Thursday, 2 February 2017

A Tale Of Two Crucifixes. It Was The Best Of Faith, The Worst Of Faith.

Prompt 33. Jewelry: Write about a piece of jewelry. Who does it belong to?

In considering this prompt two options came to mind.

The first was to write a fiction.  Either something a little creepy along the lines of the person who wants to get their jewellery back from the protagonist.  The item would belong to a crime boss or a magician.  Or something with a more historical tone.  At one point I considered a piece of archival detective work about an inscribed bracelet and the discovery that it was a gift to Nell Gwyn from King Charles II.

The second was to stick to the facts.  At least in part.  I'd thought about my own jewellery collection.  It's not a valuable set of trinkets.  Most of them were bought second hand so perhaps I could imagine a piece of telemetry to discover the previous owners of items and tell their stories.  Or I could imagine how the crystals turned out to have more mystical qualities than they should, leading to meetings with other crystal bearers.

As I sat with it further I decided not to write a fiction today.  Or a part fiction.  Today you're getting facts.  You'll just have to decide whether I've deviated from the truth at any point.  Perhaps my memory is flawed.  Perhaps I'm just making things up.  Autistic people are rubbish at lying.  But we can be very good at making things up.

I want to take you back to my childhood, to when a very cute little boy was growing up in a perfectly ordinary family, in a completely ordinary terraced house on an estate.  I was that cute little boy.  Let's get that admission out of the way straight away.  This isn't going to be one of those dreadful morality plays in which the author says at the end, "I know.  Because I was there.  I was that boy."  I'm not going to do that to you.  Honesty from the beginning.  Here I am.  Cute as a red panda.  You are free to disagree.  Cute is an opinion not an objective fact.

I was ten years old and had recently entered into the first phase of my obsession with Christianity.  I had already become as obsessed as I could be with spirituality when growing up in a decidedly unspiritual environment.  At the age of ten I started attending the local church, not for any devout "I want to go to heaven" reasons but because I wanted to sing in a choir.  I wasn't just a cute little boy.  I was a cute little chorister too.  So cute and so clear voiced that I was elevated to being the boy soloist.

I joined the children's group at the church too and it was with them that I became a performer at a local arts festival.  I performed once.  Three of us spoke in our little dramatic rendition while other children mimed or wandered around the square or did something or other that I could possibly recall under deep hypnosis.  I knew my station in life.  And that's why I performed in the role of God.  They made me God at the age of ten.

I got disillusioned with church not long afterwards.  Nobody there showed me any wonderful spiritual way or any benefit of Christianity beyond singing some nice songs on a Sunday and making egg box monsters on a Friday night.  It was all pretty dull.  Whoever Jesus is, the person they showed me was dead and irrelevant.  So I stopped going to the church so much.  Then they threw me out of the choir for being so irregular.  Then I left the church entirely.  Now they have a leaking roof.  I don't mean to imply causation by that correlation.

Roll on two years.  I was a cute twelve year old boy.  Perhaps not so cute as I had been at ten.  Perhaps not cute enough for anybody else to label my image in such a manner.  I admit it.  I wasn't cute.  That was the year I raced in indoor athletics because I couldn't get out of being there.  That was the year I raced and passed the relay baton onto a boy who would later be captain of the England football team.  And that was the year my family spent part of a holiday in Lincolnshire on a campsite with no more than basic amenities.

In Lincoln I decided what my souvenir should be.  I, the non-Christian who didn't see any use in the church, would buy myself a crucifix.  I think a book I'd read on the occult had mentioned that Jesus himself was quite nice even if the church was deathly.  My mother didn't understand.  She did her very best to convince me that buying a crucifix was a bad move.  Another of those things she said were silly and stupid.  She gave in though and allowed me to make my choice.  It wasn't a mistake.

My dad took the photos in this post.  This one was taken from Lincoln Castle.  Below the cathedral, though you can't see them were a selection of Christian bling and tack and 'piety' shops.  It was time for me to go shopping.  I hunted through several shops until I found a crucifix that seemed to call out to me.  "I am yours."  My mother butted in again and said I shouldn't buy that one.  "That one's rubbish.  Why do you want that cheap thing?  Wouldn't you rather have one of these pretty ones?"  I didn't want them.  Once I'd seen that crucifix I knew that no other would do.  And so I parted with my sixty-seven pence, exchanging it for Jesus.

I've tried to find a photograph showing the crucifix clearly.  This heavily cropped image of a teenager at the peak of his acne phase is the best I can do.

I loved that cross.  My memory says that I wore it every day after that.  The photos of my teenage years tell a different story.  It rarely got worn.  Until I was about fifteen or sixteen.  After that it did get worn most of the time.  I still didn't believe in the church or the traditional stories of Jesus.  But my new age training college said that Jesus was one of the good guys.

