Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Faith, and Why

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
 -Matthew 5:8 
"If then your whole body is flooded with light, and no corner of it is darkness, it will be completely illuminated as when a lamp's rays engulf you." 
 -Luke/Sayings Gospel Q, 11:36

So I always resist writing about this event because I cannot fully explain it.

It has been the defining moment of my short life, and I know, no matter how long I live, that it will always be the most defining moment. You see, you have to understand that I was raised an atheist. There was no religious dogma or ideology in my house. My feeble grasps at God began as ventures into fantasy writing, palm readings, tarot, and a fascination with the arcane. I wanted the unexplainable to be true. But logically, I knew it couldn't be. I knew that ghosts, magic, and psychic powers were all just things of fancy. But I wanted it. Because I was so young, I couldn't identify my longings. I just knew that something was out there, something was missing, my family's explanations of life were logical and yet not fulfilling. I needed to find an answer that was substantial and satisfying.

When I was 10, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. That year, I moved 2000 miles away from her to be raised by my father, who had previously been absent in my life. My parents were not divorced, but because of financial circumstances, my father had to work in Los Angeles, CA while my mother lived in Washington state. The move was a hard one. I had never been separated from my mother before and I missed her sorely. At the same time, I was rejected by the children at my new school because I was shy, androgynous, and didn't know anything about the LA lifestyle.

I was isolated. My mother's cancer ate away at her until she died two years later, when I was 12. By this time, I still identified as atheist, but I had been frantically searching for a meaning in all of the emotional hardship and life changes around me. I knew there had to be an answer, and countless times I had prayed and cried out to God, but never had there been a reply, and I was angry and unconvinced. I sought out religious friends and argued with them until they couldn't stand me anymore. Some still don't speak to me.

When my mother finally died, although it happened 2000 miles away from me, I was awash with guilt. I blamed myself for wasting the time I had had left with her. I also blamed myself for her death, because I hadn't prayed or asked God to save her life (this is a child's logic... but it was also a very real emotion that arose from my heart.) I knew it made no real sense, and yet the guilt ate away at me like a wild thing. I couldn't help but feel like if I had done something different, anything different, I could have saved her.

About three weeks after her death, the guilt and misery reached a breaking point. I was sitting on my bedroom floor attempting to read a fantasy novel that centered around Celtic mythology, and I remember that I couldn't focus. I put the book down. I fell to my knees as a crashing wave of guilt and sorrow swelled through me, and I cried out -- God, I am sorry. God, please forgive me, I am so sorry.

At that moment, a force rushed through me that I could only describe as lightning. I cried out, and a wave of purity blasted through me, so powerful that I couldn't breathe. I opened my eyes, and I could feel love everywhere, the most divine, perfect love that I could ever perceive, so perfect that it was beyond comprehension, beyond name. The force of that love was so strong that it made me feel like I was exploding, like if it was any stronger then I would die from it. Then suddenly I was aware of an overwhelming consciousness, a presence in everything around me, as though I had been swallowed by the most beautiful music.

I looked down at the book, and threw it away from me, for the very thought of fantasy and polytheism suddenly disgusted me. The thought of atheism and man's lonely existence disgusted me. The disgust I felt was beyond physical; it was the knowledge of suddenly seeing God, of feeling God all around me and inside of me, and realizing how very wrong everything was. I stood up and went into my living room, awed by my new eyes, and looked out of my living room window. I was struck a second time by the intense presence of God, because as I looked outside and saw the trees, the grass, the sky, the cement -- I felt an intense connection in everything. God was everywhere. He was in the air, in the water, in the couch beneath me and the lungs I breathed with. Everything was connected. It was connected by perfect, divine love, and it was all in front of me.

That love changed something inside of me. It became me. I was, in every meaning of the word, reborn. My eyes were new, my thoughts were new, the world was new. I sat and breathed God and knew my source, and knew that this love was my most divine purpose; that somehow, I was seeing beyond the physical, and that everything was united and created through love. An overwhelming compassion filled me. I wanted to give this love to others. I wanted to do anything to stop people from suffering. I wanted to serve. I knew that my richest, most rewarding purpose was to serve others, and I no longer had a choice. God's love was so powerful inside of me that to act against it made me feel physically ill.

