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1972 Mystery Play

My First Church Experience

By Rebecca MortonPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
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1972 Mystery Play
Photo by Octavian Dan on Unsplash

My first vivid memory of being in church is sitting in a pew at age six watching a man hold a knife in the air as he held a younger man down so he could stab him. No matter how much my mother talked about it beforehand, I still was not emotionally prepared for it.

Earlier that day, after I briskly walked the four blocks home from school through the November-in-Milwaukee wind, I don’t think I remembered that we, my younger sister, my mother and I, were soon going on an almost unheard-of school night outing after supper. We were going to a place where people talked to God and read a book called The Bible. My parents did neither of these things, and they told me and my sister why. It is because they “do not believe in God”, and, while they told us never to tease anyone else about belief in God, they both made it plain that these believers were mistaken. They said these people were mostly good and kind but that they believed a lie, or as my father so often said, “They believe in fairy tales” which The Bible, he said, is full of.

I don’t know what my sister, a mere preschooler, thought about it, but I was a kindergartener, straddling the line between belief and disbelief in so many things that were until very recently my life’s foundation. My television was different from the black and white pie throwing clowns and marionettes that raised the first American TV children. Adults praised my TV as “educational”, produced not by money grubbing toy and cereal makers, but “The Children’s Television Workshop”. These shows taught me the alphabet, numbers, shapes and Spanish in a mind- blowing swirl of color and music. Sometimes the numbers and letters had faces and voices. They danced and played with people and animals and monsters that were not scary, but colorful with ping pong ball eyes that rolled and shook and seemed alive, but were they? What was real here? What was “real”?

Photo by Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

At six I knew a lot about the world. I knew there was a time on our planet Earth, before there were people, when there were giant scary looking creatures called dinosaurs, and then, one day, they all died. It happened so long ago that no one knows how they died. I knew that the first people lived in caves and had no shoes.

But this Bible book was a mystery. I knew the Christmas story was in it, about the Baby Jesus, who, as far as I could gather, was the very first baby in the world, which is why everyone made such a fuss on the day he was born. Santa Claus brought our Christmas presents because of this first baby. Santa Claus was real, though we never see the real one, only his helpers that dress like him. That’s what Dad said. But tonight, Mom was going to take my sister and me to a church for the very first time.

My mother was not going to take us unprepared, so she did a very unusual thing for her. She sat at the table with us for supper. As my sister and I shoveled in our heated up Spaghettios, Mom began. “Alright, girls, you have to be quiet in the church, so I have to explain everything beforehand. OK, first, God made everything. I mean that’s what the Bible says. Then the Bible says the first two people on Earth were a man named Adam and a lady named Eve.”

“Were they cavemen?” one of us probably asked.

“I don’t…let me say this, OK? Ok, and God, uh, God tells them not to eat this apple on this tree—

“Was it poison, like in 'Snow White'?”

“No, it’s just, no. God wanted to see if they would obey him, like a test, but they didn’t. A snake appears and convinces Eve to eat the apple and then she gives Adam a bite of it too. Incidentally, girls, men have been using this story to blame women for all the trouble in the world ever since. Does that seem fair?”

“No. Adam ate the apple too.”

“Exactly. Good for you. Uh, anyway, Adam and Eve were punished. They, um, had to leave their home—the Garden of Eden, but they, uh, got married and had two sons, and when those two grew up—Cain and Abel-- Cain, well, he was jealous of Abel and so he kills him. Oh, it’s time to go. Get your coats. Let’s go.”

On the way to church in the car, my sister and I heard all about Noah and the Ark and all the animals and the flood, and people building a big tower that reached so close to God that God made everyone have different languages as a punishment. God was very nice to people he liked, but angry and mean to people he didn’t. I remember wondering why God would not like people he made himself. He made everything, right?

By Kyler Nixon on Unsplash

We took our places in a crowded pew about mid way down the aisle. Would we see Dad? Mom said not until later. A few minutes later, there they all were. There was big, mighty golden-robed God, and Adam and Eve in beige shirts and pants. The snake was there and the tree, and angels throwing Adam and Eve out of the garden. Cain killed Abel right in front of us. I don’t think I saw how it happened. There were people in front of me blocking my view. Then there was Noah, and his crazy wife, throwing things at him in her anger that he kept building the ark. Then came Abraham and Isaac. Mother had told us all about what was coming next.

I was feeling strange in my stomach before God even finished talking to Abraham. He told him that if he really loved God, he would kill his son Isaac. He would lie to Isaac and tell him they were going to go kill a sheep. I wanted to shout to Isaac to run away. Mom said in the car that God would stop this. She said it was just a test. But they kept going. They got to a big rock, and Abraham pushed Isaac down on it. He held down his son with one hand, and held up his other hand with the knife pointed right down at Isaac’s chest. This was Abraham’s SON. Abraham was Isaac’s DAD.

Abraham wanted to show God that he loved God even more than he loved his child. God asked him to do this, so he had to, or he thought he had to. Did he have to? Would God punish him if he did not? Was Abraham obeying because he loved God, or because he was afraid of God? Was it both? If God loved Abraham and Isaac, why would he make them both go through this? Does God need love this much? And why wasn’t Isaac trying to get away? He must love his dad, and also be afraid of him too. You can love and be afraid of a grownup at the same time. What would I do if I were Isaac?

Isaac screamed. God came back. God smiled and told Abraham to let Isaac go. God said something to Abraham like, “You have done well.” There must have been more that happened after this, but this is where my memory of the play stops. I don’t remember the actors taking their bows, or even seeing my dad, the Medieval English Mystery Play’s director, after it was over, though I must have.

Photo by Marina M from Pexels

Dad must have driven us all home. He probably asked us how we liked the play. My sister and I probably said, “Good.” Mom probably said we could have a snack before bed as long as we brushed our teeth after. I do remember wondering at some point that evening if anyone else in the audience knew that the director of the play doesn’t believe there really is a God, and that he thinks the things that happened in the play never really happened at all. Did the other people in the church believe it all? Are they all dumber than my dad?

That knife. What was Isaac thinking about that knife over his head, in his dad’s hand? God had to come to them to make it all better. But God had made it happen in the first place. The Bible tells about it. I knew one thing for sure that night. I really wanted to get my hands on a Bible.

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About the Creator

Rebecca Morton

An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm

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