People hear that you grew up religious, and they can’t imagine you’d have a complex relationship with faith. If you believe one part, you must believe it all. But who gets more chances to see the absurdities than the devout? An answer that’s satisfying on Sunday becomes contradictory by Wednesday night. Belief is a wrestling match that lasts a lifetime.
— Victor Lavalle, Big Machine
What I am is haunted: stalked, reticent, silent. I can’t dance to any song, watch any film, hold any man without feeling surveilled. No thought goes unheard; no motive remains mysterious. I am hawked, dogged, tracked. There are no restraining orders. I can’t speak to the degree of shell-shock in others; I have only my own to catalog, to manage. What I have are memories, of an elderly woman shoving a huge leather-bound bible into my hands so the devil the pastor was about to cast out wouldn’t “jump into me,” as I sat waiting two rows behind the altar; of a man lifting a leg to the back of his neck and standing on one foot while ministers prayed for him; of the HIV-infected visiting prophet whose testimony involved locking himself into his church for three days until the spirit of homosexuality left him.
What I have is a residual belief in the strangest of all my strange experiences, a lingering pre-intellectual instinct that keeps me from being an entirely rational thinker. Some nights, I still think I’ll see a demon at the foot of my bed. Some mornings, I still wake and panic about whether or not the Rapture occurred while I slept and I, for whatever transgressions I committed between dusk and dawn, have been left behind.
What I see when I envision God is a vapor overlaying everything. A voyeur, a protector, an executioner, depending on the day. Binocular eyes, a sword to slay giants, and sickles for hands. Body of stone and body of air, at equal turns.
What I see when I envision Jesus is a hippie, barefoot, in blue tattered dungarees and a white linen tunic embroidered with navy thread. Listening and pacing and staring through the cookie-sized holes in his palms. Smiling and running frustrated fingers through crazy-thick hair.
What I hear when someone tells me he/she is a prophet is an echo: an imperceptible white noise beneath loud and sincere speculation.
In some half-carved hollow that logic can’t touch, I believe everything. No matter how thoroughly the messages of my brain excavate the corners of my body, they never find this hollow. Their reason can’t be heard here. I believe that prayer has the potential to animate paralyzed limbs. I believe people who insist that their malignant growths have shrunken to non-existence. I believe a bush can burn without being consumed. I believe a too-wistful woman can transmogrify to salt.
No amount of evidence or education can completely erase my socio-spiritual imprinting. What is there will always be there.
But age intensifies suspicion. Experience encourages examination. I cannot be a scholar without questioning. I cannot be a woman without relinquishing some of my naivete. I know that I know very little for certain, and wondering calms me.
I know that the answers I’ve always been given are not quite whole answers at all.