I’m not Christian. That’s not to say I have anything against Christians. It’s trendy these days to be a Christian-hater, to make fun of faith and pretend to be clever by joining the herd of know-it-all, psuedo-intellectuals whose only source of information is the latest sarcastic meme to pop up in their Twitter feed. Nuts to them.
The fact is, it is no more scientifically or logically valid to say that God doesn’t exist than it is to say that he/she/whatever does. Yet it is the happy button among the parrot-people to say, “if God exists, then prove it.” Sorry, that’s not how logic works. That’s a logical fallacy called ‘argumentum ad ignorantium’ – argument from ignorance. Essentially, this fallacy occurs when someone claims that a lack of proof equals proof. Anyway, I digress.
The point of this post is not fallacious logic, it is to answer the question of why someone like me, not Christian, not, in fact, a member of any religion, would wear a cross. I could tell you that the cross is an ancient symbol, predating Christianity by a wide margin, but that would be the easy way out.
My childhood was abusive both physically and psychologically. Like most kids, I was raised in the faith of my parents, Roman Catholic. I was taught to pray every night while holding my crucifix. The faith was never part of the abuse. I know priests get a bad rap these days, but mine, Father John, was, I suppose, something of an oddball. See, he liked it when I asked questions, especially ones that a stricter member of the clergy might have called blasphemous. When we spoke he never resorted to saying “because that’s what we believe.” Father John was always willing to discuss a subject thoroughly. He was also willing to admit when he didn’t have a good answer. How does the saying go? “A smart man will tell you what he knows, but a wise man will tell you what he doesn’t know.” Something like that.
I met Father John by accident. Of course I had known off him, as that man in the front of the church who read from that book and handed out the little round bread things. But I really met him only as a result of a shortcut that led from the place in which I played to the street on which I lived. The shortcut was a tiny bit of paved path that took me past the back porch of the rectory. Father John liked to sit on his porch and enjoy the shade of the grape vines he grew that served as its roof.
One day, I decided to stop and ask a question that had been nagging at me. It was a common question for a child to ask.
“Do animals have souls?” I asked without preamble.
“I’m supposed to say ‘no'”, he replied. “But I think they do.”
And that was that. For years afterward, Father John was the person I’d go to whenever I had a question about God, the soul, religion, etc. Sometimes our exchanges were as simple as that first one. Other times, we’d spend a while really chewing through a topic while sitting in the shade of those grape vines.
Among the many ideas Father John instilled in me was the belief that it was okay to think of God as a friend. Formal prayers were all well and good, but God was also cool with just shooting the breeze. So that’s what I did. I said the Lord’s Prayer and all that, as I was taught, but then I would just talk. A lot of the time I talked about my pain and confusion over why I was treated the way I was by the people who should have been protecting me. But there were also lighter conversations about little things.
One day, the little plastic Jesus came off the wooden cross I used when praying. I found the cross sans suffering Jesus to be much more psychologically comforting, so I pretended to have lost the Jesus so that it would not be put back on. “No, that’s okay. I know money is tight again. I’ll just keep using this one.”
For years I prayed every night while holding my plain wooden cross. I cried, I smiled, I got angry and I found peace while holding that symbol. I told Father John about getting rid of the plastic Jesus. He said it was okay. I suspect he was just glad to have a kid my age that actually seemed interested in something other than Star Wars, Music Television and gateway drugs. Just Say No! It was the eighties, don’t judge me.
There came a time when Father John left my world. There were rumors that he’d had an issue with alcohol. I recall how very well tended those grape vines had been and I wonder if they might have served a purpose other than providing shade. In any case, I entered High School shortly after Father John left. That was a fresh kind of hell and I found precious little time to think of more than surviving each day. My prayers turned mostly toward petitioning God to “PLEASE HELP ME PASS SO I DON’T HAVE TO BE IN HIGH SCHOOL FOR MORE THAN FOUR YEARS!!!” I never failed a grade, so, make of that what you will.
A few weeks ago, I decided to buy a little silver cross to wear on a simple cord around my neck. Since putting it on, I’ve found my hand going to it where it rests under my shirt, against my chest, whenever I start to feel particularly… autistic-ish. It calms me.
That’s why I wear a cross. It helps me remember the cool shade of Father John’s back porch, the tangy taste of grapes and the sound of the breeze shuffling the leaves of hanging vines. It symbolizes my faith, not in Jesus, but in a world that can be good and decent and kind and that, no matter how terrible and painful it might seem at times, does occasionally make sense.