So this heathen walks into a church...

Note: it wasn't this one
... and he doesn't burst into flames! How's that for a punchline?!

Actually, I am well aware that the Church and its Lord and King have a rather open and accepting attitude toward heathens. But it is not easy for an outsider to enter into something that he does not understand particularly well, even if he knows that it is right and good that he do so.

Of course, I have in fact been inside churches before. I have visited a good many of them during my travels- but until a few years ago, visiting a church meant little more than walking into an interesting tourist spot to take a few photographs and then leaving. I have also, sadly, attended the funeral of a former colleague who tragically committed suicide.

Without fail, I have always been impressed by the beauty and architecture of the churches that I have seen. But I never really appreciated them as places of worship, of communion with fellow travelers down the long and often difficult road of faith, until I was myself forced to come before the Lord and ask Him for His aid.

That changed when I walked into that church near my workplace the other night and sat down to witness the Mass.

The events that drove me to that point are complicated and personal, but ultimately, I went to Mass for one very simple reason. I had made a promise, and I knew I had to keep it.

Back in 2016, my sister, who was living in the tropics at the time, contracted dengue fever. This is a disease that very few Westerners understand particularly well. It is a very painful, debilitating disease transmitted primarily by mosquitoes. During the worst parts of the infection, sufferers experience very high fevers that last somewhere between two and seven days, a severe rash, and- worst of all- deep and serious pain in their joints and muscles. This is why dengue is known as "bone-break fever".

It is a potentially lethal disease, particularly if reinfection occurs.

And it had struck down the one person in the world that was most important to me.

I remember quite clearly the day that I heard the news. She called me up and told me herself- and was obviously in a great deal of discomfort, on her way to the hospital to get treatment. I had to listen to her telling me that she had contracted a potentially deadly tropical virus, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do to help her from halfway around the world.

In the old country, or at least the bit of it that I come from, there is an annual ceremony that happens according to some lunar calendar in which brothers swear oaths to protect their sisters, and their sisters give them a small cloth bracelet of some sort as a symbol of honour and fidelity. I went through all of that as a kid and thought nothing much of it, but as I grew older, I came to accept that I had sworn oaths to look after and protect my little sister, and I took those promises with utmost seriousness.

And there I was, walking back home late on a spring night, unable to do a single damned thing to keep my promise.

There was only one place to turn. So I did what my teenaged self could never have imagined: I prayed to my Creator and asked Him for help.

And in return for His aid to my sister, I promised that I would offer Him whatever He asked of me.

Rationally, of course, there was a very high chance that my sister would be fine. Dengue fever is well understood in the tropics, because it is a fairly common disease there. The hospitals there- at least, the good ones- know how to treat it and stabilise their patients. My parents flew out practically the next day from the old country to be with her, and she was in good hands for two weeks as they made sure she rested and recovered.

And in the end, of course, she was just fine. It took her several weeks to recover back to her full strength and fitness- such as it is, given that she is considerably chubbier than I am- but she got back to normal eventually.

In such moments, however, cold rationality does a man no good whatsoever.

In the time since, as my understanding of faith deepened and I saw more clearly how important faith is, I could feel an increasingly urgent reminder about my oath to the Lord in the back of my mind growing louder practically every day. It was clear to me that I was being pushed, and not necessarily particularly gently, to do something about keeping my promise.

And every time I walked past that beautiful old Catholic church in my neighbourhood, maybe about ten minutes' walk away from where I live, I could feel something telling me to walk in, sit down, and pray.

This is not something that can be rationally explained. But then, faith is not a question of rationality- one can certainly be argued into faith (as I was), but absent war and conquest, a man cannot be forced into accepting the primacy of any religion and its attendant rituals and ceremonies.

Even so, I made excuses. I tried to dodge the idea that I needed to go to a place of worship to commune with the Lord. My natural laziness stopped me from reading the Bible nearly as frequently as I knew that I should have. My own extreme introversion made the idea of walking into a place full of strangers seem like a horribly uncomfortable idea.

And yet, in the immortal words of (who else?) Rudyard Kipling:

Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes,
On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated -- so:
"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges --
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you -- Go!"

That voice has not gone away. It is not supposed to. The act of walking into that church and sitting down on that pew was only the first installment of payment of my promise. I know that- and He knows that too.

I do not pretend to understand the first thing about the Christian rituals and traditions surrounding the Mass- and the pastor, or whatever he was, who conducted that service didn't help, given that he is African and his accent made it very hard to understand what he was saying. I sort of get why it happens the way it does- the idea is to pray to the Lord as a community and share faith in the miracle of the Resurrection that smashed open the Gates of Hell, and to appreciate the sacrifice that Christ made for the rest of us.

