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State of Grace: A Short Explanation of a (former) Atheist’s Faith

October 1, 2013

praying in the streetHistorically, I have not been a person faith comes easily to. I am a rational science geek – albeit with a serious artistic streak – who feels about Carl Sagan the way a lot of people feel about John Lennon.

I have to wake up every day and make a concerted effort to discover God as if I’ve found Him for the first time. Some people have experienced few blessings and have perhaps seen no evidence of miracles in their lives, yet they believe with an unwavering passion. As for me, I’ve had blessing upon blessing, been the recipient of Divine Providence, Divine Intervention and of miracles large and small. Yet it is a struggle for me to believe.

It is my single greatest failure of imagination.

Despite my meager faith, every prayer I have ever uttered – whether it was to the Catholic God of my youth, or to a god (or goddess) borrowed from another religion, or to “the universe,” has been answered.

Given that kind of track record, when I first folded my hands nine years ago and reached out to God – not “the universe” – and asked Him if He could bestow upon me the blessing of faith – I felt a certain degree of confidence that whoever, whatever God was, He was listening.

Even if I’d closed my mind to Him for so long.

And having a pretty good grasp of scripture after umpteen years of Catholic school, I knew God wasn’t going to deliver faith on a silver platter just because I made the ask. Any more than He would deliver fame and fortune to a garage band that got high all day and never played an actual gig.

This was going to hurt.
barbed wire
But for some crazy reason, even though I really, really don’t like pain – especially the emotional kind – I couldn’t bring myself to take back my appeal for faith.

Faith had always gnawed at me – even when I was at the apex of my “rational period” – an atheist who delighted in boring the snot out of people with my backhanded insults about religion and intellect. Mainly how they don’t go together.

And being a great lover of all things science, I just couldn’t let that little, gnawing feeling go. I had to investigate. Even it killed me. Or at the very least, embarrassed me.

Those of you who read this blog know that I had a kid born with cancer a few years ago. And yes, of course that was the inciting incident for my current, rather devout faith in God.

But not for the reason you might think.

However flawed, mine is not a foxhole faith (as in “there are no atheists in a foxhole”). I’d be lying if I said I never prayed for my sick baby’s recovery. For her to have a chance at a normal, happy life, and for me to get a chance to know her and love her. But I really didn’t pray for that very often when she was sick.

What I prayed for was strength. And I got it. I also prayed for a deeper understanding of my own weird, sometimes tenuous faith. I got that, too. God

I suppose the strongest testament to my faith is that I don’t believe in God because he spared my daughter and I get to bask in the joy of hearing her laughter on any given day, and I get to do her hair in the morning, and help her learn to spell. I would have been lucky to have known her at all – for however brief a period. Strangely, I would have been thankful to God for the experience of her death, too, however insane that might sound to a rationalist. It even sounds insane to me.

The increasing depth of my belief can be explained with mystical clarity in the eulogy from one of my favorite movies, Pan’s Labyrinth.

“The essence of God’s forgiveness lies in His word and in His mystery. Because although God sends us the message, it is our task to decipher it. Because when we open our arms, the earth takes in only a hollow and senseless shell. Far away now is the soul in its eternal glory. Because it is in pain that we find the meaning of life and the state of grace that we lose when we are born. Because God in his infinite wisdom puts the solution in our hands. And because it is only in his physical presence that the place he occupies in our souls is reaffirmed.”

My rationale for belief can be explained with non-mystical clarity in my own words:

I believe in God because I believe in love. to die for

From → faith, love, Uncategorized

16 Comments
  1. This is wonderful!

  2. I love the way you weave your storyline so that your word pictures and visual images are complimentary.

  3. Michele permalink

    I am a woman of faith. Almost 5years ago, I died then spent 22days in a coma. My experience introduced me to God. I have no doubts.

  4. Jacqueline Merolla permalink

    Love your honesty and willingness to share your personal thoughts with us. As a believer in Christ, I too have doubts at times. I believe we can only understand a small, small part of a God and how great he is.

    • Agreed. Faith is a a never-ending journey, I think. I try to embrace its mystery rather than fight it, but I don’t always succeed 🙂

  5. Mrs Michelle J Pitman permalink

    I have just read your post and I can tell you I found it inspirational. I am also a believer and actually have been since I was 5ish—this came about because when I was 5 1/2 I was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (in 1975 there was NO cure), my parents took me to a Pentecostal church an Italian lady my Mum worked with a couple of older men laid hands on me (this was the Sunday) well I had to go to GREAT ORMOND STREET on the next Tuesday I went into remission! The hospital were gobsmaked. I became a believer there and then. Like yourself I don’t push it down peoples throats either. God bless you and your family 🙏🙏

    • How wonderful! A Native American medicine man emailed me today about his miracluous cancer recovery and subsequent faith, too. It is amazing and I’m so happy for your health!

  6. Judy permalink

    I grew up going to church and Sunday School so I felt I always had faith and trusted God was there. I did not truly come to understanding the sacrifice He made for me and the forgiveness that was mine until I was 19. Then I heard about God’s great love for me and so He drew me to Him with his love. I appreciate your sharing your story and as always you are someone I admire and know has so much talent. I often share your writing with my husband, my sister and my Bestie.

  7. RT Fuller permalink

    Victoria, I enjoy reading all your emails but especially today’s. My feelings are that there is a big difference in religion and faith that most people can’t separate. Personally after 66 years I have faith and I know who holds my hand.

  8. Margaret M. Cekis permalink

    Also raised and educated in Catholic schools, I have always had faith, but have abhorred some of the things that people, including the Catholic Church, have said and done, both in the past and the present, in the name of “religion”. Many expressions of “religion” have nothing to do with faith or love. When I was in college, I read Robert Heinlein’s “A Stranger in a Strange Land”, which makes a case that religions are relative, because they are all products of the times and cultures in which they arose and evolved. Our God/gods will judge individuals on their faith and love, and how they lived their individual lives, not on what religion they might have practiced. In my personal sense of faith, I believe that, and try to accept everyone with that in mind. If you haven’t read “A Stranger in a Strange Land, check it out.

    • thanks so much for writing, Margaret. I read parts of it when I was young. I found it in my brother’s collection of books. I have a similar way of looking at things. I see religion as a human endeavor and faith as spiritual, as my personal relationship with God. But I do feel like I’m starting to understand why faith is also a matter of being part of a faith community – one we can hopefully influence for the good. That being said, I’m pretty lousy at the community part 🙂

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