In my life, I have managed to find a wide range of reasons not to believe in God. As an infant I was dipped, dripped, & baptized. As a child I was communed and confirmed in the tradition of the Catholic Church, went to Catechism every Monday at St. Christopher’s, and dutifully went to confession on Saturdays, and took communion on Sundays. Growing into a teenager it was more of an obligation than it was a true belief.
hen I was 15 or so, and for a reason that I cannot remember today, I went to confession and confessed to having intimate (very) relations with my then girlfriend who would later become my wife. Expecting the customary ten “our Fathers” and ten “Hail Mary’s” from the priest, I was shocked & angry when he fairly hissed through the screen that “you will cut off all relations with this girl and never see her again”! Yeah…right. Adding insult to injury he also gave me the “Our Fathers and the Hail Mary’s”. When I walked out of the confessional door that day, any religious attachment to the Holy Roman Church was left behind in that dark booth. I stopped being a Catholic. That wasn’t all that uncommon at that age as we were trying to find ourselves and be an individual. I had heard of Atheism and Madelyn Murray, and promptly became an atheist. Much easier that being a Catholic. All you have to do is not believe. Not believing is a teenager’s way of avoiding the task of thinking about it. So…I didn’t think about it, and anyway, there are more important things to think about at that age. It wasn’t until some years later that I gave it some thought when I heard the word “agnostic” used within the framework of religious belief. This was a reasonably new phenom (to me) within the world of religion and allowed it’s user to be neutral on the subject of God. This approach was easier than being an atheist although straddling the fence can be slightly more difficult when debating the issue.
When I was in my fifties, the word “mortality” became increasingly invasive in my life and started haunting me, although to be fair, over time I had grown “spiritual”. It’s funny how something like death & dying can change ones perspective about believing. Hell, believing in something is better than not believing and anyway I was at the stage in life where I conceded that there was indeed a “supreme being” of sorts. After all, isn’t everything in life just so perfect that there just has to be “something” out there?
It wasn’t until very recently in my 60th year that I realized, that back in 2007 when I was 58, God had just about enough of my fancy elitist religious philosophies, and sent an emissary in the form of a tiny black kitten. What a brilliant thing to do! Send a cat to my door-soaking wet in a pouring rainfall…looking up at me and crying with the tiniest of meows. I hated cats, nay I loathed them. Some idiot had dropped off a very gentle mother and her two kittens who promptly took shelter under our patio set.
I never had a pet. I was never allowed to have a pet as a child much less a cat. My mother had a cat when she first had my brother & sister and always told me that they were “sneaky” because she had almost tripped over one when she was holding the baby. I never wanted pets growing up because I didn’t want to take the time and subsequently, my sons were raised without pets as well. My wife Cindy was allergic to cats. And to dogs as well. Her eyes would puff up when she was in the same room. But we looked at each other knowing we could not let this poor little baby stay out in the rain so we opened the door…”just till it stops raining”. I promptly fell in love with this little angel. We named him Shadow because he is black.
Over the past two years, Shadow has changed our lives in ways that leave us in awe today. Not only did I love him, but I came to love every dog & cat I came upon. Cindy magically lost her allergies. I, after having hunted deer for 25 years, lost my taste for killing, quit the sport and gave my rifle to my son Kurt. I volunteered to help at the animal shelter and have been nicknamed Katmandu.
Nevertheless, I still didn’t put a great deal of stock in God. Oh, I was saying prayers by now and then, and having some passing thoughts about him… but nothing definitive.
And then Shadow got a bit sick one day in June of this past year and we took him to the local vet. It was diagnosed as a simple viral infection and the vet gave him a shot in his hind leg. He was immediately paralyzed and could only drag his leg behind him when he walked. We took Shadow to a prominent vet in Traverse City for tests and were advised that the injection was given too high in his leg, and had severed his sciatic nerve. His leg would very likely have to be amputated. Cindy & I had never cried together in the past despite some real bad times but now we found ourselves bawling uncontrollably. Completely devastated, we took Shadow downstate to a renowned animal neurologist who was in fact, the only one in the state. She examined Shadow and sadly, gave us the same diagnosis…the leg would in all probability be amputated. She prescribed physical therapy that we subsequently performed with diligent determination. But, she warned, nothing short of a miracle would bring the leg back. Over the following days and weeks, Shadow did not do any better with his leg and I saw no sign of Improvement although Cin claimed she did.
I prayed to this God that had sent this tiny emissary and caused all this pain & anguish for us. I prayed and Cindy prayed. And finally, I made a bargain to whomever might be listening to me through my prayers. I promised that if he would heal Shadow…if he would give him back his leg, I would never again doubt.
Today, just hours before Christmas, I believe in God. Shadow is walking normally, leaps tall buildings and bookshelves in a single bound, and stops speeding trains with his right rear leg. We didn’t really notice exactly when it happened, but it seemed like overnight. Today, I give thanks to God every morning and tell anyone who will listen, the story about the kitten that God sent to the man who wouldn’t believe.
Today I am humbled.