I was not raised to be especially religious. My father is a cultural Jew and my mum is a lapsed Catholic. Growing up religion played next to no role in my life. I read a children’s book of bible stories at one point, but I pretty much viewed them as just that….stories. Baring a brief moment in elementary school when I went around proclaiming myself to be a worshiper of Zeus, King of the Gods, I was an atheist and proudly so.
Things began to change as I got older and attended university. I went to an Anglican college and every Wednesday they held a Choral Evensong. I liked choir music so I started going, and the fact that they held a free sherry reception afterwards didn’t hurt much either. But even though I went initially for the music I found myself coming back more and more often for the message. I listened to the prayers and the homily, and more importantly I thought on them, and the more I heard and the more I thought the more it began making sense to me. There was never any Big Moment of revelation, no key realization of “AHA! I’m religious”, I just evolved from being pretty militant atheist to a Catholic who prays daily. God quite literally snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking.
My faith is a central portion of my life, to the extent I cannot image the person I would be without it anymore. I do have a relationship with God, as corny as that sounds, and it’s one of the most positive ones I have ever had in my life. It centers me and grounds me, and is a source of comfort and security on even my darkest days. The first time I tried praying I felt like a total dofus. There I was, sitting on my knees all alone, talking to myself. Sounds pretty silly on the surface of it, but the more I prayed the more of an impact it began to have on me. Again there was no Big Moment. God never started talking back to me. I had no divine visions of revelation. I did begin to feel something though. Describing it is hard. Not really a presence but more of an essence. I don’t ask for miracles, or list off everything I’ve done wrong then rise and say “excellent, all forgiven now”, but I do acknowledge my thanks for what I have to be thankful for and recognize my faults, and in doing so I am just as much forgiving myself as being forgiven by God.
It is this essence, this ability to put things in perspective and ground myself in the certainty God’s divine nature, that is truly religion’s gift to man. It is something that is sadly lacking in our modern world which centers on the endless pursuit of empty gratification and the soulless materialistic quest for ever more useless “stuff”. We feel lost and alone, and wonder “Is this really it? Is this all there is?”. Being able to see that there is in fact something more, and being able to have that dialogue within oneself is essential.
Which is not to say that everyone needs to be religious. If going to Church isn’t your thing, that’s fine. What people do need, I am convinced, is that greater feeling of essence and community that religion brings. If you can get that by going to a support group, or doing yoga, or even just talking to a friend instead of prayer by all means do that. It will enrich your life and bring you more comfort from the uncertainties of existence than you’ll find in the bottom of a bottle or a new designer bag or the arms of a random stranger. For me, it comes from God’s promise to man, which has been cradled within the Catholic Church, built upon the shoulders of Peter and carried forward by every soul that has since worn the shoes of the Fisherman.
Saying this is not particularly fashionable these days. After all, we’ve all been taught that reason and science was what set us free from faith and mysticism and all that other old nonsense. But the truth we increasingly recognize but none of us dare speak is that we have not so much been set free as cast out into the cold. We have been drained of our inner worth, distracted from it by shinny baubles and cheap thrills and told that that is what will truly make us happy. We’ve been conditioned to be outraged by the irrelevant and indifferent to the outrageous. We seek that which has no value and ignore that which is most valuable of all. We’re connected and in touch with each other 24/7 yet never have been more alone. But perhaps, just perhaps, we are starting to recognize this, as it is by the light of the funeral pyre that true illumination is often found.
I pray we are. God bless you all.