Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why I Believe

I believe in God for two reasons. The first reason is simple--the world fairly bursts with the joy of creation. Everywhere I look in nature, I see evolution, yes, but I also see an effervescent delight and wonder at play. It feels to me as if someone or something had fun making the world, and I want to say "thank you." I felt this way as a child, and I still do. 

The other reason I believe in God keeps me believing when people confound me and the world no longer makes sense because I have no other explanation for what happened. It was a moment of clarity that still shines brightly in my mind.

In the summer of 1986, with one year left to complete my MA in English, Gordon came home one day, and he told me that I had to take the literature exam in November instead of waiting for April, as we had planned. He said he "knew" something was going to happen that would keep me from taking it in April. Whoa! How was I to cram all that studying into half the time originally planned while caring for two toddlers? Ah, inspiration struck. We wrote Uncle Bob, Gordon's brother, and asked him to come out for ten weeks. We told him we would pay him to play with and care for Amy and Gavin for eight hours a day so that I could study. He agreed. The only break I took during the day before Gordon got home from work was to read to Amy and Gavin before their naps. Reading to my children always took precedence. The rest of the time, I read, read, read for my exam.

Before the summer, I had spoken to my graduate advisor (now my friend), Elsie Leach, about what to study and how to study for the exam. She helped me write out a plan, emphasizing my strengths in dramatic literature. I felt confident until one night I woke up in a panic.

That night, I began to pray for guidance regarding what to study for my exams. I just knew something had changed from when Elsie and I had made my plan. She had retired, so I could not ask her. I just prayed.

One night, about two in the morning, I woke abruptly, as if someone had shaken me awake. I suddenly knew that I needed to read and study Chaucer, I needed to read other medieval texts, an area I had skipped entirely, except for "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" because I love all things about King Arthur. I also knew that I needed to read the Critical Edition of several Norton novels. I wrote it all down, lest I forget upon waking in the morning. 

In the morning, I told Gordon that my prayer had been answered, and I now knew what I NEEDED to read, and it differed from what Elsie and I had planned, except for Shakespeare and Elizabethan drama; I somehow knew there was going to be a question on that too. Gordon not only scoffed at the notion, he got angry and said he did not want me wasting my time reading anything other than what was on Elsie's and my list. He was not an atheist; he was an agnostic, and like most people, myself included, wondered why, if there was a God, he would answer my particular prayer while there was so much suffering in the world. I had no answer.

Then began the first and only time I ever hid something from Gordon. I secretly began studying Chaucer, Medieval texts, and novels in the middle of the night with a flashlight so as not to awaken Amy, Gavin, or Gordon.

One night, Gordon woke up to pee and caught me. Instead of getting angry, though, Gordon was somewhat in awe of my conviction that I HAD to study these topics, and he became supportive.

The day before the exam, Gordon told me to read something fun and relaxing in order to calm myself. After he left for work and Uncle Bob took Amy and Gavin for a walk, I went to the novels section of my bookshelves and asked quite simply, "God, what should I read? I feel I'm missing something." In a moment, my hand reached out for James Dickey's Deliverance. Without hesitating, I sat down and read the book and the critical commentary about the book. When I finished reading, I knew I was ready for the exam the next morning, but I was a nervous wreck. What if I'd paid attention to a phantom, and I was going to fail?

The next morning, bright and early, and all of you who know me, know I do not do bright and early well, I entered the room, and there were maybe eight of us taking the exam. The professor proctoring the exam handed out the questions. My heart seized as I gasped. The format for the test was ALL WRONG. In previous semesters, each student was allowed to pick three essay questions out of nine to answer, but this test had three sections, and you HAD to answer one question from EACH section. I was sure I was sunk. 

The first section was three questions regarding Medieval Literature. Two questions I had no clue about, having never read the works that I was asked to discuss. The third question was about Chaucer's works, and I knew it cold.

The second section was Elizabethan drama with a question about Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well along with a third play of your choice. I had written "A" papers on both plays, plus Measure for Measure is my favorite Shakespeare play, so I thought my friend Nils had written that question as a gift for me. Nope! I learned a few days later that a new professor, whom I did not know, had written that question.

Deep breath time--the third section was about novels. Two questions were on specific novels that I had never read. The third question asked me to write about three novels that used the the same form of a narrator in three different ways. I quickly wrote down the novels I had studied during the ten weeks, looking for three with the same form of narration. Only three novels fit, and Deliverance was the third one.

Tears rolled down my cheeks. A woman I did not know, who was sitting next to me, patted my shoulder and told me that I had next semester to take the exam. She, too, was shocked by the change in the exam format. I shook my head and said that wasn't why I was crying. I said that, for whatever reason, God had answered my prayer by letting me know what to study. I said I would never doubt his existence again. Understandably, the woman scooted her chair away from me and shot me fearful glances, no doubt believing I was a madwoman.

So, I wrote my three essays to the ONLY three questions I could answer. When the exam was over, I called Gordon and told him.  He was stunned and speechless. About a week later, a professor called to congratulate me. I had passed my literature exam for my masters with an "A".

So, that is why I believe. After such an experience, wouldn't you? How else to explain it? Oh, and that premonition Gordon had that something was going to happen? George, Gordon's 95 year old dad, who lived with us, fell and broke his hip in January, and from then until his death six months later in July, we had no time for anything but caring for George. Something to ponder, isn't it?

Take care,


P.S. I want to address two points that some people raise when you say you believe in God.

People often wonder why God allows human suffering in all its myriad forms, but I don't believe suffering is God's will. He gives us humans free will, and we use our free will to cause harm and suffering by thinking of and putting ourselves first and foremost. But if everyone--believers, atheists, agnostics--all of us lived by the words "love your neighbor as yourself," we would have nothing to blame God for because we would be fulfilling our basic, most important purpose for living, which is to take care of one another.

As for evolution, I think God and evolution go hand in hand. What's to quibble about?


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