Leah Francis : Finding the Way contents

Religion

WHO IS GOD?

When I was ready, Auntie or Gran would say prayers with me before tucking me in with a "night-night" kiss.

"God bless Mummy and Daddy," I would repeat. I soon knew that other people had mummies and daddies but I didn't. Yet praying for them led me to feel warmly toward them. Then I prayed for granny and auntie and granddad. I loved Auntie and Granny and Grandad and the Anforths. `you were my family and I have never needed "blood relatives". Finally I would repeat, "make me be a good girl."

You could ask God for things, or thank him. Mummy and Daddy had no function.

When I was three and cute and talkative, I began going to Sunday-school. There I learnt how God is so good, and heard and remembered strange and exciting "bible stories" about dreams and miracles and battles, kindness and cruelty, love, hate, favouritism, injustice. Every Sunday Granny would read the week's bible verse from the tiny "text card" I brought home. I usually remembered the words but rarely understood their meaning.

"I am the truth." Now that was a mystery. Did it have something to do with telling the truth or the Sunday paper called The Truth? The question did not puzzle me long. I forgot about it.

One day a customer gave Auntie a picture of Jesus and asked her to teach me the prayer printed below. Every night we recited this meaningless rhyme until I knew it by heart and could recite to visitors. –

Gentle Jesus
Meek and Mild
Look upon
a little child.
Pity my
simplicity.
Suffer me
To come to thee.

What was "pitymy", "simplisatee", "suffamee". I recalled but discarded this jumble until at boarding-school I needed it to try to prove I knew more prayers than my best friend, Pamela, who was Catholic. For her, every "Hail Mary" counted as a prayer.

However, there is one little prayer I learnt at Sunday-school and whispered throughout my childhood. It was a most heart-felt plea and turned out to be a very present help in trouble.

"Jesus, friend of little children, be a friend to me.
Take my hand, and ever keep me close to thee."

At school I discovered there was more to religion than a kind, absentee protector and judge called God. There were Catholics, for example, and Protestants, and in the religious context of the late thirties they were against each other. Catholics knew they were superior and headed for heaven, and the rest of us were envious because their religion instructors came after school every Wednesday and gave them toffees or French jellies. Only they were treated to religious instruction and lollies. As well as that, once or twice a year the Catholics went out for breakfast and some of the girls wore white dresses and veils. They called these breakfasts "first holy communion." I wasn't really jealous, though. Each Sunday, wearing my very best dress, I went to Sunday-school where we sang songs, went out on to the grass to feed the birds, heard stories, played in the sand tray and made models to illustrate the stories we were told. When the other "little people" were drawing or painting the "teachers", untrained volunteers, concerned and imaginative, would find meaningful and satisfying things for me to do.

During my teens I drifted away from Sunday School, as others did.

Later my boyfriend attracted me to a fundamentalist bible study group. Each week about eight of us met, some with a deep knowledge and a definite point of view about God, the past and God's power and plans, salvation and life after death. Most knew the Bible well and found in it coincidences and confirmation of their beliefs and great support and comfort.

I have been involved with many 'Christian' denominations, but have never been 'faithful' for more than a few years.

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