Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why I believe - Part 1

I grew up going to church with my family. We were not very regular in our attendance, especially after my older brothers rebelled in high school and refused to go. I remember eating nuts and raisins out of dixie cups (I think it was supposed to be like the food the Jews ate?). I loved Palm Sunday when the whole church gathered outside, each of us carrying a palm leaf, shouting "Hosanna!" while a silent man rode through the crowd on a donkey. Oh, how I wanted to touch that donkey. Easter Sunday, when we arrived at church before dawn, and sang and prayed through the sunrise was magically beautiful.

As a teen, my swim coach, a strong, loving man, invited me and few other teammates to a bible study before practice. It was the first time that I began to have a relationship with stories in the bible. I remember thinking, "So that's what that means?" That stories could have layers of meaning intrigued me. That the bible provided guidance for life was reassuring, though challenging. I had not received intentional/deliberate character training before, other than to be nice to others and work hard.

Alone in my bedroom one day, I pondered Jesus and the lessons I was learning while I put away my laundry. It was a distinctly unimportant moment in my daily life, but turned out to be perhaps the most important moment of my life. The question, "why not give my life to Jesus?" was not just a mental thought, but a physical sensation flooding my body and setting my heart beating. I felt conviction deep into my bones that I was being called to Him. I decided then and there to do it. I closed my eyes and prayed, asking Jesus into my heart, as simple as that. I credit that moment with saving my soul.

Though out high school I was a moderately dedicated Christian, though I attended church but seldom, and was often involved in behavior quite unbecoming (as teens are wont to do). I am grateful for the leaders of the few teen bible study groups I attended, for those teaching were a lifeboat to me. Yet, I drifted spiritually for some time, with no anchor or roots to steady me.

College was a spiritually raucous time. I attended a small, private Jesuit university (chosen more for it's closeness to Grateful Dead concerts than for it's academia or spiritual teachings). Several pivitol experiences changed me there.

In my dorm, a priest whose name I sadly cannot recall, was stationed to provide spiritual assistance to those crazy underclassmen who might want it. I went to see him often, peppering him with questions about the bible and theology. He did not get angry when I vented about the sexism of Paul, or my confusion over contradictory verses in the bible. Unfailingly patient and kind to me, he shared with me his beliefs on God and the bible and how to apply them to life.  I loved that man intensely, though I was only conscious of a friendly affection at the time.

During this time, I began to feel a presence, a weight on me when I slept at night. I felt smothered, pushed down in a physical and spiritual way. The heaviness would push and push until I woke up full of fear. At times, I would hear breathing behind me as I walked. If I stopped and listened hard, it would stop, only to begin again as I walked on. I was frightened. I was not the type to imagine things. This went on for perhaps six months. I shared my troubles with my friend, the priest, and he counseled me to pray, which I did. Nothing happened and I grew frustrated and scared. Finally, while feeling the pushing presence one night, I gave in and stopped fighting it, praying that God would protect me. As soon as I stopped resisting, the pushing ceased, never to return again. The whole experience was just, plain weird. I can not explain it. But it convinced me further that there is indeed a spiritual world at work in our physical world, and that there are things we don't understand.