This is Part 1 of my personal conversion story.
I have never been an atheist. Have I ever doubted God? Yes. We all have. But on the other hand, God first revealed Himself to me when I was very young, because I really needed Him.
When I was a little boy, my mother was a practicing Christian Scientist. She took me and my sisters to Sunday School at the Christian Science Church.
My great-grandmother — who was nearly a 100 when she passed away — was a Christian Science practitioner (a faith-healer of sorts), whose prayer was capable of bringing about miraculous healings. If someone in my mom’s family was sick, they called my great-grandmother.
My mom didn’t take us to the doctor. My dad forced my mom take my sisters and me to the county health clinic for vaccinations. The rest of the time, if one of us was sick, my mom prayed for us and called the practitioner. Thankfully, we were healthy kids.
My father was an agnostic alcoholic who had no use for organized religion. He disliked my mother’s piety and devotion to Christian Science, especially because Christian Scientists aren’t supposed to drink alcohol or smoke. To him, religion was something to be argued, not something to be practiced.
My father’s arguments against religion were not purely a means to satisfy some vindictive aspect of his nature relative to my mother. Perhaps he sought company in his unexplained despair, and so I began to understand that he wanted me to agree with him.
I was the audience, more than anyone else. I was meant to be formed in my father’s unhappy worldview, where booze and sex and loud music were seen as the cure, but in reality were only topical antiseptics to a heart pickling in its own rot.
My father’s instability and the effects of his alcoholism created a type of dysfunction, and I — as the oldest child — was vulnerable. I felt responsible to everyone — my father, my mother, and my sisters. And, while I felt responsible, I was also powerless.
I couldn’t prevent the verbal abuse and disrespect shown by my father to my mother. I was powerless to stand up to my father about his constant harassment of my mother and her faith. I wasn’t even capable of ensuring my own safety or the safety of my sisters, when many times we were placed in vehicles with an intoxicated driver at the wheel, or made captive to other unsafe situations.
Between Mom and Dad, my stoic and patient, kind and gentle mother represented the only version of personal peace in our home. The whole family was immersed in a pattern of chaos which was secondary to my dad’s alcoholism. We were all alert to the many pitfalls and dangers that the next hour and the next drink might present to us. And yet my mother was unflappable, at least on the surface. Her calm to weather the storm was the only thing that kept us afloat.
On quiet afternoons, I sat at her feet while she studied her KJV Bible and Science and Health with Key to Scriptures. In those moments, when all was peaceful and Dad was out of the house, I recall a sense that a spiritual dimension was alive and open, and that all that stood between us and being totally engulfed in the relieving arms of God were our own fear and hesitation at being drawn in so far that we could no longer pretend that we weren’t there. Since there would be consequences to doing that, the calm was always only temporary, just brief respite from future madness.
I had nightmares. Most of my dreams dealt with an imposing male presence. Hidden, shrouded. Not chasing, but following. Walking behind. I could walk, but not run. It should not catch me, but I would not escape.
If the walking stopped, that meant the presence was close, imminent. Bringing silence. Like my soul was drawing to a black hole whose void could swallow my whole existence.
In one dream, I was walking on a footpath surrounding a house beside a retaining wall of stone. Extending outward from the house beyond the retaining wall was a lovely lawn with a grove of redwoods nearby. There were iridescent-winged insects sweetly singing, and sweeping through the bright light filtered overhead, which dappled the stones along the path. Mossy rocks and trickling waters supplied unnatural calm to the space.
I turned my gaze toward the house. The bay windows of the house were open to the receive the light from outside but the rooms were dim and unoccupied. It looked cold and lonely inside. The outside was as alive as the house within was dead.
Beneath the shadow of the eaves, between a great window and side door, stood my father, against the wall of the house facing outward, standing at attention like an undead beefeater. He was taller than usual, clad in black, his eyes grey and lifeless and his skin green and pallid. He took no notice of me, and yet I appreciated malice. I was not welcome. I should not wish to explore his heart.
At Sunday School, a teacher taught us a simple rhyme: “There is no spot where God is not.” This truth, this one solitary thing about God, this reality that He existed, He was everywhere — even in my nightmares — was the thing that began the journey of the soul of this little boy to Our Lord.
“There is no spot where God is not,” rang in my heart like the clarion call of an angelic host. It cleared the fog that framed my fear. I could whisper or shout in my dreams, I could think the words, and they always broke every power seeking me. God filled me with a comfort that I could not explain and did not know in any other aspect of my life.
God alone delivered me — from my dysfunction, from my fear, and from my father. God was my Father. I could face my dreams, and my life. God became the One who accompanied me, the One who delivered me from evil (and was never the source of it). The One who could save me from ruin.
I have experienced enough judgment and pain in my own life, but I have never known a God who judges more than He loves. “God is Love” was printed on the back wall of the main hall of the Christian Science church we attended. There wasn’t much else I understood about God for many years, until I came to the Man who is God upon the Cross.
For a four or five-year-old boy, “God is Love” and “There is no spot where God is not” is profound theology. In fact, it worked a miracle. It saved me. God followed me even into my dreams, and He drew me away from myself, over and over again.
Thank you, Lord. You are so good.