I study tinted images of children clambering onto Jesus’ lap in my compact, white prayer book, while Mom and Dad focus on Mass. As a four year old, I’m introduced to kindness, reverence, and mystery, and a lifetime of questions begins.
My first grade class recites rote from Baltimore Catechism:
Who made you? God made me.
Why did God make you?
God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
It all sounds so simple.
Perhaps my strict Catholic upbringing cultivated my inquiring spirit. Maybe guidance in the multiple mysteries of faith led me to internal questioning, evening ruminating. Questions of truth, mystery and myth are posed to me, and I attempt to answer with humility in creative writing.
When we reach the age of reason, Sister Mary tells us, we have something called a conscience. If we lie or steal, we may be caught and punished by our parents. But there is another reckoning; one that will change us. It is lasting and sacred; something a child of six does not grasp.
We learn about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the apple curious Eve ate and shared with Adam. Sister says Reason is the beginning of mankind’s troubles. They were banished from Eden because they offended God. From then on, people worked and struggled. My soul is tarnished by Original Sin. Serpent, Tempter, Evil Red Man with horns and tail, Devil on my left shoulder.
Is it wrong to want reasons? To question?
My conscience—or is it my guardian angel?—on my right, protects me from the danger of offending God. To prepare for my first Confession, I’m brought to awareness of inevitable sin and guilt, and that it is remedied by contrition and forgiveness.
Where does my conscience come from?
We recite Ten Commandments, the code we must live by, the ways we could sin, what we must avoid. Thoughts, desires, words, actions are kept holy by praying to Jesus, his Mother, and the saints. In time I grow to grasp, apprehend wrong-doing. I begin to develop a moral self.
I should examine my conscience as I kneel in a pew with my classmates, and wait for the green light above a closed booth. Instead, I rehearse a collection of sins to confess. Why? To make my performance for the priest flawless.
Five times? Too many. Two? Not enough. I disobeyed my mother three times. Lied to my father four times.
Father’s aftershave stings, and I rub my nose. He slides the metal screen between us, and chin in palm, closes his eyes. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.” My recitation begins. He prompts the Act of Contrition, gives me a penance of prayers, and blesses me through the screen. I’ve promised to sin no more, both for fear of Hell, and to not offend my God.
At age ten, I begin a journal, write rhyming nature verse and compositions. As a teen, my poetry becomes angst-filled, introspective, self-critical. I liken my soul to a candle flame, aspire to truth, nature, good conscience. For me, writing is evaluation, meditation; a focus, practice. It is a quest, but not just for the right words.
If I write from memory and the child’s perspective, spirit connections come, perhaps questions of devotion, transgression, and loyalty. When I re-live her struggles, I connect with her. I hope my reader does, too.
Mary Ellen Gambutti resides in Sarasota, FL with her husband and adopted senior chihuahua. Her stories appear or are forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Remembered Arts Journal, The Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, A Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, Nature Writing, PostCard Shorts, SoftCartel, Storyland, The Drabble, CarpeArte, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, and Borrowed Solace. https://ibisandhibiscusmelwrites.blogspot.com/