When I was 15, I fell in love with J— and with Jesus. One stole my heart, the other my soul. Neither love would last, but both haunt me to this day.
In the ‘60s, while I was jumping rope and playing hop scotch, Jesus got down off of the heavy cross at the altar of the Catholic church and turned into a cool, hippie dude who loved everyone. It was quite a change of image for a guy who’d been King of Kings and Lord of Lords for almost 2,000 years to start chumming around with the regular folks as good ole boy, JC. The Jesus Movement, started in California by hippies who got high on Jesus instead of LSD, knew Jesus not as the stern, Father-God sorting out the sinners and the saints on Judgment Day, but as an earthy, loving brother accepting all humanity with open arms.
By the time the Jesus Movement reached Long Island at the end of the decade, it had lost most of its hippie accoutrements and had become quite suburban. Its evangelists looked more like Ozzie and Harriet than like Peter, Paul, and Mary. My parents were too old to be hippies and I was too young, but both of our generations succumbed to the hippie mantras of the Jesus Movement: Peace, Love, and Joy.
The further Jesus moved from the cross, the closer he moved to my heart. From Almighty Son-of-God to Personal Savior to friend. When his sandal-shod feet finally hit the dusty ground, I was ready to fall in love with him forever…
A few years ago, my husband and I drove from Colorado to Nevada. I was enthralled by the rock formations along the way, particularly in Utah. Yellow, red, green, and purple hues covered the mountainscape like watercolor paints gently brushed onto a canvas. The soft colors were in stark contrast to the rugged shape of the landscape. In some places, jagged cliffs predominated. In others, formations of hard rocks were balanced on top of softer stone that had eroded leaving the impression that the landscape had been chiseled away by an ancient Michelangelo. Still other sections were filled with flowing rock formations that looked like piles of sand had slowly broken off of the surface of the mountain and slipped down around its ankles like a crumpled silk robe.
The beauty of the mountains alone is enough to inspire awe, but learning about geology and understanding that millions of years of erosion have sculpted layers of sedimentary rock into the buttes, mesas, and curvaceous canyons I saw along the highway deepened my appreciation for the scenery.
When I was younger and a born again Christian, my curiosity about nature was stifled by the belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that the entire universe had been created by God in six days.
Although that belief eventually made the universe seem small and claustrophobic to me, at the time, I found solace and inspiration in the idea of creation…
I don’t believe in an afterlife, so every second of my time on earth is precious. The years remaining in my life provide the only chance I will have to fulfill my potential and make a difference. The people I love are to be cherished in the here and now for there will be no reunions in another realm. The suffering and pain on earth must be alleviated today because there is no happy ever after in the sky. Beauty is to be admired and appreciated now because tomorrow it will fade away. I must make meaning in life every day, because there is no-one providing a purpose for me to fulfill.
When I was a Christian, I wanted to believe that God endowed the universe with purpose and my personal life with meaning. I spent time every day reading the Bible to discover God’s purpose in the universe. I spent time praying every day to discover God’s will for my individual life. I was not alone in my search. Similar beliefs were held by most people for much of history and went largely unchallenged until nineteenth century philosophers began to consider the possibility that the universe and human life had no built-in meaning. For centuries science had been moving humanity further away from its prized position at the center of the universe.
After Galileo discovered that the Earth is not the center of the Solar System and Darwin revealed that humans had evolved from earlier primate ancestors, it was no longer possible to consider that humanity deserved any special place of honor…