Why I am a Christian

by frankbeswick

Every individual Christian has his/her own pathway to God, but there is a wide range of experiences and factors which contribute to its development and growth.

I was baptized at six days old, and am sixty six now. Throughout all those years there has never been a time when I did not identify as Christian. But over the years my understanding of the faith has changed and developed.The adult faith that I have now is different from the simple childhood faith of the five year old being taken to mass at St Francis church in Gorton, Manchester, known to many as Gorton Monastery. My home was a major factor in contributing to the maintenance and growth of Christian faith, but there are other factors. My own prayer and thought have been a major contribution, not to say my responses to the difficulties of life, which make or break faith.

Image courtesy of Gamopy

Childhood Influences

There is no doubt that the spiritual and  moral ethos of the home has a profound influence upon a child, and mine was a deeply religious home. Both of my parents were religious, and though we lived with mother's non-Catholic father until I was four he made no attempt to interfere in our upbringing. My father worked shifts so he was often not present at bed time, but mother always led prayers.  Moreover,  from an early age I was taken to mass every Sunday.Not that the infant Frank behaved himself, by all accounts I was at times a little horror, but hopefully you will deem that I have grown out of it. 

I cannot underestimate the power of regular mass attendance in my experience. Some people say that they have stopped going to mass because it isn't fun or exciting. I agree, but there is a powerful profundity to the ritual which transcends  the mere  physical acts of the priest and congregation. It was mass more than anything that infused faith into me and reinforced it.  Mass attendance reinforced my sense of belonging to a faith community. I have never willingly missed Sunday mass, and my longest spell of absence was several weeks at the age of 8, when I was dangerously ill in bed, completely confined to total bed rest. I did not properly recover for two or more years, during which time I was quite sickly. That was a dark and grim time.

At thirteen I took the path opposite to that taken by Richard Dawkins, who at a young age decided that evolution and God were incompatible  explanations, so he abandoned God. I was taking an interest in Geology and Paleontology and soon encountered evolution. Both of my parents were creationists, not because of any anti-science stance, but because they did not understand the issues. So I was raised in a creationist environment. But unlike Dawkins I studied both the scientific and religious angles on evolution  and concluded that evolution and religious belief were compatible. I then explained the case to my parents, who then came to realize that evolution and faith were compatible. So much then for the atheist who said that I had been indoctrinated by my parents!   

At the age of sixteen I and some other lads used to meet at school dinner time for earnest discussions on religion. There were atheists, agnostics and some believers,of whom I was the strongest. None should say that teenagers are all flippant, we were a serious group. No one converted anyone of the others, but these discussions taught me that citing  theology alone does not convince anyone and that philosophy was needed to enable us to debate rationally. That realization shaped my life, as shortly afterwards I went to theological college, where I had my first encounter with Philosophy, the subject in which I was to take a master's degree. But then youthful years were coming to a close, and the next stage of life was beginning.   

The Content of Faith.

Part of growing up is to widen your mind, and my mind widening involved realizing that there were there people who disagreed with me, which I knew already, but that they did not see much weight in my arguments, a view that was reinforced by my experience of the school discussion group. To even things out, I saw little weight in theirs.  At theological college I soon became aware that even within the supposed monolith of Catholicism there were serious differences of opinion. I argued much during that period, and have not really changed much since then! So my faith has had to   grow in an encounter with intellectual opposition, which has tested its muscles and honed them. My faith survived. 

Over the years I began to develop an interest in religious experience, which is one of my specialist academic areas.I began to realize that at the root of all genuine religion is what Beardsmore calls a sense of presence, and what Martin Buber calls presence/power. This is not the spectacular religious experience of the vision or mystical experience, though I once at twenty three underwent one of the latter, a few moments of nature mysticism when sitting atop Pen yr Oleu Wen one fine summer day in the Welsh mountains. For me religious experience is a sense that one is being empowered and/or guided in the direction of the good, it is  a sense that there is more to the world than the material  reality that we see and hear. 

But religious experience alone does not suffice,for it is too vague and elusive and can let you down in moments of  darkness and emptiness. . All human growth of mind occurs in community, and our thoughts are shaped by the ideas of the community to which we belong. My religious experience was  mainly within the community of the church, which provided the conceptual framework for its formulation and use.  The church allows us to share  the religious experience off others, for alone our religious experience is not enough.

Valuing the church  does not mean that everything in the Christian church is rosy and that any church, including mine, is right on everything,but that the main ideas are right.Right as far as they go, for only a simplistic person would think that we have done anything but sip at the divine mysteries which fascinate us. Realizing that our faith is just a tiny taste of a great mystery  empowers us to grow in times of difficulty and darkness rather than give up. 

Being saved is an important part of the Christian experience. For some the experience of being saved is a bombshell that erupts into consciousness at a Bible meeting. But I have always insisted to my charismatic and evangelical brethren that the path to God contains many ways, and for me the experience of being saved was not found in a single moment, but in an awareness that my nature and individual personality contain a dark side that can only be overcome by God.  

