For some people it happens much earlier, sometimes even occurring during childhood. For some it happens during a major life crisis that's easily identified as such, even by onlookers. For others it seems to never happen at all. For me, it happened on a weekend in mid December 1991. I was thirty-nine years old, my son was with his dad for the weekend, and I was to put the finishing touches to my undergraduate thesis, which needed to be complete to hand in on that next Tuesday, if I wanted to graduate with my class.
After so many years of wanting it, and an educational journey that had taken me to a total of six different colleges and universities, it finally seemed as if I was going to get my college degree! Eighteen months earlier I had enrolled in Geneva College's undergraduate degree program for 'non-traditional' students, those of us who hadn't managed to earn a college degree immediately after high school, were at least twenty-five years old, and had completed two years of college credits. My class was an eclectic mix of ages, races, and socio-economic classes.
And that weekend it was all coming down to the wire. For this particular program, in order to graduate, we all had to write the equivalent of a master's level research thesis. We worked on it across the entire eighteen months of the program, completing one part at a time, turning it in, getting it critiqued, rewriting and reworking it and then moving on to the next piece. I was down to my final rewrite when I sat down in front of the computer that Saturday morning.
This had been a difficult journey for me. Because of old messages that were stuck in my psyche from my childhood, I'd had many challenges to overcome to get to this point. I was in therapy at the time, and luckily had a wonderful therapist, Sr. Bernadette, who had gotten me over the hurdles to this final point. But this was Saturday morning, Sr. Bernadette wasn't available, and I had a deadline to meet. And I was STUCK! Big time!!!
I sat in front of the computer and was unable to type a single word! Those old messages were loud and strong: Do it right the first time or don't do it at all. You're a failure, you're never going to amount to anything. Why bother, you know you can't do it. Over and over, the old tapes played in my head. I sat in front of the computer for the entire day, willing myself to just get it done, type something, anything. But nothing came. I went to bed that night discouraged and dispirited, feeling that perhaps my mother was right after all, and I really was a failure.
The next morning, Sunday, my boyfriend, Ken, picked me up for church. I'd never really liked going to church, never felt any kind of connection, but Ken was Catholic and went to church every Sunday, and I'd been raised Catholic and was expected to do the right thing, so I usually went with him. That morning it was a good excuse to get out of the house and away from the computer.
Ken attended a beautiful church that was built in the round. There were stained glass windows that filtered the light in amazing ways, and a stained glass crucifix that hung over the central altar that always caught my attention as soon as I walked in. The old priest that usually gave the sermon was funny and astute, and I usually found something of interest in what he had to say. The rest of the mass was just, for me, something to get through before we went out to breakfast.
In the Catholic church it's customary to enter the church, find your pew, and kneel down to pray before actually taking your seat. For me, this had always been a merely routine experience: recite a couple of Hail Mary's, a few Our Fathers, check to make sure that I'd spent enough time on my knees to be 'appropriate,' and then take my seat. I went through the motions, that was it.
But this Sunday morning, something completely unexpected happened. As I knelt to pray, I looked up at the crucifix and began to really speak to God, not just repeat memorized prayers from my catechism days, but speak from my heart. "God, you know how much this degree means to me, how long I've wanted it, how hard I've worked. But I'm stuck. No matter what I did yesterday, I couldn't write a word. I need help. So if you want me to get this degree, you need to write this thesis, because I can't." As I finished speaking, I felt this wash of warm blue energy cover me from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet, as if someone had gently poured a bucket of something over me, and I began to cry.
As I took my seat in the pew, Ken leaned over and quietly asked me what was wrong. I simply shrugged my shoulders and said I didn't know. I cried through the entire mass, a leaking of tears that seemed to have no end.
When mass ended, Ken asked if I wanted to go to breakfast, but my deadline was looming so I shook my head and said I needed to get home to work on the thesis. He dropped me off, I went in, changed clothes and sat down at the computer. The next thing I knew, it was hours later and I was standing beside the printer watching it spit out my finished thesis, all one hundred plus pages. I don't remember typing. I don't remember eating or going to the bathroom. I don't remember anything from the time I sat down to start until I was watching the printer printing.
That was my first time of knowing, truly knowing, without a doubt, that there was something greater than myself. That 'something' had heard my prayers, heard my desperation, heard my plea, felt my surrender, and had answered. That Sunday morning in December 1991 was the conscious beginning of my spiritual journey.