Why Finding Faith Makes Sense, Even if I Don’t Understand Any of It…
Six years ago, I worked with a guy who today we’re going to call Joe. Joe was a happy, confident guy who wore his heart -and his faith- on his sleeve.
A passionate born again Christian, it seemed Joe new the Bible inside out, back-to-front, pretty much anyway you could imagine. You didn’t need to spend much time in his company to figure that out.
Day in, day out, there was always something new situation where Joe could seize on an opportunity to preach The Word.
“Hi Joe, would you like a cup of tea?”
“Sure, but first let me tell you what Jesus had to say about tea.”
“Hi Joe, do you know what time the meeting is scheduled for this afternoon?”
“It’s at four. Did you know there’s a story in the bible about Jesus going to a meeting?”
I’m exaggerating of course, but only a little. The point is that Joe mentioned his buddy Jesus as often as he possible could. It drove most people insane, but not me.
Truth be told, I loved listening to Joe sharing his faith, even though I barely understood anything he was saying. That was the beauty of it, I didn’t have to understand. It wasn’t the words (or The Word) Joe was speaking that appealed to me, it was what he was saying, and what he was saying was this:
“I’ve found God, and I am happy.”
That was pretty much all I ever heard whenever Joe would start quoting the Bible or telling us that Jesus could save us all, it was the fact that he’d found something that that made him happy. It was all I needed to hear.
Word around the office was that prior to finding God, Joe had gone through some kind of horrendous mental breakdown of the type which I -even as something of a mental breakdown veteran- couldn't imagine. He’d been somewhere close to the depths of his own personal hell, and he’d now found this thing called God which had helped him get his life on track and made him happy again.
Man did I ever need something like that. The more I thought about it, the less I understood about how or why finding God could do something like this to a person, but I did know it made sense. Everybody I’d ever seen or heard who said they’d found God was happy.
I found God, and now I’m miserable because of it
I realised that I’d never heard anybody say that. Not the Jesus preachers on the streets nor the fictional religious types in books or films, and especially not Joe.
So it made sense to me. For all kinds of reasons too vast and complicated to explain right now, I was deeply unhappy. I don’t just mean in a low mood or even suffering a bout of depression, I mean there was some persistent, intangible sense of unhappiness which had followed me my entire life. I looked at Joe and the Jesus preachers and everyone else who said they’d found God and were happy, and it made sense:
If I wanted to be happy, I could just go and find God too.
Always being one to take things a little bit too literally, I left work after one of Joe’s impromptu sermons, and went out looking for God.
A smart man would have gone looking for him in a church or similar place of spiritual wellness, but I’ve never been a smart man, so I went looking for God in a run down biker bar at the back of town.
I ordered my usual whiskey, went upstairs to an empty room in which loud rock ‘n’ roll bands sometimes played at the weekend. Once there, I took a swig, stood in the corner and closed my eyes. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I know it was something like God, please come and reveal yourself to me, please help me find you.
Either God is teetotal or was simply busy that day, but he didn’t show up in the upstairs room of that biker bar, and he certainly didn’t reveal himself to me. But it only makes sense to me now -literally now this second- as I type these words, that whatever power may be up there did start helping me to find it (or Him, or Her), and continues to do so.
It was six -maybe seven- years ago since I went looking for God in the upstairs room of a dirty dive bar in Wigan, and since that time, it occurs to me now that He (or Her, it It) has been teasing me, tempting me, leaving me clues.
I’m here, come find me.
Like something has been guiding me, coaxing me further along a journey to some place -not a physical place you understand, but something more, something spiritual, something intangible, but a place nonetheless- where I can finally make sense of my own faith.
Trust me, the faith is there. I just don’t know what I have faith in yet. There’s something big, universal, something at work that is far more powerful and magnificent than I could ever possibly understand, which is why I’m not trying to understand the whole thing, but simply to grasp some small part of it that can help me to understand as much as I’m supposed to, because, as I say, right now, I just don’t understand any of it.
Oh I’ve tried. After looking for God in that rock ‘n’ roll bar all those years ago and deciding that he wasn’t there, I next went to look for him in the one place I was sure he’d be: The bible.
In the beginning…
I opened up at page one, I read In the beginning.. and continued to struggle through what seemed like a lot of confusing and often contradictory prose until I got to the story of Lot and his two daughters. Then I gave up. If I believed in God, the God I believed in wasn’t present in the story of an incestuous threesome, so I shut the bible and didn’t look at it again for years later.
So I went looking elsewhere.
Once upon a time, during my brief marriage of five, six years ago, my then-wife and I lived in the city of Preston, Lancashire, where the city centre streets were often populated with Mormons and ‘Jesus Preachers’ who wanted nothing more than to share whatever Good News it was they’d found.
Of course, most people walked straight past these ‘God-botherers’ without a second thought, but not me. I wondered if these guys could show me where God was hiding, so I’d stop and talk to them, and at one point even invited them into my house for a chat.
We prayed together, but that didn’t get me any closer to finding what I was looking for either. If I believed in God, it wasn’t their God.
Several years down the line, and having found nothing, my faith began to dwindle, deteriorate even, replaced instead by a drink problem which continued to spiral further and further out of control. Sure, the seeds of that problem had been planted long before I started to make sense of this whole God stuff, in fact, I’m pretty sure that’s why I went looking for the guy in the first place — I knew something was wrong and that I needed help, I just didn’t know what was wrong or what I needed help with.