Three years I wore that cross.  Nearly every day.  And then, in a sorry tale I won't speak of here, I became a Christian.  Born again.  Sinner's prayer.  Conservative.  Evangelical.  A Bible believing Jesus freak finding myself in churches surrounded by Jesus freaks.

People in the churches asked me why I wore a crucifix.  I said I know wore it proudly because I believed in Jesus.  That seemed obvious to me.  But then a devout and quite scary woman approached me and asked.  She then told me that she found it very painful to see me wearing a crucifix because it went against Christianity.  She was personally hurt by it.  She said the cross was empty.  Jesus was risen from the dead (Hallelujah!) so you shouldn't wear something as blasphemous as a crucifix.

Of course now I know better.  I'd have had an answer.  Stood my ground.  I'd have kept wearing my crucifix and loving my Jesus.  I'd have pointed out that the cross wasn't empty because Jesus rose from the dead.  It was empty because he died and got taken down from it.  Just like the thieves who died at his side.  All very normal for such a form of execution.  I would have told her that the crucifix was a picture of and a reminder of the wonderful salvation Jesus had worked though his suffering and dying on a cross for me.  I would have told her that every time I saw a crucifix I fell deeper in love with my blessed saviour.  I would have told her lots more.  Please ignore for now the fact that I'm no longer a Christian.

I didn't know better.  I was a new Christian.  Seeking naively to do the will of my new God.  So I took off my beloved crucifix.  Later that night I threw it away and heartily repented of my sin.  Mea culpa.  Mea culpa.  Mea maxima culpa.  Although not in Latin of course.  We conservative Protestant pentecostals didn't do Latin.  Leave that to the false church of Rome!

Fast forward through my life.  Fourteen years pass.  In that time I never lost sight of my solid Protestant faith though its expression and denomination changed plenty of times.  Things change.  To my surprise I found myself attending mass in a Catholic church and enrolled in a course that would lead to my acceptance as a fully paid up "in communion" member of that church I had once called false.

Then there was regret.  I didn't have my crucifix.  Thrown in a dustbin all those years before there wasn't any likelihood of getting it back.  Every holy place I went to, every Catholic shrine and shop, I would hunt for a cross like the one I was taught to despise by Christians.  I didn't find one.  What I did find, in Westminster Cathedral, was a new crucifix.  A new piece of holy jewellery to wear round my neck every single day.

Westminster Cathedral

I loved that crucifix, symbol of my new found and highly enthusiastic form of Catholicism.  The image of Jesus meant everything to me and as an added bonus the centre of the cross contained the Medal of Saint Benedict.  I adored that medal - though not as much as I adored Christ of course.  No flagrant abuse of the anti-idolatry rules in my devotion thank you.  I loved the letters on the medal and how they stood for Latin slogans - "Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!" and "May the dragon never be my overlord!"  You would be hard pressed to find a medal more exciting than that.

A final bonus.  Much of the crucifix was a very pleasing shade of blue.  Attractive as well as holy.  Here I am in October 2006 modelling my cross.

Yes, I did love it.  I did wear it each day.  It weighed me down but not so much as I later realised I was being weighed down by my Christianity.  And then a disaster struck.  In 2008 I lost my crucifix.  I was on a train through London when it happened.  I got on the train with the crucifix hung round my neck.  I got off the train without it.  I was distraught at the loss.  Missed my bling more than is proper for something that is really just bling with a medal in it.

The next time I was in London I returned to Westminster Cathedral to buy a replacement.  They didn't have one.  Not in blue.  I was able to buy similar crucifixes in red and green.  They were okay but I missed the original blue cross.  Even after I walked away from the Catholic Church I still missed it.  But what could I do?  Lost on a train years before it might as well have been thrown in a bin with the Lincoln cross.  Irreplaceable.  Irredeemable.  Lost.

Some people say miracles never occur.  Some people have faith.  See what you think of this.

In 2015 I began the job of clearing out my parents' house.  They owned an almost complete set of OS maps.  Most were upstairs but all of the maps covering areas anywhere near their home were on a shelf in the lounge.  It was when I emptied that shelf that I found it.

It was there.  Hanging on a little hook behind the maps.

The crucifix.  Lost on a train seven years before.

It was there.

A miracle?

Not a particularly edifying miracle to my religious sustenance because a year later, after a long battle with a dying faith and with my struggles to become free, I gave up attending church.  Initially I gave up for Lent but discovered how much better my life was without regular services.  I have not returned to church life and no longer call myself a Christian.  I think a lot more of Jesus than I did a year ago, but any relationship with him that I may have doesn't include ceremonial reenactments of a man being crucified to pay for my sins.

I have my crucifix back.  I've even worn it sometimes.  And I find, in my post-Christian days, that I remain grateful for small miracles.

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