By John Rieping | Published 19 July 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
“I grew up in church. As a child, going to church felt natural. But recently, Christianity has been a hard ‘thing’ to swallow, if that makes sense. I noticed that you're probably Catholic ... Have you always been very spiritual, or did you have ‘bumps in the road’? How did you come to believe?” — An online reader
British author G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap... When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.”
Our very lives as young children rely on whether those who care for us are trustworthy, and whether they are or not we want them to be so. They may tell us God or Santa Claus exist and some of us accept this as truth initially, for we may not know either divinity or Santa personally but we know our parents. So we believe.
But times come when our child-like faiths quake, because we have learned the imperfection of our parents, ourselves, others, or life itself. A contradiction or unsatisfied question births one doubt or many. If no remedy is sought or found, our trust in what or who we’ve believed wavers or dies.
All who live beyond childhood must pass through this in some aspect of our beliefs. This is not because of lost innocence and ignorance, which are commonly blamed. Rather it is because children accept a world handed onto them by others and are not held responsible for what they’ve received. It is not so for adults.
The world may exist before us no less than for kids, but our understanding and response has become something we pay the price for. There is always a cost for convictions, and a higher one for having none at all.
As a child, was I interested in spiritual topics like angels, miracles, and so on? Yes, as well as equally fantastical ones like magic, unicorns, elves, dragons, and more — not to mention androids and alien life forms. Children tend to have a hunger for both clarity and possibilities.
Did I ever question the existence of God? I did. Repeatedly as a young child I’d imagine God did not exist and linger dizzily on the edge of that cliff staring at the ramifications. Yet I never jumped off.
Franciscan friar William of Ockham, England, proposed that, in the absence of certainty, a solution with the fewest assumptions should be favored. This “razor” of his remains popular with scientists to this day. And I have never leapt into atheism because I believed then and now that God is both the most rational and the simplest explanation for so much I have encountered and learned of existence.
Whether hard to swallow or not is irrelevant. In my experience, it is the simplest truths that are the most difficult to embrace. We often create complications instead as a labor-saving device.
My first major crisis of faith came around age 10 when I decided I didn’t want to join my family for Sunday morning Mass. I locked myself in the bathroom — the only lockable room.
My mother and sister pled with me through the door to no avail. So my dad said to leave me be. John may not be going that day, he said, but that didn’t mean the family wouldn’t. He herded my family out the door and I could hear our automobile start up and go.
At that moment, I reflected. I did not want to go to church. I had other activities I wished to persist in instead. But did I believe in God? I searched my depths and I did. Yet whether or not one believes in God, the consequence of that belief remains a choice. Thus came a point of decision: did I love God?
I did, and realized then I wanted to worship God — not because of family but out of love. So I unlocked the door and ran into the street, chasing after my family.
That would not be my only such rebellion, but resolving them has always involved a sincere search for answers, whether within or outside, and the choice to respond to what I uncovered.
The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word for “decision” (krisis) or “decide” (krinein). A crisis is a healthy and normal opportunity to grow in one’s convictions. Fear not.
By John Rieping | Published 5 July 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
“I would possess a host of lovely things, / But I am poor and such joys may not be. / So God who lifts the poor and humbles kings / Sent loveliness itself to dwell with me.”
— “Wealth,” by poet Joyce Kilmer, killed by a sniper while serving as a U.S. soldier in World War I
Whether boisterous or somber, patriotic holidays invite us to return for a time to the freshness of childhood and see anew the gifts of our communities and nation.
There may be homes beyond counting on this planet, but to toddlers theirs is the first to exist. Nearly seven billion humans live, but those in a babe’s family are to them the first. The morbid statistics of wars numb the mind and heart, but when someone you love as a child returns no more it is our first casualty.
Each child puts the world on trial.
First love, first kiss, etc. On and on a child explores the frontiers of existence until at last the world may seem tame or old, and the colors of our latest joy or grief sit upon or blend with layers of others on the painted canvas of our being, no longer innocent.
So holidays whisper to the aged soul, “Look here,” or, “Forget not.” Those who ignore the invitation fail to sip from an imperfect fountain of youth, for it is not the world that grows old as we live. We do.
In our daily lives, beauty smiles, truth speaks, and goodness gives. Let us not let darker encounters or the mere dullness of repetition blind us to such gifts. Be refreshed and thankful, at least on holidays.
But how much better if we fought to hold onto the best of a childhood spirit even as our energies unavoidably weaken.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged,” writes British author and journalist G.K. Chesterton. “They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.”
Jews and Christians believe in a Creator God who performed the work of creation and then rested — not out of necessity but out of love. This same God, we believe, repeatedly looked at what existed in this infant universe and declared it good and very good (Bereishit/Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).
Unlike us, I think God doesn’t tire of saying it either.
“Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony,” Chesterton mused. “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Therein lies a source of Christian hope, for we believe in a God who “makes all things new” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:5) — including us if we allow it. Though popular culture prefers to speak of being “wicked,” “bad boys,” or “naughty” as desirable, Christians recognize that innocence renewed means eyes reopened — to the goodness of the world and ourselves.
Of the many joys of existence, one we may forget yet so deeply long for is the knowledge that someone loves us no matter how predictable we may be in hurting ourselves and others.