Coming back and reading Justin Cronin

Lots has happened since the last time I blogged – probably too much to review quickly, so I may lazily throw references to recent events into future posts.

I’m in my last semester at Goucher and I think my manuscript may just be shaping up as a collection of essays, more or less about the experience of religion or something like that. Today I decided to spend the afternoon reading for inspiration, and came across My Daughter and God by Justin Cronin, which ran in the spring 2014 edition of NarrativeMagazine.com. It’s a healthy musing on miracles, disasters and faith, but I wanted to post here a passage that particularly struck me, personally and with respect to my manuscript and its theme:

Until that night, we were a family that had lived an entirely secular existence. This wasn’t planned; things simply happened that way. My religious background was different from my wife’s, but only by degree. I was raised in the Catholic Church, but its messages were delivered to me in a lethargic and off-key manner that failed to gain much traction. My father did not attend Mass—I was led to believe this had something to do with the trauma of his attending Catholic grade school—and my mother, who dutifully took my sister and me to church every Sunday, did not receive Communion. Why this should be so I never thought to ask. Always she met us at the rear of the church so that we could make a quick exit “to avoid the traffic.” (There was no traffic.) We never attended a church picnic or drank coffee in the basement after Mass or went to Bible study; we socialized with no other families in the parish. Religion was never discussed over the dinner table or anyplace else. I went to just enough Sunday school to meet the minimum requirements for First Communion, but because I went to a private school with afternoon activities, I could not attend confirmation class. My mother struck a deal with the priest. If I met with him for a couple of hours to discuss religious matters, I could be confirmed. I had no idea why I was doing any of this or what it meant, only that I needed to select a new name, taken from the saints. I chose Cornelius, not because I knew who he was but because that was the name of my favorite character in Planet of the Apes.
Within a couple of years I was off to boarding school, and my life as a Roman Catholic, nominal as it was, came to an end. During a difficult period in my midtwenties, I briefly flirted with church attendance, thinking it might offer me some comfort and direction, but I found it just as stultifying and embarrassing as I always had, full of weird sexual obsessions, exclusionary politics, and a deep love of hocus-pocus, overlaid with a doctrine of obedience that was complete anathema to my newly independent self. If asked, I would have said that I believed in God—one never really loses those mental contours once they’re established—but that organized religious practice struck me as completely infantile. When my wife and I were married, a set of odd circumstances led us to choose an Anglican priest to officiate, but this was a decision we regretted, and when our daughter was born, the subject of baptism never came up. Essentially, we viewed ourselves as too smart for religion. I’ll put it another way. Religion was for people who wanted to stay children all their lives. We didn’t. We were the grown-ups.