But after I failed to make any sense of Their God, of other people’s faith, I’d all but given up and re-channeled my efforts into an epic descent into full-blown alcoholism.
Little did I know then, or indeed right up until this moment (again, this is something that’s just occurred to me right now as I type), that even that awful drops into the depths of my own personal hell was Her (or His, or It’s) way of guiding me towards an understanding.
I found a bunch of people who’d also been to their own personal hell, and they told me the real Good News, in fact the best news I’d ever heard since Joe once said that finding Jesus had made him happy. That news was this:
I didn’t have to believe in Joe’s Jesus. I didn’t have to believe in Their God. I didn’t need to have Other People’s Faith. I could have my own. I could believe in My God, my own, personal connection to a power greater than me.
Now this, this made sense. I found -still find- it impossible not to believe in a Power Greater. After all, if there’s no power in this universe greater than I, then by default that makes me the greatest power in the universe.
If that’s the case, then ladies and gentlemen I should apologise now. If I’m the greatest power this universe has ever known, then we’re all in a lot more trouble than any of us realised.
Yet whilst that made sense. Little else did.
At that point in my journey, I was often closing my eyes to pray and seeing some mental image of an old guy with long, curly, white hair and long, white beard, sat in the clouds and smiling. I couldn’t put my faith in this image. It looked too much like God as He (or maybe It, or She) was presented to me back in primary school. A Mickey Mouse God. A Cartoon God.
Every time I pray, there’s a guy with long hair and a white beard smiling at me, I can’t believe in this guy.
I shared that with somebody close to me, and I’ll never forget their response.
Maybe should stop praying to Santa clause then and start praying to God instead.
So I tried that, even though I didn’t -still don’t- know exactly who or what or where or when this God is.
Not that I’ve stopped looking.
I opened the Bible again last year. Started reading it properly, this time with an open-mind. I’m still less than a quarter the way through the Old Testament, and at this point I’m still pretty certain that whatever I believe in isn’t hidden in there, but I’m going to keep on looking right to the last page of the New Testament, just to be sure.
If God isn’t in there, then that’s fine. At least I gave it a proper look. I left no stone un-turned. Besides, I think my journey may be slowly guiding me away from a Christian-based faith anyway.
You see, whilst all of this was going on, whilst I was sinking into the drink and the drink was drowning whatever faith I had left, I met a woman who today I call my best friend, my platonic soul mate, my Oracle — the one I turn to for wisdom on everything from a deep emotional crisis to ‘Should I wear this shirt with these jeans?’ (the answer to that one is always ‘no’).
Sometimes she even gives me this wisdom without me asking for it -or even realizing I’m receiving it until something clicks way down the line, just as it did with Paganism.
Yep, whilst all this was going on, The Oracle would share with me her own believes in the Laws of Nature, of Wiccan principles and other Pagan schools of thought -not to make me believe in it, but just to share her own faith.
I listened with interest, but never did anything more than that until suddenly, one day another friend told me about their beliefs in pretty much the same thing. ‘Hey, I thought. This is the stuff Stacy [a.k.a The Oracle] was telling me about.’
Whether either of us had known it or not during those discussions, Stacy had sewn a few seeds, and now it was up to me to decide whether to nourish them, to let them grow, or to stay forever buried. I chose the former.
I picked up a book called Natural Magick which I’d purchased from a charity shop several years ago without ever knowing why, and had pretty much left to sit on my shelf, unread, ever since.
That book left the shelf, it was read, and everything started to make sense. Everything I’d ever read about faith, religion, science, everything I’d ever studied about self-help, NLP, dreams, everything I’d ever felt or believed, it all came together in this one book. This book was EVERYTHING.
It was as though the author had taken everything I’d learned, unlearned, believed and trusted since I started this journey, and connected them altogether, as though this whole thing was speaking to me, lifting me up above the road I was on to show me the road I’d traveled so far, whispering in my ear:
Look Chris, the journey’s been worth it so far, all this stuff you’ve read, you’ve learned and been taught and felt and wondered about, it’s all connected, it’s all been steering you on this road. Your journey so far, every last stepping stone has been taking you in the right direction. Even the stuff you thought couldn’t possibly be related have been coming together to keep you on course, and at this point, it’s time to rise above the road, look back and see that it WILL start to make sense, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
Indeed, even now it doesn’t all make sense. I still don’t understand. I still don’t have any real, clear, definable idea of what I have faith in. I just know it’s something huge. Something Universal. Something infinitely bigger than I.
And yet despite having no idea what I believe, despite feeling a more spiritual connection with that one book on Paganism than I’ve yet to do so far with THE book on Christianity, I still choose the name God to refer to this Power Greater.
Why? Because Something Universal is too much for me. It’s too vast, too infinite a concept for me to grasp, it’s more than I could ever understand no matter how much time I spent on this journey. It’s not only bigger than me, it’s bigger than EVERYTHING.
God on the other hand, is a small, teeny, tiny three letter word, a diminutive little package which -though it may never do it justice- allows me to pack Something Universal tightly inside it, and make some sort of sense out of it. Right now, I can’t make any sense out something that’s bigger than everything, but I can make sense out of a small three letter word. And right now, that’s enough for me.