Listening to Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations,” with leading spiritual teachers, I’ve observed eight recurring questions Oprah asks of her guests. As I’ll likely never be a guest on Oprah’s podcast, I thought, “Why not write a series of blogs, based on Oprah’s questions?” This is what I might tell Oprah, if given the chance.
“Have you always considered yourself a spiritual person? Or did you have an aha! moment when you recognized your connection to something bigger than yourself?”
As a child, my family sporadically attended an extreme fundamentalist church. I have vivid memories of dislike for that church, even as a child. I can still recollect many of the reasons we were taught we might end up in hell.
As I said, we only attended sporadically. I recall being as quiet as possible on Sunday mornings, in hopes of not waking my parents. The later they slept, the more likely we would skip church. I also recall the morning I gleefully realized, “We don’t go to church anymore.” I don’t think I ever mentioned it, or asked my parents about it. I just, thankfully, kept my mouth shut!
By the time I started Junior High, I didn’t believe in God at all. I must have stopped believing in God about the time I stopped believing in Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. In fact, I recall specifically thinking belief in God was like believing in fairy tales.
Before the summer between my Seventh and Eighth grades, my aunt invited me to attend her church’s summer camp with my cousins. I agreed, in spite of being an adolescent atheist, in hopes of having a good time. In fact, I don’t think I even considered the risk to my atheist beliefs.
When we met, at camp, for Bible study or discussion about God, I was obnoxiously honest about my disbelief. Yet, I don’t recall ever being challenged, corrected, or judged. They were unfazed by any teaching I disagreed with. Quite likely, as my atheism was not very well-informed, my arguments against God and the Bible were likely pretty shallow. Nevertheless, no one pushed me or told me to shut up.
And, they loved me. I didn’t know why. I didn’t attend their church. I didn’t live in their town. I didn’t know any of them outside of camp. I was an obnoxious, pubescent know-it-all-but-really-didn’t-know-much-of-anything atheist. Yet, I had no doubt, I was loved. I didn’t understand it. But, I knew it, nevertheless.
And, I’ve failed to mention, our camp was in the Tennessee mountains. We were surrounded by incredible, natural beauty. One night – attending camp for several years – several of us were walking to our cabin after worship. The night sky was perfectly clear, and filled with stars. It was a beautiful. As we looked at the stars, my cabin-mate Scott Hubbard remarked, “How can anyone look at that sky and say there isn’t a God?”
Scott’s comment was an entirely spontaneous statement of faith. I don’t believe he directed it toward me, or was even consciously aware I’d been thinking, “How can anyone believe all of this stuff?” Yet, something about his simple statement of faith, flipped a switch in me. Though it took me some time to work through lingering doubts and uncertainties, that starry night and Scott’s question opened the door for me to know God.
The truth is, “someone” was already picking the lock on my closed-door, but I was too dense to realize it. The love and patience of the people at camp, prepared the way. Immersed in the beauty of God’s creation, set me up. I couldn’t resist. In the United Methodist tradition, we call that God’s “prevenient” grace, always pursuing us.
I was baptized at that same camp the following summer, around 10:00 pm, in a cold mountain stream. I recall thinking, “This changes everything.”
Of course, camp was just the beginning. The God of love, I experienced at camp, became VERY real to me. But, I didn’t know much about Jesus, the Church, the Bible, or prayer. About the time I graduated from college, I joined the First United Methodist Church of Orlando, where my faith in God really came alive and found direction and form in a call to ministry. In seminary, I learned Bible and theology, and discovered Christian mysticism and monasticism. Through the years, the writings of spiritual masters, the guidance of spiritual mentors and directors, and monastery retreats – as well as daily prayer, meditation, and silence – have deepened my “connection with something bigger.”
The truth is, I’ve had many “aha!” moments with God, and I’m grateful. Sometimes God intervenes unexpectedly. Occasionally, God needs to get my attention more dramatically – or, more accurately, I need God to get my attention. But, often – in fact, more often than not – I find God faithfully responds to my seeking.
As Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
So, that’s what I do – ask, seek, knock – and God is there.