I happen to be a person without any particular religious beliefs. Imagine the culture shock when I arrived smack dab in the middle of a country full of very religious people (I think I read somewhere that something like 97% of all Greeks are Greek Orthodox). People actually go to church here on a regular basis, and when they go to church they don't just make automaton professions of faith, you can tell that these people mean it.
Now I've tried to believe before, on many occasions. But there is one thing I won't do, and that is profess to believe in something I really don't believe in. I don't intend to be hypocritical in my faith, and so I have remained faithless. Some might blame my upbringing, which started in the Unitarian church when I was born. I was "dedicated", not baptised (Unitarians don't believe in original sin), and I have vague memories of frequenting the church when I was very little. When we moved to North Carolina, I guess the community did not have an established Unitarian church at the time, so we started going to a Methodist church. I was still a child, and so church meant little more to me than being bored on Sunday morning and singing in the choir and being in pageants. Before we left North Carolina I have a recollection of attending a Unitarian church there, but I don't remember much about it.
Let me say this before I continue. My parents were quite keen on all three of their children having some knowledge of varied religions, in the hope that when we got older we would find our faith and choose a path. They never pressured us, they never told us what we had to believe. They wanted us to figure it out for ourselves.
When we moved to Tennessee I don't remember going to church at all at first. However, for various reasons I won't go into here, I attended a private Catholic school in 9th grade. Now, imagine my shock, coming from a very open household to an extremely religious school. I think I should have been better prepared for the spiritual bombardment my soul was about to receive.
We had mass every Wednesday morning at school. At the first mass I wasn't sure what to expect. I was surprised, then, when I found the singsong Latin pleasing to my ears. The service had kind of a dark quality about it, reminiscent of ancient rituals. I found it quite interesting, but not in a religious sort of way. Anyway, at one point during the mass I noticed that rows of girls were proceeding to either side of the auditorium. I panicked and asked the girl next to me what was going on. She told me that it was communion. I asked her whether I should get up too, and she said I should. So off I went, standing in line in front of the priest, waiting for my turn at communion.
I should say here that I knew what communion was. I know it was the symbolic taking in of the body and blood of Christ. In other churches we got a thimbleful of grape juice and a small, pillow-shaped bread thing.
Finally I was standing face to face with the priest. The first sign of warning should have been the fact that I didn't have my mouth open like a baby bird waiting for its mother to feed it. The priest did his thing and then told me to open my mouth. Imagine my shock when I realized he had put a poker chip sized piece of plastic in my mouth. The conversation that followed took place with my mouth still open, the poker chip laying on my tongue.
Me: What ith thith?
Priest: The body of Christ
Me: What am I thuppothed tho do with ith?
Priest: Swallow it
Me: I canth
Priest: Suck on it then
Me: I canth
To which the priest, obviously a bit annoyed, stuck out his palm, in which I proceeded to spit the poker chip. I walked away happily, feeling like I had thwarted a grand Catholic plan to choke the non-Catholic girl to death. As I got older, I started to realize the symbolism of my faux pas. I had spit the "body of Christ" from my mouth, in non-acceptance. Sure, it wasn't intended that way, but perhaps that was the reason for my lack of faith, my inability to believe in the things that shape and define religion.
My husband no longer goes to church on a regular basis. He wants to, and I blame myself for his lack of attendance. Sure, there is no reason for me to set foot in a church. I feel nothing, I am not swept away by any deep spiritual feelings. But as my husband, I should support him in his spirituality.
Every once in awhile, if I walk out on the balcony on a Sunday morning, the wind carries the sound of a priest singing the Byzantine hymns, and I find myself frozen, listening to the chants, mesmerized by the lullaby of faith. Perhaps there is hope for me yet.