( ashes ashes )

You never believed in God.

Not when your mother had your sister, not when she called the baby a miracle, not when she thanked God for saving the little angel from harm. Not when your sister grew up and moved away, not when your mother died, not when you stood in the audience and watched the angel cry and sob and pray.

You never even considered it. It just... didn't occur to you to believe in God, to believe in Jesus, and the cross and whatnot. It wasn't like you defiled the church - no, you sat in a pew and listened to the preacher just like everyone else. It wasn't like you led Atheist rallies and campaigned against the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance - personally, you just didn't care. There wasn't any room for God in your life, and there really wasn't any room for the lack thereof.

So, in effect, you never believed at all, because God was so far away and distant and what did it really change, in the long run, if you believed in some omnipotent being up there in some other dimension or not? Life is life and death is death, and nothing proved this to you so surely as your mother's death. She just slipped away and smiled and said that she was going home but that was impossible because home was on Maple Street, home wasn't some hospital bed or coffin or crystal sea. She claimed that she would be better off, but how could she be better off without her angel-daughter whom she loved more than you? How could she be happy without your father? How could she be happy without the only world she was used to?

No, your mother wasn't going home, she was dead. Simple as that. And believing in God seemed so stupid, like what good is praying when she's just gonna sit there and rot? What good is believing in something when you're gonna die anyway? What good is all that prostration and wailing and begging when there only might be someone listening? Those people will look like such fools, you think, if there's nothing but black and ash and dust in the afterlife. Those people will look like such idiots, but at the same time, there won't be anyone to look at them, because you'll be black and ash and dust, too.

So maybe it doesn't matter all that much, which is why you could never understand why someone would waste their time following it so adamantly when it doesn't change anything, and the things it does change are all so far away, like a butterfly fluttering its wings way off in Beijing or something, and no matter what those crazy chaos theorists think, butterflies don't change the course of the world.

Humans come and go and religion would fade away eventually, and you just couldn't be bothered to worry about some man who died a couple thousand years ago, no matter how nice he was.

So you go about your life and unbelief and failures and successes and can't understand why all those people believe in God and fight for God and give up their lives for God when it's so obvious that life only gets worse once they do. Life is better without God, right?

...But then you look at your sister. Your perfect, sweet, angelic, blessed-by-the-universe sister, whom you were never much of an older sibling for. She's got everything she wants, and she goes to the good college and is engaged to "a wonderful Christian man" like religion was the first thing she looked for in a husband, like anyone else is worthless (only that isn't true, because you know your sister and you know she's not the sort to throw someone away just because they believe something different - she still talks to you and tries to get through to you, like she's got to save you, like you're some sort of criminal, almost, though you'll never tell her that because she's only trying to help. Even if her help is the last thing you want).

But you look at your sister, who would be so lost if she didn't have her religion, and you wonder -

You wonder if, maybe there is a point to all of this.

Maybe people need to believe in something, because maybe they'd feel like the whole world was against them if they didn't swear that the creator wasn't. Maybe they desperately want to know that there's something else because maybe they're not satisfied and maybe there is something to all of this "light of the world" nonsense. Maybe hope is the message, and maybe forgiveness is worth looking like a fool in the dust of the afterlife. Maybe believing that some God will accept you, maybe thinking that even in your worst moments, even at your lowest point, even when you've done everything wrong and messed everything up and pushed away everything else that could save you, maybe -

Just maybe -

All is not lost. You wonder if that's why they believe it, because it makes them feel like there's nothing they've done that can't work out for the better. You wonder if maybe religion won't ever go away.

But only when you're around her, because she's got so much and she needs so much help to keep herself going and that isn't right because angels shouldn't need demons to fix their wings. And yet she comes to you, cries to you when something is wrong and you wonder why she doesn't go to her wonderful Christian Fiancé who is supposed to be able to make everything right, because she isn't supposed to need you anymore. You wonder why she comes to you - mother's failure, father's shame, God's blind spot - when it rains in paradise.

You wonder what she sees in you that's worth holding onto. You wonder why she thinks her God can touch you. You wonder why she keeps fighting for something that's so obviously not real.

Only it isn't quite obvious. It isn't, because if you squint, you can make out miracles among the circumstance, you can distinguish the inexplicable from the science. If you squint, your world becomes just a tiny bit brighter. So you don't squint, because life is so much easier when you don't listen to your sister telling you things you've heard for your whole life and never believed the first time around. You can't understand her, and you can't figure out why she tries to make you. You can't believe in her God when there's so little to believe in, no matter how bright the sunlight or cleansing the rain or beautiful the church.

(And it is beautiful, you think, absolutely stunning and haunting and echoing with the prayers of the dead and the maybe-in-heaven maybe-in-dust people you've never seen or heard of, beautiful in a tragic way because of the sacrifice involved in making it and believing it and keeping it and beautiful because of the way people cry in it and hold onto it and kneel in it and the way people are married here and lay in their coffins here and hold loved one's hands here - it's beautiful because it's so desperately alive that it makes you ache and you think that this is why people come to these places, because these stones carry so much of their lives on their inanimate backs, and these priests have unstained shoulders to cry on which are so hard to come by, because in the ashes and the dust of their lives and their deaths, there's a stone and a wooden cross that they can turn to which will never push them away.)

But - But -

But there's something there, something to believe in, something so beautiful in the way people reach out to each other, something so tragic in the way they pray to a God they only hope exists, something so unattainable that you can't comprehend it, let alone touch it. There's something in the way your sister calls you at 3 AM, begging for a shoulder to cry on, something in the way tears pricked at your eyes during your mother's funeral even though neither of you loved each other, something in the way the priest gives communion or the woman at the altar crosses herself - something is there.

You can't explain it away and you can't accept it. It's all shrouded in mystery and questions and faith and shadows and because of that - or maybe in spite of that - it means nothing to you.

And at the same time, it means everything.

The paradox of salvation, the contradiction of your Atheism - you aren't Atheist.

You've never believed in God and you can't make yourself accept that there isn't one. In the ashes and the dust of lives and deaths and stone churches standing for centuries and broken pagan gods and priests with unleavened bread and women wearing habits and ghosts among the scrolls who still say the same words they did thousands of years ago - you can't make a decision. You can't look away from your sister's tears or your mother's grave or the bread-which-is-the-body in their hands.

The paradox of salvation - that which you cannot touch you cannot escape from. It's everything and nothing, everywhere and nowhere, and -

(And it's beautiful, you think, the way these people love each other and reach out to each other, and haunting the way they die anyway. It's beautiful and tragic, you think, the way they sacrifice everything because they desperately, completely believe in something they can't see, the way they hold onto something they can't even touch. It's beautiful, you think.)