Even as I remember this fondly, I also recall to mind the part of the Lord's Prayer that terrified me to no end.
The prayer scared me, for it seemed to rapidly descend from the comforting image of a yummy loaf of bread (which we didn't have EVERY day, but most days, and I really didn't know why we were praying for something so bland to be given to us DAILY. Or maybe we were praying for it so that it would be there when Mom wanted to serve it, and that prayer always seemed to be answered.)
The next image that came to mind was the word "trespass", and I knew that one. I always saw the black signs with orange wording, surrounded by a white border. I recognized the sign even BEFORE I knew how to read, for Mom pointed them out and told us we must never enter land where we saw that sign. And a few of our neighbors sported them, so we knew without a doubt that "trespassing" was a bad thing. I still remember the warm summer afternoon as we walked the gravel road on the hill over our house, exploring the neighborhood, listening to the sound of large dogs, legendarily vicious dogs warning us in no uncertain terms to heed the signs posted at intervals around the property.
Every time I prayed that prayer, and even to this very day, when I say the word "trespass" I think of that sign, standing out in its warning against a dark fence covered in encroaching foliage. Where, probably, there were big thorns and spiders hiding.
Still, it wasn't "trespass" that made my blood run cold. "Trespass" was just the warning before the REAL problem happened.
Rather, it was...."Temptation"
The very idea of being led into Temptation was enough to give me chills and nightmares.
It was very clear to me that "Temptation" was a place, because in the prayer, we were asking God not to lead us there. Any time we were being led somewhere, it was a location. So, it stands to reason that if we were asking God NOT to lead us into Temptation, my first question was: Why would God lead us somewhere awful? If God is Love, wouldn't it stand to reason to believe He would NEVER take us by the hand and lead us into some terrible, terrible place, worse than my night terrors, worse than the monster in the closet and the ghost under the bed?
Obviously, Temptation HAD to be an awful place, ESPECIALLY if were imploring He who is all Love not to bring us there.
In my mind, I envisioned Hell. I thought "Temptation" was where the devil lived, but since "Hell" was a bad word, then we probably couldn't say it in Church, and that's why we called it "Temptation."
I finally Saw Temptation
One summer, we went to visit our Grandmother in Minnesota, in the house where Mom grew up. Mom decided we needed a nap so as soon as our suitcases were brought up to the bedroom, she and Dad pushed the two beds together to accommodate us all, and tucked us in. Neither of us wanted to sleep, so my brother began the afternoon by telling me the crack between the beds led to Hell. He said that if the beds separated, we'd fall in and be tortured forever.
I told him to be quiet, leave me alone, and I put my pillow over my head in SPITE of the summer heat and fell into a troubled sleep. Unfortunately, I still remember the dream with a certain vividity. In the dream, my brother and I were awakened by an earthquake that separated the beds. In between, just as he'd noted, was the crack to Hell, and in spite of all we did to cling to each other and to the blankets and bedposts, we were drawn down into the lair of Satan. We received a whirlwind tour of this awful, awful place where the heat was unbearable, where the devil laughed incessantly at our demise, until finally, somehow, we escaped.
In the dream, when I screamed, asking where we were, the Devil said to me, "Temptation..." followed by his evil chuckle.
I still remember waking up, drenched in sweat, shaking, the sun still high in the summer's mid-afternoon. Even as I tried to shake it off, I couldn't, and now, how many years later...I STILL can't.
We were too little then to even KNOW about horror movies, had never seen one and didn't know they existed. I'd never seen ANYTHING like that before, and even the other terrors that sometimes awoke me at night weren't so awful as that particular dream.
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
A few days ago, I briefly read something that had to do with temptation; the fact that we must pass through it in order to overcome it, in order to grow in virtue. And in passing through that temptation, it is as though we are being scorched, we are being damned, we are being tortured. We can't see the end of it, but this is what makes it so important to pass through such a trial; it is how we grow in virtue and learn to trust in God.
Mom could never explain this to me because the concept was too big, and really, most of us can't grasp this reality.
I know that even with all the education I've received in theology in the last couple years, I CONTINUE to pray that I be preserved from temptation. It scares me for I am too weak, I too often given in, and my will has been trained over the years to give in to my passions. So when I am tempted I scream and cry out to God to save me, he remains silent, and...I give in to my malformed will.
I get up each morning hoping to overcome, and yet, at the end of the day, find I have failed miserable, often through very direct acts against God.
Now, as an adult, I understand what it means to pray, "Lead us not into Temptation, but deliver us from evil."
As an adult, I know that Temptation is indeed a place, and while it is not Hell itself, it is the gateway, and as soon as we enter that crevasse, we realize that, in fact, they blend into one thing. NONE of us goes to Hell without giving into Temptation. None of us gets out of Temptation without passing through it. Temptation is a paradox.
A terrible, terrible paradox, yet one we must enter, we must survive, we must, through the grace of God, overcome. No one becomes Holy without temptation.
So it seems that, in the spiritual life, we are at an impasse, aren't we? Temptation is the gateway, and it is much scarier in appearance than it is in reality. Temptation itself is not a sin; it is only an INVITATION to sin, something calling to our passions. That deathly knell can really seem like it must be obeyed, it can seem a lot more attractive than living holiness, can seem like it's not a big deal to give in to that one little passion....and yet, once we do...we might be cut of from God completely.
God never stops loving us. He is like the sun, which gives its rays, yet if we put a wall in front of it, that light can no longer pass through. The light does not stop in reality...it is actually that we have chosen not to let it in. We cut God off, refusing His Love, refusing His grace.
And there, in that eternal darkness, is Hell; eternal separation from God.
That's where Temptation leads.
Temptation is both pretty and dangerous and may come to us under both appearances, even while trying to make us believe it is something else.
But no, Temptation is indeed a place; it is the very doorway to damnation.
When confronted with it, when we are trapped there between Temptation and God, we need only take a step back, look upon the Cross, and let God love us. Even if we can't see the end of the assault, we can gaze upon our Crucified Lord and know that, eventually, this temptation will end, and to get through it all we need to do is trust in Him.
Jesus will never let go. The question is...will we let go of HIM?