Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How I Got This Way - My Spiritual Journey

It seems the time is ripe for me to lay down for blogging posterity the salient features of my own spiritual journey. It’s a fairly long, convoluted story, but I’ll try to beat it down to manageable proportions for your edification and enjoyment. . .

I grew up in a pretty plain-vanilla mainline-Protestant church; I suppose it would be called ‘theologically liberal’, but of course as a kid growing up, that label wouldn’t have meant much to me. We heard all the usual Bible stories, and about the life of Jesus. Looking back, it laid a good foundation on which to build, but at the time, it was mostly just ‘cultural background’, sort of on the order of Beethoven’s symphonies.

When I was in high school, I began to wrestle with the ‘big questions’ – does God exist? What’s the meaning of life? How should I live? Why? Or why not? And such as those.

Our church had an active and engaging high school youth group, and several of my closest friends also belonged. We did a lot of interesting activities together – service projects, plays, and all manner of things – but, when it came to the ‘big questions’, the answers I was given were oddly unsatisfying. “Be nice to people”; “Serve your fellow man”; and things of that order. Fine things, all of them, but they didn’t really get at the questions I was asking.

The summer I was 14, I went to a church camp sponsored by the state conference of our church. There I had what I can only describe as a personal experience of God. Suddenly, all the Bible stories, everything I’d heard over the years – it all made sense. This was it! Once I came to know in person the God who was behind it all, everything fell into place for me, and all the ‘big questions’ were getting suitable answers as well. Does God exist? – well, having experienced him personally, the answer seemed kind of obvious. What’s the meaning of life? – well, if God exists, that answer would seem rather self-explanatory. How should I live? – again, having met God personally, it was clear that I should live my life in accordance with the God of the Universe.

And it was also clear that this God had revealed himself concretely in the person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I understood that Jesus wasn’t just a ‘great teacher’ – he was God-in-human-flesh. I didn’t have any idea of the ‘theology’ involved, but I understood in a deep way that it was True. And I understood from my own experience that God had sent the Holy Spirit – who I had previously thought of in only the vaguest, most abstract terms – to live within me in some mysterious and exciting way. I didn’t know any of this from being taught in a sermon – I knew it from my own direct, personal experience of it.

And I went through high school living this newfound Christian life as best I could, sometimes struggling, sometimes thriving, but always fortified by the knowledge of what I had experienced of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in my life. Every summer, I went back to camp, and got my ‘batteries recharged’.

When I went to college, there was, as there is for most college students, a major discontinuity in the circumstances of my life - I didn’t have the familiar surroundings that I’d grown up with. In particular, when Sunday morning rolled around, I didn’t really have any place to go. I knew that I wanted to continue with my Christian life, but it was not at all clear how I would go about doing that in my new context. I ran into some of my ‘camp friends’ who went to the same school, and they told me about a really cool prayer meeting, and so I went, and I came into contact with the Christian community that sponsored the prayer meeting. But there was a whole Christian ‘life-together’ behind it all, and I was immediately attracted to such an intense way of pursuing the Christian life. As soon as I could, I joined the community, and in one way or another, I’ve belonged to it ever since.

Around the same time, I started dating a girl (not Molly). She was Catholic, and she often invited me to come to Mass with her. I had no place better to be, and besides, I kinda liked hanging around her, so I usually went along. My first few masses were real eye-opening. I’d been prepared for the Mass to be really dead and boring, and barely Christian (such were the portrayals of Catholicism that I’d acquired in my life), but instead, I found it full of prayer, and Scripture was woven all through it. I was actually quite favorably impressed.

I also began my own study on the history of Christianity – I wanted to know more about how this living faith I’d acquired had gotten all the way from Bible times to me. Our community aspired to live a Christian life as much like what we saw in the Bible as we could manage, and I was fascinated by the question of how the ‘second generation’ of Christians had received the faith from the apostles, and how they carried it forward in their own day. I read the early church Fathers, and various histories by authors I respected. And as I did, I became more impressed by the notion that the Catholic church was probably the best I could do as far as being in continuity with all of Christian history.

The girl and I eventually broke up, but by that time, I was already thinking of Catholicism as ‘home’, and in the fullness of time, I was received into the Catholic church.

Since then, my Christian faith has become deeper, stronger and (I hope) more mature. I've discovered the Catholic 'philosophical tradition', and grown in my appreciation of the sacramental life of the Church, but it all comes from a living, personal experience of Christ in my life; take that away, and the whole thing falls.

And really, that’s where I’m at, down to the present day. I’m still Catholic (well, duh – eight kids), and still, with Molly, part of the ‘ecumenical’ lay community I joined when I was in college. Perhaps this will help you all understand a little bit better where I’m coming from, and where I’ve been. . .


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