My first encounters with God were in a hospital in Welland, Ontario, just south of Niagara Falls. I was performing bedside rites and visiting the sick for a variety of faiths as a young Mormon missionary. I was 20 and naive, but I knew enough about people to know that you don’t preach doctrine next to a hospital bed.
Most people I talked to just wanted to feel loved. They wanted to have their own beliefs reinforced and validated. The occasional individual would insist on confessing something to clear their conscience, and as an inexperienced young man, I would quietly listen. I would catch myself praying for inspiration for what to say or do, realizing that I didn’t possess the necessary words or actions on my own. There were times when I felt inspired, and for years, I would call that inspiration God.
I kept attributing these experiences to God until I turned 25. A series of harsh realities and the realization that I had difficulties with some of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and my church led me to go on a religious sabbatical. I have never been one to radically change my life based on a whim. In leaving behind what I then called God, I found myself freed of an immeasurable burden, but I made sure that the actions I took in leaving were my own. I often shake my head in disbelief when I see people make choices that are made to simply be in contrast of something else. I was smart enough, when I walked away, to recognize the good of my old beliefs and not rebel for the sake of prideful rebellion.
The choice to walk away would begin, in my opinion, the most important growing experience of my life. I had made a conscious choice to redefine the borders of my own morality. I left the door open for God, hoping perhaps that my personal discoveries would in some way point me to a truth with a capital T. I still hold that hope today.
KEEPING AN OPEN MIND
I guess that the world would label me an agnostic. I ask the questions that only faith can answer and hope for facts instead. I accept the possibility that there could be something out there bigger than me, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything convincing enough. There’s a part of me, deep down inside, that longs for a connection with whatever might be the cause of our existence. Until the time comes that my spiritual thirst is satisfied, however, I aim to maintain an open heart and mind, not only to God, but to the beliefs of my fellow men.
Reading over my own words, I can now hear the rebuttal from the 20-something missionary that lingers inside me. Did you ever see the last Indiana Jones movie? Remember the invisible bridge? You can’t see the path until you take a step off the cliff! I know, I say, but I’m tired of taking step after step off of all of these cliffs. ... I haven’t seen a path materialize yet.
THE SEARCH CONTINUES
And so, my search for something bigger continues. Now, approaching my 30th year, I look back and realize that I have learned more about what it means to be a good human, since attempting to define it on my own, than I could have ever imagined. I certainly don’t have any more answers, but I do hope that the conscientious path that I walk will someday intersect with the truth, and that when it happens, I’ll see it for what it is.
Until then, I’ll keep on trying to help others find their own truth. Where my path intersects with yours, I hope we will find peace and purpose. Let us combine our commonality to do something meaningful for our generations. Let’s stand for something bigger than ourselves, even if we can’t label it with any sort of consistency. Faith, in my opinion, is only hope in action. May we take our deepest hopes and actually do something about them. Maybe if we do, if God chooses to join us on the path to Emmaus, we will feel the cause for what it is.
Benjamin A. Gochberg lives in Avon.