Peer Review by paperbird (United States)

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By: m.n.b


FREE WRITING

It was dark when I broke into the church. 
I don’t know why I did it. I was looking for something. I was searching for answers that I knew I’d never find, but I figured it was worth trying to come up with a few questions. 
The doors were unlocked, so it wasn’t really breaking in, or so I told myself. I listened to my boots clunk against the hard wooden floor. The sound reverberated off the walls. It was eerie. Glass faces stared out at me, their colors dim, expressions hard. 
My skin crawled as I made my way to the steps leading up to the altar, where a single candle was lit. It didn’t occur to me that this was unusual. 
I swallowed multiple times, trying to calm my racing heart. I was afraid. Of what, I didn’t know. 
I stared at the cross before me. I had to crane my neck to see the whole thing. It was huge, made of stone, Jesus sprawled across it. I couldn’t make out his face well enough in that moment, but I’d seen it countless times. I knew his eyes were closed, blood dripped down his face, and his expression tore at your heartstrings, even as a sculpture. Even if you didn’t believe in that shit anyway. 
“Why am I here?” I whispered to nobody. I did that a lot. I spoke aloud, as if to solidify my existence to myself. 
“I was just about to ask.”
I swear I jumped a foot in the air. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest. I twisted my ankle and fell to the floor, hitting my ass hard on the wood. I swore quietly, preparing to defend myself against whoever else had the guts to go to a church at one in the morning. 
But then the face, and the rest of the man who had spoken, came into view. 
“F-father Patrick,” I breathed, both relieved and mortified. “I... I was just-“ 
He held up a hand to silence me. 
“I think we need to have a conversation.” 
I vehemently disagreed, though not out loud. Instead I got up, wiping sweaty palms on my jeans. I at least owed him an explanation. 
“Father, I’m so sorry. I know I’m not-“ 
Again, he held up his hand. 
“Wait a minute. All that can wait. I want you to try to answer your own question for a moment. Why are you here?” 
I inhaled shakily. Exhaled. Repeat. 
“I need answers,” I said finally. 
“Answers to what?” 
His face was so genuine. Full of real curiosity, but also wisdom. I liked that about him. 
“I don’t know. I’ve lost it.” 
“Lost...?” 
“Faith.”
He nodded sagely. I felt extremely embarrassed. Admitting your atheistic tendencies to a priest, no matter how vague, is more than a little off putting. 
“Do you want to believe in God?”
I opened and closed my mouth multiple times. The most obvious answer was “yes”. So why couldn’t I say it?
“I don’t know,” I said again, feeling like an idiot. This was a test, and I was failing miserably. 
“You’ve denied Him, haven’t you? To your friends, family members. You don’t like the idea of Him.” 
His tone was not accusatory, but his words were flooded with accusations, all of them correct. How could he tell? Words failed me. I was almost angry with him. Angry for intruding on my pointless quest. Angry for telling me the truth about myself. 
“Your mother told me,” he said with an infuriating little smile. “She came to me last week. Said, ‘We’re losing her to the dark! You have to help her!’ I said, ‘let her come to me.’ This isn’t exactly what I had envisioned, but you’re here now, aren’t you?” 
I couldn’t speak. My blood boiled at the thought of my mother going to the priest. Probably thought she could get him to “fix” me. Bitch. 
“You know what I see when I look at you?” he asked me, vivid blue eyes glittering in the candlelight.
“A sinner?” 
I shoved sarcasm into my voice. It was the most obvious defense mechanism I could think of. 
“Defiance. Determination. Stubbornness. You’re not denying God because you want to. You’re denying Him in order to deny someone else.” 
I stayed quiet. He was right, of course. I was denying my mother, not some ethereal being. Still, God? I just couldn’t see it. No matter how hard I tried. 
“I’m sorry,” I said, unsure of what I was apologizing for. I didn’t owe it to him. “But I don’t think it’s for me.”
I very badly wanted to leave all of a sudden. He didn’t say anything else, so
I turned on my heel and began to walk away. 
“God won’t abandon you!” he said to my retreating back. His voice was sweet and passionate. It made me furious and jealous. 
I turned on my heel and looked him dead in those eyes, a sour smirk on my face. 
“He already has. And he’s not the only one.” 
I listened to my boots on the aisle, dead and empty, and exited the church. 

I started writing this while sitting in the mass I was forced to go to by my parents tonight. Religion is something I’ve struggled with for the past two and a half years. I’ve identified as an atheist, but didn’t like it. Then agnostic, but wasn’t too sure of that either. I’m very confused, overall. Mostly because I’m gay, and constantly told that gay people go to hell because “God didn’t want it that way”. To that I say, fuck that. If God didn’t want me this way, he wouldn’t make it happen. The other alternative is that he’s just not real. I don’t believe in the Christian God, nor do I think I’ll ever be able to again. But there’s got to be something right? I don’t know. Anyway, I hope you like my writing. (Oh, and please don’t get offended. Whether you believe in God or don’t, this is merely me expressing myself and my own confusion. Much love <3)

Message to Readers

This is fictional, but it displays some of my dismay over religion in my life. I hope you like it ❤️


Peer Review

I loved the setting and the idea--the symbolic confrontation between questioning teenager and passionate priest. Your ideas were stated so clearly, and it really struck a note. As an atheist I have always wondered about these things. The sentence in which you state that the priest's voice is passionate and you are jealous of him was particularly relatable to me. Personally, I like to think of religion as an ethical concept rather than one based off of belief. I don't believe in a supernatural God, but I like to think that I obey the religious principles anyway in being a good person.


As I stated in the highlights, your piece could benefit from more description of the characters and setting. The scene-building that you do have is excellent, and I think that you could add to that. I also think that you could include more buildup. The beginning scene in which it's just the teenager and the Church is key, as it represents the dynamic between them. Make sure you're portraying everything you need to in that scene using the character's emotions--confusion, sadness, anger. And more description, as said before. Everything is always more powerful if you let your descriptions flow.


Reviewer Comments

I loved this; truly a pleasure to read. Your entire piece was so well-written and interestingly told. The symbolism, the character building, and the orchestration were all magnificent. I love your writing and it never disappoints. Great work and keep writing!