Jourgensen: A twisting, turning road called Faith

I am a person of faith and I write for a living, but I’ve always been uncomfortable writing about faith. Oh sure, I’ve written plenty about religion, including dozens of articles about churches building additions; priests explaining Lent; rabbis defining Hanukkah’s symbolism, and imams and monks talking about their training. But I’ve never written in detail about faith, about how people embrace it, and what faith means to them. So I’ll give it a shot now by writing about what faith means to me.

My dad grew up Catholic and mother was raised Presbyterian. For reasons never revealed to me, we went to the Presbyterian church on Sundays and my first brush with religion was sitting on hard pews in tight shoes and itchy pants counting the pages in the Bible (I know — they’re numbered) because I was bored stiff.

My mother enrolled me in summer Bible class when I was 8 or 9 and I goofed around with my friends and tuned out the teacher until she started talking one afternoon about Jesus wandering from town to town, spreading something she called The Word.

She didn’t describe a man who was worshipped and loved and always gentle and patient, like the Jesus pictured in the Bible illustrations. The Jesus she described argued with people. He was despised and criticized by the powerful and even His friends didn’t always believe what He said.

This portrait of Jesus preaching from the road flipped an “on” switch somewhere inside me. I started to get interested in Bible class and the man at the center of the lessons we learned. When my family moved to a new city and my parents joined a congregation that participated in civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, I realized Jesus’ message wasn’t, “love your neighbor,” as much as it was, “get off your butt and get into action.”

I won’t lie and say I took that commandment to heart and followed Jesus’ call to action into teenage- and then adulthood. In fact, I did the opposite: When people talked about faith, I mocked them as “Bible thumpers” or people who hid behind religion to avoid life’s hard knocks.

One night, I asked a Jewish friend of a friend why he spent so much time in his local temple and regularly read the Torah. “Yeah,” he smiled, “I give a lot of time to my faith, but my faith gives a lot back to me.”

I didn’t pursue the conversation, but his words stuck with me over the years until I found myself dropping into noon Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Lynn. No one had urged me to go to church, but I found myself attracted by the shared sense of community that came from worshipping with others and the solace derived from an hour of reflection.

I also found that the readings made sense in my life. I could hear the message I first heard half a lifetime earlier when I read about how Jesus told the disciples to set aside their life’s pursuits and follow Him.

I became a Catholic in 2010 on a night that began with St. Mary’s vast darkness broken only by candles held by hundreds of people. I heard the words, “the light of the world” calling me to a journey like the one the disciples took.

If you ask me to describe my faith, I would say it is simple and direct. The words I read in the morning alternately surprise, warn, chastise and buoy me. My faith is a tiny beacon guiding me with, I hope, just enough light for someone else to find their way.

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