Every day for the last month, I have awakened at dawn to attend morning mass at a peaceful little church called near Lake Hopatcong called Saint Jude’s. Not many attend, but the same few that do have gotten to know each other by masked face at least.
We sit scattered about the church, socially distant but somehow connected…and await the Pastor to begin the ceremony. There is no music, so the power of the spoken words fills the near vacant church with its timeless meaning. When mass is over, we say the rosary together from our remote places. I look forward each day to this, and often arrive early in my enthusiasm. One might not see anything remarkable here...except for the fact that a little over a month ago, I had not willingly set foot in a church for decades, and wanted nothing to do with religion!
2020 was a hard year for everybody. Many of us have had more time alone with our thoughts than ever before. Like so many others I’m sure, my own thoughts often led to evaluations of my own life and behaviors. Originally brought up Roman Catholic, but opening my mind to science, mysticism, Eastern beliefs, and pure pragmatism, I created a patchwork system of beliefs which could effectively be called my own private religion. But as I came to realize, I was not adapting my behavior to this “belief system” - I was adapting my belief system to my behavior! I was rationalizing on a grand scale, and allowing myself to go morally unchecked. By the last week of 2020, I could not deny it... I didn’t like what I saw. And just like Scrooge, my transformation began the day before Christmas.
I started by comparing my own lifetime of choices and behaviors up against the best moral guideline I could recall from my distant days in Sunday School - the “7 deadly sins,” namely Pride, Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust and Wrath. I started realizing I had committed all these sins countless times in my life, with increasing frequency - and I simply changed my beliefs to make them acceptable behavior. The more I recalled my past, the more the transgressions came to light. I was filled with remorse. I desired to make changes, but I didn’t know where to start. I reached back in my own mind to try and remember when I lived free of these sins. The answer came quickly – in a vision of my 12-year old self saying my prayers each night before bed. It’s the last time I remember feeling truly accountable for my behavior.
I was brought up in a family with 2 aunts that were nuns, an uncle that was a priest, and at least 3 other relatives that carried around rosary beads with them. I went to Catholic Middle School and a Catholic College. I was surrounded by religion. Yet, I was also strongly drawn to science. Around age 13, I read Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and it lit my mind up like a torch. This continued through college, where I majored in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Math and a concentration in Physics. I also started reading about other belief systems - New Age, Buddhism, and even Wiccan. I tried to understand how all these things fit together with science. There could not be multiple truths. I started working on a way to unite them.
I came to imagine “God” as the infinite sum of all consciousness and energy. But my definition of consciousness did not only include the obvious life forms…man, animals, insects. It went deeper. Because single cells were also conscious, if even at a “lower” level than humans. Atoms themselves also seemed conscious, actively creating all matter in a never-ending dance of energy which might very well transcend other dimensions. But what of consciousness higher than us? Spirits, multi-dimensional beings, aliens? Surely even the Earth itself had to have some level of awareness – containing all the properties and the elements of life. And what of the stars, planet systems, galaxies? I became aware that humans might be only “tuned in” to a narrow band of consciousness… like tuning into a single radio station, unaware that a whole spectrum of consciousness exists. And the force that connects and actively orchestrates all this in all space and time according to its “scientific” design could be called “God,” aka The Universal Mind. It was an elegant vision, and it fit well with all religions and science as well - but without the restrictive rules or dogma. I moved on with my life, feeling I had all the answers.
Well, this worked conceptually for so many years, but somehow it was bringing me absolutely no comfort in my room alone on that Christmas Eve, as I lamented my own clear departure from morality. “God” seemed very cold and indifferent. I had lost all accountability. I no longer felt like I “had all the answers.” I found myself wishing some higher lifeform or spirit would intercede and give me some guidance and perspective. But a lifeform higher than us would likely have no way of communicating directly, any more than we would be able to communicate with an insect, a cell, or an atom. To do that, we would need to create a new version of an insect that they could interact with. Or alter a cell to affect other cells. Or launch a particle to affect other particles. But we DO this. A realization began to take form. Maybe this already happened. Maybe we were visited by a consciousness greater than ourselves, introducing us to the God Mind in a way we could understand, and teaching us the ways to nurture this connection. Maybe this happened 2000 years ago…in the form of a man.
I started realizing that the parables of the Bible and the prayers and practices of Catholicism contained much more than I ever gave them credit for. True, they don’t speak of galaxies or atoms or other dimensions – but probably because they were designed to teach fishermen and shepherds two millennia ago! By that logic, “God the father” makes perfect sense in describing an infinite consciousness, just as the “Holy Spirit” perfectly describes our own connection that binds us to it. And how would this best be conveyed to us? By the “Son of God.” I kept digging deeper and started realizing that the more I looked, the more concepts made sense. Morality was everywhere - guides for deepening our connection to God and all those around us. I had fallen away from Catholicism because I found the stories to be childish, but I missed the point of them completely. I faulted my religion based on the unfortunate men who sinned themselves, and those who used religion to control people over the ages…but I didn’t look at all the good that came from those that truly understood and embraced it.
So yes, like Scrooge, on Christmas, I had my transformation. I acutely felt the presence of Jesus enter my life. It is a warm and wonderful presence, but it also commands respect and humility. It allowed me to abandon pride, and be part of something bigger than my own thoughts. I still feel the temptation of sin, but by starting every day with prayer, I am committing to fight that, and to become a better person. It’s a month later, and the feeling keeps growing stronger every day. I can’t say all the details of organized religion make sense to me, but I can see the results, and they are very real. I don’t feel alone and lost anymore. I have accountability again, and it feels great. Every time I say the prayers I once mouthed mindlessly, I focus more and more on what they mean, and the words become more potent and transformative. I do not yet understand a fraction of what is preached at mass, or what all the Bible readings mean – but I know now that the meaning is in there to be found. In time, I know I will keep uncovering truth, and becoming a better me.
And what of the concept of Jesus returning? It certainly seems like a good time for it. Maybe the old stories need a new telling. Maybe this generation needs Him more than ever, and He will actually return during our lifetime. Maybe this is why this happened to me now. I think it may be happening to others too. I’ve already heard a few other similar stories to my own in just the last month. If you share similarities to any part of my story, but have not yet reached the same conclusion, I hope this will be of some help to you. If you were confused as a child by Sunday School, there is no reason you cannot look back as an adult. If you once had only criticism and skepticism, there is still room for hope and faith. It feels a lot better, I promise you that! And to die-hard cynics, I can only say this: If there really is a force of Evil out there as well, it would only have to be a little bit smarter than you to fool you into believing whatever it wanted. That’s the real danger of personal religion. I found out that the hard way.
If I start seeing more people in the pews around me every day, I will know that I did my part in conveying possibly the most important message of our time...Christianity is real. Even if you just choose to live by the example of Christ, and love all around you, your life will get better. But I personally feel the truth goes much deeper than just that. If you once turned away, now may be the time to look back. If you never knew about it, it’s not too late to learn. And if that happens, I’ll guess I’ll see you in church. Peace.