I’ve come to a point in my life where I have realized a very deep truth about my own life.
The cynicism, apathy, and lethargy that I picked up and thought was so cool in high school never was, never has been, and never will be.
I’m not sure where it started. Sometime around the age of fourteen, following me on through the rest of high school, on through the the first not one, but not two, but three failed attempts at college before I finally got my damn act together and decided to go back at the age of twenty-three (four years later, baby, and I’m graduating with B.S. in business administration in three weeks!). I suppose that the twenty-third year was when my cynicism and apathy begin to break. There was beginning to form in my mind the spark of an idea, that life was actually, really, very important. This was punctuated by the loss of my younger cousin in a car crash. She was just sixteen.
I realized that life was short. That death wasn’t just something that happened to the old. And as much as I loved this young woman who I considered my spiritual sister (oh, the conversations the two of us had! She was so wise for her age!), I also realized that this truly meant that none of us are ever, EVER, EVER guaranteed a tomorrow.
I dove into philosophy, finding that I especially loved the work of Plato. I read books about Buddhism. I studied world religions. I stopped moping around over that ex-girlfriend that dumped me and dared to love again. And I met an old friend again for the first time: Jesus Christ. Having been raised southern Baptist in a pretty fundamentalist church, I had gotten pretty sick of the hell-and-brimstone brand of “only us Christians are getting into heaven” brand of Christianity I had grown up with. It had little appeal for me, as I had obviously realized that there were so many good, beautiful, kindhearted people in the world who simply weren’t Christians, whether they were Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, Muslims. Whatever the case, how could an ever-loving god send all of these people who he created to hell? Something just didn’t add up.
My disgust with Christianity grew even more when a certain preacher preached at my great-grandmother’s funeral and made the entire thing an attempt to guilt-trip the unsaved who might be at the funeral home that night. “Now, not all of you will get into heaven to see Granny again.” His exact words, when some of us, myself included, were at our most vulnerable. I also couldn’t shake the image of a kind hearted but undoubtedly hellhound Hindu grandmother, doing exactly the same sorts of things for her grandchildren that my great-grandmother had done for me and my cousins: watching over us while our parents worked; cooking us meals; hosting all those holiday dinners and serving as the matriarch of a clan of adoring family.
As the stars aligned in my twenty-third year, I stumbled into the work of liberal Christian theologians such as Matthew Fox, Michael Dowd, John Shelby Spong, Paul Tillich, Karen Armstrong, and others. At the urging of an older cousin, I began to attend a small Episcopal Church where I met a cool middle aged priest who reminded me of George Harrison and who, unlike the preachers I had known growing up, seemed to be more interested in listening to what I had to say, no matter how unorthodox, than in telling me why I was wrong and why I needed to change my opinions or suffer a terrible eternal fate.
My eyes were opened to a version of Christianity I had never known. Here was a form of worship whose ancient liturgy was older than even the oldest “Old Time Religion” we had sung about in the Baptist church I grew up and which seemed shrouded in a sacred darkness. The first time I partook of the Eucharist, I had the epiphany that at this table, all people were equal, regardless of their socio-economic status, an increasingly radical notion.
And here was a God whose very being was, first and foremost, love. Whose joy over his creation and whose love for ALL of his creation knew no bounds. Whose grace could heal any spiritual wound even there were no easy answers and whose capacity for aiding the growth of human potential was unperturbed by even the hardest of questions. This was a God that I could believe in, that I could get excited about, that I could serve by serving my fellow man. This was a God who I felt represented the best of who we are as human beings while giving us an exalted idea toward which to chart our evolutionary progress as a species.
This was a God who would let both my Granny and that dear little Hindu grandmother of my mind’s eye join in his kingdom, and who would go out of his way to make sure that they were both equally happy there, whose infinite creativity could work through the souls of both women to make sure that they were both at home in his heaven.
And most of all, this was a God who could kill my cynicism dead in its tracks and replace it with a joy that was only a brief prayer and a moment of meditation away. A God who could help me through even the toughest of life’s storms by giving me a point upon which to focus, and more importantly, a spiritual awakening that has led me to believe that no matter what happened, has happened or will happen: I am loved.
We are loved. Everyone. And everything. And when you really stop and stop thinking, and just feel the experience of being truly and completely alive: you’ll know. There is nothing. Nothing. Nothing to fear. Ever. Except for fear, and the cynicism within ourselves and others that drives us to fear and to doubt the existence of the divinity that each of us hold within us and that was especially present in a poor carpenter from Nazareth two thousand years ago.
I know that in writing this pure testimony of my personal faith, the first time I’ve ever completely told the story of how I became a self-described Christian universalist, there will be non-believers who will call my journey illogical, unreasonable, or irrational. That is fine. I am also aware that there may be those Christians who will say that my universalist beliefs are heretical to Christian tradition or the Bible or what-have-you. But I am not claiming to be right. How arrogant that would be. I am merely telling my story. This is where I am. And this is how I got here.
Whatever your path, may we all meet up a little further on down the road.