Yet I am aware, at some level, that the Mass that I saw was merely a shortened and more "modernised" version of the traditional Latin Mass- because the Mass was conducted in the vulgate.

At least there was no righteous SJW-friendly sermon- which has been one of my biggest concerns about going to Church, because the last thing that I want to do is waste my time upon so-called "modernist" interpreters of the Gospels who insist on preaching the Churchian creed and ignore completely what Christ actually said.

Nonetheless, it is instructive to me to look back to what I was like at 16, when I called myself an atheist, and see how far I have come since then.

At that time, one of my friends decided to deepen her Christian faith and got herself baptised. My reaction was... ungentlemanly, to say the least. I am ashamed to admit today that I criticised her quite severely for falling prey to what I thought at the time were merely trite words and silly rituals and irrational, foolish, anti-scientific dogma.

If the man that I am today could meet the boy that I was back then, I would have slapped that kid silly for being a moron.

There are a few more lessons that I have learned in the last few years, as my faith in the Lord has grown- and been amply rewarded, time and again.

First, the Lord evidently has infinite patience- but then, He would, as He seems to have a rather different understanding of time than we mere mortals do.

Second, the Lord quite clearly has a remarkable sense of humour.

It isn't necessarily always a pleasant sense of humour, mind you. But there is no doubt in my mind that the Big Fella Upstairs has rather interesting ways of making His children wake up and realise what colossal asses they have been.

And third, and most importantly, the Lord doesn't particularly seem to care how you come to the truth- as long as you acknowledge that Truth is what it is, and understand that it does not care what you think of it.

I am not a Christian, not yet. I have no idea whether I ever will be; I'm the sort of man who likes to know what he is getting into before he signs the fine print. But somehow I don't think His Hugeness will be particularly bothered about how long I take to finally accept that He is, in fact, right. About everything.

Comments

  1. Interesting story, I’ve been involved with the church for my entire life, and it does have a culture, language, and an intellectual structure that can be difficult for outsiders to penetrate. At its best, it is the living product of a stream of history that is now quite far removed from our own.
    I’m glad you’ve had this experience, and it sounds like you walked into a church that really resonates. Unfortunately many religious communities have also fallen the pitfalls and lies relating to SJWism, feminism et al. They’re historical core beliefs are often badly eroded and they will likely disappoint you. The music can also suck.
    Start small, read some books, consider the possibility that God seeks us and means us well. Avoid the spectacle, listen patiently, he only remains hidden enough to honour your free will.

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  2. I'm glad you've posted this story after you and I spoke about it a few months ago. Read Romans, Hebrews and Galatians: you'll find that the Catholic system is not where God lives. While I don't want it to be a Prot/Catholic thing, starting out in the Catholic heresy is not the way to learn about God and Christ.

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    1. The only problem with Catholicism is that they take so MUCH of their faith from places other than the bible.

      Then again, protestants do it too.

      I think the best bet is to DECIDE to be a christian, read the bible, do your best to understand it and try to live by the lessons it teaches, and then... If you can find a congregation you 'get along with' you join that.

      You have to make sure though that you know the truth. Most of these congregations have been getting their information from non-biblical sources for so long that their faith has become a sort of game of 'telephone' that they enrolled in when their great-great-great-Grandparents first started wondering what was up with those missionary guys.

      Catholics are a hard pill to swallow. Protestants mostly seem to want whatever cash they can get out of you. The 'one off' religions like JH and CS are the final retreat for nutjob masochists, and the mormons are out there.... but at least they are friendly and decent, for the most part.

      But not one of them cares about sticking to the Bible.

      That's why you find a congregation you can get on with. Everyone's a heretic, but at least they TRY to do the right thing. Just find one that argues with what you CARE ABOUT the least.

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  3. A. It's really about time for you to swim the Tiber, for your sake, not God's. He doesn't need us for anything, but has provided means for those of us - pretty much all of us - who need Him.
    B. Catholic or Protestant? Personally, I doubt God actually cares provided one is sincere and, within the limits of human understanding, broadly Christian. However,
    C. Much as they posture and preen, most Protestant denoms seem to have been cobbled together from one man - and not necessarily one either especially bright, especially well-educated, especially holy, or even especially sane - taking some bit of scripture, or perhaps a couple of them, usually out of context, and cobbling together an entire, and entirely threadbare, theology from that or those. Conversely,
    D. Some very bright people, _exceptionally_ bright people, of admirable education, and vast holiness, have been thinking about this sort of thing for a couple of thousand years and have reasoned their way to most of the answers. Most of them will, of necessity, have been Catholic. That said,
    E. Holy Mother Church has some problems, not least among them a senior clergy who are illegal immigrants from the 60s, a Pope who ought not be, and lingering perversions. It's probably not worse than Protestant denoms for this, only more visible. Still, it's a problem.

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