You made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. – Saint Augustine
This single quote, to me, best provides a summary of both the source and purpose of faith. The truth that St Augustine expressed is the reason that I am here, in this parish, on this journey today.
I have suffered greatly in my life, not from external events that have happened to me, but from deep within myself. I have always felt something missing from within me. There have been a few times where in silence, meditation or prayer, I have felt an overpowering presence of love, like nothing I’ve ever felt before, filling me up. When I have been low and empty, and I have been humbled to silence, I have felt the presence of God and I knew that feeling of pure love came from the source of love itself. I have felt what I can only describe as the feeling of a hand coming to rest on my shoulder as I was on the precipice of making one of the biggest mistakes of my life, after praying the day before to St Michael the Archangel for guidance. Which is a shocking experience for someone who has studied in the sciences, it defies rationality somewhat, but could not have been more real in my experience.
This is where my experiences allowed me the perspective which St Augustine wrote about. Only in God have I found a peace in my heart that quenches the suffering of my human existence. From these experiences I have arrived at a place in my life where there is no doubt left within me that God exists, and no doubt that of all my other responsibilities, work, family, Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, God is the most important.
I remember a revelation I had at age 8, lying in the AV room at St Francis of Assisi primary school in Calwell, during a guided meditation. I thought ‘This God who has a son thing doesn’t make a great deal of sense… Maybe when I get older, I’ll make my own religion when I can figure this out.’
I learned about the religions of the world in high-school, where I was drawn to the eastern religions, particularly Buddhism. To me this made more sense, it was a practice of self-transformation, rather than a religion which was about ticking the boxes to please a sky-man who would reward you in a transactional manner with a ticket to heaven. I stopped going to mass and fell away from the parish somewhere around 19, and never looked back, assimilating the common understanding of Christianity from secular Australia.
I spent a time doing what men in their 20’s do; that is, in my case, making terrible choices. Then I found Yoga at 28. I fell in love with the spiritual journey again and dived in deep, training as a teacher. I was good at it and would attract up to 80 people to classes to move and strengthen and sweat, and, legitimately hear about spiritual teaching. So, what makes a man who can talk about spirituality in public and have people think he’s pretty cool, chose to return to the Catholic Church, particularly at a time where it is in crisis? I found that the underbelly of Yoga has largely lost its spiritual practice in the west and is much more focused on ego, and I found a deep intellectual history in the Christian faith which was much deeper than I ever knew.
The concept of Sin was one I struggled with, as this idea of transactional religion, be good, go to heaven, be bad go to hell… The Greek word Amartia relates to spear throwing, meaning to miss the mark. Yet, to me, more profound is the Hebrew roots for the word; Kata is a term with its roots in archery, meaning to miss the gold at the centre.
Yoga taught me that we all have a divine spark within us, meaning there is a part of us that is of the nature of God. The bible says that we are made in the image and likeness of God, which as a younger person I understood as meaning that God is like a human. But instead this concept is akin to that concept in Yoga. God imbued man with a spirit that is of his nature. Maybe this is the gold at the centre of our being, that we become in tune with when we dissolve the egocentric, worldly human focus of life. This was a profound understanding for me. Sin, is less of a list of rules that only the pious can keep, and more of an intrinsic guidepost. When we sin, it’s not that we’re bad, but that we miss the mark of being in tune with our deepest nature, that nature which is of God.
Upon returning to the church, and speaking with a number of people who would play a vital role in my conversion, Deacon John Lim, Sr Chloe Forsyth, Msgr John Woods and Father Peter, I was pointed in the direction of the mystics, particularly modern contemplatives Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating. I started to learn about prayer in a way that I’d never heard of.
Growing up, prayer was always petitionary prayer. This was not a practice which made much sense to me, and mostly still doesn’t. Contemplative prayer; however, does. This system of prayer with its roots in the desert monks at the dawn of Christianity involves silent prayer, much like mantra meditation in eastern religions, with a slight difference. The practice is done as offering to God, but also as a practice to humble the self, calm the busy mind and start to transform the person on a deep level. Ultimately this form of prayer seeks to dissolve what Thomas Keating calls the false self-system. The idea of ourselves we get from our worldly status and position, our material things and our achievements. As we dissolve this, we move closer to God.
This practice became the focus of my spirituality and brought together the aspects of Eastern religion which I intrinsically knew held truth and placed them within the context of the Christian faith. I read the Gospels from start to finish for the first time as an adult, at age 33. What I found was not a series of tales of a Magical god-man performing miracles, as it felt when I was a child, but the story, rich in symbology and mystery of a man, whom was fully divine and fully man, and a journey of massive transformation. A story of the giving up of worldly things, of deep silent prayer and withdrawal and of love for all people. This was a different Jesus to the man presented to me as a child, and I was saddened by the fact that this had not been shown to me as I grew older and questioned more.
Being asked to say this reflection on Father’s Day has made me reflect on two things throughout my journey. First, the birth of my Daughter Róisín. When she came into the world that love of God that I had felt only a handful of times before in my life, enveloped me life a wildfire. No words can describe it, yet all parents know it. God is there in that. I remember distinctly Father Peter’s reflection that the love of God is like the gaze of a child at their parent. If God should love me in the way that it feels when that child stares at me, then I, and indeed we all are, so unspeakably blessed.
Secondly the importance of the role we play as parents in the journey of faith for our children. Faith formation has had a bad wrap in the past. Cranky nuns and brothers teaching doctrine like a drill sergeant, fire and brimstone, guilt and shame are all still felt within the generations living today. Yet exploring our own faith, understanding it in deeper more mature ways, being able to speak about it in the context of everything we know in our modern society about science and other cultures and history.
Most importantly giving credit to our kids, that even at age 8, they can start to bounce around some pretty heavy thinking material, and we should be ready to talk with them in an open and very real way about faith. If these little people can remember all of the characters from Harry Potter, and their personal patronus charms, and that Professor McGonagall’s first name is Minerva, they can most definitely handle an exploration of who Jesus was in a bit more depth.