Friday, 1 August 2008

Long Way Home - Part 2

First of all - thank you so much to everyone who commented on my last post, and welcomed me or congratulated me. I love hearing from other bloggers, and I try to leave comments myself where I can, but I'm not always up to anything but reading.

I want to complete my account of my way home to the RSoF, which I left off on May 29 (where have the days gone?). I had got to the point of moving in with my fiance and declaring myself an atheist. As I finished that post, I wrote that I had nothing to do with religion for the next 19 years, which was my recollection at the time. Since then, however, different memories have been surfacing, snippets here and there of events and people that I had forgotten along the way.

I did avoid ordinary church services for quite a while. I even tried to persuade myself that God didn't exist, but that didn't last. My faith was too deeply seated in me to be uprooted so easily. We were married in my home church, and our son was baptised in the local church across the road from our new home. Yes, across the road - I wasn't avoiding churches too successfully :)

In 1988, I divorced my husband. I moved out with my son, and met someone who was to become one of my dearest friends. He ran a Scout troop and Cub pack, and I was soon helping out, which included going to church parade in a beautiful, traditional Anglican church which reminded me powerfully of St James'. We also attended services at the Methodist church in the area where we lived; I remember one Good Friday service very well. It involved writing on slips of paper the things that you thought made you unlovable by God, and then these were collected up and burnt in a dish on the altar. A very simple act, but psychologically very effective!

We also took our Scouts to other services, such as an Ascension Day service in a beautiful ruined abbey on the outskirts of the city. That was truly memorable, worshipping under the darkening skies, with little bats beginning to fly by the time it ended.

After he was promoted at work and moved away, I decided to try an evangelical church again. Traditional services weren't fulfilling me, and I had begun to feel nostalgic about the 'good old days' of of simple choruses, clear-cut Biblical teaching, and absolute certainty that I was a 'proper' Christian. I conveniently forgot how screwed up it had made me, and how guilty I had felt, all the time...

I have to stress that I have no criticism of anyone who attends this or any other evangelical church, and that I was warmly welcomed. The service was bright and cheerful, with a large and enthusiastic congregation. It just wasn't for me. This was underlined for me when an acquaintance I had not seen for some time approached me after the service, hugged me, and said, 'Oh, I'm so glad to see you! I always knew you were one of the elect!'

My eyebrows went up with my hackles, and it was all I could do to smile, and explain that I had to go because I had another appointment. I didn't want to be part of anything that set itself apart as The Only Way. It was as alien to me as the statement by my old headmistress that only Roman Catholics go to Heaven. I couldn't go back to the evangelical churches and I wasn't happy in traditional ones. It was at this point that I really did stop going anywhere near a church, and kept my ideas on faith to myself.

Eight years later, in early 1999, I found myself spending the night in the bridal suite of a local hotel - not because I was remarrying (I had done that six months previously), but because I had had to escape from my second husband. The whole city was full up because it was graduation week at the university, and this was the only room available. The irony was not lost on me....

My second husband was an alcoholic, a fact he had managed to hide from me for quite some time. I knew nothing about alcoholism, and had gone ahead with the wedding because he had promised me he would control it. As it turned out, it was too much for him to control and, after I had been the subject of several of his violent outbursts (he threatened me with an air rifle, a sword, and a hammer), I had had to get out. I had had M.E. for about eighteen months at this point, but I was still able to drive the car.

I lay in bed that night utterly exhausted and drained. I felt as though I had no mental, emotional or spiritual resources left, and I certainly didn't have many physical ones. Deep down I knew that I needed my faith more than ever, and I was sick of pretending it wasn't important. I didn't know where to start, though - I had denied God, shoved my faith into a dark corner and done nothing a 'proper Christian' should do for so long. I was sure God would have no reason to take me back.

I closed my eyes. In my mind's eye, I could see the prodigal son trudging home to his father, wretched and embarrassed, sure that his father would deny him. And then I saw the father, racing down the road, robes flying, swinging his son into the air and hugging him. It was so vivid, and, as I realised later, just as David Goddard had retold it at one Family Service when I was a teenager. I threw myself mentally into God's arms, and cried tears of relief until I fell asleep.

I had to go back to my husband the next day (bridal suites are expensive), and we worked out a new set of rules for the relationship, which worked for another eighteen months until I finally divorced him in 2001. He never again threatened me with violence - I think he had been so shocked by my running away that he didn't want to risk my doing that again.

I became a member of the Methodist church, because I was drawn to its ideas on social justice. Although the services were much less structured than Anglican ones, I still felt every week that I was just settling into prayer when the next hymn would be announced. I met another influential friend at the village chapel; she had a similar church background to mine, and, like me, was searching for somewhere to fit in.

We began to meet up, pray together, and share our opinions and ideas. We were both interested in silent prayer, and found out that there was a Julian group in the city which we started to attend. These interdenominational groups are based around the teachings of Julian of Norwich, and silent prayer is the main focus of the meeting. (If you do not know anything about Julian, please click the link and read the Wikipedia article - she was amazingly ahead of her time!)

So - a deep desire for social justice, a love of silent worship, pacifist ideas that I had had since I was a child (and heard my father's stories of World War II ), and a belief that no one branch of Christianity, or any other religion, is the sole way to God. The next step seemed blindingly obvious.

My sister had been a senior teacher at a Quaker school, so I knew a little about the Society. Google brought me to the BYM website, and I applied for an information pack. I was so excited when it came; the more I read, the more I found myself in agreement. All sorts of things that I had always thought, but been told were wrong, were OK for Quakers - affirming in court instead of swearing an oath, the complete non-necessity of clergy acting as middlemen, the validity of ongoing revelation. I contacted the clerk at my nearest Meeting, and he came out to see me. Shortly after that, I went to my first Meeting.

I was on a high for days afterwards. I knew absolutely that this was where I was meant to be. At the next Meeting, I was prompted to speak. At the Meeting after that, I stayed on for a Meeting for Business, and was fascinated to see how it worked.

Shortly after that my health took another downturn, and I was unable to attend Meetings for Worship any more. I had plenty of visitors to keep me in touch with the Meeting, and eventually we began to have small MfW in my home, something which has now been extended to other housebound members.

I know now that I am home, and I have never been happier.


Mary Anne said...


you've been through a lot in your life. Thank you for sharing this story. I'm glad you have found a place you can call home.

Gil S said...

Thanks so much Heather for leaving a comment on my blog as it led me to both of yours!

As you may gather I'm a great fan of spiritual autobiography and reading yours has inspired me to keep on writing mine on my blog.

Oh and I've put my answers to the meme of fives as a comment on my blog.

Tola said...

i love this post. thank you for sharing it with us!
<3 Tola