There is a little Church up in a town called Callicoon, which I remember very well. The building itself was old and small, white shingles on the outside, with a few stained glass windows and a peak with a steeple like one would imagine. This place is a memory from back when I lived on the farm as well as a moment when I came to grips with the person I used to be.
I was sent here a few times to clean the Church on Saturday mornings to make things ready for Sunday’s Mass, which, to be honest, I never felt comfortable in Churches-especially alone, and by myself, but either way, this is where they sent me.
There was usually someone with me but the memory I have is from a time when I was left alone to clean the pews and put prayer books in the shelving in the back of each pew. This was wintertime. The Old Man had just passed away and this time more than ever was a time when I questioned my faith.
I questioned the justice of life and its basic unfairness because how could this be? How could it be that a man with a family, whom he loved so much, and a man with a business, which he worked at perfecting for so long and was finally about to cross the threshold of true success, out of nowhere, life happens and he is taken away?
In truth, of course, I was angry. I was angry at God for not considering my deal, which I offered in exchange for the life of my Old Man.
In fairness, I was afraid of the new uncertainties. Safe to say I was angry. What would this mean for my Mother? What would happen to the family business? What am I going to do now that my plans were changed because life’s terms changed them for me?
Outside was cold. The sky was a clear blue and the sun was bright; however, the air was frigid and the sound of the wind whistled and shook the branches of empty tree branches. The Church itself was drafty and cold. There was heat on Sundays but not on the days when no one was around. Otherwise, the heat was shut off.
My feet were cold and so were my hands. Either way, there was work to do, and cold or not —the pews weren’t going to clean themselves.
The walls were high and white. The carpet was old, maybe greed was the color, and tattered with what seemed like decades of foot traffic. The pews were wood, lightly stained with a varnish and the altar was set up, slightly elevated with a table that was covered with a white cloth.
There was a golden cup, a large Bible in the center of the table, opened up to a page, and behind this, suspended high above in the room against the wall was the eyes of the Son, crucified to the cross and looking at me. His head slumped down towards His right shoulder, and outside the wind howled, I could hear what sounded like tree branches crackling from the cold air.
I finished my job and had to wait for one of the drivers to come back and pick me up. But until then, I sat in the back pew, far from the altar, and waited for my ride to return.
I never wanted to believe in something just because there was a man, standing on an altar, preaching about a life that I was supposed to live. I never wanted to believe in anything just because someone told me to.
And as for God, He and I had our share of disagreements —or, is it just safer to say that it was me that disagreed, and that it was me, like a kid that never got his way, pouted because The Father told me “No.”
Not to mention my problems with shame, by the way, which I had plenty of because I knew deep down, the way I lived was the direct opposite of how I should be.
There were parts of scripture that people told me, which clung to me like an idea—or like a warning, or maybe this was just food for thought and my faith (in its struggle) was unsure which way to turn.
I always believed in God—it’s just that sometimes, I believed he rarely listened when I talked to Him.
I never thought there were answers to my prayers. In fact, I could remember several times, while stuck in the foxholes of my personal wars, when I asked for His help, and then found myself moving in deeper and just further away from my plea.
I would ask Him to help me. Why not, right? Isn’t this what we are supposed to do, to pray for guidance and help when we need it most?
I remember the morning in a jail cell and thinking how God had abandoned me. Meanwhile, I was pleading to find help, to get me away from myself, to save me because quite simply, I knew I could never save myself.
I never saw my arrest as the answer to my prayers. But, in fact, I was helped and I was taken away from myself. I asked to be taken away, and just like I asked, I was taken.
I knew there was a God. At least, there is to me. But what does this mean?
Someone once told me, “The devil too knows God exists, and still he trembles.” I was told that demons were afraid of the light because this exposed the darkness of their deeds.” And yes, this was me. But I digress,
There I was in Church, alone, and sitting in the rear pew, thinking, feeling cold, feeling lonely, and facing what felt like a reflection of my true self. It was more than my surroundings; it was me in the face of something pure, something wholesome, and me in the revelation of my truth, me with my ideas of tragic thoughts, and me with my past, with my sins, and with my own darkness; I sat in this pew, feeling the cold sting of my own impurity.
It was quiet as ever. All I could hear was the crackle of the wind and the beating of my heart. It was the kind of quiet that causes my ears to ring in the absence of sound. I was filled with emotion and regret. I was filled with doubt and fear and anger.
I had to face myself, which was more difficult than all. And in the face of it all, I swore this time was poignant enough to have me face to face with the fact of my pain.
This is why belief is important to me.
I felt the sting of reality, cold, and whipping like the wind outside the Church. It was me and myself, in the face of myself, and with the eyes of The Son upon me —I felt the contrast between me and purity, which was like I was told, too bright and too telling. I avoided the light for so long because the light exposed the darkness of my deeds and the darkness in my heart, which I wanted to be rid of.
It became clear that to make my peace with God meant that I had to make peace with me. This was me in front of me, faced with me, by me, and in the quietness from the cold pew in the back of an old Church in Callicoon, New York, I found myself in the first meaningful prayer of my life.
I cannot say I remember what I said; however, I can only remember my need to supplicate and create a petition with God as I saw Him, to rid me of my past and absolve me of myself.
There were times in my deepest regrets when I prayed in fear for my consequences. I prayed in the foxholes of my private battles to help save me from me —but in the depths of my despair and with no relief in sight, I gave my humble submissions with hopes to be rescued but the rescue was never what I expected.
However, this time was different. This was not about escaping consequences. This was not about anything other than me escaping me. This time was me giving way to the reflection I saw, which was only me seeking to be me without the contrast between good and evil.
This was me needing to rest the demons of my yesterdays and submitting to the fact the my regrets will always be there, should I choose to return; however, looking backwards, there was no way for me to go forwards. And that’s all I wanted was to move ahead.
Safe to say, this was the entryway to me finding peace with me, through The Son, to find peace between me and The Father.
Safer to say that I would have never been absolved of my sins if I never learned to absolve myself first.