The Hour I First Believed
Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Creation of Adam (detail of the Cappella Sistina), 1508-12
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound; That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found; Was blind, but now I see
T'was grace that taught my heart to fear; And grace my fear relieved
How precious did that grace appear; The hour I first believed.
What’s your earliest memory?
I remember the moment my grandmother left this world when I was 8. I remember watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on television on my 7th birthday and knowing innately I was watching history unfold. I remember getting chills listening to Whitney Houston perform ‘One Moment in Time’ at the Summer Olympics when I was 6 and imagining all the great things I might do in my life. I remember learning the truth about Santa when I was 5 and hiding on the stairs to wait for him to come down the chimney only to discover it was my father putting together my toys (and cursing up a storm). I remember being rushed to the hospital by Miss Jennifer in preschool because I had fallen and needed stiches on my chin (the first of several wounds of this ilk). And more than a year before that, I recall falling off a second story balcony at Lake Arrowhead and the piercing sound of my mother’s scream as I neared the ground. Spoiler alert, I was fine and yes, I was clumsy AF, but that’s beside the point.
While many are impressed that I’m able to vividly remember so much of my childhood, I’m much more confounded by the one thing that I can’t remember—the hour I first believed. I can recall moments in my childhood when that faith was questioned, and even more profoundly, moments when that faith was strengthened, but I can’t remember a single moment when I didn’t yet believe in God.
On a rational level, I know it’s impossible to have been born with faith, but in some ways, that’s precisely how it feels since I can’t locate a single memory that predates my faith. Undoubtedly the nuances of that faith have evolved and matured from the naivete of a bratty little blonde singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ horrifically out of key in Sunday School to the complex relationship of an adult who must reconcile the paradoxes of faith and the—sometimes overwhelming—task of believing in a God who would allow so much suffering in this world. In spite of this, my steadfast belief in an ungraspable God has not waned, but rather, flourished.
As I’ve matured, I repeatedly found myself in opposition with the Catholic Church on important issues and struggled to reconcile many of the problematic paradoxes. This has led me to a place where I still identify as Catholic, but I view faith (spirituality) and religion as interrelated but separate. I’ve come to view religion as the (highly flawed) structure for rituals in the service of praise and worship—and I’ll admit that many of the rituals that shaped my practice of faith as a child still remain highly important to me in adulthood. However, my beliefs and relationship with God, though supported by this structure, are also fully independent of it.
Kimsooja, To Breathe – A Mirror Woman (2006) at the Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Retiro, in Madrid
“I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.” —C.S. Lewis
I still feel the presence of—and deep connection with—God in a gorgeous Catholic Church, but I also seek and find the Divine while on long quiet walks, when watching the sun rise or set, and in ritual engagement with aesthetic experience. Prayer isn’t limited to kneeling in church, but constantly interwoven into daily life. And unlike my younger self who used to pray in earnest to God for something I wanted dearly to be granted to me (a toy, an event, an opportunity) – essentially relegating the Divine to a wish-granting genie and making it all about me, my wants and my needs, when in fact it should be the opposite. My prayers are now about being still (in spirit), surrendering to awe and wonder, and bringing an offering that is perhaps best encapsulated by the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns:
‘Here I am Lord, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me.” —Dan Schutte (based on Isaiah 6:8 and Samuel 3:4)