You have to understand that I was only 12. I couldn't put it into words... and who would believe me? It was a strange sensation; I felt like God wanted me to speak, but every time I would try, people's rejection would hurt too much. I was still very sensitive. I told my father that I believed in God, but he brushed it off as a symptom of grief. It would be three years before I told anyone again about my experience. I felt like I had been given a secret, and it was easier to keep it to myself than to suffer through the misunderstandings of others.

At first I thought that everyone who believed in God must have had the same intense awakening as I did (because what else did they believe in, exactly?). It took a long time, but I slowly came to realize that the people around me, even the kinder ones, even the heavily religious ones, were in many ways oblivious to what I continued to see. I grew up in an uncomfortable in-between; knowing God in everything around me and my own heart, yet unable to fold myself into a religious ideology, because I couldn't stand the hypocrisy of most believers. I prayed nightly for God to be my teacher, and show me the truth of the world. I prayed nightly to show the world God's truth.

I am Christian now, but I can't accept that there is only one way to understand faith. I read the teachings of Christ when I was 16 and I have been baptized since, but I still feel that the purity of my experience with God far surpasses anything else, and I understand that this experience has been written about in all religions. I see the effects of God's presence constantly in my life. In fact, He has made my life. He has created the person I am.

So when I speak of God, please listen, because my faith is genuine. God made me the way I am for a reason. This journal is not meant to be read as a permanent ultimatum or new doctrine; this journal, rather, is a journey of faith, a documentation of my spiritual growth and understanding of God. I mean this journal to inspire you, whether you are Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Catholic, or any of the other countless doctrines that exist in the world. This journal is, in fact, my heart, and is written with sincerity and love. I will never hide anything from you; not my doubts, my conflicts, my mistakes or my hiccups of faith. Here I am, I am not perfect, but I am happy to share God with you, because He has given me the gift of writing and the grace of knowing Him, and I would like to share my faith with the world.

I am simply, humbly, reverently defined by God's love, and my only desire is to love you the same way.

"He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye." ~Buddha 
"God is LOVE. Whoever lives in LOVE lives in God, and God in him." 1 John 4:16 
 “Unity is divinity; purity is enlightenment." ~Sri Sathya Sai
"The soul can split the sky in two and let the face of God shine through." ~Edna St. Vincent Millay 
"When I saw others straining toward God, I did not understand it, for though I may have had him less than they did, there was no one blocking the way between him and me, and I could reach his heart easily.  It is up to him, after all, to have us, our part consists of almost solely in letting him grasp us."  ~Rainer Maria Rilke
"God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand.  If you understand you have failed."  ~Saint Augustine 

9 comments:

  1. Sounds like you had a powerful and liberating born-again experience.

    There is a difference between religion and Jesus Christ. Religious people (churchy church people) usually are antagonistic towards Christ. Jesus never came to start a new religon; He came to bring life and life in abundance. There is no formula for entering into the Kingdom of Heaven; we come as a little child. You cried out to God and He heard you and He changed you into a new creation.

    My born-again experience is a little different. I had been suicidal since I was 15. At the age of 15, I came to the conclusion that if God has anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church, then there is no God. So I was an atheist between the ages of 15 and 18 (I was also attending a Catholic high school; I got kicked out of 2 religion classes; high school was really oppressive; I dropped out my junior year, came back my senior year and then dropped out again).

    At the age of 18, while I was working in a lumber yard in Phoenix, Arizona, I began to pray again to God and some grace came back into my life. (I prayed to God a lot when I was in grade school and my life was very blessed; I quit praying to God at the age of 11 for some reason; I knew the Presence of God when I was in grade school) Now my life had some meaning, but I was still not born again.

    At the age of 22, I really wanted to blow my brains out, but I knew that I had some purpose in this life. I finally broke down, got on my knees and prayed the most difficult prayer I have ever prayed: "Christ, if you are God, will you please come into my life." Three days later, I could feel the Presence of God come into my life.

    I didn't trust anybody or any church, so I prayed, read the classics in western spirituality and a little of the Bible. I did some hitchhiking in 1986 and settled down in Ellensburg, WA and went to a Pentecostal church. It was then that I really started to read the Bible.

    I'll stop there. I am very grateful to what the Lord has done in my life.

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  2. Theresa!

