Memory and Faith are tricky things. One has to believe that both are real. As time goes by each becomes less easy to trust.
It was 1978. February if memory serves. I was six years old. What does a 45-year old man remember about the things that happened to him when he was six? It’s been nearly 40 years.
I was at Central Baptist Church.
What does a six year old know? I remember knowing the difference between right and wrong, fear and comfort, life and death, heaven and hell.
I don’t remember a burden being lifted when I stepped out of the pew and made my way toward the altar.
I remember kneeling at the altar. I can almost see the color of the stained wood, the length of it across the front of the sanctuary. It hovers in my memory along with cloudy images of gum stuck underneath the pew in front of where mamaw sat that I would pick at when she would let me lie on the floor beneath it, or the image painted behind the baptistry.
I don’t remember the words that I said. What I do remember is that I was supposed to ask Christ into my heart so that my soul would be saved from an eternity in hell. Someone was there with me. Someone who asked me if I wanted to be saved. I responded yes. Was it a verbal “yes” or a simple nod of the head? I don’t know. I remember the person saying words aloud that I then repeated. I remember repeating the words with sincerity even though at six years old I probably didn’t quite understand sincerity but now recognize it to be innocence and trust. That is how I asked Christ to save me from hell.
I remember crying.
I believed that it happened. That must be the childlike faith I heard spoken of in so many church services. I was humbled, convicted as I remember it being termed. I wanted to step out of the pew. I wanted to go to the altar. I wanted to ask. And I wanted to accept.
Again, I remember crying.
I remember feeling a sense of relief. Was it that I felt lighter? Was it that I felt whole? Was it happiness? Was it that I felt I’d done something right, something pleasing? Was it because Jesus had taken up residence in my spiritual heart? I remember picturing Jesus living inside my chest. I was six. I thought Jesus was literally inside my heart.
I remember being lifted up to stand upon the altar by, I think, Harold Gardner. He may have been the person who led me. The image of the man’s face, the sound of his voice, is in that cloudy space along with the altar, the gum, and the baptistry image. Upon that altar I stood in front of a congregation of people who were staring back at me with smiles on their faces. I do remember that.
I don’t remember talking to you or mom that night. I don’t remember even seeing your faces. Or the faces of mamaw and papaw for that matter.
If memory serves there was a handshake line for the congregation to welcome the newly saved into the flock. After that it’s blank.
It seems my 45-year old self remembers more than I thought.
Salvation is something that can never be taken away from me, something I can never lose. That's what I was always told. The redemption, the protection, is forever. I merely have to accept that that's the truth. Once upon a time I asked, once upon a time I received, and once upon that time I accepted.
Nearly forty years later in my journey I strive to find my own relationship with God—the higher power—that works for me. A relationship that is my own. I'm no longer six years old and faith is a bigger undertaking than it was then. Humans (and their judgment) do not help. But humankind does not have a say in my relationship with God. It is mine and mine alone.
Memory and Faith. There's often no proof of either. They are wisps of smoke that cannot be grasped. One just has to believe they are real.