Perhaps, spurred by some recent posts, I have been getting more and more questions about my “choice” of religions. Why I became a Christian after I discovered God. Why I began to look for God. I have been asked this regularly since I made my faith visible to the world. Many frame their questions in terms of choice. Options. Why I chose to do this and not that. It is difficult to be able to describe comparatively why Christianity and I are the best fit and at the same time to make it clear that I didn’t “shop” for a religion. That I didn’t pick a faith. That, once I was finally able to see the way, I came home to it.
Our memory is a strange, fluid thing. I had not realized how much of my journey to the baptismal font I’d been essentially ignoring – almost deliberately forgetting – until I started going through some old papers, after my baptism, after the call to religious life. It felt to me as if I’d been secure in my atheism until a few years ago, at which point I was sort of yelling at God regularly in rage and bitterness and which is what prompted me to question my own atheism and to make myself quiet, which quiet time in turn allowed His voice to come through. It felt very…sudden.
I knew the path that had brought me here was long and winding, with pain and loss and insight and love and pride and all things playing their part in making me what I am and allowing me to be where I needed to be to hear His voice. But I somehow…blocked out the moments in which His exact and very particular face—His name, the One I was destined for—stood before my eyes. In my heart. On my lips.
I went through my old papers and discovered that, now and again, He tried for me and waited and tried again. I found portraits of Him I had done—icons, really. In one, he is dark, gloomy. In another, pained. But it’s He. I drew His face and put it away and didn’t know why or what to do with it. I don’t remember the details of what I thought then, but I remember that my heart was full of Him. I found a song I’d written, over ten years ago – and it’s a prayer. To Him. It’s a prayer in a dark time, in depression and hopelessness, to the one who had battled his own demons and suffered every horror, and it’s a scream because I pray and hear nothing in return, and it’s a question — do I learn to live with my demons? Is that how it works? It feels like He was the only one I talked to then and didn’t believe He was there to listen. Or did… That song is pain and love, love lost without having ever been found. It’s love I didn’t know I had.
I found a diary from when I was 14 or 15. I think it’s my first encounter with Jesus, by name. Is this how it started? I’d forgotten about it afterwards – really, just pushed it out of my mind. An atheist child in an atheist world… And Jewish! How could such a thing happen to me? The diary page is an outpouring of faith, baffled and confused, nothing much beyond “I believe!” He chose me then, but I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t understand what had happened to me. Or maybe… I still had 20 years of climbing to do, and He started me off and left me to it. I don’t know. I think of Catherine of Genoa. She went through this, though it didn’t take her as long as it took me. I carry her name.
Sometimes, especially after having to explain myself to some friend or another or a family member, I go back to the question of “why.” Why Christianity? I am a Jew, and it would have been a natural fit. By the time I was ready to start living my relationship with the Divine, I already had a fit with and practice of and love for Zen Buddhism – and an experience of a mini-enlightenment, so to speak. A micro-satori, if you will. I’d had a whirl with Sri Aurobindo yoga and thought of reincarnation as a natural thing. Why Him? Why Christianity?
I come back inescapably to an answer that, formulated even by me differently on different days, essentially boils down always to the same gist: it’s about transcendence. Or rather, it’s about transcendence and immanence and other lines and binaries, all the delineations and paradoxes within whose frameworks we are forced to choose. Unless we don’t.
Christianity, over the course of centuries, sipping life-juice from the roots reaching into millennia before and cultures multiple and minds surpassing and the one story great, refused to choose between transcendence and immanence. Between one and many. Between temporal and eternal. Between human and divine. Bowing to Aristotle in respect, it nevertheless refused to trip over apparent paradox but embraced its deeper reality and called it mystery. In the East, Hinduism had done this, and in the Mediterranean, Christianity: they dared to find God in man without reducing God to man. They erased the line of transcendence while still acknowledging its existence.
The maturing humanity has been coming further and further along the way toward realizations vis-à-vis the fluidity and complexity of reality. Matter and energy. Dimensions. Space and time. Mind and body. Spirit. Multi-verse. The wonder of Christianity and Hinduism is in the transcendence of lines. The forward-looking truth.
I suppose, I could have been a Krishnavite under some very different circumstances – but Jesus of Nazareth had had His eye on me since before I had an inkling it was possible. Isaiah thought he’d been chosen in his mother’s womb. Who knows how this happens…