The slip of moss and pebble underfoot. Slime of algae and bacteria, bubbling in the tepid water of the shallow creek we follow. My feet on the slip: bare uncalloused toes feeling for some kind of grounding, some kind of earth, some kind of level.
But all I feel is the tumble of rocks underwater, ridges and cracks and clusters of river-worn shale, puzzled together in the mud.
We children follow the the path of the stream. I secretly hope we get lost, wind our way to some ghost town where there is dry grass and flat earth and the quiet of no one.
But we are only just out of sight of the church picnic in the park under the cottonwoods with the tables in the shade and the beach volleyball courts where some of the other girls feel confident enough to roll up their long pants and play with the boys.
Only a few steps from the grove where I sat in a circle of men telling me I’m not enough of a Christian yet to take the vow of membership, that the questions falling from my heart are too many to answer. I’m too much a doubter to really belong.
In a few months, I’ll know how to rephrase my questions as statements.
Disappear my doubts.
Muffle my fears.
Cloak the inner self that I let out too naked for them.
I’ll sit again in the circle of men and tell them I am ready to conform.
When I take the vow, will I mean it? Will I have done enough penance, prayed forgiveness enough, smiled just right so they won’t see the scream behind my teeth?
When I stand in front of the congregation, what am I to them but just another child of God, innocent, untouched. Or do they smell the reek of hell on me, the fires of doubt? Can they hear my questions followed by my pleas of repentance?
What if God doesn’t exist? Father, forgive me.
What if God doesn’t love me? Father forgive me.
What if I die on the ride home? Will the Father forgive me?
The pastor asks me the four questions of membership, but he doesn’t ask me if I’m sure, if I’ve thought this over, if I’m one hundred percent on board. And if he did, would I say no?
Or perhaps this is what faith means for a young woman:
Accept things you don’t understand.
Let the men ask all the questions.
Submit in silence.
It takes more than a few years for me to welcome the questions into my heart, to realize I can live in the margin of faith and uncertainty. I let go of the clenching desire to have all the answers. I watch my simplistic views of what’s normal and what’s okay and what’s dangerous break down in the stream. I place one foot in the water, then the other, feeling for the jagged edges of truth. The stream fans into a delta, and the path seems unclear, but at least I’m still following the water.