“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:14
My first experience with God was simple.I was a teenager. I was unhappy. I remember being pervasively unhappy and dissatisfied with who I was. I hated myself, and because of that, I hated my life. That kind of misery was enough for me to truly desire change. I had been going to Wednesday night church, mainly for social reasons, and nothing had happened that was of particular significance to me in a sermon, or during a song. One night, when I was 16 years old and alone in my bedroom, I dropped to my knees in desperate prayer. I didn’t hear anything, there was no God voice, and I didn’t feel a chill of some spirit passing through me. It was quiet, and I was begging. I begged God to open me up. I knew I was missing some profound truth about myself and my place in this world and I knew I needed Him to start me on a path that I was oblivious to. So I cried, begged, and pleaded. That was it. Then I began to constantly journal, pray, and study the bible along with other Christian inspired books. I specifically remember a book called Blue Like Jazz that really stirred me. I was an empty vessel when it came to my knowledge of God, with only one direct resource, a Baptist church. And that is where God met me, and our journey began.
This was one of the most genuine experiences I’ve ever had. After that, literally, immediately after that, I was different. The next day, my motives weren’t for approval, but I was hungry to know and understand a God that was living in and through me. I became sincerely dissatisfied with seeking the approval of others and yearned to find my true purpose. It was obvious to everyone around me I had changed.
This is the single most important thing that has ever happened to me.
At the time, I called it Salvation, meaning I accepted Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God who died for me. I took that very serious, and it was clear that it awoke something in me. After a few years of being in church, something happened. I began to change again.
This is the single most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me.
I’m not sure when exactly the transition started or what spurred it on, but I recall after several months of living a very fundamental Christian lifestyle, I was back to feeling unsatisfied. I lost sight of something, and although I was doing everything right—living the Christian life—and making sure everyone around me was going to heaven, it all started to seem empty and contrived. I didn’t feel the conviction that the values and strict religious expectations I had instilled on myself was the true antidote to my longing. It was about something else, and I was missing it. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to figure it out. I also felt the church and people I had surrounded myself with were also missing it.
Simply stated, I felt I was claiming to know God, but didn’t actually know Him, or Him me.
This was truly far more complex than I could ever explain. I would cry for hours after church, and hours at night in prayer. I felt like something was trying to come out of my skin, but I couldn’t let it because I didn’t know what it was and that seemed too dangerous. So I did what a lot of people do when they get to this point in religious practice, I walked away.
I know now it isn’t a real possibility to walk away from God, but the rules I had been playing by didn’t apply anymore, so I gave up the game all together. When the inevitable pain of being separated completely from God returned, so did the shameful consequences of my behavior. I’d then offer up an earnest prayer and spend a few days studying, trying to stay focused on doing the “godly thing” and being a good Christian. Then I’d fall back into a apathetic and numb place.
This was my dark night of the soul.
This was all very terrifying because I didn’t know where God was leading me and it all seemed unsafe and against everything I had come to believe. I believe God puts the life in front of you that He wants you to have. We just rarely follow because we expect it to look a certain way and if it doesn’t look the way we assumed it would, we say “Well that’s not God’s will; that can’t be what God wants, it’s suppose to look like this…” Fundamentalist religion leaves very little space to question and wonder about the terrain that is this life, the life laid before us.
I believed that God was in everything, but I didn’t live that way, refusing to go in the darkest corners of my life.
A series of things were placed before me: I first read a book called There is Nothing Wrong With You by a Buddhist nun named, Cheri Huber. It challenged many of my fundamentalist views in an insightful way, helping me to see that they were no longer fitting into the life God was laying before me. My strict views of good and bad, heaven and hell, saved and unsaved had been blurred and running together for some time. Now, I finally began to get honest about the lack of validity and relevance these divisions had in my life. I had a renewed sense of self that became familiar with uncertainty, and I started to rest in and in spite of the unknown. I felt God telling me I was equally a sinner and a saint, like Herman Hesse talked about in Siddhartha. This gave me a profound sense of confidence and compassion. I began studying Buddhist meditation and Christian meditation. I attended several Christian classes for meditation called Centering Prayer. I discovered writings by Thomas Merton. I went away for a 10 day silent retreat to study a Buddhist form of meditation called Vipassana. I met someone who was able to talk to me about my experiences with meditation in the language that was my first love—Christianity—while still challenging me to go further.
At this point, I had not reconciled my beliefs in anyway. I still prayed to God, but it was less clear to whom I was praying and what I was praying for. Meditation became much more important than prayer. In the past, my prayer consisted of me telling God what I needed from Him, who I thought he was, and what I would do for Him.
Meditation is silence and silence, according to Fr. Thomas Keating, is God’s language.
In silence nothing is needed from me. I realized that the presence I would experience in this silence is what I had always referred to as God. God was there, not telling me who He was, but letting me experience Him.
Thomas Merton said “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” I had been twisting God up for years. I had been telling Him who he was, and I think the norm for Christian society in today’s world is to do just that. We tend to think that God matches the image we have of ourselves. My Christian beliefs do not look like those of this world, not in the least. I’d even say most modern Christians wouldn’t consider me a Christian, and I don’t necessarily call myself one either. That used to be a scary thing for me. But time and time again God has proven to me that I am on the path I’m supposed to be on.
Meditation gave me a whole new meaning of salvation and introduced me to Christ. Jesus was my first love, but I believe the purpose of both his life and his death was to point to the existence of God in every living being.
I am a Christ, just like Jesus. “I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me,” Paul writes in Galatians 2:20. Jesus lived and died to show me who I was and he did this by being who he was. He died unto himself so that Christ could live uninhibited.
God’s promise to me is the fulfillment of Himself, through Christ within a surrendered me.
This means more to me than I could ever explain in an article. It is what I strive to practice daily. My point in writing this is Christianity didn’t show me this truth. God led me down a different path because I believe today’s understanding of Christ lacks true depth for a lot of people. It has proven time and again to be insufficient for people’s desire to know and be known by God. That doesn’t mean that faith itself is false. In fact, my experience proved for me that it was very real and very relevant, but needed redefining.
My “church” is now the Refuge Meditation Group. I never thought I’d find people I could share this story with who could relate. I also never thought I’d find a group that I could grow together in these truths. I am eternally grateful for the members of this group who regularly allow me to show them who I truly am — dark corners and all — and don’t flinch at the sight of it.
The Refuge Meditation Group meets every Wednesday night at 7pm for a discussion and practice at 622 Jordan Street in Shreveport, Louisiana.