I remember the day clearly. We were sitting under a big tree in the Church yard one Saturday at Young People’s Fellowship when I realised that I would not be here on Earth – in this form – forever. As a teenager who was meandering aimlessly through life, I sat up and took notice, after of course, a wave of fear and distress flooded my mind. I felt that feeling again in the darkness of night recently, some 30++ years later while wrestling with sleep.
In the intervening years, I have tried to explain away my decision to refrain from answering the alter call. So far, this has been an internal dialogue. Time to open up my thoughts in the public domain. Perhaps there are others who share my opinions.
Religious discourse has not been something I have engaged in with any regularity for various reasons. For one, one’s faith is a very personal thing. For two, persons with strong religious beliefs can be quite judgemental of those who don’t defer to a god or higher power. Just listen to the man on the pulpit frequently calling down fire and brimstone on the heathens.
The earliest recollection of a conversation about the realness of Jesus Christ was in 1986. I had a summer job and my boss was – and still is – a kind-hearted practising Christian and one of the nicest persons you could ever meet. Somewhere in between asking him if the gap created by a recent tooth extraction was noticeable, the long conversation turned to why he became a Christian early in his life. I asked him “suppose God is not real?”. He said he decided to try serving God using the “Why not?” argument. That conversation has stayed with me for 29 years.
As kids, we went to Sunday School weekly. I enjoyed studying and reciting the Bible verses and singing the hymns. The verses were just words and I don’t recall feeling compelled to waive my hands the way some persons do during worship. I sing lustily though, hopefully in tune. As a teenager and later young adult, the frequency of church attendance increased, untypical as it is for that age group. Apart from the Saturday fellowship and Sunday School, we went to morning AND evening service. I know now that it was more for the interaction with a decent group of young men and women than it was a love of God. We also knew that we were not “one of them” for we could only enjoy the smell of the delicious hardough bread. Only those who had been baptised could partake in communion.
The other conversation in my internal dialogue is what if Allah is the real deal? Or Jehovah, or Jah Rastafari or any of the beings whom Hindus worship? Who has an answer for that? Let us not get started on the religious warfare over centuries which have resulted in numerous deaths. Goes against the spirit of religion if you ask me.
What is the difference between being ‘religious’ and being ‘spiritual?’ That is another question I mull over in my mind. I excuse my absence from regular church service by offering that my daily practices are more Christian-like than some persons who hold up the church pillars each week, or several times per week. Is it that I am spiritual while they are religious?
A colleague once told me that after accepting an invitation to attend an employee’s church, said employee was not demonstrating desirable behaviours at work one day. He told her she should also bring church into the workplace. Guess what? She did not speak to him for a while after that. Goes against the teachings of the Bible if you ask me.
I think I am kind and I believe I could find a few persons to back up that assertion. I don’t think I engage in sin and debauchery, though not knowing the extent of what constitutes either according to the Bible. I give to the less fortunate and charity freely. Swear words don’t cross my lips, well that’s if “bollocks” is not counted. You will not find me at a party on a Sunday. I am heading to the beach shortly and I will only play Gospel music. Donnie McClurkin is my favourite, with Sounds of Blackness running a close second. Sadly, my Christian friends will say that is not enough. You have to witness, spread the gospel, share your testimony. As of now, I cannot share anything except the “do good, be good” message.
In 2008, I bought a book entitled Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind
It probably was an Oprah recommendation. (Yes, I am a devotee, unashamedly.) That book is currently tucked away in a cupboard on another island, never having been opened though it lay in the night table drawer for years. I shall endeavour to retrieve and explore it.
I shall also commit to delving more into the topic of religion and spirituality. That will include visiting several churches of different denominations. Already, I have gone to a 7th Day Adventist evening session as part of a week of activities, so not a real service per se. A colleague of the same religion has invited me. “How can you go to church for the WHOLE Saturday?” I thought. Then came the counter question. “How come you sit at a cricket match for FIVE WHOLE DAYS?” Argument done. I have so far called a friend in the Presbyterian church to find out what time the service starts. Seven-thirty, he said, then added “and the service offends no one.”
That statement was poignant. Sometimes, practising Christians don’t realise that denouncing the words and deeds of those who are not “people like us,” is offensive to someone who might be searching for meaning in religion or looking for a safe haven devoid of judgemental tones. For some, likeit was for 2015Man Booker Prize for Fiction winner Marlon James, the church is also a diversion.
Karl Marx has said “religion is the opium of the people.” I am not looking for a drug, just for something to soothe my mind and emotions and make me arrive at inner peace. On my own I have done a pretty good job so far. Nearly there. Living in Grenada has helped to nurture my soul. Could finding meaning in religion take me to a new height?
By Michelle L. McDonald
Michelle L. McDonald has been writing since her teenage years, when she started posting entries in her diary. Since then, she has developed this hobby into becoming a Features writer and Blogger. Since 2003, her work has been published in the Jamaica Gleaner, SHE Caribbean and on www.caribbeancricket.com profiling International cricketers and writing “off the field” features from the Caribbean and the United Kingdom.
On www.yamfoot.net Michelle posts candid stories about living in the Caribbean. Professionally, she is a freelance Service/HR Advisor and Trainer and is based in Grenada and Jamaica, although she considers all of the Caribbean her home.