I have no specific recollection of God when I was a very young child. I was taught the usual Bible stories, like Noah’s ark, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Moses parting the Red Sea, and Jesus performing miracles, but I didn’t really connect them to God. We were also taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father which art in heaven.” That seemed to imply there was an old man with a beard up there in the sky somewhere. I didn’t find that very convincing.
I remember 1960. It wasn’t so much what happened, but rather I felt a tremendous excitement that something amazing was going to happen. But it didn’t, or at least I didn’t hear about it. What did happen though was at the tender age of 8, I became an atheist! I am not sure how deeply thought out of a decision it was. I just remember asking my mother about God, and her response was that God is the one you pray to. Since I didn’t pray, I decided I must be an atheist.
Several years later, in 1968, when Bobby Kennedy was shot, I tried a prayer. I remember getting on my knees beside my bed and praying to God to keep him alive. I was sure it was wrong for him to die, like his brother had died a few years before and Martin Luther King, Jr. just a few months before. But Bobby Kennedy died. I decided that reaffirmed my atheism. If there was a God that allowed all this evil in the world, we were better off without him. So, no God.
Not long after that our school had some sort of retreat. I remember one student, a year older than me, playing a recording of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech for the service on Sunday morning. I was really moved by the content. It resonated with my feelings about how people should be able to live together harmoniously, regardless of the color of their skin or their religion (which was more relevant to me in Scotland where almost everyone was white but Catholics and Protestants were divided, although not as violently as in Northern Ireland). Interestingly the student who played the recording was a minister’s son, a typical rebel, which probably was what prompted me to be willing to attend the service in the first place.
I remember my local Church of Scotland served soup after their “Watchnight” service on Christmas Eve, so I went one year with a group of friends, because I always enjoyed Christmas. But the minister gave a mean sermon about how we couldn’t be saved if we just came to church once a year (for the soup), or even once a month, or even every week, because we were all predestined to the fire and brimstone of eternal damnation. Not something that made me very positive about God. I didn’t go back.
I did enjoy the hot cross buns we always ate at Easter, but the idea that it was a good thing that Jesus died on the cross, dripping blood, didn’t make sense to me. I thought it should be called “Bad Friday” not “Good Friday.” Christianity was really not working for me.
As a student in the 1970s, religion seemed relatively irrelevant to my life. My only contact was going to a few meetings of other religions, like the Hare Krishnas, because they always served interesting food! The Christian groups were totally boring – the Catholics served coffee and donuts at their meetings. I remember a vegetarian café run by followers of Sri Chimnoy. I liked the food so I went there a few times. Yes, in those days the food was the most notable aspect of religious life for me.
I wasn’t just materialistic though. It seemed like I always had some spiritual sense. I remember when I was about 12 one of my friends had a few of us over to try out a Ouija board. I wasn’t really enthusiastic, but went along with it anyway. The interesting thing was that I realized that when the little pointer thing moved it was me that was pushing it. I tested this by lifting my finger slightly and it wouldn’t move any more. When I put my finger back, it started again. Now I wasn’t cheating, deliberately moving it. I really didn’t know where it would go, but I did know it was my finger pushing it. I told my friends I didn’t want to do it again!
Another somewhat similar experience was when as a student I was asked to participate in a parapsychology experiment. There were a couple of graduate students doing research and they hooked me up to a recording device. Then they told me to think of hot or cold things, or look at picture of hot or cold things, and the machine recorded some kind of reaction. After a few tries with just thinking of hot or cold I realized it was simpler just to think of the machine registering hot or cold! So, I focused on the little needle that was moving and tried to move it with my mind in the appropriate direction. It worked. I told them that was what I did. I’m not sure if they really appreciated that; they didn’t ask me back for any more experiments.
Then, of course, when the first “Star Wars” movie came out I was intrigued by the “Force.” I recognized the idea that there was at least a sixth sense that allowed people to connect to things and move them without using physical energy, just the energy of the mind. Yes, I felt like I could be a great Jedi with the appropriate training!
Then, I had a very different type of experience. One weekend I went to London, and it happened that “Jesus Christ Superstar” was playing at the theatre. I loved the music, so I went. I don’t really remember the performance, although I am sure it was excellent. What I do recall is after the show walking through the streets of London in the rain with tears pouring down my face. I was crying for Jesus who had to take that cup and die. And I made the determination that if I was alive at the time of Jesus, I would not have let him die. I guess God heard me!
A few years later I was in America, still an atheist, still concerned about making the world a better place, when I met a couple of missionaries. They seemed a bit strange to me – dressed funny, she was wearing a British style raincoat with the sun blazing down! It was a very hot day and she asked me if I knew a place to get some ice cream. I did, and offered to take them since I thought ice cream sounded like a good idea. Then I had to give them a ride back to where they were staying because they didn’t know how to get there (yes, they were a bit strange!). Anyway, they invited me to a retreat at some farmhouse and I had nothing better to do that weekend so I agreed to go. It turned out the missionary in the raincoat was recovering from a nasty cold but wanted to go out witnessing anyway; she didn’t usually wear such strange clothes!
Of course, I sort of realized they were part of some kind of religion, so when they gathered us all for a lecture, I wasn’t too surprised. But the lecturer started right away talking about God! I decided not to walk out, because he also talked about the scientific method and how one should test a hypothesis before rejecting it. Well, I had to agree with that, so I listened. I wasn’t convinced until after lunch when he talked about Jesus. The amazing thing was he said Jesus wasn’t supposed to die! I just about jumped up and down in agreement.
When he said we should go and pray about what he had talked about I took a walk and started talking to God. I was like, if you didn’t want Jesus to die, I can relate. And I immediately felt God was there! Of course, I cried. It was like coming home. God was real after all. And God had not given up on me, even if I didn’t believe in Him, wasn’t even trying to find Him. Yes, it was quite a journey to meet God, but definitely worth it. And I am eternally grateful to that missionary who put on her raincoat and asked me where to get some ice cream that hot day many years ago.