I have found my faith. Not the kind of faith I was expected to have, seated in the pew of that church, constructed at the end of my road when I was a teenager. That kind of faith felt contrived and without substance to me then, as though it was expected to be delivered on queue when the priest demanded it.
I struggled as a child to accept religion. My father was indoctrinated into Catholicism as a boy by devout sisters who raised him after his mother died. It didn’t stick, and he left the church when he left home. My mother grew up without a church, but with the fear she would be banished to hell without a baptism. So, they chose a church for me.
I was sent off to catechism, told what to believe, and surrendered into a religion in which I found contradiction and hypocrisy.
It didn’t sit well that I was required to cover my head to enter the church because women were vain, or that I was required to genuflect, bow my head and humble myself when I entered the building. Or even more so, that I had to pay homage to a man, who, although I was told he was an agent of God, was obviously human and flawed. It was all so disconcerting, I left it behind as soon as I could.
I’ve lived the past five decades as an atheist, trusting in my own ability to guide me through my younger life. I was completely self-reliant and believed I could manifest whatever future I chose without divine intervention. And for the most part, I did. My life was full. I had all I needed and enjoyed some success and many fulfilling relationships. What I wanted, I could have, as the creator of my own destiny. Or at least that was the narrative that played out in my youth.
But that was then before life changed. Before I retired, and temporarily lost my purpose. Before unexpected physical conditions hampered my ability and self-doubt crept in to dismantle my confidence and teach me I am not invincible.
It was shocking to discover I couldn’t force my will upon this stage of life. No amount of determination could resist the effects of time. I tried. I tried hard, failed, and then I tried again, determined to defy this new reality, to postpone it just a while longer. But, it was futile, and I retreated into myself to ruminate on what that meant for me.
I spent time hiking the hills, turning to nature as my guide, observing the natural progression of time in the wild. I watched as trees, burned by a wildfire, surrendered to gravity and the elements to lie down in their own shadow and rest. I watched as the deer came closer, desperate for water and tender greenery. Fearing me less than their destiny in the harsh summer heat and learning to trust they could revive themselves with the water I offered.
Nature was teaching me, demonstrating for me what life does as it carries all living things along to their end.
I learned about trust, about acceptance, and I realized how letting go of expectations gives every moment a chance to bloom in its own unique way. And for a time, I grieved, not for myself, but for the passing of time, for the ultimate truth that everything ends someday, somehow.
But then, one morning, below an ancient sequoia that has stood for thousands of years, I suddenly understood. The message came as though it had been waiting for me to catch up. I heard the words; just keep going.
A source of inner wisdom encouraged me to let go of the plan I devised before I could have possibly known where and how I would be here and now and put one foot in front of the other just as I would on an unexplored trail. It instructed me to move cautiously when I must. To stop and savor the vista for as long as I could. To rest when I needed, but to always continue on, fully aware the end of the trail is ahead.
Yet, it cautioned to never let the end ruin the journey. To strive, savor and relish the warmth of the sun while it shines. To be optimistic and realistic and allow myself to fully enjoy the magical moments just as I let the sadness well up when it must, embracing the fullness of emotions and letting go of the struggle.
I found my faith there among the wild things.
I accepted what was and understood I could look forward and plan my life without knowing what lies ahead or how I will navigate it. I realized I could be hopeful and joyful where I am right now and face whatever comes when it does, with a fortitude strengthened by surmounting the obstacles of the past.
I can take refuse as the storms pass and climb to the summit to watch the sunrise when the skies clear. I don’t need to know when the storm will pass. I just need to trust it will, stay inspired, live fully, and let it be.