How Jesus Found Me

My earliest memories of anything to do with faith were two things my mother said. As I was brought up in an English family in the '60s and '70s, we went to the occasional Church of England service (usually in medieval churches, because we liked the atmosphere of old buildings). I remember once being driven through town and passing a charismatic church group's building and asking my mother what kind of church it was, and she said, 'Oh, we don't like that kind of thing'. I didn't ask why. When I was five, we once went to an Easter service in which the vicar told a Bible story using pictures. My mother disapproved of this afterwards, saying that they would never go there again, as the vicar made them feel like children.
I read the Narnia stories at 6 and loved them. Somehow I knew that Aslan was an allegory of Jesus and wanted to read all I could about Him. I loved the Bible stories in my illustrated children's Bible too.
I wasn't particularly happy as a child, and it's probably because of this that I began searching for God at an early age. I wanted to be good, knew that I wasn't and despaired of ever being so. Once, while improvising at the piano at around 7 or 8, my mother told me off for not practising, as I should have been doing. Something snapped inside, and I cried out, "I don't care, I just want to be good!" I imagine she thought I meant I wanted to be good at the piano, but I meant that I wanted to be good inside.

We had an attic in our house, where I would occasionally disappear when I wanted to be alone, and I would sit down and look at an old copy of the gospels; an enormous book with wonderful paintings by a Royal Academy of the Arts painter. These always made me cry.
When I was nine, I decided to be either a nun or a missionary. As far as I could see, nuns contemplated on God and missionaries traveled and told other people about Him.  I found an old pamphlet around this time, explaining the gospel and encouraging the reader to pray a prayer, surrendering his or her life to Jesus. I did so, but wasn't aware of anything happening and promptly forgot about it.
At twelve or thirteen I was confirmed and having read the Bible a lot up to then because I loved the stories in it, took it for granted that when the Bishop of Rochester plonked his hands on my head to confirm me, I would go back to my pew speaking in tongues. This didn't happen and I was disappointed. For several months afterwards I prayed hard, asking God to  fill me with the Holy Spirit, but nothing happened.

It was at that time that there was a notorious case of murder tried; Donald Nielson, aka 'The Black Panther' had brutally murdered several victims and the last was a 17 year old girl called Lesley Whittle.
For some reason this case gripped me and I read all I could in the papers about it. Apparently he recently died in prison, of motor neuron disease. Back then, I used to pray for him, and imagine a ray of light penetrating his cell, and somehow leading him to God. I don't know if he ever really repented. The odd thing was that I hadn't even repented myself and didn't even know that I could know God personally. I always thought of Jesus as a sort of heroic, fabulous figure pictured in a stained glass window. If someone had explained that I could know Him, I expect I would have jumped at the chance. We never talked about God at home - it wasn't the 'done thing' in polite English society. God was on the same level as sex and money - all taboo. I would probably have been too embarrassed to ask.

The way home from school meant a 30 minute ride on the bus and then walking 15 or 20 minutes from the village bus-stop, up the hill, over the top, along the ridge above the Weald of Kent and then down through fields and woods until home. Talking to the God I didn't expect to answer me was the best way to pass the time, and so I told Him a lot. Somehow the sight of all the beauty before me always made me want to thank Him, and I did. But not really getting through was discouraging. Taking the dog for walks to the 12th Century village church, leaving her tied to an iron ring in the church porch and going into the church to play the organ for an hour on my own didn't help either. I finally decided that God wasn't listening and decided to look elsewhere. Elsewhere were Hinduism, astrology and esotericism.

I started looking up stuff in the school library. I read everything I could get my hands on, from the Vedas to Erich von Däniken. The more I read, the hungrier I got and the less satisfied I felt.
I started a diary and began to write down what I called my 'revelations'.
Not being particularly happy, I used to fill the void with food, and the resulting overweight made me even unhappier. I felt trapped but couldn't break out. Nothing my parents tried did anything to help and I couldn't talk to them about it. My nails were bitten down to the quick and as I had been told by a well-meaning mother that no man would ever look at me if I bit my nails, I would hide my fingers from everyone.

The big question about what I should do after leaving school was looming every more monstrously on the horizon, and while I would have preferred to remain in perpetual childhood, it was obviously not to be. I really wanted to be a wife, mother and writer, but none of those things paid very well, and the least awful option was getting a training as a teacher. English would have been my first choice, but the Cambridge college I ended up going to didn't offer English as a subject to train secondary teachers in. So the next best idea was Religious Studies; preferably with as little to do with Christianity and Judaism as possible. I was sitting in the school library one morning, pondering over the fact of my recent application to the said college, when it suddenly hit me. I knew in that moment without any doubt at all, that God wanted me to do this course. I had never been more sure of anything. As a result, I sailed through the subsequent interview without the least nervousness and got a place there.

I had a year off in between however, and the following year, the generosity of  an elderly relative made it possible to spend three months in the US, where I helped run a summer camp and hung about with friends. The camp for the performing arts was run by a couple of men whose alternative lifestyle was completely new to me. Many of the camp's instructors were equally 'alternative' as was their habit of drug taking, free sex of various kinds and while I was puzzled about their generally debauched lifestyle I thought they were wonderful people; free, encouraging and warm-hearted; everything I wasn't used to finding at home.

Going back to England after the summer was over, I was completely unprepared for the culture shock, unprepared for university and wished I was back in the US again. I wrote dozens of letters to all the friends I had made over there, and waited week after week for a reply, but not one came back. It was devastating. College was fine, but I decided I wasn't going to join any clique; I would just observe people for a while and see where I belonged. I did join the Campaign for Soviet Jewry because I was appalled by the way the Jews were treated under communism in the USSR, much to the puzzlement of the others in the group, among whom I was the only Gentile.

