(This is a continuation of a series that began here)
Yesterday, I blogged about losing my father to cancer when I was fifteen years old, and about losing some of my memories as a result of the trauma. My father’s death didn’t just lead to a loss of memory—it led to a loss of faith. My father had literally dedicated his life to serving God, and was unwavering in his belief that God would heal him. He read his Bible for hours every day during his illness, and meditated on every Biblical promise with a semblance of relevance. When the tumor in his brain affected his ability to read (and eventually to reason and speak coherently), my sister and I took turns reading the Bible to him. The night I learned about my father’s death, my first instinct was to begin ripping my Bible to shreds. I found great solace in this sacrilege, until someone found me and stopped me. The day my father was buried, I left much about what I believed about God, faith, prayer and the Bible in the ground with him. Little of it of it made sense anymore.
The term “dark night of the soul” comes from a poem written by 16th century Roman Catholic Saint, John of the Cross. In contemporary culture, the term has come to mean a spiritual crisis and/or a profound absence of light and hope. During the two years following my father’s death, I went through the motions of Christianity—attending church, mouthing amen to prayers and reading my Bible—but there was much confusion, cynicism and disillusionment within. My soul was living through its darkest night.
During this period, I was also preparing to return to America for college. I decided to attend the same Christian university my father had attended because I knew it would have been what he wanted (plus, I didn’t really have that much of a say in the matter). A few weeks before I left for college, I sat in my family’s living room with my mother, sister and cousin, watching a music program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) channel. As we watched the show, my family spoke excitedly about how I would get to see some of the preachers frequently on TBN at my university, and the great worship experiences I would have.
I rolled my eyes and said something to the effect of: “I really don’t think prayer is something that changes situations. I think it’s something humans do to feel better about situations they have little or no control over. If Daddy had been healed, we would have said God healed him. In his death, everyone said it was God’s will. If God’s will was going to be done regardless, what was the point of praying about it?”
My younger cousin’s eyes grew wide, and she exclaimed: “You’re scaring me Blessing!”
I could understand her sentiment. In Nigeria, questioning authority is taboo. For example, Nigerians rarely address someone who is older by the person’s first name. Depending on the age gap and the context, someone who is older must be addressed as Brother/Sister/Uncle/ Aunty/Mummy/Daddy/Grandma/Grandpa so and so, whether or not a blood relationship exists. In the world of politics, it was not uncommon for journalists and activists to disappear, be tortured or publicly killed for criticizing the government when I was growing up. Religious leaders were (and still are) often treated like demigods. I lived in a country that places the highest premium on respecting human beings, and here I was questioning the ultimate authority. To my mother’s credit, she never criticized me for my questions, but engaged me instead.
The day I moved into my college dorm, I was a few months shy of eighteen, and certain I had arrived adulthood. Oh, how wrong I was. Within our first week, all freshmen were required to sign an honor code pledging amongst other things that we would not drink alcohol, have premarital sex, use curse words, miss our curfew, dress indecently, or skip church. Most of my classmates had grown up in the church, and many had been home schooled. Several of then were also PKs (Pastor’s Kids) or MK’s (Missionary’s Kids). “Jesus” was the conversation starter, and the period punctuating nearly every interaction. My secular music and TV shows frequently offended my dorm mates.
Speaking of dorm mates, I will never forget the night another freshman on my floor narrated a personal crisis: “I really want to do my homework tonight, but God told me not to do any work after 8pm, and it’s so hard for me but I have to honor that.” I tried to keep a straight face, but was both dumbfounded and amused. Within the bubble of my university, I encountered degrees of naïveté I did not think possible in America, and experienced layers of culture shock.
The summer after my freshman year, I decided to buy a new Bible, and read it from start to finish before the fall. If I was going to stay in this university, I couldn’t let my doubts simmer anymore—I needed to lay them bare on the table and dissect them. As I re-read the Bible, the stories of women again called to me. I re-examined the heroines, and delved into the dark stories too.
A decade since that summer: I’ve read the Bible from cover to glossary more times than I can remember, taken a few theology courses, spent more Sunday's than not in church, read dozens of Christian books, listened to countless sermons and attended quite a few Christian conferences. In short, I’ve gotten my 10,000 hours in when it comes to Christianity. And here’s the thing: I still have questions. And sometimes, doubts too. There are many things I do not know, and that I know I will never know on this side of the dirt.
But, there are five things I know for sure.
TO BE CONTINUED.