Sunlight Through Stained Glass

Posted on August 12, 2011 by

Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning…
– C.S. Lewis

I was not raised to become a heathen, though I became one. When I was young, my upbringing straddled two denominations. Monday through Friday, I was an Episcopalian. I studied with priests, recited the Nicene Creed, and generally imbibed traditional creedal Episcopalianism. My school was excellent and not perverted with modernism and everything to everybody mushiness. On Sundays, though, I was Presbyterian. The private school I attended notwithstanding, my father had joined the Presbyterian Church upon marrying my mother. There were no creeds. I had to remember to say “debts” and “debtors” rather than “trespass” and “trespass against us.” Otherwise, I did not appreciate any differences. I did not question.

Then, as my teen years hit full force and I entered public school, I became a full-fledged Presbyterian and slowly began to nurture doubt. I do not blame this on the Presbyterian Church, though I still find the relatively free-wheeling services and general gloominess of the religion to be less than inspiring. Nonetheless, I did not feel it. I did not feel the grace. I did not feel as bad as I was confessing to be. The overt enunciation of the theory of predestination honestly scared me. What if I was not chosen? What if all my failings were a sign of my being predestined for Hell?

Self-assured teenage logic took over. Rationally, how could any intelligent person believe that which was being sold on Sunday mornings? How could thinking adults devote themselves to mystery and a ghost in the sky? Ergo, I became an atheist. Moreover, I was angry about it. I proselytized. I had logic and rational thought on my side; my opponents had blind faith. Logic and rational thought obviously beat blind faith.

Thus I proceeded. I laughed at silly religious types and their superstitions. I had the answers. I had science, they had dogma.

Then I realized I was not that smart. I may have had science, but science is not infallible. How could I, with my limited human breadth of knowledge, really know how things came to be? Could I really say with certainty that I could conceive the origins of the universe, that which sparked something from nothing? Ergo, I became agnostic.

Thus I proceeded. I no longer mocked my religious brothers and sisters. None of us had the real answers. I had the intelligence to know that I could not know, they were less modest.

Then I became a parent. I realized that my foundation was built on rock and that my churches had provided that rock. Still I did not feel. The wife, being more humble, had never relented when I the atheist had argued against her lackadaisical faith. The wife, being able to ignore much that should be ignored, had not noticed when I the atheist became I the agnostic. Most likely, she just quietly enjoyed the extra peace that came from having one less soapbox cluttering the living room.

Thus I found myself amenable to her suggestions that we find a church. We could start with the Episcopal parish close to our house. We knew the priest from his various sectarian endeavors, as well as a number of the parishioners. So one Sunday we got up, got dressed, and headed out.

On this inaugural Sunday, the man who would become my priest spoke forcefully against always turning the other cheek. He spoke out against blind charity. “God did not command us to be little lambies. He commanded us to be lions.”

A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.
– C.S. Lewis

Thus the knock at the door grew louder. Rationally, I had come to the conclusion that the realm of man did not encompass the entirety of life, nor could its conclusion be final. I had opened myself up to the possibility that my youthful beliefs were not folly, but truth. Still I did not feel the joy, the truth. Possibility had overtaken my logical mind, it had not overtaken my heart. Could it be mere coincidence that on my first Sunday in church, the first in many years, the sermon collided perfectly with my feelings that religion had often been perverted for political ends, that those who live solely in the Kingdom of Caesar had appropriated Christian teachings for sectarian ends?

Was it instead providence?

I continued ahead, rising every Sunday morning and heading out the door. Nonetheless, in many ways, I felt like a liar. I took the Eucharist in hope. I said the prayers as a shell. I was the most disingenuous member of the congregation. Belief was growing, but I could not honestly say I had faith.

Every Sunday morning, before the service, I would pull out the kneeler and pray. I did not pray to be a better husband. I did not pray to be a better father. I did not pray for the world. I did not pray for loftiness.

At least not directly.

Rather, I prayed to feel. “Dear Lord – I have come to believe, but I still do not feel you in my life. I do not experience You as others do. I believe that I have opened my heart, yet I still find it devoid of your grace. Please, Lord, allow me to feel. Please, Lord, bless me with faith.”

I do not have a date for which this ended. The moment when I found my faith joined me with permanence. Time is immaterial. Faith does not abide time; faith exists outside of human constructs. To move beyond this willful blindness, I merely had to open my eyes.

As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.
-C.S. Lewis

I prayed my prayer on a cloudy Sunday morning. I finished, raised my head, and opened my eyes. At that moment, the sun emerged from behind the clouds but for a moment and came pouring through the stained glass, across the altar. In that moment, I rediscovered my faith. I had been looking for grand gestures and ignoring the sunlight, the sunlight which had always been right in front of me waiting to spill through stained glass and awaken my senses to eternal love. Providence is not to be ignored.

Thus I proceed, keenly aware of my failings and the source of true strength. My path is rocky and I must keep my eyes trained such that I do not wander off it. Some days are more successful than others. Yet I persist; I no longer have to pray to feel. The feeling has been awakened and attained its rightful position in permanence. Now I pray to earn the blessings which I have been given. It is difficult, it is joyful, it is the rock upon which a life worth living is built.

Repentance means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into… It means killing part of yourself, under-going a kind of death.
-C.S. Lewis

Posted in: Religion