I had no friends at first, and was adopted by a couple of girls on my course, who told me they were Christians. This was embarrassing. One just didn't go around using 'that' word. I took it for granted that everyone was a 'Christian', but one didn't need to publicise it. They were different, however. One was completely unselfconscious, couldn't care two hoots what anyone thought of her and was one of the blithest people I have ever met. The other was so unselfish and was always doing kind things for me. Both of them convicted me. I knew I was the opposite; paranoid about what people thought of me, miserable most of the time, eaten up with ego, guilt and self-hatred. They had something I wanted.

One day, one of them asked me if I was a Christian. Horribly embarrassed, I mumbled, "I suppose so," upon which she said, "Then you can't be!" This offended me deeply. I thought I was a good person. I'd never killed anyone or done anything really wrong. I found it offensive to be told that I needed Jesus, or needed cleansing by His blood.  But the more I thought about it, I realised that she was right and that I was far from being clean.

This was around November. I was becoming pretty depressed about my state, and one day cycled into the countryside to get away from everything. I went into a village church (thinking that God lived in churches) and in the middle of the darkened aisle, shouted up at the invisible ceiling, "God, if you're there, give me faith!" Nothing happened, however, and I wrote a hypocritical triviality into the church visitors' book on my way out.

Not long after that, we had to write an essay about Jewish feasts and festivals. I was reading one of the text books and stumbled across the first verse of Psalm 22. 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" I had never really read the Psalms before, as they had seemed boring to me, but this gripped me. Jesus had cried out in this way on the Cross. How come it was here in the Old Testament?

I was unaware at that time that knowing scripture was like breathing to any devout Jew of the 1st Century, and ran to one of my Christian friends to ask what this was all about. She told me that it was a prophecy which had been fulfilled at the Cross. My heart wanted to believe it, but my head couldn't. So I asked my tutor, a liberal theologian who used to call me his 'little guru' because I was into the Bhagavad Gita and Fraser's 'Golden Bough'. He told me that the early church, deciding that this was the most appropriate thing for Jesus to have said on the Cross, accordingly wrote it in, regardless of whether He had said it or not. Well, my heart wouldn't believe this either. The inner turmoil continued.

I went home for Christmas, was poisonous to everyone and stuffed myself on left-over turkey after everyone had left the dining room.
Back at college afterwards I threw myself into parties and made myself a laughing stock by flirting wildly. I was in my room one afternoon, had just finished reading a book about astrological signs and potential marriage partners, when I felt myself rooted to the floor. I saw myself, as it were, in a cage, with the bars closing in on me, felt my heart as if it were gripped in a pair of claws and heard a voice saying, "I've got you now, and I'll never let you go." It was pure evil. I had never felt so terrified in my whole life. There was nothing I could do. Looking over a railway bridge one day soon afterwards, I seriously contemplated suicide.

A couple of weeks later I was in my room, crying about everything, when one of my friends came in. She saw something was wrong and asked if she could pray for me. Sniffing dismissively, I said, "I suppose so," and she began to pray in tongues. In that moment, it was as if God came into the room. I was instantly aware of a Presence so holy, just and pure, that I knew that if there was a Hell, then I not only was I going there; I deserved to as well. Somehow I agreed with the sentence. There was no argument within me. Yet I continued to cry, and my friend quietly left without saying another word.

That week I was writing another essay about Carl Gustav Jung and his psychology of religion and in his book of the same name, read that people didn't want empty dogma or liturgy; they wanted to experience God for themselves. Another light went on. That is what I'd always wanted, and had somehow never been able to express it. I started searching the Bible for help, found various scriptures which encouraged me, and then one day was visiting my other friend, and looking through her book shelf. I found the book 'Death of a Guru' by Rabi Maharaj, and as it sounded morbid and had something to do with Hinduism, I asked if I could borrow it.

I read it in two hours flat and by the time I was finished, I knew that Jesus was alive, that He had risen from the dead, was the only way to God and that I could know Him personally. As I got up to go out of the door, I felt an enormously heavy weight slip from off my back. I ran back to my friend, and on the way, was astounded to see what I had thought were the grey, drab February flowerbeds of the college gardens transformed into colour vision for the first time. It was like getting colour TV after being used to black and white all my life. I begged for another book and was given 'I dared to call Him Father' by Bilquis Sheikh. Two hours later, that was finished too and I ran back for another; 'Betrayed' by Stan Telchin. It amazes me now, that she had exactly the books I needed to read.

Repentance is one of those words which has been so painted, or should I say, tainted, by Churchianity, that it has come to imply something different to what it really means, which is to turn 180° and walk in the opposite direction to which one was walking before.

If the route I'm on is taking me down the wrong road to the wrong destination, then common sense would dictate that I should turn around and take the right road. A Jewish prophet said something like this when he said, some 2500 years ago,' Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.' (Jeremiah 6:16). Most of us are going down the wrong road. Funny how most men won't ask for directions if they find themselves in the wrong place. Only a humble man will do so.

I had always believed that all religious roads led to god; but had never realised that it was just the wrong god that they all led to. Jesus wasn't religion at all: He was Reality! I knew Him. He loved me. He had forgiven me. He changed my life. I stopped swearing over night. I stopped lying. The need to find acceptance and approval from others gradually fell away. I was overflowing with joy. I wanted to do nothing but love Him and tell others what He had done for me.

Thus began a journey which is still continuing, deeper into Him. I have found the One who found me, and I'm still searching and following the Way.