|Conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).|
In the hazy days of childhood I encountered three big ideas.
The first was infinity. I saw a cartoon that really illustrated the idea of infinity. It was a cat holding a can of cat food with apicture of the cat holding the can of cat food with the picture of a cat holding a can of cat food. The camera zoomed in and in and in until it was a dizzying blur of infinity. That was fascinating to me. I was probably four years old at the time. It got me thinking about life. What if it went on forever? Who would want all of this to go on forever? It really scared me. I was pretty pessimistic even then.
The second idea was about taking things for granted. I loved the movie Labyrinth. I must have watched it 100 times with my sisters and my friends. We sang all the songs and got scared when the fire demons tried to take Sara’s head off. The oubliette wasn’t too cozy either. But the idea of taking things for granted stuck with me above everything else. Mostly it was because I didn’t really know what it meant and I wanted to find out.
The third idea came from Interview with the Vampire. I was obsessed with the book and the movie from the time I saw the trailer on TV. The book talked a lot about detachment. I was almost an adolescent by this time and the idea of being able to detach from all the bad stuff at home and school seemed like an impossibly good dream.
Of course I had other fascinations. I loved Jim Morrison. He was like my philosopher king. I wanted to read all the things he read and absorb all the ideas that had formed him so they could form me too. I read Kerouac and Neitzsche and Rimbaud. I can’t say I really understood any of it and I got a lot of bad ideas. Still, it got me into the world of ideas more heavily than ever before and that was a very good thing. But my first three big ideas were still there. What was life and infinity and eternity? Were all my notions about life just things I took for granted? And how could I detach myself from all the things that didn’t really matter and only hurt me?
Growing up without religion
I was raised a "None." I never knew anyone who went to Church even though I grew up in rural West Virginia. I hated Protestantism and I never wanted anything to do with it. For me, Christianity meant ignorance and childishness. My Mom was just indifferent to any religion. My friends explored spirituality and played with Ouija boards. The closest I got to being interested in any one religion was Hinduism. I loved Christopher Pike as a kid and he injected a lot of that religion into his stories. I explored it for a little while but in the end it was so ethereal that there was nothing to grab onto. It had a lot of superficial beauty in it but it just seemed meaningless to me and impersonal. I didn’t see how it could impact my life in any real way. It was the same thing with Native American spirituality and paganism. It was interesting but I wanted an encounter that would change me.
I was searching all the time for truth. It was the only thing that mattered to me. I was serious about it. If I couldn’t find the truth about the meaning of my existence, then what else could possibly matter? When I mean serious I mean serious. I went to college and I worked a bit but I put absolutely no effort or passion into any of it. I was obsessed with finding the Truth to the exclusion of anything else in my life. Even relationships went by the wayside. For a while, I thought beauty could be the ultimate truth. I got into the philosophy of aesthetics. I gleaned a lot of that from reading Anne Rice. That started to point me in the right direction. I could feel intuitively that beauty and truth were connected. And there was something else creeping through her books that started to get to me too. She was an atheist when she wrote The Vampire Chronicles and The Witching Hour trilogy but she was raised a Catholic. The atmosphere, the world of Catholicism, in those books was intensely beautiful. It was not only beautiful; it was meaty and mystical all at the same time. It permeated everything in the stories even though it was ultimately rejected in favor of aestheticism. Still, I started to realize that maybe Christianity wasn’t just youth groups that met in ugly halls under the leadership of judgmental youth ministers.
This was my formation until the time I was about 21 years old in 2003. I really did have a good start but I didn’t feel like that at the time. My life was suffering from my obsession and I thought maybe it was time to give it up. I was in despair of ever finding any answer to my question. Since I was deadly serious about finding the ultimate answer, despair was becoming an answer in itself.
Near despair leads me to prayer
I was alone in my room, lying on my bed. I was thinking about all my wasted effort and what it could mean. Maybe there really was no answer and my life was meaningless. That was not something I could accept without horrifying, concrete consequences. In a last ditch effort, I prayed. I’d never done that before. All of my seeking until now had been by my own effort. I asked God to show me who he was, what he was, if he was there, if he cared. I cried and begged. It wasn’t natural to me to pray and it felt weak and strange. But I kept on and on until I was too tired to go on. That’s when it happened. God answered my prayer. The way He answered it was a bit strange.
I need to explain something else strange that had been happening to me right before my prayer was answered. Sometimes at night, when I was thinking about all of these ideas and all of my seeking, a very strange thing would happen. I would start to feel that there was a veil that was covering reality and I was getting glimpses behind it. I didn’t know how to explain it then, but what I think now is that God was giving me an extraordinary grace. The grace of contemplation. For brief moments, God was taking over and working in my soul at a level I couldn’t comprehend. It was probably these mystical experiences that gave me the courage and ability to pray that night.
Read the rest at Otaku Catholic.