My Story II: Edited again on 6/11/06
I listened to a tape last week from Orthodox Christian Cassettes about sharing one’s story of becoming Christian and/or Orthodox. I’ve been doing some thinking about this, because I think my own story needs to be shortened and made into a better soundbite — the last time I tried telling someone my story, I just about put her to sleep.
Here’s my most recent version.
When I was a child, my family was Presbyterian, but we weren’t really religious, so to speak, about going to church or doing any other religious things. As a teenager, Christianity began to seem less and less, well, hip, and also less than intellectually respectable. In my twenties I went on a huge Buddhist binge, reading everything about Zen Buddhism and trying to figure out how I could be just a little Buddhist without, you know, sitting in painful positions for long periods of time. :-) For a while, I was really, really into the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). They totally Spoke to My Condition. At one point, Unitarianism attracted me. I also had a bunch of Tarot decks and tiptoed over the edge with some mystical groups and Gnostic stuff. I also lurked on some paganism discussion groups on the web. I did have one particular experience with meditation that scared me, but mostly, I kept the ‘occult’ stuff at an arm’s length. Finally, at last, in my thirties, I thought that I’d found It. Judaism seemed to have everything I wanted. I liked the intellectual approach and I also liked the mystical strains that you see in Hasidism and neo-Hasidic groups. I loved the customs and respect for Tradition. Observing Shabbat was like having that warm Christmas-y feeling come around every single week. Judaism. It had to be the answer. I converted.
But. I can’t really articulate what it, in the end, lacked. Uhm, besides Jesus. Which is, in the end, the same as saying Besides Everything a Person Needs, right? :-) Anyway. I needed more hope. Forgiveness. I needed to see more people practicing what they preached. I was abashed to admit to myself that I needed something different.
The fact that I have been such a gadabout is a tad embarrassing. I guess you could say I was just trying to make sense of the world. The main thing for me throughout most of this time was that I couldn’t believe in Christianity, and belief seemed like a pretty important part of the whole Christian thing.
Finally, as I felt more and desperately that I hadn’t yet found the Truth that would set me free (I know it’s a cliche, but man, does it fit here!), I began to consider Christianity again. It’s a little weird. I make collages sometimes and at this point I became obsessed with the equal-armed (sometimes called Greek) cross. It kept coming up in my work. I felt it was the perfect symbol. Aesthetically. :-) But then I began to wonder if God was planting the cross in my brain for some reason, you know? Anyway, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I also was getting these nostalgic feelings about my childhood church and around this time I went on a healing retreat sponsored by Roman Catholics which I found fascinating and very helpful. All of this made me more kindly disposed toward Christianity. I began to flirt with certain ideas — for example, Christianity seemed like it could be practiced in a very ethically pure way (it’s not only the perfect self-help program, but if you do it right, you help others, too) and also that the sacraments and rituals of traditional Christianity (confession, for example) were incredibly helpful psychologically. It began to look like there were Christians who could teach me something. Finally (duhh) I thought to ask God for help. I said, Okay, Big Guy, if I’m meant to be Christian, it would be very helpful to actually believe in the tenets of Christianity. I could use some help here. Now.
And Reader, it worked. Sheesh. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? I’m a pretty independent cuss, and I guess you could say that asking for help doesn’t exactly come naturally.
Well. Once I found out that I could believe and that I did believe, in a matter of months I worked my way through Episcopalianism (it seemed appropriately liberal — but then, once I was in it — yikes! sure it was inclusive, but it all seemed too…weak, I guess…watered down) and Roman Catholicism (warm and cozy, but it just didn’t seem right…again, watered down and well, shifty-eyed, in a way. I know that sounds nuts, but there you are). I didn’t go back to the Quakers because the range of beliefs encompassed by the Friends seemed so broad (I really wanted to be in worship with people who pretty much believed the same stuff I did) and also I just felt I had to go back further, to get closer to the earliest form of Christianity I could find. I didn’t want a spinoff of a spinoff. I had heard of Orthodoxy, but it seemed far too exotic (those guys with their long beards and weird hats!) and also, somehow I’d heard that becoming Orthodox would mean I wouldn’t have to get my first marriage annulled in order to take communion and that seemed like the easy way out. I didn’t want to become Orthodox because it was easier, for goodness’ sake! (I know, I know, I hear you laughing) So I put Orthodoxy off to the side. And kind of forgot about it. I figured, well, maybe Catholicism is it and tried to buckle down and take the bull by the horns and see if I couldn’t buy into it. Uhm. So to speak. But one day, the day before I was to talk to a Catholic priest about starting the process of getting my first marriage annulled (which you can initiate before you become Catholic, cuz it takes forever and is a royal pain), I met a Greek Orthodox priest in the library where I was working. And he didn’t seem too exotic at all. He seemed, despite the cassock, pretty much like a regular American guy. And he sort of exuded, I don’t know, this very Christian vibe. This sort of God-loves-you feeling poured off the guy. And he seemed so at peace. And smart.
So I hit the books and the Net. Orthodoxy made sense. And hey, it really was the first church! So tried services at that priest’s church the next Sunday. And yes, it was odd at first. But there was something about it…it felt a little bit like the worship services in my Traditional Jewish shul, actually…and it felt like Home. I kept coming back, and everything I found subsequently discovered about Orthodoxy affirmed my initial gut reaction.
So here I am.
All that said, let me just add that an Orthodox friend once said this to me: We know where God IS; we don’t know where God ISN’T. Which is to say, I don’t know why there are so many religions, and why most of them seem to have at least some of the Truth. I don’t know what God’s up to. But I must say, I really do think he’s outdone himself with His Church. :-)
(the picture? That’s an onion dome in Portland, Oregon — read all about it)