Sunday, October 14, 2007

In the Embrace of Family

"When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray you speak to God.” -- St. Augustine

I don't remember learning to read. I do remember going to school and discovering that I knew how to read already -- the teacher put the word "look" on the chalkboard, and I knew the word.

I believe that I learned to read while sitting on my father's lap. My father loved to read and to study, and he read to me every day. While he was teaching me to read, Dad was also teaching me to love God and to love the Bible. I don't remember learning either of those things either, but as no one is born with such love, I must have learned it.

I remember asking my mother, when I was five or six, "Who made God?" My mother replied, "No one made God. God had no beginning and has no end." I looked out the window at the darkening night sky and wondered about that for a long time. In many ways, I wondered about God for most of my life. How could He have no beginning and no end? It was a mystery to me, although the term "mystery" was not a part of my religious vocabulary. But a mystery it was.

As a child, up until about age twelve, I felt a mystical closeness with God. It was not something I could explain to my very rational and logical parents. My dear father, in particular, spent a lot of time worrying about his daydreaming little girl. I would talk to God just as I would talk to my mother or sister; it didn't matter to me that he didn't answer me out loud. I knew he could hear me.

When I was only five, I would accompany my parents in their door-to-door ministry as Jehovah's Witnesses. I was very precocious, and insisted on speaking at the doors. As a grandmother now, I cannot imagine opening the door to find a tiny five-year old earnestly admonishing me to read the Bible. But I did exactly that. As I learned to read at an early age, I would even read scriptures from the Bible at the doors. I conducted my first "home Bible study" (where I was the teacher!) when I was seven years old. You might say I was an unusual child.

When my sister and I were in elementary school, my father decided that we needed to read the Bible daily as a family. Because of our conflicting schedules, the best time was early morning. So for several years, we all got up at 5:30 a.m. and read the Bible together. I have never forgotten the warmth of those mornings.

I dearly wished to be baptized, which I understood to be the dedicating of my life to serve God. Especially from the time I was about ten, when I read a book called Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, I had this strong desire. In this book I read about Witnesses, including children, who had given their lives for their faith. Many of these experiences were from Nazi Germany during World War II, when Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned in the concentration camps and many died. I used to have nightmares about such persecution, and wake up in the night and pray that God would give me strength to be faithful to him should I ever have to face such trials. This was a heavy burden for a young child, but I believed it to be my destiny as a Witness of Jehovah. I really believed that God would be coming to destroy the wicked world very soon, and that before that occurrence there would be great persecution. Even though I pleaded with them, my parents decided that I was too young to be baptized and that I should wait until my teenage years.

Another event happened when I was ten years old -- my dear mother (who was in her mid-forties) suffered a heart attack. She was in the hospital for a while, and after she came home she was confined to bed for a time. I would sit on the bed and talk to her for hours, and it was during one of these talks that I found out that my mother had undergone heart surgery before she met my father. She was born with a heart defect (which in 1918 in the mountains of Arkansas could easily have been a death sentence). Somehow, she survived, but by the time she was in her mid-twenties, her heart was failing. She was referred to the Mayo Clinic for her surgery. At the time, the operation (to correct patent ductus arteriosus)was only being done at three hospitals in the United States. In the course of this surgery, she received a great deal of blood by transfusion.

Learning that mother had had blood transfusions was shocking to me, as blood transfusions were forbidden to Jehovah's Witnesses. Many battles were being fought in the courts to compel Witnesses to take blood, and Witnesses who died after refusing a blood transfusion were viewed as having been martyrs for their faith. But she explained that, at the time of her surgery (1944), blood transfusions were not forbidden or viewed as sinful. The use of blood for medical purposes was identified as sinful in the following year, 1945. It was declared a "disfellowshipping offense" several years later.

I was only ten, but I quickly made the connection -- my mother would not have survived to meet my father without the surgery she had. The surgery would not have been performed in 1944 without the use of blood transfusions. No blood -- no surgery -- no marriage -- no ME! I didn't know what to do with this information. It was shocking to me to think that, had my mother not found the surgeon until 1945, she might never have had the operation. I would have never been born.

This was my first experience with cognitive dissonance, although it would be many years before I would discover the meaning of that term.

Next: On Lost Magic

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