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My hometown, a prairie farming community, had some 3,000 souls, five churches and five taverns. In 1954, Mom enrolled 13-year-old me in a catechism class in our local church. All good mothers want their children to pass their heavenly entrance exams.
Ministers asked us questions on church doctrine and we young hopefuls were obliged to read aloud the model answer together. For a long time before this, though, I had a couple of questions I ached to ask. I raised my hand, which interrupted the pastor’s reading. “What?” he asked. “God knows everything that was and everything that will be. Right?” “Absolutely! He is All-Knowing.” “Then why did He create me if He knew I was going to go to hell?”
That one flustered the pastor. Again my hand went up, interrupting the readings. “What is it now?” the pastor asked. “Everyone who believes in Jesus is saved—right?” Finally he had an easy answer. “That’s right, my son.” I continued, “Then everyone born before Jesus wasn’t saved by him.” “Yes.” In a near whisper I said, “I don’t believe that.”
“You are excused from this class young man! I want you to go home and tell your mother how you disrupted the whole membership class with your silly questions.”
My mother was not sympathetic. “You can’t go there like a normal person and just do what everybody else does. No, you have to be the smart-alec who shows off in front of everybody!” I had never before seen my mother in such a state of fury. She actually lost her voice she got so worked up.
But for myself, I was secretly happy. I would escape going to an incredibly boring class, and I could stay home and watch my favorite program: “Superman,” which aired on the very night the class was held each week.
On the other hand I learned an important lesson: always question things that don’t ring true.
For mother’s sake I continued singing in the choir and going to church on Sunday with my older brother. But I didn’t become a member until much later, and in an unusual way, which I will explain.
I dropped out of college in my sophomore year and joined the Navy for a four year hitch. At that point I had nothing to do with religion, organized or otherwise. Although I still believed in a Supreme Being, I searched for life’s meaning in nature and in literature.
Life on a Navy aircraft carrier far out in the Pacific creates its own special isolation. Whenever we got shore leave in Hawaii, China, the Philippines, Japan or Okinawa I went with my drinking buddies and we behaved like young idiots often do. I began to become ashamed of myself and my behavior.
With our six months’ tour in the Pacific over, my ship put into dry-dock for repairs and I went home for the Christmas holidays. But when my ship put to sea the next spring, I still felt low. In desperation, I got myself a Bible. My ex-drinking buddies saw me with it and began calling me “Padre.”
I tried reading the Bible, but it seemed like a confused jumble of moralistic stories. Then I opened the Bible at random and stuck my finger in to see if it would guide me. Twice in a row I came up with verses such as “seek and ye shall find” or “knock and it shall be opened unto you.” So I decided to give it a try.
One night I went up on the ship’s catwalk and looked at the full moon above. Then I uttered aloud my two word prayer: “I’m knocking.” Nothing. I looked at the moon and nothing happened. I don’t know what I expected. The thought came to me that all the magical experiences of the Bible, such as turning water into wine or walking on water, happened over 2,000 years ago. Nothing like that was going on anymore.
It wasn’t until years later that I made a connection between that tiny prayer and what happened next. When the ship pulled into Pearl Harbor the Master Chief Petty Officer who was my “boss” asked me, “How would you like to finish your service in Hawaii? You have a final top secret clearance and they need a yeoman clerk-typist at the Fleet Headquarters. You’ve two hours to get checked off the ship before it sails today.”
I made it in plenty of time. After a week or so on my new job one of my co-workers asked me if I’d like to go to a Baha’i meeting. I said, “It’s some kind of religion. Right?” He said it was and I told him I wanted nothing more to do with organized religion. Then he said, “Miss Hawaii is going to be there.” “Miss Hawaii is a member?” “Yes, she’s a friend too. I’ll introduce you.” Now that sounded like a wonderful idea.
As it turned out Miss Hawaii didn’t come to that meeting. I did get into a discussion with the speaker, who had said something to the effect that “God didn’t need us a nickel’s worth.” In my usual smart-alec way I responded that it was obvious that we were the product of a need or God wouldn’t have created us.
He then challenged me. “When you go back to your barracks tonight, pray about it and ask God if this is the truth. Don’t just close your eyes and quickly say something. Get into a serious state of prayer and then ask.” Again the smart-alec in me said to myself, “Yes, I’ll do that and come back and tell everyone nothing happened!”
Well, I was wrong. I took the advice seriously and when I got to the question I had a life-changing experience! I was carried up through veils of light. Powerful surges, like waves broke over my body from my feet to the crown of my head. Every atom of my being seemed to vibrate with unutterable ecstasy! I was LOVED! This was God’s Truth!
In the Bible it says:
If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? – Luke 11:11.
Now since God created us we have the right to ask Him for the true path. Right? Ask sincerely and He will answer sincerely. It changed my life forever:
Spirit has influence; prayer has spiritual effect. Therefore, we pray, “O God! Heal this sick one!” Perchance God will answer. Does it matter who prays? God will answer the prayer of every servant if that prayer is urgent. His mercy is vast, illimitable. He answers the prayers of all His servants… Therefore, it is natural that God will give to us when we ask Him. His mercy is all-encircling. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 246-247.
By the way… Miss Hawaii was later one of the Maids of Honor at my wedding.
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youth, Superman probably didn't
seem much more fantastic than some religious tenets. Your pure-hearted search was rewarded in
time, but our trust in eventually
finding answers can be strongly