Monday, January 12, 2015

Summing Up My Memoir

After reading my conversion memoir, a priest friend told me, “You, Webster, are the last man who should have ended up a Catholic in the first decade of the twenty-first century.”

I believe that my friend said this because of two blots on my résumé: (1) For thirty years I followed an alternative spiritual program that set Christ aside. (2) The man who introduced me to this program, whom I have called Gulliver in my memoir, abused me sexually, beginning when I was nineteen years old.

And here I am for all that—a happy Catholic without regrets six years after my conversion. Hence the priest’s comment.

For those wishing to know how I came to the Catholic Church, here is a table of contents followed by a short summary of the subject matter:

1. Dad: Varieties of Sex Education
2. God: Learning About the Saints
3. Lost: I Stop Going to Church
4. Lilliput: Where the Ways Parted
5. Europe: Grand Tour with Gulliver
6. Lourdes: Glimpses of Faith
7. Dulcinea: An Unusual Bookshop
8. Books That Pointed the Way
9. Stephanie: Heart-Break
10. Films That Lighted My Path
11. Aftermath: Dreaming of Gulliver
12. Needled: Why I Left the Work
13. Ammie: Catholic Grandmother
14. Dad Again: Golf Gets Me Home
15. The Book That Changed My Life
16. With Gulliver at Mass
17. Merton: To End for Now

My story begins with a prologue, a middle logue actually: It explains the dilemma in which I found myself upon leaving an “Eastern” spiritual program in midlife. Then it flashes back to childhood and my father’s teachings about sex. In childhood, I loved going to church, served at the altar, and learned a bit about the saints.

The boarding school that I once considered my best educational experience helped strip me of my religion. That loss set me up for “spiritual” alternatives, which I encountered at a growth center I call Lilliput. There I met the guru Gulliver, who became my travel guide to Europe, where he seduced me. On the positive side, my European travels with Gulliver taught me about Catholic culture, especially at Lourdes.

Back in the States, Gulliver headed up an antiquarian bookshop, Dulcinea, where I tried to put into practice his alternative system. Here again, experience with Gulliver contributed to my knowledge of Catholicism, because of all the books with which I was surrounded and my interest in them. Life with Gulliver ended abruptly, however, after he manipulated me and a young woman named Stephanie in a way that was as damaging as anything else he did.

I then moved to Massachusetts, where my brother had found another teacher of the same spiritual system. (I didn’t know when to quit.) Because my brother and his teacher were involved in a cinema business, I saw many free movies with their hospitality. Because of my continuing interest in Catholicism, the films that appealed to me most were religious films. I could not get Gulliver out of my mind, however. He had marked me. I finally left his spiritual system altogether when I became disenchanted with a book by its leading apologist.

Members of my family helped me find my way home. My grandmother converted to the Catholic Church in her 70s, after Grampa’s death. Meanwhile, my father, so important in my childhood, so neglected while I was with Gulliver, continued to love me unconditionally.

Then one day in 2007, I found a book that served as my tipping point. I began attending daily mass, enrolled in RCIA—and had my last encounters with Gulliver. In the final excerpt, I describe a reunion in 2009 with my college friend Merton, who had led me to Lilliput and Gulliver in the first place, and some of the insights to which that reunion led.

(Final note to commenters on this post and others related: I have maintained confidentiality in telling my story, fictionalizing it and thereby exposing only myself. I moderate all comments on this blog and will not publish any comments, here or elsewhere, that violate this confidentiality.)

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