Standing beneath a full moon on a crisp Friday night in the late fall of 1978, I stuck out my teenage thumb to hitch a ride to my weekly prayer meeting.
The meetings were held in a moldy old building on the premises of a Catholic cemetery that sat directly across the road from my Catholic high school. After hitching my rides, I’d have to take a dark, lonely, quarter-mile walk down a cemetery road to the prayer building. On either side of the road were tall bare trees with gnarled branches. The cool autumn air, plus the fact that I was walking near thousands of corpses, gave the whole place a deathly Legend of Sleepy Hollow vibe.
The group that met there was part of something called the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which was a bunch of ex-hippie Catholics who, instead of continuing to drop acid, fell under the impression that the Holy Spirit’s gifts were theirs for the taking, which is why many of them thought they were able to speak in tongues and lay hands on the sick. They’d play guitars and tambourines and wear sandals and long hair and hug each other despite how bad they smelled and were as needlessly friendly and nonjudgmental as, I guess, any cult member was to members of the in-group.
I’d been going to these meetings for a solid year-and-a-half that started when I had a religious vision/psychotic break after a nun in freshman religion class scared the fuckin’ bejeezus out of me with stories of Our Lady of Fatima’s descriptions of hellfire. So from the age of nearly fifteen to sixteen-and-a-half, I was a full-blown, lava-breathing, absolutely fanatical CHRISTIAN—that is, except for that one time I jerked off. But that should give you a hint of how much of a Christian I was—during Peak Masturbation Years, I only succumbed to the Devil’s Hand once. The rest of my emissions during that period were nocturnal and involuntary.
Still, despite my faith, the other members’ attempts to lay hands on my head and bequeath upon me the gift of tongues were fruitless. Either God didn’t like me, or I wasn’t so dishonest with myself that I could simply start spitting out gibberish like the rest of them. And despite all I read and heard and studied and was lectured about the sweet taste of God’s love and how wonderful it is to be saved and how glorious it would feel once the Holy Spirit flew in through my rib cage and entered my soul, I was still a deeply miserable pubescent Jesus Freak.
So after a few minutes of my hitchhiking, a muscle car pulled up—Camaro, Chevelle, one of those primo douchebag rides of the 1970s—and the door swung open. The dude in the passenger’s seat—there were three dudes in the car, and by any objective standard, they were undeniably dudes—got out and crawled into the backseat, offering the passenger’s seat to me. The moment I sat in the car, I could smell the harsh stench of cheap Mexican weed. The driver asked me which 8-track tape I wanted to hear—Jethro Tull or Blue Oyster Cult.
Trying to seem cool, I nodded and said, “Tull” as unemotionally as I could manage.
When the steel pipe was passed to me, I took it, knowing that I was sinning. I probably got three or four good tokes from it before the dudes’ muscle car reached the cemetery entrance and they let me out.
About twenty feet down the road, I looked up through the gnarled trees and saw the most beautiful moon I’d ever seen, with a transcendent glowing nimbus surrounding it. I felt toasty-warm inside, as if there was a throbbing electric blanket in my body. The world tasted as sweet as maple syrup. Everything seemed more colorful and funnier and much more…spiritual?…than anything I’d ever felt at these creepy prayer meetings. Wow, I thought. So this is what it’s like to be high?
Forget about speaking in tongues and worrying about the Lake of Fire and praying to a God that never answered. I stopped going to the prayer meetings a couple weeks later and instead started taking the subway to Center City Philly on Friday nights, where blocks from any station you’d find one of the brothers selling joints for a dollar.
I have never considered myself a Christian since. Why pray to God when you can smoke him?