I had a profoundly religious experience at one point in my life. I don’t know what to think of it now, as an agnostic-atheist. It was powerful, but I guess it wasn’t powerful enough to keep me from gradually letting go of God.
I am not a religious person. I never really was, even when I was Christian. I found the idea unsettling–not so much because I thought the practice was creepy, but because I felt like a fraud for trying to be a part of it. I loved to ask questions, but maybe I hated answers, so the thought of everything going back to God was boring. In church, repeatedly told that God Is Watching and that Jesus Is With Me, I began to think that there was no way I could get away with pretending to be righteous. I was never a good person, as nice as I was. And even though they told me Jesus Loves Us All and that God Always Forgives, I assumed I was doing something wrong every time I prayed, and especially every time I accepted Jesus into my heart (which was essentially just a really special prayer).
My immediate family was not religious. I don’t know what my position was on God early on. Maybe I didn’t think about it too much. But I had religious friends, and I’d find myself in Sunday Schools after a Saturday night sleepover, or in a Christian summer camp where I figured swimming in a lake and riding horses was worth all the gospel singin’. So I fell into the Christian thing, more or less going with the flow of camp activities.
My experience happened during summer camp. I must have been nine or ten. We would go to chapel every day and usually we would sing. I don’t remember what the context of this particular sermon was, but it was special, somehow. People weren’t just doing the weird thing where they hold up their hands and close their eyes while singing hymns, though that was definitely still happening. We were encouraged to come to the podium and pray, and pray for each other.
There was no one I wanted to pray for, which was one of those things which I assumed made me unworthy of this whole business. I don’t remember why I went up. To fit in, probably. I saw several people lying down, or kneeling, with eyes closed, as someone else prayed over them.
I lay down on the cold wooden chapel floor. I closed my eyes to pray, or pretend that I was praying. The music was loud and the voices and cries for God and Jesus were deafening amidst the chants.
I stood in a hallway. I can’t describe it any other way. Colours were not colours. It was like a nothing world (I imagine it as black now, but then? I’m not sure) where somehow I could make out the outlines of doors, lined in a row along nothing-walls. I walked forward, or was carried forward, or I floated–I don’t know, but I passed through the hall, past several doors, until turning to the left at one particular door. It opened. I heard a voice.
Behind the door was a splash of light, pricks of red colour in darkness. It looked exactly like what the inside of your eyelids look like after seeing a camera flash or a lightbulb suddenly turn on. A fading imprint of fireworks. I opened my eyes and looked up to see a boy looming over me, hands on my chest, praying to God to save me. From what? The boy seemed surprised when he saw me looking at him. I pushed him away, got up, and left the chapel.
I’m not sure what happened. I don’t see how I could have fallen asleep in that noisy chapel, on an uncomfortable floor. I have a hard enough time falling asleep in my own bed, let alone a strange floor. But if I did fall asleep there, it was for only a few seconds, as no time seemed to have passed. Part of me thinks it was some kind of trance or hypnosis–just being caught up in the moment. Or maybe I almost met God in a heavenly hallway, but a fat boy brought me back to this miserable world. I don’t know. It all seems so surreal, like I made it up at some point and forgot it never actually happened. But it did happen. It was real, whatever it was.
Maybe that was my calling to live a life devoted to God. And I just wasn’t impressed. Or I was too apathetic. Or I still couldn’t be convinced that God wanted me. Maybe it meant nothing. But I think about it sometimes, when I ask myself whether or not I believe in God. Someone with that kind of experience would have a solid basis for eternal faith. But not me. I guess I’ll never be able to stop asking questions.