    Thank you so much for sharing about your spirituality. So many either don't say anything at all, or force their personal convictions upon others. Your approach was like a fresh breath of air.

    Like you, I wasn't raise in church. My parents explained Christianity to me to some degree, but I did not have my first encounter with the Lord until I was in jr. high. Since then, my life has been in & out of fellowship with the Lord...probably more out than in.

    When I was walking closer than ever for about 5 years, I allowed others to explain to me who God was & what was to be expected of Him. Needless to say, over time, He rarely ended up being as everyone else claimed...this damaged my faith. When tragedy struck, I became angry with Him and closed my heart to Him for several years.

    It was only a little over 2 years ago that I gave my heart & will back over to Christ. This came only after I hurt myself & others drastically; my life was controlled by drugs & filled with anger & bitterness.

    So, when you mention the power of God's love, all I can do is get that warm fuzzy feeling within. He is love. And without His compassion & gentle understanding, I fear I would still be lost.

    In regard to your references to religion...what is religion, but man's attempt to reach God? Jesus is God reaching out to man :) At least I heard it put that way once, and I have liked repeating it ever since.

    As for your position on helping others, that is the true heartbeat of God. Someone reached out to me, and now all that is on my heart is reaching out to others who are going through situations and struggles from which God delivered me. That's what life is all about. Love.

    Great post! And once again, thank you so much for sharing.

    Also, I enjoyed reading TIm's comment as well.

    Daniel

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  3. Hi Tim!

    What was it like when God came into your life? Was it sudden or gradual? I'm just curious to know. :) I love hearing about other people's walk with God. Mine was pretty sudden and violent, but then again, I was going through a lot of trauma for a 12 year old. I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who has trust issues with a Church. I'm very new to the "faith" community because my family's influence was so heavily atheist. I wonder sometimes if it's a weakness to distrust a Church, but I trust that God has me under His wing, and no matter where I'm lead, I will reach home. I am just thankful that he lead me to Jesus so that I can understand Jesus differently than how I was raised.

    I wish I wasn't a woman and it was safer for me to wander freely with God. Maybe it's naive of me, but I envy your lifestyle.


    Daniel,

    What was your first encounter with the Lord like in Jr. High? Please share. :)

    I'm glad you've found your way back to your path. I know that drugs can be dangerous deterrents; I'm struggling with grief right now and it's hard to resist drinking, etc. just to get away from my situation. I probably drink more than I should, to be honest, though I'm just gaging it by my own standards.

    I found that before my "God explosion" (lol), I hated God for the same reason that you stated above: people would explain to me what God was, then I wouldn't see evidence of it in my own life, and then I'd hate them for being "stupid." But I was so empty and alone, and anger is such a dirty, disgusting thing. After my experience, I knew that God existed, but didn't know the parameters around it, how to explain it to others or even to myself. I knew I wanted to be good and do good, and that was all. This past year my faith has been taken to a whole new level. I can't get through the day without praying. If I didn't believe that God had everything planned for me, and that every moment of every day God is orchestrating something beautiful in my life, I'd crumble, because all of my plans have changed in front of me and I have no one else to hold onto. I think God pushes us into these situations so we can better know Him and how He works. And to build our faith, if we let Him.

    I liked the quote you left about Jesus and religion, it's so true. Made me smile.



    Thank you for your comments, guys! I know it's no coincidence that you've stumbled across my blog. God speaks to me through you. :)

    -Theresa

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  4. I don't know if I was born with a desperate personality or if it was the way I was raised in a sterile, oppressive family (intellectually, emotionally, spiritually), but I am desperate for God.

    When I was an atheist, I was desperate for truth (so I dropped out of high school); at the age of 17, Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" was my Bible and I began to read Jean-Paul Sartre and some other French writers/philosophers. But the emptiness inside me wasn't filled till I asked Christ into my life.

    So I have been desperate for God since I was 22--so I don't put up with bullshit well (and maybe I don't play well with others, either [half jokingly]).

    "The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre comes to mind when I think of my wanting to kill myself--which led to me asking Christ into my life. When confronted with death, things can change very suddenly in a man's life.

    I don't put up with bullshit well, I don't put up with lukewarm Christians well or with false Christians well. Oh, well: some wells are deep and some wells are shallow.

    I takes a deep foundation to put up a tall building--just food for thought.

