At a very young age God seemed distant and I was deathly afraid of him. I saw God through the eyes of a Roman Catholic who attended Immaculate Conception on Staten Island, NY. It’s all I knew. I am not placing the blame on anyone or any group. I had kind, loving priests who I saw as angelic. They were masculine, old school priests who were gentle and godly. The only time I talked to them was when I used to go confession and wait my turn to go into the booth. I watched the light turn from red to green and it was my turn. I talked to them through the screen. Why did they do that? I did not know. Maybe they did not want to know who was talking to them. I could smell Father McGinn’s Aqua Velva™ and I knew it was him. I would confess my sins.
After I exited, they would have me pray prayers that would make up for my dirty deeds and sad I did not know them all. I knew the “Hail Mary” and the “Our Father” but the “Glory to the Father” always got me. I did not want to look like I was dumb or maybe I was afraid to ask how to pray it. So I just repeated the phrase over and over. So I could only hope I did the right thing. But I did not feel forgiven. I did not know what it was to be forgiven. I just did it because I thought you could not take communion on Sunday. For me that was church, sit, stand, kneel and go up front and the priest would say, “Body of Christ.” and I would say, “Amen.” I did not know what that meant. But I would take communion and go home.
I did not know the nuns at all except for when I had “released time” from P.S. 14. I liked learning about God. I remember climbing up the altar at church slowly because I thought God was up there and I wanted to see. But the nuns told me to get back down. They thought I was fooling around but I was not. My heart was empty. I could cry at the fact that no one knew. I thought I loved God but I was afraid of him. It was a strange contradiction. No one helped me with that dread. I lived with terrible guilt. My parents loved me, provided for me and even sent me to church. But church was a scary place and I was always doing something wrong. I was always getting in trouble. I was setting fires or fighting with my brother. I grasped the total truth that I was a sinner-I knew it for sure then and I felt at any moment God would kill me for my crimes against him. I wrote about it even in poetry. I would write and ask God, “Please don’t kill me.”
I would lay awake in my room at night and see things. My imagination would run wild. I was afraid of the angels on the wallpaper I thought they were alive. So I used to sing myself to sleep. I would make up some song (my twin brother Mike would do the same thing) and go “La, La, La” and my mother would hear us but she knew we were singing. But I never called out when to my parents when I was afraid, I don’t know why.
I was alone. I had no gospel. I had no Bible. I was lost.
I used to steal books. I loved books and I love reading them. My parents would have bought them for me but I was a quiet kid and a thief. One time I stole a children’s Bible out of a library. I did not have a library card and I did not ask how I could get one. I loved the pictures in it and I wanted to read it. I guess when I hear people who get their Bible’s stolen, it may be someone like me, it’s OK, let them have it.
I began to see artists rendition of prophets whose name I could not pronounce but I could say names like Abraham, Moses and Micah. But it was when I read Jeremiah that something happened to me.
That is for the next time. This is the first article in this series.
©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due.