I was 4 years old when I remember my first interaction with God. I was very scared at the time and feeling very powerless.
Remembering what my Nan had told me I gripped my hands together, and I prayed. I asked Jesus to help, to help me be brave and to help it stop. In my mind, I could see beautiful fields of green, flowers and animals with a man sitting there. He did not look like the anglo version I had been shown in pictures. But that didn't matter, I knew who it was. He asked me to come and sit. So under the covers of my blanket, hugging my rabbit tightly and squeezing my eyes shut just as tightly, I walked to him and sat. I knew somehow that God was here. He told me all about the animals and how loved they were. He told me it was okay I could sleep now, to lay down my head. So I did. I fell into the deepest slumber of calm and wonder.
There began the discovery that would last a lifetime; a cryptic riddle. Did "He" stop what was frightening me outside my room at the time? I don't think so. But, there's a big but here; when I asked for help, it always came. Every time. Without fail. Did it stop perceived terrible things from happening every time? No. Would answers, guidance and calm come every time? Yes. Were the actions of others stopped? Not always. This started a lifelong search on the discourse of free will, divine design and science. I never told Nan that his son didn't have blue eyes and blonde hair. But maybe we all have our own version. The other day my mother found poems I wrote as a child about my relationship with God. This friendship has been a constant in my life.
(Sidenote: I am using the word He because whilst I fight the suffocating patriarchal rule of hundreds of years, my experience of God is He. My understanding of mother is Her. I also have moments when I speak with God and right out of the pages of the book 'The Shack' Papa G is a woman cooking pancakes. We are so porous.)
As I grew up, I sometimes forgot to ask for help, until I was well and truly tangled and in the darkest of messes. My Nan once told me; if you feel distant from God, you're the one who moved. When I did call out, I was sometimes so tired from the fight, a pile of torn pieces, it was then I handed it over to God. In the surrender, the calm and answers would come. Forehead slap. Wouldn't you think when you have a calming trick up your sleeve known since toddlerdom, you would whip it out every time? Faith is no party trick or soothing blanket. It occurred to me in the last few years that intervention is a bit like a teacher telling a child the answers to a test. How do they learn if you do everything for them?
It occurs to me we indeed may be the sum of our collective choices as a species. Choices of our ancestors may have impacted our genetics, our sociological makeup and our DNA progression or regression. We may have very well created manipulated bacteria, atoms and technology for one purpose and ended with another unintended outcome. Our species most certainly has interrupted the lifespan of endangered humans and animals, along with botanical wonders of this planet.
The myriad of choices we fashioned under this umbrella of free will is all-encompassing and has self-imposed consequences. Choices are very, very important. As a child, we don't get many. Grown-ups need to teach their children well, and as a parent, I know this isn't an easy role. We bring these fresh little souls into the world. The gravity of the responsibility can be overwhelming, we are raising future adults, and our job is to teach them how to survive and how to be fair and how to be happy, how to forge ahead in times of difficulty and we need to give them the resources for life. I am so grateful my grandmother taught me the resource of faith.
I was going to need it.
When you sit in an office, and a surgeon tells you are more than likely not going to live long, life is never the same again. You question the very essence of your being, what does life really mean? You want to teach your children, hold them close and never break their hearts. But the fear is as giant as a building about to fall down and crush you. You see buildings are not frightening until you think one might fall.
An aneurysm is a sneaky taker of lives, and I know from experience that bleeding in one's brain isn't a pleasant experience. There are moments during this time that are etched into my soul like deep cracks in concrete. One was the surgeon conversation, the other was the realisation that I would be blind. No one told me I would be blind. No one insinuated I would be. But a solid inkling arose that I would be blind for a time. I threw a huge tantrum that day, my one and only. My Mum was there. She asked me not to think negatively, be positive. I told her to fuck off. My poor Mama. That had never happened before, and she held that space like a champion.
She stood there with me, I threw porcelain at the back wall. It wasn't my finest hour. I knew I would be blind. Think what you will, but I knew it to be true. As we sat down on the grass and picked up all the shards of cups and saucers ( we usually throw eggs when we are upset -family tradition), I prayed. Again, a calm came.
I remember the night vividly before my first operation with a house full of beautiful family and friends. Watching them interact made my heart ache so much because the stark reality was that this might be the last time I see them, a bit like a soldier about to go to war. It is a very unnatural psychological event. When everyone went to bed, I paced the grass, talking to God. I cried and told him how scared I was and how I wanted to be his miracle. I knew it was a big ask, but I would dedicate my life to writing about hope, I was doing deals. (It is a survival thing and very human thing to do- seems we cannot help ourselves.) In the nakedness of that moment, I felt the calm rise and warm me. It feels cliche to use these words, but for me, warmth, love and calm are the only words to describe grace and they are nowhere near adequate. I was guided to go to bed, sleep and all would be well in the end.
I kissed my children's heads and hugged them without frightening them, I had to get in a car and drive away with the thought of goodbye and see you soon rolled into one. I wrote letters to them. My fears went from where am I going if I do die? What if I actually do just become worm snacks and memories at special occasions- to -what is death? Will Travis give the kids the right guidance when their hearts are first broken? Would I be scarred for life? Would I wake up with my personality intact? No small fears. I kissed my husband goodbye and waved to him as I was rolled into a room and a needle put in my arm. How did I stay on the bed? Prayer. When fear knocked at the door, and faith answered; no one was there.
