Connecting With God, Part 2
(To read Part 1, click here)
At any given time, each of us is either moving toward or away from our Creator. The trajectory of my life now—my passion, my purpose—is toward God. But my first few decades were mostly spent racing in the opposite direction.
I was raised a practical atheist, by which I mean God was simply not a topic in our home. When, at around age 10 or 11, I asked Dad about the meaning of life, he pulled out an illustrated copy of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and handed it to me. I thumbed through the Victorian etchings, the Time Life photos of Galapagos tortoises, the artist’s concepts of hairy proto-humans, and through Chuck’s notes. But what about this feeling I have that there’s something more? I wondered. Freud, who was referenced in the index, answered with two terse words: “Mass neurosis.” Strangely, that answer didn’t satisfy my spiritual longing. Probably because (like the rest of the human race) I was neurotic. Thanks, Sigmund.
So I asked Mom, who’d been raised vaguely Catholic. She didn’t own a Bible, but gave me her faded white childhood Sunday Missal. I flipped through the pictures of priest’s vestments and thee-y-and-thou-y prayers…and couldn’t make heads or tales of it. Still, at the front there was a copy of that charming children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord my soul to keep/If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Seeing it as a sort of verbal rabbit’s foot, I began kneeling beside my bed each night and reciting it. But when, after several weeks, nothing “happened,” I quit. Where were the apparitions? The voices? (Giving credit where credit is due, I did not actually “die before I wake[d].” Not even once.)
Despite my growing doubts, I gave communication with the Infinite one final whirl. As a pre-adolescent I was now old enough to go to YMCA Camp in the San Bernardino Mountains, where I was literally closer to heaven. Our local Y was shy about spirituality, but God was pretty prominent in the voluntary “Ragger” program, a sort of de-militarized take on Boy Scout merit badges. Campers were invited to make a solemn oath to improve something about their lives. They were given a colored scarf (“rag”) to wear as a symbol of their oath and led blindfolded to a secret spot where they were left alone to pray. To You-Know-Who.
Only thing was, I still had no clue how to pray. So I looked at the breathtaking view for a while and then made a vow to stop cussing, or at least to say, “I’m sorry” each time I did. No voice from the sky replied, “Gee, that’s swell, Mitch!” No cloudy finger wrote, “So happy to hear it!” There was only a “still small (i.e. silent) voice” like the one Elijah argued with (1 Kings 19:12). But I hadn’t learned to recognize it yet. So, while I was proud of my newfound (albeit short-lived) curselessness, I was irked at God for skipping the ceremony.
By the time I reached high school, I’d decided he didn’t exist. I became the go-to guy for counter-arguments against Jesus people. My spiritual hunger hadn’t actually gone away; I was just experimenting with a diet of self-worship. Hey, at least I answered. Problem was my answers were even less filling than God’s silence.
In college, my atheism began to disintegrate. This happened in stages: first it devolved into agnosticism—I simply didn’t have enough faith to maintain a truly pious atheism; then it disintegrated into deism (Why I Believe: C.S. Lewis and Me – Part One)—something was out there, but you couldn’t actually connect with it. I was gradually working my way toward a God-concept, but was frustrated by the fact that what I yearned for wasn’t a God-concept, it was God.
By grad school I’d explored a passel of mystical writings, all of which curved back to the same old self-worship (“If everything is God, then so am I, hence self-worship is God-worship”). The last book was from a popular yogi who validated his revelations by comparing them to Jesus’ teachings. Only there was no comparison. The yogi’s ideas were the same old pantheistic patter. But Jesus’ teachings (which did not mean what the yogi said they meant) shook me to my core. It was the first time I’d ever read His words.
And the first time I’d clearly heard the voice of God.
I went to a bookstore thirty miles away—so no one I knew would see me—and bought a Bible, then brought it home and began devouring Jesus’ words. It was as if a radio stuck between stations had suddenly been tuned in. It wasn’t an audible voice or an apparition. Neither was it a feeling or a “vibe.” To describe it in human terms would be to use a clumsy metaphor, like describing how a color “smells” or a strawberry “sounds.” I was tempted to think it wasn’t really there.
But it was.
It was there in Jesus’ words. In the room. And in the still small voice that engulfs the world. Now the only question was,
How to answer it?