Friday, February 26, 2010

My Conversion Journey: Gabriella

Thérèse and I grew up in what I like to call a nondenominational Christian home. Our father had been raised Catholic but had stopped practicing as soon as he left home and our mother grew up Mormon, sometimes. And as we grew up, we attended several different churches, usually places that friends attended; so to me, church was more of a social gathering than anything. When we moved to Crestline, Thérèse and I would sometimes attend a Lutheran church with our neighbors, usually me more than Thérèse. But none of this was done regularly, just enough that I believed that Jesus was the son of God and he had died for our sins. And that was about the breadth of my knowledge of the Christian belief.

Coming from such a background, it really isn’t a surprise that when I started attending the University of Redlands in 2008 I signed up for a World Religions course. When people asked why I picked the class I would state that it is important that any student serious about learning the ins and outs of the international community have some understanding of different religions. In reality, I had been hoping that I would fine a religion that “felt right” to me. My professor was a rather eccentric woman who emphasized our learning of eastern religions and Hindu religions like Sanatana Dharma. Seeing the range of beliefs in Sikhs, Jians, Buddhists, and other religions, I was solidified in my belief about a single god, one creator of the universe. While I found worthwhile ideas in all the religions we studied, something in me told me that I wasn’t going to find the answers I sought in any religion but the Abrahamics. This was my God; I just had to see which religion fit me.

After my class ended, I did some light studying on my own. It didn’t take long before I had completely disregarded Islam – there were just areas of the Quran that I couldn’t agree with and I would find myself strangely affected every time there was a jab at Christianity. That, more than anything, told me that there was no way I could turn my back on Jesus. I didn’t quite know his role in my life but I knew that he had a spot there. This was where my self-discovery took a brief hiatus. I now knew that in my core, I was Christian. But the exposure I had with Christianity wasn’t very appealing. The Lutheran church I had gone to had seemed vague about the meaning of the Bible and really seemed to be a projection of one person’s opinions on God and the friends I had known, who I was very close to, had always seemed ostentatious with their beliefs. These friends had never really listened to what I had to say and a lot of my beliefs were considered wrong by them and there was no explanation or attempt to understand what I was saying. Maybe my parents had it right, believe in the divinity of Christ and let it go at that. I was unhappy with this decision but could see no other real option.

In May 2009, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. My German professor had suggested that I look into his May-term course to Germany. The class would be three weeks in Germany researching the Holocaust. The class was rather inexpensive and I was in love with Germany. Even now, I can’t really explain how I was able to convince my family to let me go but they ended up supporting my decision and I found myself in Germany. I visited Dachau, the very first concentration camp, I stood inside the gas chambers, and I saw the mass graves. That one trip shook my faith. How could a country of Christians do such horrible things? Where was the love and acceptance I had always been taught was essential to Christianity? That night I went to sleep wondering if there even was a God. Before we left Munich, our prof decided to show us the most beautiful churches in Munich. We toured Asamkirche, Peterskirche, and Frauenkirche (Asam’s Church, the Church of St. Peter, and The Church of Our Lady). We spent an hour in the Frauenkirche. I sat in a pew looking up at Jesus on the cross, I looked up to the saints depicted on the stain glass windows and I felt safe. Not the safe where I wasn’t obsessively looking around for pickpockets (although I did feel safe in that way as well) but I stopped worrying; I lost the weight that had been on my shoulders and I felt like myself again. As I left, I stopped by the small shop outside the Frauenkirche to buy Thérèse a rosary as a gift (even before our foray into Catholicism she collected them) and was talked into buying one for myself by the shop lady (German women are very pushy).

At first, I didn’t think much of that day – it seemed natural that God would answer my yearnings in a church whether I was there religiously or not – but I found myself making excuses to visit every Catholic church I could. And when I returned home at the end of May, I found myself thinking of those churches and the peace that I had found in there. So I began researching the places I visited and the different features of each church – what the tabernacle was, what holy water was used for, etc. And the more I learned about Catholic beliefs, the more I realized that “hey, that’s what I believe!” By the end of summer I was practicing Catholic prayers and looking into how to become part of the official church.

My decision was made and there was only one left to do, tell the person I rely on the most – my big sister. So, as we were driving home from our aunt’s house one night I took the plunge.

“Don’t laugh at me,” I began.

“Why?” I could already tell that she was just gathering her breath, waiting to laugh. After all, our relationship is built on our ability to laugh at each other.

“I think I want to become Catholic…”

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