For forty years I had a real problem with religion. I travelled extensively as a child and I had seen the unfairness of poverty and a number of travesties religion was blamed for. Boarding School seemed to force religion down my throat with an endless cycle of services, prayers and hypocritical teachers and clergy doing the “do as I say”, rather than the “do as I do” routine. I then joined the Army and witnessed scenes which participants claimed to be doing in the name of their God (The God in question often being the same one). I even had a British military padre try to bayonet me on one occasion.
It seemed to me that religion was behind every conflict I was involved in. I was one of the people who said “I don’t mind people having faith and I will never criticise them but it is not for me.”
About four years ago I attended an Alpha course trying to better understand what my wife believed in; I was not convinced by the efficacy of the proof that was being presented as the reason to follow Christ. The one thing I did learn was that Faith means Faith, and it is not something to be proved, I also knew I did not have it.
Towards the end of last year I decided to examine my core belief structure, particularly paying attention to the reasons for certain beliefs. I did this in an attempt to help understand why certain characteristics such as determination and duty had had such strong effects on my life.
I began to talk to the priest at Lucy’s Church and also to the other people who attended. Initially I saw normal people enjoying their journey with Christ, but as I continued to attend I realised that these were not normal people, they seemed to have something about them which gave them an edge. They seemed to be happier, even in the face of adversity, and they seemed to really care about others. Not the normal sort of care where one carries an old ladies bag, but a care which runs much deeper than that. As I listened to the sermons, read passages from the bible and spoke to my new friends I realised that my 40 year view of religion was fundamentally flawed. It was the failings of people who caused strife in the world not religion. It was not long before I realised that I had found faith and had become a Christian.
The last month or so has been different for me. A cycle of no sleep for days on end, followed by a crash where I could not stay awake and then elevated pain for two days seems to have started up. Life seems to be 3-5 days awake 1-2 asleep and then 2 in pain over and over again. During this period depression was hunting me, but thanks to friends and the mental survival tools I have been given I have managed pretty well. What has made the difference is the fact that this time around I have my faith to help me get through the rough patches (known as Flare Ups) and I know that I am not alone and I am being prayed for.
The poem below describes what it is like to experience a flare up. The fact I could write the poem is evidence that my Faith in Christ and the support of the Church I have joined is helping me to survive.
The tormenting ache is obscured
replaced by searing agony.
I feel the flesh melt,
Imagine the blisters as they bubble,
blacken and crisp over.
The edges split and retract
to reveal red tissue below.
It blackens and the cycle starts again.
My mind tells me it’s not true,
burnt nerves can’t feel.
but this is no ordinary fire
no water can quench these flames.
Born deep within neural pathways
they burn as intense as
the a charcoal maker’s kiln
consuming all reason and sanity.
Bed covers lie thrown back
the soft linen had burnt;
as its folds crept like molten lava,
and scorched everything in their path.
The mind fights for control
looking to stem the flow
as if closing the sluice on a stream
but the gate valve is stuck
Thoughts are marshalled,
challenged and found wanting.
Well-rehearsed counter points are delivered.
Slowly control is regained.
Unhelpful thoughts rally for a final push
but once again the mind delivers a ‘coup de grace’,
another battle is won
and the leg will bare weight today.