by Brittney Smith

The rough brown carpet burned my knees as I asked Jesus to come into my heart for the first time. I was ten years old when I walked into our empty living room and, noticing an evangelist preaching from the TV screen, felt obliged to stop. I crossed myself in front of Catholic churches, believed in every secret of Fatima, and revered all priests as if they were God incarnate: some strange combination of Catholic guilt and fear of eternal damnation gripped its fingers in me is a child, and I couldn’t shake it. As the anonymous TV evangelist told me and hundreds of other viewers that our salvation was guaranteed – guaranteed!! – if we simply got on our knees and asked Jesus to come into our hearts, I listened. Alone, I knelt and prayed and hoped that my heart would feel different, would grow with the love of Christ that the evangelist already had, would glow and sparkle and assure me a spot in heaven.

This wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last time that I attempted to secure salvation. I wore scapulas. I quickly memorized the Act of Contrition and fervently prayed it before communion to make my sinful nine-year-old soul white as snow. I shared the frightening secrets of Fatima and the end times, passed down to me from my grandmother, with friends until parents called and asked my mother to please make me stop giving their children nightmares (“Megan is scared of the dark now,” I remember my mom telling me. “Please stop telling her about the end of the world.” But shouldn’t she be more scared of the three days of darkness!). I often felt alone in my fear: it seemed that no other 5th grader sensed the urgency, the danger, the threats lurking in the darkness.

As I have grown older and changed my perception of faith and God and salvation, some of that childhood fear still lingers. I’m writing this from an airplane, a vessel of steel and fuel and speed that always induces a healthy fear of death in me. My usual pre-flight routine involves the recitation of at least three Hail Marys (okay maybe more like twenty) and a death grip on my armrest until my fingers turn white. And while I would like to wrap up this post nicely and tell you that my fear has subsided with some miraculous encounter with the divine, the truth is that fear is still a very real part of my life. Will I be alone when I die, and will I be scared? Is there a Heaven, and will they let me in? Will the world end before I have the chance to be a mother? Will my world end before I have the chance to be a mother? The one thing I have learned is this: scapulas and prayers are okay, but having someone in the seat next to me on the airplane, someone that I love, to hold my hand – that is much, much better.

Brittney Smith is a recent graduate of the Graduate Theological Union/Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA. This summer, she will say goodbye to redwood trees and return to Texas, the motherland, to begin work as a chapel and event coordinator.


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