Magazine article The Christian Century

Pearl of Great Price: A Girl Claims Her Faith

Magazine article The Christian Century

Pearl of Great Price: A Girl Claims Her Faith

Article excerpt

ACCORDING TO family lore, my mother said that she didn't go to church because she was a Quaker. But when a Quaker meeting came to the rural town where we lived and her parents drew attention to the fact that she still didn't go to church, she finally confessed that she was an agnostic. By that time my grandparents had settled into a Presbyterian church while my father attended an Episcopal church with us kids My mother stayed home to take a bath and read the Sunday paper.

Yet my mother insisted that we go to church. "You can accept or reject religion when you are adults, but if you don't have exposure to it, you won't know what you're accepting or rejecting." She was horrified, however, when in early adulthood I not only accepted religion but also made the church my life. Her argument: you are rejecting other religions if you choose Christianity, and you are too intelligent to choose Christianity!

I agreed that Christianity was an imperfect choice. But I didn't accept her argument. I had to choose a Way or I wouldn't get anywhere. Say that I wanted to get to Boston, I said; going by train doesn't mean I didn't appreciate automobiles, airplanes or bikes.

"Theology is based upon unwarranted assumptions," she liked to say. Nevertheless, when I was 11, she had inadvertently taught me to value my faith as the pearl of great price.

I loved church. I loved singing Anglican chant and hymns. I loved the stained glass windows, the scent of the old wooden building and sunlight on the boxwood outside and beeswax candles inside. I adored the Book of Common Prayer--the ennobling of daily life in gorgeous Shakespearean cadences and the intimacy of "Thou." Thou art. Thine own. Thy handmaiden. Thy Kingdom come.

Lifelong longing for God already infused my pilgrim heart, and the second pew on the right was not close enough. I wanted to go to the altar rail for communion, which in those days was denied to anyone who was not confirmed. And so at the age of 11 I petitioned our minister to let me prepare for confirmation in the spring instead of waiting until I was 14. Every Saturday my mother drove me to Saint James for catechism.

As my father was unemployed, the household atmosphere that spring was tense but secure. My family never borrowed money. We saved. I remember the "tsk tsk" of disapproval when a cousin bought a washer and dryer "on credit" meaning, to us, that she eventually had to pay more money for the appliances, I was sympathetic. My cousin had five children--how could she manage without a washing machine? …

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