I Believe in Deviled Eggs

Sermons be damned. It’s the little rituals that stir the spirit.

| November-December 2008

  • Heavenly Food

    Image by Sylvia Nickerson

  • Heavenly Food

I confess, I don’t know much about religion. I grew up Protestant with a grandfather who was a minister, and I still don’t know much about religion. I stopped going to church at the age of 12 when my grandfather died, and up until that point, religion was waking up every Sunday morning to get ready for the 10 o’clock service.

Religion was my mother delivering a freshly ironed dress to my bedroom door, and the smell of shoe polish in the kitchen. It was something that interfered with watching cartoons. It was a dark, windowless room in a basement where preteens drew scenes from the life of Jesus with crayons on paper plates. I didn’t know much about Jesus except that I could never get his beard right.

Religion was the Banquet Burger Combo afterward at the Bo-Peep Restaurant, sometimes accompanied by red Jell-O, sometimes chocolate pudding. It was begging my parents to ask the Bo-Peep hostess if we could sit in the banquet section where the chairs were padded with red faux leather attached by brass studs, the walls covered with dark wood paneling and the stern expressions of British dukes in full hunting regalia.

Religion was picnics at the park—deviled eggs, macaroni salad, potato salad, and Dixie Lee chicken. It was escaping the adults when the food was packed away and exploring the perimeters of the forestry station’s “experimental forest,” a thicket of scraggly trees that invited games of Truth or Dare. Religion was Grandpa giving my two older brothers a dollar to go to the arcade and telling me to help Grandma in the kitchen.

I never quite realized that only the kneeling, praying, and hymn singing counted as actual religion. I thought they were just things that we did before the real religion—the business of living—began. Don’t get me wrong, I knew they were important; I did them voluntarily, with relish even. I even had a favorite hymn—“Onward, Christian Soldiers”—that I’d sing while I walked to school. But the actual words of the hymns were as meaningless to me as my grandfather’s sermons. I looked for a catchy tune underlying the words in both. I discovered it by watching the stained-glass windows blaze in the late morning sunshine. I saw how the artist had perfected the curls of a sheep’s wool, the gentle gaze of a cow. I discovered it observing the actions of the congregation: the nose picking, the napping, the fondling couples. It was during these moments that I found enlightenment.

I wasn’t aware that my ignorance of the true meaning of religion was disrespectful or irreverent. The only time I seemed to breach the contract I apparently signed with my baptism was when my grandfather scolded me for exclaiming something remotely blasphemous (“Holy cow!”) or too close to the Lord’s name (“Geez!”). If you had asked my 12-year-old self if I believed in God, I would have replied yes without a moment’s hesitation. Of course I believed in God. At that time, I believed in everything.

Rick Raab-Faber
12/10/2008 10:35:32 AM

Amen to that, sister. I was an Evangelical Christian for about 13 years. I came to it as an adult. I remember so many sermons and diatribes about how Catholics and others were caught up in ritual, that it was empty and superficial. To them it was all about the "Word of God," as they put it. And whether or not you were REALLY "born again." Oh, and whether you'd "led anyone to Christ." Or did you at least "witness" to them? Who do you "fellowship with"? (Sorry for the quotes on everything, I just wanted to denote what, for many Christians, are just meaningless phrases they like to say.) It was towards the end of my run with the Evangelicals that I can to see how wrong they were. One of the churches I attended allowed people to come and go and chat and laugh while singing the hymns at the beginning of the show -- the part where we were supposed to be worshiping God and getting close to him. But God forbid anyone should move or talk or try to come or go while the pastor was preaching his sermon. The sermon became the ritual, and it was a sucky one at that. Before dropping out altogether, I attended an Episcopal Church. It was there that I truly realized that it was the rituals, the standing and kneeling, the recitations, the Holy Communion, the passing the peace, and even the brief homily, that were what made us close to one another and close to God. For Catholics, it is the crossing oneself, the rosaries, the feast days that mean something. A clever sermon, or a pithy slogan on the marquee out front do not bring us closer to God. We're like kids and it is that repetition that comes with ritual that reinforces God (who/whatever we conceive that God to be) in our hearts. I guess in the end, that's the real purpose of Church.

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