Conclusion

So to draw the lines together, why am I a Christian? Ultimately, all true Christianity is a response to Christ. It is the recognition that the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit,is a guiding power/presence in one's life, and that this Spirit is mediated by the Christian community, the assembly of those who follow Christ and live their personal calling according to his way. But the spirit that empowers  the Christian life is inseparable, if distinct, from the Christ story. Without the story of Christ the spirit dimension of the faith would not be conceptualized or understood.

Christ fascinates and inspires me. The story of Christ is a revelatory event that reveals humanity at its best and God as he descends to cross the gap between humanity and himself in the most profound way. The cross is  part of this revelation event, for it manifests God's judgment on the false values of a sinful world and his self-giving love that shared in humanity's pain and grief. Yet  the cross is inseparable from the resurrection, which is God's triumph of evil and death,the first day of a transformation of the world that may yet take many years. To accept the Christ story and be part of the community centred on him is to step into inspiration and hope, it is to be empowered; and this is  what I think is a key aspect of my Christian faith.

But the faith is not delivered ready made in childhood, it is only theology at a simple level delivered in love. Christian faith takes  lifetime to grow, so I believe that my faith is a work in process. Reflection, serious thought about the issues and regular prayer, both as an individual and in participation with the Christian community  is the engine of growth in faith. Prayer is the soul's refueling,and without it an individual's faith runs out of steam and withers. Christian faith should be strong, and this strength can only be developed through facing difficulties, either doubt, hard work, stressful situations or persecution. Like muscles my Christian faith has had to grow through  exercise in some of these situations.   

Part of the development of my Christian faith is the realization that faith is not always allied to doctrinal orthodoxy or reflected in it. True faith realizes that all doctrinal formulation is an unfinished attempt to express a transcendent mystery in human terms.So essential to my Christian faith is a continued attempt to grow in wisdom. One of the reasons why I am a  Christian is that faith allows me to engage in this quest; but without love, as St Paul says, faith is useless. So for me faith is the power behind growth in love of God and neighbour. 

Updated: 12/14/2016, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick on 12/08/2016

A pastor who delivers insightful messages! A blessing indeed. Such a pastor can only do this if he is not only a scholar, but a person of faith and personal holiness. All preaching is an outpouring of the preacher's soul. It strikes me that an eloquent, scholarly, but spiritually weak preacher will be less effective than a spiritually sincere, but less scholarly one. I can recall a priest who was not a talented preacher, but he always worked hard at preparing his sermons, and his witness to his faith shone through his inadequacies.

Faith sees you through difficulties, for it gives you a longer term perspective on life. Be strong.

dustytoes on 12/08/2016

I believe there is a lot to think about in this article. Although I was brought up as a Christian, I never really embraced that until I was far into adulthood. When I began attending a good church, with a Pastor who delivered insightful messages, then I delved deeper into the Bible and my quest for knowledge. I was gung ho at that point, and later, as life became tough for me, I leaned on my belief and faith to get me through. Recently my faith is being challenged again, so as you say, it's a lifelong growing experience.

frankbeswick on 12/06/2016

You are correct in this matter,for the experience of God in and through nature is very important. Considering that sacrament is a way in which the sacred is mediated by matter, perhaps nature is a kind of sacrament for the divine presence /power.

blackspanielgallery on 12/06/2016

Indeed, many cultures have sought a deity through nature, a way Gd reveals much of Himself to humanity. Hence the cultures that viewed the sun as a god. Finding God in nature is a basic instinct of most humans.

frankbeswick on 12/06/2016

Well observed. You seem to be inspired by Aquinas' method, which is quite normal for a Catholic. Questions can be posed as a set, and should be, but these questions grow and develop during one's life.

My philosophy is very Catholic, in that I believe that reason has a major role to play, but that it works on the givens of revelation and natural theology [our knowledge of God through the world.] I believe that there is a natural revelation of God that is found in signs in the world, and also in religious experience, and reason must work to help us understand this revelation . But Catholicism teaches that there is a higher revelation of mysteries that comes in Scripture and finds its peak in Christ. This augments natural revelation, but we must use our reasoning powers to comprehend it.

blackspanielgallery on 12/05/2016

Frank, you obviously understand that acceptance of religion is different for each of us. I use logic, and have long ago posed to myself a series of questions. The answers came, but not in a day. I can see there must be an intellectual connection with religion for you. Of course studying one's religion is so basic to being able to make an intellectual approach, and you obviously have done much studying.

frankbeswick on 12/05/2016

I did not tell you that my publisher went bankrupt this year, and most of my books, which are all school textbooks, are now out of print. I have just four of them on my computer. Shoots Out of Eden, my book on monastic gardening is still available from another publisher. But I have mentioned the books before, in passing.

Veronica on 12/05/2016

Great article . Have you ever mentioned on Wizzley the numerous books you have written ? People may be interested in your works.

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