Returning from the Fringe series: Lesson 1
Like I said earlier, I was a fringe Christian — thanks to my American education! Make no mistake, I enjoyed my American education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison where I studied for my journalism degree. It was an overwhelming experience and it made me think and question. While I had an unforgettable education, my faith, however, took a beating.
It was anyway a bad time emotionally because a relationship that I put my hopes in didn’t work out. I, however, took it badly and it affected my faith because I could not understand why something I trusted God for didn’t happen. Then I remember one day at a lecture on Plato, Professor Terry Penner from the philosophy department saying that one couldn’t really know fully. Suddenly, it hit me that I really didn’t know God. It was as if the bulwark on which I had built my faith was suddenly pulled away from under my feet!
I stumbled home, the words ringing in my head, “I don’t know God! I don’t know God!” I crashed on my bed and then it occurred to me: “But, I know Jesus Christ! He was a human being. He was a historical figure. He lived on Earth. True, I couldn’t know Him fully, but I can know Him the same way I know about Winston Churchil and Madam Curie and Einstein!” It was falliable knowing, no doubt, but wasn’t that how all human beings “know”? And, it was sufficient to live by! Falliable knowing but sufficient!
So, I concluded that God — if He is God — knows that I can only know Him falliably and that it is His responsibility to make me know Him in a way I humanly could know! After that I would pray — well, not pray, but more like talking with Him — that I don’t know many things but if He is truly God, He has to let me know in a way I can understand!
In retrospect, I think while I may have rejected many Christian practices, I did not reject the possibility of God because the concept of God was already ingrained in me perhaps due to my Catholic upbringing. Or, even as I thought about it rationally, in my mind, in some vague way, I assumed God exists. That sub-conscious knowing was to help me in the future.
All this happened in the final year at UW-Madison. I was born again when I was 19 but threw out faith in university. So, I was floundering in faithlessness and slipping into depression and not realising it. It was difficult for me as I was in a foreign country without a support structure and struggling to make sense of my collapsing world. At the same time, I was diagnosed as a sufferer of classical migraine. When I got a migraine attack I would be paralysed by pain, lying in only one position on my bed because the pain would pin me down in that position, my head driven to the ground like a road digger! I would be in that state for 8 hours, after which I would get up exhausted and hungry but able to get back to my normal routine.
During one of those migraine attacks, I recall, one time, when unable to stand the pain (even with the maximum 4 cafgots the doctor prescribed), I cried out to God (it was involuntary!): “God, what did I do to deserve this!” The response I will never forget!
As if in reply, I saw Him — like the Sacred Heart of Jesus picture my mother hung on the wall (that was how I recognised it was Jesus Christ!) –by my side, with arms open wide. And, He called me by name. He said: “Gertrude, I am here for you!”
Flesh and blood could not have heard it but I did. In the years that followed as I fought off depression without realising that it was depression, that was how He was for me. He was always there, helping me cross the psychological hurdles, one at a time. I did it intuitively by simply doing as I heard Him.
And, I heard Him as I read the Bible.
NEXT FRIDAY: Lesson 2: You hear Jesus when you know His Word