This is the story of my life.
When I was growing up, there was this door (metaphorically speaking). The door was not locked; however, I was told never, ever to go through it.
I wasn’t told why, just that, “This door isn’t for people like us.” We were Jewish, and Jews were not allowed to open the door. Apparently, something bad would happen to me if I entered it. But I didn’t know what it was.
Certainly, my family didn’t want me to open that door. And my Jewish culture didn’t want me to as well. God, I thought, might even punish me if I did. So, being a dutiful and loyal child, I never considered going through the door. In time, I forgot all about it.
While I was growing up, my house was very dark, literally and metaphorically. My parents forbade me from ever opening the curtains and letting in light. They didn’t want the sun to bleach the carpets and the pretty furnishings. My parents loved the pretty furnishings, I think, more than they loved me.
It was dark in my household for other reasons as well. My parents worshipped at the altar of modernism, proudly displaying their monthly Playboy magazine on the coffee table. They loved traveling with their friends and raucous parties, often drinking to excess. I spent way too much time alone, accompanied by my TV friends, the Munsters, the Addams Family, and the Brady Bunch.
There were many other dark aspects of growing up at a certain time in history, the 60s, and in a liberal family and place: the schools were dangerous; drugs were an easy escape; boyfriends pushed me to do things way before I was ready. It wasn’t hard for them to get me to submit; I wasn’t very strong. Maybe it was because of being deprived of all of that light. I gave in to most of the dark forces and became pretty dark myself.
When I became a young woman, I changed. I stopped all of that bad behavior. I started searching for something, though I had no idea what it was. I dabbled in religion, the Eastern kind. I meditated and went on retreats with American teachers who gave themselves Indian-style names, such as Ram Dass. I started eating mostly vegetables, and doing strange postures, like standing on my head. But even though I pursued all kinds of stuff, I never, ever considered opening that door.
All I knew about the door was from my Jewish culture — and also through the society at large. I learned that the people behind the door were mean. They were very different than me. They imposed annoying holidays on the culture, especially Christmas, with its insipid music and ecologically unfriendly trees and lights.
I never spoke to those people behind the door, but apparently, they were somber and didn’t want anyone to have much fun. They believed strange things about a God who died and was resurrected. I never met one of these people, but I could tell I wouldn’t like them very much.
And then the strangest thing happened. A few years ago, when I was already well past my prime, I met one of them. And she wasn’t anything like I had thought. In fact, she was the opposite — joyous and sweet and kind. I assumed that she was an anomaly. And then I met another one, and he was as caring as the other person.
I became intrigued by the people behind the door; I wanted to learn more about them, understand their language. They had something that I needed, but I didn’t know what it was.
I bought their main book, The Bible, although I found it very confusing. The Old Testament, the New Testament, King James, New International Version . . . I had no idea how to decipher it, but many generous Christians helped me.
I immersed myself in reading as much as I could about these people, and listening online to innumerable sermons. It was immensely fascinating. I started thinking that maybe I should open the door and see what was behind it.
One day, I went to a church. But first I sat in my car in the parking lot, very frightened. I wondered if God would strike me down dead for doing something so forbidden. But I ventured inside and stayed for the whole service. When I returned to my car, I was ecstatic; I had survived!
It was a Catholic church, and very nice, but I didn’t know what was going on. So I went down the hall, so to speak, to one of the sister churches, an evangelical one. The service was easier to understand and more fun. The band played rock music; we put our hands up in the air and swayed and sang to the lyrics on the big screen. The church didn’t have any big crosses, but it did have air conditioning, upholstered pews, and very friendly and well-behaved people. I loved it all. In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to become one of them, which I did a few months later.
Everything was going great, and the depressed feelings that I had carried around with me my whole life dissolved. But after a few years, something was missing, something more reverent and holy. I didn’t know what it was. But one day — I realized later that it was the start of Advent — I began thinking that maybe I should go back down the hall to the other side, the Catholic one.
I went to Catholic churches a few times, and found out that it was a big, fat mess, so different than the evangelicals. Everyone seemed so confused. They were battling with each other over basic doctrine. They even argued with their leaders. Their babies hollered during the service; the pews were as hard as a rock; and not a single church had air conditioning. After a few months I had had enough, and was ready to return to the nice, obedient and comfortable evangelical world, although I would stay for one more Mass with the Catholics, on Easter.
And then the most amazing thing happened. I was sitting there during Mass, a bit irritated by the parishioners chit-chatting, when I felt something so strongly, that my body seized up. It was this Force of nature, something I had never experienced in my life, never anywhere, not even with the Protestants. I started sobbing. It was all too much. I flew out of the church and into the bathroom, crying and gasping for breath. I spoke to God right then and there, “What is going on? Is that You?” And I realized that Jesus was really there in the Eucharist, and that, as much as I wanted to, I wasn’t leaving the Catholics any time soon.
I also learned why the Catholics were in such disarray. They had been attacked by a myriad of enemy forces. They had even been betrayed by some of their own people, for example, professors who taught unsound, even heretical, doctrine. Even some of those really nice people down the hall in the Protestant world had gone after them.
People did this for a variety of reasons, such as lust and greed, since the Catholic Church is the moral compass of the world. Unsavory types wanted to make filthy movies and revolting pornography or get involved in the abortion industry. And many average citizens wanted to have guilt-free hook-ups. Much of the attack was orchestrated by the anti-Catholic news media, which triggered widespread confusion and division.
And there was a spiritual battle going on as well: because the Catholic Church is the most powerful force on earth for holiness and purity, it had amassed a lot of enemies. It dawned on me that if all of these forces focused their attacks on this Church, it must be for a reason; it must be the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Although I started realizing all of this, I still tried to leave several more times. It was too confusing and disorderly over there, and, although a lot of Catholics were kind and giving, I missed the super friendly and welcoming evangelicals.
And I was scared. I can be brave, I thought, but not that brave, and I didn’t want to be smack dab in the middle of both an earthly and a cosmic war. But every time I considered leaving, the same thing would happen: I would be sitting in the Catholic church, and be overcome by this Force more powerful than anything I had ever known before. It was as though Something was taking hold of me, cradling me in His arms, and He would not let me go.
One day, I realized that I couldn’t turn back. I had reached the point of no return. As scared as I was, I had to join them.
Now I am on track to be received into the Church soon. I am still nervous, but also over-the-moon happy. I feel as though I’m taking part in the greatest adventure of all time, one in which I will be accompanied by the Blessed Mother, the saints and martyrs, and Jesus, most of all Jesus.
During my journey into Christianity, I have at times suffered from great anxiety about not just entering that door, but embracing everything that is inside of it. I’ve worried: am I betraying my parents, my ancestors, my culture? Although my parents died many years ago, I, still the dutiful daughter, fear disappointing them.
And then the other night I had this dream:
I am walking in a dangerous and dark place, like a cavern. I am tripping as I walk and having trouble keeping my bearings. My father is standing next to me, looking strong and youthful. He helps me to walk; at times he even carries me.
I look in back of me for my mother. I am worried about whether she is okay. I see a beautiful, luminous woman standing close behind me. I think that she is the Virgin Mary.
And in back of her I see my mother, looking youthful and lovely. She joyfully waves at me. I happily wave back at her. I look ahead into the darkness, but now feeling relaxed and at ease. I know that everything is going to be alright.
(Note to readers: This was written a few months before I became a very happy and grateful Catholic.)