Lori, Assisi, Italy
[as told to Then God Moved editor Adira Polite]
Like many, I was raised in the Church, but abandoned the teachings when I left for college. When I arrived on campus, I found that there was a glaring gap between the traditions I was raised in and the reality of my life. So I partied more and attended Mass less — and thought I was fine without it. I was comfortably agnostic. In my senior year, when the gap between my life and my childhood faith became too great, I renounced my faith completely.
Then, college ended. I had many misgivings about the perfect life I’d find after school; just a year out of college, my post-grad plans were revealed for what they were: grand delusions. Disappointment hit and tugged me down, down into a dark place. One night, all other remedies exhausted, I found myself on my knees. I didn’t know whether anyone could hear me, but I asked that, if there was a power, it would help me. And then, without a doubt, I felt a Presence. When I stood up, I knew that something in me had shifted.
At that point, I recognized that there was a higher power, but I was still turned off by organized religion as a whole and Christianity, in particular. So, I sought spiritual enlightenment elsewhere. I blazed through stacks of new age self-help books and started practicing yoga. Eventually, I even moved to Los Angeles and started teaching my own yoga classes. At that point, I was pretty much interested in anything “spiritual” that didn’t involve the Church.
Fast forward eight years. I had left L.A. and moved myself and my infant son into my sister’s home, after ending my relationship with my son’s father. One day, I visited the home of my other sister, who was quick to show me a painting of Jesus that she cherished. In the painting, Jesus is standing on one side of a closed door. There is no door knob on his side of the door; he’s obviously waiting for it to be opened. The viewer, it’s clear, occupies the space on the other side of the door. I remember thinking that the painting was super corny; I couldn’t believe that my sister loved it so much.
We discussed the painting for a bit, then she wandered into another part of the house. I was sitting there alone, peering at the painted Jesus, when I heard it: “He is alive. He is risen.” The voice was not externally audible; rather, it was a gentle, quiet voice spoken to my interior being. I had been on a non-Christian spiritual journey for years and was fairly in tune with the spiritual realm, so I could not deny the authenticity of this experience.
With my eyes still on the painting, it all clicked: the painting depicted the Resurrection’s aftermath. Because Jesus rose that day in Jerusalem, His spirit — and the salvation that comes with it — is available to everyone who opens the door. It made sense. I later learned that the painting was an artistic depiction of Revelations 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”
In those brief moments alone, I experienced for myself the truth of the Gospels. I had encountered the Risen Lord. I knew it to my core, but I was conflicted. I’d spent all of my adult life avoiding Christianity and here I was experiencing — and, thus, believing — its core principle.
Like many raised in the faith, I was familiar with the four Gospels, but I’d never read them on my own. After that encounter, I began to read; the more I read, the more I encountered God’s supernatural presence and love. After three years of personal study and sporadic church attendance, I went on a retreat where I was surrounded by people actively committed to the Christian faith. On that same retreat, I met the Benedictine monk who would serve as my spiritual mentor for the next fifteen years. I returned from that retreat fully committed to the Church.
Today, I’m a professor of Church History in Rome, Italy. Funny enough, I currently study and serve the exact institution I once went out of my way to avoid! Though I myself love the Church, I fully understand others’ anger and disillusionment. The Church is composed of human beings who are fragile and often fail both God and those they serve. But, with time, I’ve realized that I cannot allow the human failings of the Church to keep me from God and the sacred experiences I encounter within the Church.
Moreover, pursuing God is not a risk; unlike the conditional love of people, His love never fails. As for the Church’s failings, I’ve realized that the mercy and love He extends to me despite my sins, He also extends to his Church. Jesus never fails us individually and He never abandons His Church.
To be clear, entering into a closer relationship with God in Jesus Christ doesn’t require an intense mystical experience of any sort. It can begin with a simple desire for something deeper than what you can tangibly see — a longing for something authentic and true. God always reveals Himself to those who desire Him. This is Christ’s divine promise: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). It begins with the humblest of requests: “Reveal yourself to me.” With time, you may begin to notice God’s presence everywhere, during ordinary events. And once the sacredness of everyday life becomes apparent, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
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