THE OLD STORY
My father spoke of atheism as if it were a religion,
pounding the points of his argument into the dinner table,
spilling the salt with the seed of his own bad temper.
He raised me to be an atheist, too,
and I learned well the commandments of godlessness.
But at night in bed I suffered for it and was penitent
memorizing prayers buy the pages
glossing the psalms with a litany of pleas
that somehow God would find me, small as I was,
and make me a believer,
and, though a prodigal daughter, much loved, much loved.
How I longed for the sweet blow of grace
coming upon me like a hammer on a nail,
or a beggar on a penny
or raindrops on the parched red clay
turned to rust in the arid fields of my soul.
One night – I was under the covers saying the Lord’s Prayer
with a lengthy meditation for each line –
my father, making the rounds, heard me.
What are you doing? he asked, more awful than the God I longed for.
I told him, expecting punishment,
expecting a lecture on the purity of the godless intellect.
He stood a while in silence
while I waited for the one blow I didn’t want.
Then he said, laughing,
you’ll grow out of such foolishness, I hope.
I didn’t grow out of it.
Though I never found God and stopped looking for Him
I remember my father’s laughter,
the hard, cold sneer of it,
laughter at his daughter longing for God
and hoping for love
that would come like a thief in the night.
Now that I am older I know that belief’
doesn’t fall like a hammer
that the beggar is always penniless
and that rainfall soon evaporates returning to the cloud.
Atheism is a creed I have lived by, learned by,
and have at times been comforted by.
but if God should ever find me
I pray for foolishness.