Monday, May 18, 2009

A Matter of Faith

My mum likes telling this story about me: When I was 3 years old, I stopped saying my bed-time prayer. She asked me why, and I explained that I was tired of talking and no one answering me. (I actually remember this, I used to make bargains with God to prove he was there, or that he was listening. "If you are there, when I wake up there will be a leaf on my blanket." That sort of stuff.) Obviously, there never was a leaf on my blanket, and I have been an agnostic ever since (for slightly more sophisticated reasons as the years went by!) Well, sort of...

Looking back now, I can see all the chips on my "Wall." Lots of bits of information or little encounters that were... interesting; but nothing more than that, never something more. I still couldn't do it. At the end of the day, it's a matter of Faith, and I just didn't have it. I looked inside and outside, and I just didn't see God, he didn't seem to be there. I had to be true to myself, I would not pretend about this, and I just didn't feel the presence of a God. Well, sort of...

Later on, big things started happening in my life. I got married, I had two children. I was content. So why did I keep feeling the need to do strange things? I had no sense of the existence of God, no Faith. But I was quickly and strongly getting a sense of a path ahead that I should follow; we were supposed to have a child with Down's Syndrome; and... a sense that everything would be alright if I did... a sense of faith in the path? Could it be the same thing?

According to Wikipedia, "Faith is the confident belief or trust in the truth of or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. (...) As with "trust", faith involves a concept of future events or outcomes, and is also used for a belief characteristically held without proof."

There were many chips on the Wall by now; the bricks were starting to come off. But I was still fighting it.

October 2007: "I think religious people have it easy. They can say (and believe) that God is leading them down a certain path, and that they have to follow, and that when they do follow God's chosen plan for them everything will be ok as long as they have Faith.
I on the other hand have to settle for being crazy."

August 2008: "I, especially, felt a really strong sense of "destiny." I know it sounds corny. I'm not religious, and I can't explain it, so you'll just have to accept it."

Almost a year ago, last July, I was going to Greece to visit my family. At that point, I had surrendered to the "path." I was nervous; during this visit I was going to tell my family that we were going to adopt a child with Down's Syndrome. They would be upset. There would be no going back after I announced it. Were we really doing the right thing? In my hotel room there were no books or magazines, just a Gideon's Bible. I opened it at a random page, and my eyes fell on this: "Nathan replied to the king, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you." (2 Samuel 7, if you're interested.)

Wham! Talk about working on the Wall with a Sledgehammer! I think that's about when I really started to give in to the fact that I was going to change what I had thought of as a fundamental part of my identity. Couldn't it be a coincidence? Of course it could. Absolutely, there's probably a solid statistical chance that I could open any random book and find something that seemed to fit my situation, there is no question about it. On top of that, there is probably any number of passages in the Bible that could be reasonably relevant to most things. But it didn't feel like a coincidence. And surely, if the lack of a feeling of the presence of God had kept me away from church all these years, then the arrival of a feeling of the presence of God was good reason to try going to church. Especially because, for the first time in my life, I actually felt like I wanted to.

It seemed clear to me that if I was going to continue being honest with myself, I had to at least try this religion lark. That feeling of a presence stayed with me for the next month, while I was mulling it all over; it felt like someone was there who knew what was happening, had read the novel already, and was patiently waiting for me to catch up (with a slightly amused smile, I always imagined.)

It took me a good few weeks to gather the courage to actually walk through the doors of a church. I was scared I wasn't going to like it, I would stop going and offend people; or that people would be pushy, and once I had set foot inside I would spend the next year running into them on the street and being asked if they would see me in Church on Sunday. And which church should I go to, anyway? I didn't want to go to the Greek Orthodox one, too many negative associations of being bored out of my wits as a child, and I just didn't find the style of worship attractive. In the end, my friend T. suggested that I just pick a church and go, and if I didn't like it I should go to a different one every week, until I found one I liked. So that's what we did: we picked the one closest to our house first, a large Baptist church. I seemed to remember that there is a lot of singing in Baptist churches, and I liked the idea of that.

That first Sunday we walked in feeling very nervous, and sat down in the first empty seats we saw. The Church was fairly full, and there were people of all ages there (not just old ladies with facial hair, check!) Then I looked around, and two rows behind us was a family with a little boy with Down's Syndrome. He was sitting there, very well behaved, and looking adorable. "How nice, if we stay in this Church we can meet other people with a child with DS every time we come!" We enjoyed the service, we liked the songs, the Pastor didn't say anything that we didn't agree with. (Just because I "caught religion" I wasn't going to sit there and hear that AIDS is God's punishment to homosexuals or whatever other fundie stuff you hear some times from some Christians. One strike and we were out.) We really did enjoy ourselves, both me and Peter, and the little boy with DS was a big dangling carrot too, I admit. We decided to give it until Christmas, and if we didn't like it by then, we would stop going.

I can only describe the next 4 months or so as "heady." That feeling of choosing to go down a road that "someone" already knew I was going to go down was constantly there. The sense of a benevolent presence didn't leave me for a long while (yes, this sounds horrifically corny. Get over it.) A year down the line, we go to Church every Sunday. (All you Greeks that knew me before, stop rolling on the floor with laughter. Thanks.) And get this: I never saw that little boy again. No one from the Church I've asked remembers any regulars with a Down's Syndrome child -they must have been one off visitors. Our Church holds two services every Sunday morning. There are seats upstairs and downstairs too. There are a lot of people there every time -but that one time, that boy with Down's Syndrome was sitting right there were I would see him. And so I went back.

Here is what I think: I finally got that leaf on my bed. I think that God knew I needed a big nudge. I needed a big clue. And I needed a strong feeling. Why on earth he couldn't have given it to me years earlier I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. So now that I'm a bona fide churchgoer, do I know something I didn't know before? Well, I know a few things, but nothing that would probably make a difference to anyone else if I told them. Certainly nothing that would have gotten me to Church had I known it 5 years ago. But I feel Something I didn't feel before, and that's what makes the difference.

One last thing: Do I think that you should go to church too? I spent the last year being too scared to tell the people I know that I was going to Church. (I told some of you, but not most.) I thought you'd think I was going to start preaching to you, or I'd stop telling dirty jokes, or I'd start judging everyone. I really have no intention of doing any of these things -but I want to be able to talk about what happens in all the parts of my life, not just the non-religious ones. And to answer my question, I think that if you don't want to go to Church, you shouldn't go. If you do want to go to Church, you should go. I just think that you should always have an open mind; and that is precisely what I always thought anyway.


Linda said...

That was so beautiful, so honest! I'm so proud of you for being brave enough to say it to the world!
As for the little boy with DS in Church...can you imagine the joy his parents would feel if they knew he was a reason why you found God again in your life! He truly was the leaf on your bed. Hugs, Linda from RR

Christine said...

Anna, that was so amazing. Mind if I share on my blog?

Tilly Cat & Pip-Squeak said...

Christine, I don't mind, go ahead *LOL*

Hi~I'm Alysha said...

Anna, thanks for directing me to your post from our yahoo group..I loved reading this! Isn't it amazing how loudly we can hear God's whispers when we're willing to listen? I love it!! Sush a good way to end the day, knowing I have yet another sister in the Lord :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, that was a fab post! I've been in the same boat myself and felt the same as you....AND picked up a random gideon Bible and it fell on the exact right page I needed! I thought about the coincidence and I thought about the feeling as I read the words! I'm still searching for the right church because of my autistic son but I'm sure I'll get it! :o) Well put!

Anonymous said...

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Matthew 7:1-5

I like this from the Gideon Bible