Friday, 23 January 2015

I was brought up...

Originally posted to Facebook 8th May 2014.
This is part one of a two part series. The second part is: Pursuing Faith.
I was brought up as an evangelical Christian and had many spiritual experiences, experiences of God, as I was growing up. When I got to university my faith became a social impediment and I determined to become an atheist. And I succeeded. However, I still wanted to be spiritual and to explain the spiritual experiences of my youth.

At Cambridge university I was surrounded by many wealthy, and as I saw it at the time, self-interested people. I fell in with a bunch of local hippies, whose lives were in stark contrast to the people around me. (Assuredly I judged those around me too harshly, they were young and ambitious and merely trying to find their own way as you do at that age. But still.) The hippies had no interest in money, and shared their lives and homes with each other. At the same time I was friends with members of the FWBO (Friends of the Western Buddhist Order), a Buddhist community based in Cambridge, and I learned to meditate.

The hippie lifestyle was enormously appealing to me. The promise of free love, drugs, spirituality and genuine friendship. Unfortunately I just couldn't do it. I was too bound up in myself, and my injudicious and frequent ingestion of LSD left me further isolated and damaged. Skipping huge swathes of the story, I ended up homeless having destroyed my relationships with my family and just about everyone else. I had nothing. Especially not hope. I couldn't communicate with anyone, all I had inside was a raging emptiness.

Through the help of my father I ended up at New Creation Farm, a community house of the Jesus Fellowship. I certainly wasn't a Christian, if anything I was a confused Buddhist. However, I knew one thing. If I *chose* to believe in Christianity, true or not, I could experience the love of God and I could find emotional and mental healing. And that was my only hope for any kind of future. So that's what I did.

And true enough, over the next few years I found God in prayer and worship. I found life, pure love, and a path to healing. What I also found in the community lifestyle was brotherhood. A people who accepted me for who I was, who loved me, and who believed in something together. Who were fighting for something. And this was a big part of my healing. We have a song that expresses it very well:

Let us open up ourselves to one another,
Without fear of being hurt or turned away,
For we need to confess our weakness,
To be covered by our brothers' love,
To be real and find our true identity.

There's nothing quite like the experience of opening yourself up to people, all your worst fears and shames, and finding only love and acceptance.

Despite this, finding mental healing took a long time. About six years before I felt like I'd found anything approaching normality. Much of that time was spent in a fair degree of pain. A mental pressure that I couldn't escape and that I was always aware of. Having to go through that difficulty, having to endure despite the unbearableness of it all, built character in me like nothing else could. If there's any strength, any goodness, any compassion in me now, it's because of what I went through.

Fast forward a few years. I taught myself to program and became a software developer. I'm married and I have a three year old daughter. I have a job that allows me to work from home, I'm still part of the church (although no longer in Community I'm part of the wonderful community of the Jesus Fellowship), and I get to travel the world. A lucky man.

A couple of years or so ago I started meditating regularly again. In a fit of impending-fortyishness I gave up smoking (again) and started to get fit(ter).

And here's where it gets interesting. Despite being more assured of my faith than ever, those doubts that I acquired so willingly haven't just magically evaporated. I'm a scientific rationalist, a sceptic, by nature. This seems like an entirely sensible approach to a confusing but wonder-ful world. How does this square with my faith and my experiences of God? I wouldn't be being true to myself if I wasn't a Christian. I've seen the beauty of the heart of Jesus, a love so pure that to extol it as sacred and be blown away that this love extends to me is the only possible response. But really, it all seems a bit unlikely.

And so I seek God. If I'm going to base my life on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, that his love is stronger than death, then it damn well better be true. How is it even possible to know this, at the core of your being? I don't know. I do know that as I seek God, as I'm determined to reach his heart, whatever that means, I'm finding life. I'm finding strength. I'm finding that I'm changed, that I'm more able to really love people - and more convinced than ever that loving people is what I want to live for. That nothing else matters a damn. And I'm more aware of how far I fall from that astonishing purity I've glimpsed.

Jesus said seek and you will find. All I know is that if you come to God with a genuine heart you *can* find answers. I just have no idea how long it takes.

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