My life as a kid was earth-bound. Our home was secular, as were those of my two best friends. Christmas was about getting presents and eating a lot. Easter was about hunting for eggs and eating a lot. Have I mentioned I liked to eat a lot?
I knew some people went to a place called Church on Sundays. Men wore suits, ladies wore little pill box hats, and they dressed their kids up like tiny business people. I went to Church with my cousins once. We put a dime on a plate, and then stood up, sat down, and kneeled a lot while some guy in a long robe spoke in a foreign language and handed out little crackers.
And then there was the Religious Lady on my paper route. She always gave me a tip and talked about Jesus when I collected her monthly subscription fee. If Jesus was anything like her he must be pretty nice, although hopefully a little less pushy.
My main exposure to religion came from seeing The Five Commandments ten times–I liked the special effects–and Ben Hur–I liked the chariot race, but wasn’t sure why those Roman guys crucified Jesus because of it. And then the Religious Lady paid for me and my buddies to watch the longest movie ever made at a second-run movie theatre. It was called The Robe, Demetrius, and the Gladiators. I had no idea till years later what it was about, or that it was actually two movies. But my absolute favorite Bible-y movie was Spartacus, except that I was confused when they crucified him instead of Jesus. Was Jesus a gladiator?
Then the YMCA stepped in. At ages eight and nine, I went to a local YMCA-run summer camp, and on the last day we got to sleep under the stars! Sky. Eternity.
I finally got to thinking about God, who our camp leaders referred to in vague, inoffensive ways. So I asked Mom, who’d been raised a vague, inoffensive Catholic, and she gave me her childhood Sunday missal, which until then I’d thought was a rocket ship. It had a prayer in it that began, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” I tried saying that for a while, but there were no cool special effects, so I quit.
But the year I turned ten, I was finally old enough for big kid’s camp in the actual mountains, instead of the city next door! At Camp Osceola, between singing silly camp songs and hiking (I burned off a lot of that Easter candy), we heard stories about being honest and talking to God. And I suddenly realized I wanted to do that, talk to God. In fact, it seemed I always had…
I just hadn’t realized it.