The Uphill Battle, part 1: Not-so-fertile Ground

You see, this whole spirituality and faith thing doesn’t come naturally to me.  I wasn’t raised on tales of magic and myth, or anything else that would obviously or easily foster a magical ideation; I didn’t have an older relative who told me tales of the Old Country or anything like that.  My early books were things like “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel”, “Curious George”, and the like.  I remember the moment where I actually began to read; I was looking over Mom’s shoulder while she read “Black Beauty” to me.  We had books with selections from Grimm’s and Hans Christian Andersen, but those weren’t the go-to books for story time.

I read voraciously growing up, but it was stuff like history, astronomy, the Hardy Boys, and science fiction.  Lots and lots of science fiction.  No fantasy- my Dad was frankly scornful of it, and I modeled my tastes after his.  SF already had a multi-decade tradition of agnosticism if not outright atheism, and tended to ignore religion at best.  And the authors I read were  Heinlein,  Asimov, Clarke, and their ilk; nothing like Andre Norton that could have provided a gateway to more fantastic realms.  I’ve always had a great imagination, but it wasn’t focused on the magical, back then.

My parents are fairly devout Catholics, but were never very good at communicating the “why” of it, the meaning behind it…  their faith, really.  I think some of that was and is a generational thing, some the nature of the pre- Vatican II world that formed them.  Also, they both have graduate degrees in “rationalist” fields- my mother in nursing, my father in economics.  And none of the priests and laypeople at our church connected with me on that level, either.  My own nature had a lot to do with it, I’m sure- I was an introvert from an early age, and the idea of talking to anyone about personal matters was quite foreign to me.

So to me, religion was something you just did–  going to Mass on Sundays, and then Sunday School afterwards, pro-forma prayers before bed and meals; the Advent wreath before Christmas and fish on Fridays during Lent; some encouragement to go to Confession, to “offer up” something else during Lent.  No real push to get involved more, to be an altar boy; no Bible around except a bowdlerized “Children’s Bible” that soon grew boring.  Any reason given tended to be expressed in a vaguely negative fashion- not doing the right things was a sin, and too many sins meant you went to Hell when you died.  There was no fire-and-brimstone immediacy to this, just a general sort of disapproving background murmur.

Still, I was a pretty happy kid.  I wasn’t terribly popular, or athletic, and was already starting to get picked on for being overweight and clumsy, but I had a few friends, loving parents, reliably annoying but comradely brothers, a safe and solid home; all the makings of an idyllic childhood.  I was worried because I didn’t have this “faith” thing, but it was kind of distant and unimportant; maybe I’d get it when I was Confirmed (I’ve always been a lazy sort-  I never got the idea of why it might be worth it to push myself on it). I wanted to be a physicist or maybe an astronomer when I grew up (I really wanted to be an astronaut, but then I developed myopia- remember, at that time, you had to be a fighter or test pilot to get into the program, and there was no way you could do that with bad eyesight).

Then it all fell apart… on the inside.

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