. I think that’s exactly what it is yet nearly all of them preach that vanity is a sin.

He wants everyone to stand up and sing now. Urgh! By far my least favourite part of any service. For me, t’s all about defiance. I’m perfectly happy to dance around my house to whatever song happens to engage me at the time, I’ll even go out to a club sometimes but the minute some charlatan in robes tells me that I must dance or I must sing like some sort of performing monkey, my whole body rebels. It stiffens and refuses to move in the way I know it can.

Time check: 13:56. The preacher announces that the service is coming to a close but I’m not taking any chances; he said the same thing half an hour ago, and forty minutes before that. Harry is standing by the door so now I know it’s time. I know it’s impolite to get up and leave while someone is speaking but I need to go, we’ve achieved what we came here to do. Tony squeezes my hand lovingly and kisses me gently on the lips before we rise, awkwardly out of the uncomfortable pew and squeeze our way past the line of parishioners hanging on the preacher’s every word.

I sit in the car and light a cigarette. My hands and feet are freezing just like they always were after church in the winter when I was a child. I remember being dragged down the street by my mother on Sunday mornings on the way to ‘commune with God’, and when we arrived, being forced to sit for hours on rock-hard, cold benches in a cold, draughty abyss in the winter or an over-crowded, scorching Hell in the summer. I remember being forced to address total strangers as ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’, and learning for the first time about the meaning of ‘betrayal’ as my mother stood by and watched as ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’ so and so told me off or slapped me for misbehaving.   What kind of person smacks another person’s child?

What kind of parent allows it?

I remember as an older child being charged with the responsibility of looking after the younger children; taking them to the toilet, helping them with their food, disciplining them, feeling all grown up. As a teenager I spent most of my time in church begging God to forgive me for my sins or at home, arguing with my mother about my complete lack of care with regards to my appearance (“Why won’t you comb you’re hair girl?” “Why do you always look so scruffy?’ “Why do you insist on wearing such baggy clothes?”)

I remember being a young adult, struggling, hating, hurting, healing…

Did I mention that Tony and I went to the same church as children? Harry too. We prayed and played together. Later, when Tony was admitted to the psychiatric ward Harry and I prayed. When Harry was sentenced to eighteen months in prison for breaking and entering, I prayed and Tony gave money to Harry’s girlfriend every month to help buy nappies and things for Harry’s child until his release. When I was given the ultimatum of rehab or jail, Harry prayed and Tony begged me to get help.

Then we started to heal together. And we’re still healing.

I’m jolted out of my thoughts by an almighty ‘bang’ followed by the sound of people screaming. The congregation spills out of the church, their faces contorted, their eyes bulging out of their heads, complete shock carrying them along for a while before they drop to the ground, nearly all of them shouting things like ‘sweet Jesus!’ and ‘Lord Jesus, no!’.

By now we’re further away from the fracas so as not to be seen but close enough to see. The building with the uncomfortable chairs and even more uncomfortable memories is disfigured; bits of glass, wood plaster and such are strewn across the street, a pathetic sight now as opposed to the strong symbol of pain and fear it had once been for so many. There’s no sign of the preacher, I can only hope he has been consumed by the flames.

The chaotic scene gets smaller and smaller as we drive further away.

After what seems like an eternity we stop and step out of the car. As the fresh air caresses my face I exhale deeply and for the first time in too long I feel at peace. Tears are streaming from my eyes, each one a homage to all the little girls and boys denied respect and robbed of their innocence at the hands of our ‘good’ preacher who, in turn was protected by those members of the congregation who knew.

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