Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time. Cheers, Fred.
4. MY CRISIS IN FAITH AT AGE THIRTEEN
Written in Jan 2003 and given at a Spiritual Formation Class on Easter Sunday 2006
[The second paragraph is a slightly-expanded version of events mentioned in part (1).]
When I was confirmed in my Episcopal Church of Franklin, LA, at age 12, my faith had not been tested by doubts. I had the simple faith of a child until our minister taught the confirmation students answers to many adult concerns about Christianity. (Before these “Beyond Sunday School” classes, some kids at school – Catholic or Baptists usually – had told us we would go to hell if we didn’t convert to their church; none of us believed them since our parents and minister told us to ignore such ignorant and intolerant people.) After these classes I felt very good about being an “adult” member of my church. I thought I could handle any doubts because we had covered so much in those classes. But I soon found out I was wrong. The reason was too many deaths in my family for someone my age to cope with.
I was born in Oct '40. My father Fred, my mother Nell, my sister Barb, and I were living in Florida when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My father enlisted in the Army after taking us to live with my mother’s father in Franklin, LA. Also living with him were his daughters Myrt and Umsy. Umsy’s husband Pete had joined the Army, too. There were six of us in Grandpa’s big house. My brother Rob made it seven in Sept '45. I can’t remember when Grandpa had his first heart attack – it was a minor one, but he couldn’t live alone afterwards. When Fred and Pete returned after the war, nine of us lived there. Fred, a construction engineer, went to Bogota, Columbia, for the big post-war building boom. He was killed in Feb '47 in an airline crash. My mother Nell’s grief ended when she died in Jan '48 of “lupus and grief.” Grandpa adopted Barb, Rob and me, but Umsy and Pete, who were childless, became our parents. We were lucky to have loving new parents already living there. Grandpa and I had a special bond – he taught me card games, how to use simple hand tools, and how to behave. I enjoyed being his “valet” every morning and evening. When he died in Sept '53, Umsy and I took it the hardest. Umsy and Pete then officially adopted us, and since Umsy couldn’t stand living there without Grandpa, Pete built us a new home in which we were living by Feb '54.
The new home relieved neither Umsy’s grief nor mine. After we settled in, I began to wonder who would die on me next. I couldn’t shake myself of the awful feeling that Umsy or Pete would soon die. But I kept these feelings to myself. My crisis came on Good Friday '54. With no school that day, I took a walk deep into the nearby woods. When I was far from anyone, I cried my heart out, until I could cry no more. Then I got very angry at God. As loud as I could, I shouted at God and demanded that He prove to me, immediately, that He existed and had made a Heaven where I could again see Fred, Nell and Grandpa. I had to know, without any doubts whatsoever, that this would happen. I demanded a sign from God! Then one appeared in a flash! No visible sign, no lightning nor thunder, no angels nor trumpets, but a perfect “sign.” I still have total recall of the scene in the woods at that instant. (It is like a painting I can stand before and study each part in detail - I can still see every leaf, every feather of every bird.) The message, strong and crystal clear, was “HAVE FAITH!” But these two words filled all of my senses – I seemed to see, hear, feel, smell and taste them. I realized at that instant that this was how it must be. Faith in God was the only answer that God wanted to give. It was what God wanted from me. Not proof! God doesn’t want it to be “easy” for us – proof wouldn’t require commitment. Faith in Him, belief in Christ’s message, that’s what counts. With proof, faith isn’t worth much. My “HAVE FAITH!” sign made my faith and trust in God rock-solid from that day on. It wasn’t long before I understood “HAVE FAITH!” to also mean “TRUST ME!” As I matured I realized that “HAVE FAITH!” was a gracious gift from God to me, not a command for me to obey.
An analogy to my faith-not-proof insight didn’t occur to me until much later, but gravity is an excellent analogy. Gravity has been scientifically proven and can be mathematically expressed, so faith in gravity means little – we don’t need it. (With no faith in it, we won’t float off the earth!) Gravity needs no spiritual commitment from us – our hearts and souls aren’t involved with gravity. But for spiritual matters, only faith has value, not proof. Only when we fully commit our hearts, souls, and minds to God do we show that we have true faith in God. True faith can overcome the necessary doubts that accompany maturity. A faith that faces all doubts but survives them is a costly but mature faith.
This important lesson was driven home to me at the tender age of 13 on that Good Friday, alone in the woods, surrounded by God’s wonders of nature. I still feel closest to God when I’m in nature. I’ve seen many magnificent cathedrals, but none give me the feeling of closeness to God that I get in nature, sitting quietly in the wonder and splendor of God’s creation, becoming fully aware of the love and grace that only God can give us when we open our hearts to God and humbly welcome his gifts.
I have written this about my crisis in faith at age 62. A lot has happened to me since that pivotal day at age 13. I now realize that I accepted this important lesson as a message for my “mind,” for I did not see anything unusual – I only “got” the message in all of my being. At first, I felt very ashamed about my shouting at God and demanding something from God. I was far too ashamed of what I did to tell my parents or anyone else. I felt I should have already known the message and that I should not have been so disrespectful of God. I realize now that I expected too much for the grieving child I was at age 13. Now I only regret that I did not tell this story to my family and friends sooner. So until recently, I kept this story to myself because it didn’t seem right for me to tell it to anyone, not even my beloved wife. At age 62 I am still learning important things, such as the value of sharing spiritual experiences with others. It is never too late to learn to share our important inner feelings, for sharing them can be a gift, too, both to the teller and to the listeners. I now strongly believe that God wants us all to share with others such gifts, either by speaking or writing.