Prayers of a Baptist Tex-Mex
I was a God-fearing Christian as a child. Not because my parents forced their religion on me. They didn’t even go to church, or even cared if we went. I remember our mom praying and sometimes reading the bible with us. Once we started with Genesis of the King James version and made it through Exodus. But that was the extent of my parent’s involvement with the Great I Am, as he is referred to in some religious circles. Which by the way is quite egotistical if you ask me.
There’s Catholic guilt, but I didn’t have that. I had Baptist guilt, a distant cousin of the Catholic faith, perhaps a bit more focused on the evils deeds of man rather than his positive aspects and potential. It seemed everything one did was a sin. Just being born, you were screwed. “We are all born in sin,” our preacher would remind us every Sunday, in between hymns like At Calvary and Are you Washed in the Blood. The all white crowd nodded in agreement as if to hide any doubts lingering, or any sins committed from the previous night. I never got it. It really sucked for an infant to enter the world already being branded as a sinner. Of course I never shared my feelings with anyone, but I still felt guilty because the Lord Almighty knew what I was thinking, or at least we were taught that. I wondered if Santa Claus was related to him? Isn’t he able to know what you’re thinking too, or am I mixing up my old white men with beards who we’re suppose to revere?
I grew up Baptist, not Catholic. The former gets its point across through fire and brimstone preaching. I didn’t even know most Mexicans were Catholic until later in my teens when I discovered many of my Mexican friends were Catholic. The only church near us was the First Baptist Church of Oyster Creek. It was two blocks down the road and every Sunday morning my brothers, friends, and I’d walk there. Besides the Oyster Creek Community Center that once stood in the park behind our back yard, the church was the only place for the neighborhood kids to congregate, without engaging in inappropriate or illegal behavior. The preacher’s fine daughter gave us an excuse to make perfect attendance. The time was the mid and late 80’s, a time of discovery for us youth who had been caught between Casey Kasem’s top 40 music of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Wham, Guns and Roses, Depeche Mode, and Bon Jovi.
Praying before bed was a requirement to being a Baptist. It was a time for personal reflection and gratitude, like meditation. Unfortunately, fear and guilt overshadowed those moments. I spent too much time wondering what sins I committed during the day and whether I should share any of them. But His Holiness knew everything I done, so I couldn’t hide anything from him. If I stared at Veronica’s firm ass, which she was known for, I’d apologize for it in my prayers. The next day I’d be in the hallway with friends staring down Veronica as she walked by in her tight Levi’s, well aware of our gawking. So I felt guiltier telling the King of Kings that I’d never look at Veronica’s ass again, only to return the following evening to repent. During prayer, I sometimes felt that El Diablo was even listening. At times I felt him watching through the curtains like a peeping tom. That made the prayers more of a frightening experience.
Guilt and fear stemmed from praying for forgiveness to an invisible entity that seemed pissed off at us since our births. To be born in sin felt in contradiction to my intuitive sense that we were all holy souls in some way. I felt that kindness was key to connecting with people, but I was too young to articulate any thoughts, and I lacked the wisdom that one gains from experience. I grew up in a small town where church was central to our lives, regardless what we did outside Sunday school or Wednesday bible classes. I worked to become loyal to the church, and it caused anxiety trying to figure things out that made no sense and how I continued to struggle with family issues and growing up feeling isolated, even while attending church. I felt that at least Jesus seemed to make some sense, so I tried to learn from his actions. For most of us, the guilt and fear settled into our minds and bodies and followed us through our adulthood as anxiety or depression. My guess is that’s it’s probably safe to say it can be linked somehow to our relationship with prayer. If I could go back in time, I think I’d invest less time in prayer and a lot more devoted to Veronica, minus the guilt.
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