“Trust not in princes or the sons of men….The Lord makes wise the blind…. He will adopt for himself the orphan and widow….”
In my last blog, I revealed a little about my childhood and my rough start in life. I’ve often wondered not just why God saved me from a life of drugs, crime and institutionalization–a trajectory that I avoided by a mere hair’s breadth on a couple of occasions–but I have also thought about how God saved me. That is, there was a therapy (you might call it) by which God helped me become a fairly normal human being, a condition that I have never taken for granted. Having spent a couple of years in an institution for “disturbed” children and all of my teen years as a ward of the state, I know how easy it is (or would be) to just let go of sanity, of responsibility, of love of neighbor and slip into an insulated and slowly suicidal selfishness. Lots of people do it.
But by God’s Grace, I have not gone that way. I can isolate two factors that have made a huge difference. The first has to do with my relationship with myself and God, and the second has to do with the good people who have loved me along the way (and it is no exaggeration to say that at some points I was very difficult to love).
“I have been cast upon you from my mother’s womb,” the psalmist says. Somehow from about eight years old, I was aware of God. In my early teens this awareness blossomed into a desire to go to church (mixed, by the way, with a desire to meet pretty girls) and the discovery of life in reading the Bible. What I mean by “life” is hard to describe. Somehow the words in the Bible connected me to what was real–what was real in myself and what was real around me. I felt something other than despair or anger or lust when I read the Bible. I understood very little. Reading the Bible was somewhat like mushroom hunting. I would read and read until I found something that spoke to me. Then I would stop reading and think about it, trying to hold on to that feeling of ecstasy (literally, the feeling of transcending myself in some small way). I hesitate to use that word, ecstasy, because you might think that I am talking about an overwhelming feeling. It is not an overwhelming feeling. In fact, (and “feeling” is not a very good word for it either, but I can think of no better word), it was a feeling that I could easily miss and that I would lose quickly. It think it is what St. Silouan calls Grace.
I actually prayed very little, but that, in my experience, is normal for Protestants. I knew nothing more of prayer than “Dear Jesus I just want (fill in the blank).” Nevertheless, in my heart prayer was happening. I was somehow coming to know God: the blind was becoming wise. One of many pivotal events in my inner journey (this one particularly related to the Bible) took place as I was spending a few days in Juvenile Hall (jail for minors) after a botched burglary attempt (I was about fifteen years old). The whole story is interesting and I might tell it sometime; but for the purpose of this blog, let’s just jump to the crux. After a very disappointing conversation with someone who visited me and for whom I had an immense amount of respect, I went back to my cell and picked up a little paperback New Testament (Good News For Modern Man) and began reading it–something I often did when I was very upset. I got nothing from the reading–I seldom did when I was upset–but when I set it down I said a prayer that sounds very foolish, but God tricked me.
I prayed, “God I will never trust another human being again in my life. I will only trust the Bible.” Although my deep mistrust of people lasted for a year or more after this experience, eventually I had to concede to God that the Bible commanded me to trust people; or put another way, to trust God I had to trust people because God almost always comes to us through people. Like I said, God tricked me, and I will be eternally grateful.
One more interesting anecdote related to me and the Bible. Less than a year after the Juvenile Hall prayer, I was scheduled to be shipped off to the “Boy’s Camp” to wait out the more than two years until I turned eighteen in a fenced compound with military discipline. I had worked through six foster homes in four years. My social worker told me that he just couldn’t find anyone who would take me: He would pick me up in a week. I knew that at the Boy’s Camp I would have to be tough and fight a lot (It was fighting that had gotten me into this last bit of trouble). I felt that it would be impossible to continue growing in my nascent Christian faith in that very tough environment. I didn’t know what to do. I prepared for the worst.
In my distress I read my King James Bible (my latest foster father had insisted that if I was going to read the Bible, then I should at least read the “real” one, not the sugar-coated modern ones). In my upset state, something atypical happened. I found a mushroom. I read one of the verses that says, “Children, obey your parents.” I stopped. I thought, “What a strange idea.” It had never occurred to me before to obey anyone. Anything up to that point that looked like obedience in my life was mostly just pain avoidance. And so I made a deal with God (many of my most fruitful prayers in the early years were in the form of deals with God). I told God that if He worked it out so that I could have another chance in a foster home, I would obey my foster parents. God kept his end of the deal.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you how it worked out. That’s a part of the therapy that involved a whole family that loved me–a very strange experience for me.