Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

At the end of the "Wedding of Cana" story in John 2, v. 11 says, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

This morning I lay there and thought about that phrase, “The first of his signs.” it got me to thinking. What would I call “the first of my signs?” What would be the first moment in my consciousness that I even suspected that there was a holy part of me, that I was a child of God? For that matter, can you remember what your first one was? What was that first moment that you could see that little spark in you that was bigger than yourself, and connected to it?

I lay there this morning and realized that it was probably a moment I mostly am very dismissive about. It is the story I use to get fundamentalists off my ass when they pester me with that “Are you saved?” crap. It dawned on me that because I am very dismissive about this story, because I use it as a “spacer” between me and their prying, I really have never acknowledged the power in the story itself. I have really never sat with my memories of it. I have never really connected it to the reality of where I am now in understanding God.

So this morning, for the first time, I sat with it, and sort of surprised myself in just how “not to be dismissed” this story was.

I must have been about eight or nine years old at the time. It was in the middle of one of my dad’s drunken tirades. You just never knew when these tirades could start. They might start the minute he got home. They might fester during supper and one “wrong move” on either my or my mom’s part could set it off. It might be the tone in one of our voices. It might be an instantaneous shift from a night we thought he was going to be “drunk and happy.” It might be something as simple as me wrinkling up my nose at something on my plate. It could end up anywhere from a shoutfest to a beating to watching the house be torn apart and wrecked before my very eyes. I am sure it is why my mom is now so hung up on the status of “having nice things.” There was no point to having nice things when my dad would destroy them on a whim, and the more you liked something, the more likely he was to hone in on it and make it the first target of his destruction. Anything you appeared to like more than him was his enemy, when he'd had too much to drink.

The residue of these episodes has left me with an incredible hyperacuity (even an over-acuity sometimes) to “smell disapproval”. I can be in a conversation with someone, and if I even get the tiniest whiff of disapproval of me, my heart rate goes up, and a very old decision tree pops up in my head...”Fight? Or hide?” I doubt that people know how much I have to push that decision tree aside in things that do not really matter much. I often catch myself saying, "This is not big enough to have to play the "Fight or hide" clip; let it go."

But as a child, I knew I was more often going to have to choose “Hide.” Oh, once in a while, I would fight. I suppose to fight at all when I was so small and powerless says something about my inner strength of heart. But most of the time, I hid. I’d hide in my dog Sam’s doghouse and pull Sam in front of me into the doghouse. But sometimes I was so afraid that my dad would see Sam as “The thing I liked more than him,” so I felt I could not risk Sam, even though some of the best comfort I got in those times was for him to curl up in the doghouse with me and be my pillow. So I would hide in the tall grass in the pasture, I would hide in the cemetery down the road, I would hide across the road at my grandparents’ house, and I would hide in the tool shed. Sometimes he would catch up to the fact that I was AWOL and would go looking for me, but luckily he was too drunk to really look well. I could hide in some very small cramped spaces. Sometimes I even fell asleep in my hiding places. When I reappeared, my dad was usually passed out by then, but then my mom would be upset that I had temporarily taken off and take that out on me later. Somehow I was “bad” that I had hidden, that she had to “put up with it” and I had not, and somehow that was wrong. I might get told it was ME that had “set him off.” “If you hadn’t made that face at the dinner table, this would have never have happened, and you left me to deal with it while you got off scot-free. Why can’t you just do what he says so we can be a happy family?” I suppose the other weird thing is you’d think parents would stop fighting to look for their AWOL child, but it seems that people just sort of got used to me disappearing and re-appearing, for lack of a better explanation. I was probably never gone for more than an hour.

One night, during a particularly destructive tirade, I had hidden in the tool shed. Literally sort of arranged the lawn mower and the tarp covering it and some plastic buckets in a way you could not see me if you had opened the tool shed and looked inside.

When I would hide, my heart would beat so fast, and my stomach would feel so sick inside, like I wanted to throw up but could not. I wanted to writhe but knew movement could give me away. I wanted to cry aloud but knew I had to be silent, so a lot of times I just sat or lay there, curled up in a ball, hot tears silently going down my face. Sometimes I would whisper to myself to calm myself down. But on that night, I remember whispering to myself, “Oh, God, I do not want to live like this. Please tell me I don’t have to live the rest of my life like this. I don’t want to grow up to have a house like this. If this is what happens when you grow up, maybe I don’t even want to grow up. Just don’t make me live like this.”

I don’t remember a lot about what happened; to say too much puts me at the risk of projecting who I am now on it. But what I remember is there was this calm over just saying those words to myself and to God. I can remember everything felt more silent than usual even though there was noise; I could hear the wind outside making the tool shed creak, and I could hear the crickets, and I could just sort of feel a comforting, enveloping quiet that seemed to not mind these background noises. It certainly wasn’t like my plea was answered directly, just that a very palpable stillness came over the tool shed, and what noise there was, seemed rhythmic. I remember listening carefully to it and listening to hear if there was still fighting going on. (In the pre-air conditioning days, we had the windows open all spring and summer, and you could gauge what was going on by hearing whether or not arguing was going on.) It had stopped, far as I could tell, and I eventually came out of my hiding place and went back into the house.

But what I realize now is that moment of being “answered with stillness” is not a bit different than the moments I feel sitting out by my fire, or the moments I look up at the stars when I’m taking the dogs out late at night, or the moments I lie awake early in the morning in my own bed and am “thinking prayerful thoughts.” Moments that are quiet yet punctuated with rhythmic noises that seem to add to the quiet rather than break them up. They are moments of peace, bred from a moment of terrible pain in a dark tool shed. It’s like they all sprang up from that one sentinel event. That moment in the tool shed was my first inkling of an awareness of a Presence.

To take that moment and use it as a dismissive barrier to a mindset I don’t like; to use it to put distance between me and the fundamentalists, cheapens its power. That has been a mistake on my part, albeit an honest and understandable one. That moment was not meant for me to put enmity between them and me, it was meant to connect me to who I sense I am now. It WAS a moment of salvation, just not in quite the way others might expect or demand. Not a “defining moment of salvation,” but one in a long string of many, a “first sign” as important to me as the wedding at Cana was to Jesus.

So I ask you, dear readers: What was your first sign?

3 comments:

Well, I cannot think of a defining moment for me. I am glad you can; maybe it will come to me one day and I can tell you about it. Your childhood sounds a lot like mine but dad didn't have to be drunk to be mean in my case. All the same, thank you for sharing, K. Much appreciated.

I guess I don't see it so much as a "defining moment" as I do just the first of many disjointed things that eventually made me see in retrospect as being the presence of God, even if at the time I did not totally connect it. It's weird like that. I think at the time, I just sensed that things had a calm I had not ever really noticed. It's only been years later, with other moments of "presence" to see and explore, that I sort of put it together.

I'll tell you what else I've learned over the years; there sure must be a lot of people in the world who are hyperacute to "the smell of disapproval." But we all mostly look normal now, most of the time. It is only when one of us becomes self-revealing that you find out (often on the sly) that there is another. Kind of like "women who have had miscarriages." One self-revelation and ten others come out of the woodwork and out of the shadows.

That's a remarkable story, and I thank you for sharing it. I'm glad you've come to realize the sacredness of that moment.

My moment came when I was three. I knelt by my bed and prayed because I knew somehow there was a God and that I wanted to belong to him. I've always believed that God honored that.

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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