When I was seven, my grandparents gave me a Paul Hamlyn Children’s Bible. The bright illustrations throughout drew my attention, and it rapidly became my favourite book; I literally read it to pieces through my childhood – and then I gaffa-taped up the spine and carried on reading it.
About a year later, I saw The Nun’s Story with Audrey Heburn on the TV; thus started a lifelong fascination with nuns. They seemed so other-worldly – whole communities of women who had given up the outside world to become Brides of Christ, their whole lives devoted to His worship and adoration.
Around the same time, I had changed schools, and in the library I had found a book on paranormal phenomena, and it was from this book I learnt about bleeding/weeping statues, miracles and stigmata.
From then up until the age of 14, I was a very devout Christian, even though as a family we didn’t go to church. For a while, age 9, I went to a sunday school attached to a charismatic church that met in a rented hall at the local secondary school (the sunday school was held in a physics lab where later, aged 15, I would study for my Physics GCSE exams, sitting at the exact same desk where I had sat for sunday school six years earlier), together with my younger sister; we went at the behest of two girls in my class – Miriam and Becky, whose blind father was a preacher at the church. We only went for a few months; my younger sister grew bored of it, and my mother wouldn’t let me carry on alone. But I still carried on reading my Bible, and dreaming of one day becoming a nun. (It never occurred to me that in order to become a nun, you first have to be a baptized, church-going Catholic….)
Then in July 1987 my maternal grandmother died. She’d been suffering with Alzheimer’s for sometime, but it was bowel cancer (diagnosed only a short time before her death) that actually killed her. I found out about the cancer less than 24 hours before she died, when my mother told me that Nana had been given morphine to help with the pain. I had always considered Nana to be a decent, God-fearing Christian woman, and I just couldn’t understand why God would allow such a good woman to die such a slow, painful, undignified death. Maybe if I had been attending a church, a priest could have explained things to me, but I had no priest, and my Children’s Bible didn’t have any answers either – and I couldn’t find any comfort in my mother’s old school KJV either. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word exegesis – I certainly wasn’t capable of it at that point.
I spoke aloud the Lord’s Prayer from memory at her funeral service, and cried in my father’s arms afterwards.
That would be the last time I prayed or cried for a great many years afterwards.