I became a Christian at the age of twenty after many years of fervent searching. I was not born into a religious family. In fact my only encounter with religion was through my maternal grandmother who gave me a KJV Bible and a Christian picture book when I was five years old. Both meant nothing to me at the time. The Bible was white with gold decorative trim and gilt-edged pages, and crammed with indecipherable words in crisp Roman font. The picture book was full of bearded, earnest-looking men set against stark, dusty backgrounds, and sheep. If anything, they looked scary. Is it any wonder then that my first impression of religion was not a particularly enthusiastic one.
Over the next fifteen years I had many encounters with all sorts of religious folk. Through some early spiritual experiences I was convinced that, as Shakespeare once said, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy", and so I determined to discover as much about heaven and earth as I could. During my travels I came into contact with numerous religions, from Jehovah's Witnesses to the New Age, from the Occult to Buddhism.
I even dabbled in Scientology. Before you snicker, please understand that there is a certain appeal that has to be experienced to be understood. I get the atraction of Scientology and Dianetics, and why it is people spend a small fortune in trying to achieve the coveted "clear" moniker. For me, however, it was not enough just to get over my painful past. I needed more.
Later I attended a Silva Mind Control course, still wondering if the truth lay within my own mind. Even here, in a course designed to boost your concentration and help you take control of your own thoughts, there is a strong spiritual aspect tucked neatly away under the surface.
Not long after that I settled on Buddhism, to the point of identifying it as my religion when asked. It seemed such a tranquil religion and suited my personality perfectly. Except that the peace I experienced soon began to feel empty. Through meditation I learned to empty my mind and feel nothing, except that I could not believe that Horatio's heaven and Earth was filled with. . .nothing. I knew there was something more.
During the latter part of my search, I came into contact with a particular breed of religious person that I could not understand. Most religious people seemed to be in transit. It was as if that, even though they thought they had found the answer, there was something missing that they could not quite put a finger on. I felt that way myself, as if I somehow knew the answer but had yet to find it. There were certain people, however, who seemed to know that they had found the truth, and you could see it in their eyes.
When I think back on these people, I get the impression that God put them in my life to steer my towards Him. There weren't many, but I will never forget them. They weren't televangelists or preachers standing before huge crowds, but individuals who took the time to step out of their comfort zones and make contact with a complete stranger. Sometimes the contact was one-to-one. Other times it was less direct. There is one in particular that I wish I could find and thank. We never spoke but I saw him almost every day on my way to work. I would see him striding down the sidewalk, singing in a deep baritone voice. At the time I did not understand what he was singing about, but I do now. He was singing praises to God. I remember, just before leaving to go overseas, seeing that same man sitting on a park bench, his head bowed and a sad look on his face. He had the appearance of someone who had been humiliated or even beaten, even though he bore no physical wounds. The biggest change, however, was his singing. Normally his voice was loud and clear. Now, sitting on the bench, slumped forward with his face turned towards the ground, the words were barely audible. He was still singing, but only just.
I wish now that I could go back and find that man, and tell him that his singing affected me and made me wonder what could bring a man such joy that he had to express it everywhere he went. I wish I could tell him that he should sing no matter what the world says to him or does to him. He should sing even though people mock and scorn and laugh because, even if he does not realise it, his words reached everyone who heard them--especially me. I sometimes wonder what happened to that man. I hope and pray that, wherever he is, he is still singing because, sometimes, it is the little things than nudge us in the right direction.