When I woke up from brain surgery, I knew they saved my life, but everything that could have gone wrong did; and I had no sight- completely blind, could not walk, was hooked up to everything possible in the ICU, and I was calm. The operation went south, and the surgeon had to cut into a deep part of the brain, in the process the nerve operating eyeballs was injured.
When I woke up and couldn't see, I did not panic. I was prepared. It was all going to be okay. I would walk again, and my sense of humour was better than ever. Can I explain to you how I knew? Not in a million years. But thanks to this calm, I could focus on recovery and not get stuck in the trauma. My thoughts were; I've never been blind before, so what can this teach me? I also knew my sight would be restored regardless of what the doctors said, there's that. I had a psychologist demand in rehab that I share my secret, where was all this positivity coming from? He was intrigued.
The second surgery 3 years later for an aneurysm much nastier and much more dangerous bought a different experience. This time there was a lack of reassurance coming about my ongoing existence here with my peeps. I did not know if I was going to be okay. In fact, every time I prayed, I got very clear its all in the air. Try that one on. Ouch. I had not dedicated my life to writing about hope. I had focussed on recovery and getting well, on life and living it to the max. I felt cheated. I did not want to go through all this again. Some people very close to me thought this was negative thinking, but seriously, regardless of my faith I knew in my heart my life was up in the air and then came the process of being okay with this process.
Deeper contemplation and conversations with God went on for hours in those weeks leading up to surgery. The question arose- what is death? A word we give to the animation of our cells here and now. But what of consciousness? Was heaven, not some Zeus like an imaginary place in the clouds we humans conjure up to save ourselves the terrible notion of no longer existing? What if we romantically returned to the Cosmos as magnificent dust, part of the circle of life? Grown-up thoughts.
Volunteering for total surrender in true faith is not easy, even for someone who has spent a life knowing faith consistently. There was no guidance saying you are going to be blind, you are going to live, you are going… it was just peace. A deeper, more profound understanding began to unfold. It was a mighty and vast and calm joy without needing to scratch the human itch of satisfying conclusions. We, humans, get irritated when we don't understand when the door and its mechanisms evade us. Closure and acknowledgement oscillate around us always.
I did not wake up blind, but I woke up knowing. You cannot touch the ether without bringing the sand back on your feet, and the leaf you see on the surface is only the tip of a deeply rooted tree. There is much more but now is not the time. It will come. We are so visual, and limited.
I can't rely anymore on the wisdom of the world, because I have felt beyond it, behind it. An egg cannot go back into the embryo once cracked. Untangled from the clatter. An existential crisis creates a whole lot of magnificent possibility. This is not a test. This is not a punishment. This is a university with icebergs, trees and bad breath. We are magnificent, and we are loved. But we make choices, and they are a gift. So we have to spend them wisely. Death is not final.
When you hold a personal truth so large in a world of cynicism and pain, hurt and disdain, you do not want to share it. Because when everyone touches it, holds it, questions it, it loses its lustre. The shine wears off, and it feels like a beautiful creature you let everyone pet until it tires out and dies in the corner. My choice has now been superseded by something much greater, the whisper in my ear to speak boldly about my faith. As Rudyard Kipling said, Gardens are not made by singing 'Oh, how beautiful,' and sitting in the shade.
As a kid, I was bought up in a house that firmly stuck to the idea that you if you told other people about your beliefs you were shoving it down their throat or assuming your faith or beliefs were better than someone else. You had no right. Whilst this is based on mutual respect, I have discovered that for me, it leaves no room for the joy of communication or seeing each other without the small talk.
The most incredible conversations I have had have been with Anglican ministers who have spent a lifetime studying God, Atheists who have spent a lifetime denying God, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Shaman and Wise women. When we speak our truth with respect, we are not condemning anyone else. I spent years studying religions of the world and different scriptures as part of an Anthropology degree (unfinished - turns out epilepsy, narcolepsy and short term memory loss are not conducive to the PHD dream)
One thing became evident through all that study; many of these religions- so completely unrelated and often at odds with each other shared a common truth; God is the name we give a creator, an architect so complex; defying human understanding and with a simple covenant; love and faith conquer. It seems from texts cross-sectioned across faiths that many messengers have been sent to tell us how to survive. Many interactions have even happened with divine beings sharing the same names but in different times and different languages. Interesting right? According to many scriptures, codexes and scripts; we are pretty unique critters designed for continuing creation along with boo-boos.
The words of these records have been translated, repaired, interpreted, rewritten, repurposed and used in ways inspiring but also in some cases in ways most foul and corruptible; because the lure of power amongst the patriarchy is very strong. But when you start believing the power of people and not the message that sits in all of our hearts, we get in trouble. People start wars. Religion is the structure through which we experience and explore belief. It is a man-made construct, and in many cases, it serves as an excellent scaffolding for this purpose. Power, on the other hand, is anything but.
"He wrapped himself in quotations- as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors." R. Kipling
We wear the social narratives we are given like coats; the stories we are told form our own threads and layers. But sometimes we have worn them so long the fibres have etched into our skin, and we forget the simple truth; so long as you seek the light and open your heart to hope you will find it.