    Just got dropped off here in John Day, Oregon. I am heading south. Later.

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  5. You are a follower of the Light no matter where it appears, truth is truth.

    "Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth; it should give birth to spirituality, and bring light and life to every soul. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division it would be better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure, but if the remedy only aggravates the complaint, it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion."

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  6. To introduce myself, I will give a short history. My parents didn't go to church. They ran bars and night clubs. I grew up in an alcoholic environment. My only religious training came from an Uncle who took me to Reorganized Latter Day Saints summer camps. I was baptized in that church when I was nine. I would pray to Jesus throughout my childhood, which was terrifying growing up around alcoholism and mental illness.

    In high school I started drinking heavily and using pot. I loved literature and philosophy. I became a follower of Existentialism. In college I fell in love with William Blake and the Bhagavad Gita.

    I married young and my marriage was doomed by alcohol and drugs and my own unresolved mental illness issues. After nearly ten years, we divorced and I was introduced to the Bible by a Rostafarian woman. We would smoke ganja and read the Bible.

    I began to look at my life and sought forgiveness. I joined a church whose members' circumstances were a lot like mine. I was following the old Methodism of Wesley which said there were two works of grace: forgiveness and sanctification. I immediately received forgiveness by faith and then I had this mind exploding experience one day when I was praying for hours and meditating upon this scripture:

    Romans 6
    "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also [in the likeness] of [his] resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin."

    I was a new man. People were in awe of me and what I said. I had a wonderful peace. But the fundamentalism of the church bothered me and my alcoholism came back when my brother died suddenly. I ended up falling into addiction for nearly ten years except for two years sober practicing Zen Buddhism.

    In 1989, I was introduced to the Bahá'í Faith. I fell in love with Bahá 'u' lláh, the most recent Manifestation of God. He wiped away all that was erroneous in religion and gave a revelation that resolved the issues of this New Age. He unequivocally stated the equality of men and women.
    He said unity was one of the most important virtues of the day. He said the religions are one; their foundations are the Ancient Faith of God. Any difference are cultural and dependent upon the time period they were revealed. Adulterations are due to ignorance and the lusts of a few who want power and self. He said science and religion are in harmony. Science without religion is materialism. Religion without science is superstition. He said there is only one race, the human race. He said the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.

    I've been clean and sober ever since and endeavor to serve humankind in whatever way God leads me. It is a struggle. I still have unresolved issues, but I trust God is creating me as you have said.

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  7. Hi Billy!

    I responded to the above comment on my other post, "Love Letters III." But I did want to say that the quote you left, "Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth; it should give birth to spirituality, and bring light and life to every soul...." very much sums up what I believe. I have journals written about this stuff since I was 13. It's so refreshing when I hear it repeated by other spiritual people, from all sorts of denominations. It seems that those who are in tune with the Spirit of God are also in tune with what the Spirit is currently calling for. What we need now is a poster child, someone who will get in the public eye and cry out for the unification of all faiths (or, depending on how one understands it, reverting back to what faith was always supposed to be.) This will be a nasty struggle, I think. Whoever ends up rising to the challenge will need to be very well educated in the history of faith, and the doctrines of most of the major religions, and prepared to do battle with ignorance on a global scale. Whew!

    What a wonderful age we are living in, to allow us all the opportunity to unite and share over the internet. We are that much closer to making it a reality....

    Off on a tangent... but really, great quote, very thought provoking... thank you!

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  8. Sorry, I didn't think this one posted, so I decided to post it under your latest post.

    As to your last post, I believe that unity is God's Will. It is the duty of those who have awakened to teach His Cause to anyone who will listen. The Holy Spirit and the Concourse on High are waiting to assist anyone who will teach His Cause in our communities, in our neighborhood, in our workplace, to all who will listen and leave those who won't in God's care.

    All the Prophets of the past have told of this age. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The lion will lie down with the lamb. The Tree of Life will be in our midst, and its leave will be for the healing of the nations. In my faith, women are called holy leaves. When women have been allowed to become who they can be and given the education and advantages that men have had, they will bring peace.

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  9. Such a beautiful beginning to a talented and beautiful life! You had a similar experience to the one Paul had on the road to Damascus! I am honored to be allowed a glimpse into your heart! God bless you young lady!

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