My reversion to Islaam was a quiet process, no thunderclap of truth, no Paul on the road to Damascus. Islaam entered my life and permeated my being in the way that fresh, clean rain water enters fertile soil, slowly working its way down into the earth to where it will do the most good.
I was raised Catholic in a small town in Wisconsin. My mother was of that faith, while my father professed no real faith or belief at all, beyond what was in the here and now. We children attended Sunday mass and holy day masses, as well as catechism on Sundays. My mother went to church sporadically- I think she felt guilty when she did go, because she had not annulled her previous marriage and therefore was at odds with Catholic legislation in regards to her marriage to my father. She did eventually jump through all the hoops and get the annulment; but until it was final she was hesitant to throw herself fully into church activities.
I loved my church and the people in it- and I loved the religion of Catholicism. My mother was diagnosed with Lupus while I was still very young, and a lot of responsibility came to rest on my shoulders, as well as lot of worries and concerns about her illness and the possibility of losing her. The church, simply put, made me feel safe. I have read so many conversion stories in which people discuss how they could not reconcile the idea of the trinity with the one God. To be honest, this was not an issue for me- I was a highly intelligent and observant child, but I had no problem with accepting something simply on faith. I also believe now, looking back, that I always saw God at the top, as being above everything- and Jesus, peace be upon him, and the “Holy Spirit” were somehow apart from him, separate- not on the same level.
I loved the ritual of the Catholic mass, and the idea of all those pious people they called saints watching out for me was a great comfort to me. I used to befriend the priests, baking them cookies or bringing them supper, engaging in religious and philosophic discussions over brownies and lemonade. This, too, was a comfort to me- that these kind, faithful men would pray for me and my family. I used to spend a lot of time in the empty church, keeping company with the soft glow of the votive candles, talking straight to God…because I knew, instinctively that He was the One who had the power over all things- not Jesus, not the saints, not the priests. I can still bring back the sense of peace and belonging that I would have, sitting on the hard wooden pew, breathing in the scent of incense, transfixed by the dancing, many colored lights of the candles in the corner. I would look at the stained glass windows, and my imagination would take me beyond their jewel-like colors and simple scenes, until I could almost see the story that was represented in each one.
The music of the mass affected me greatly as well. My church had an organ, of course, but every summer in the vacation Catechism classes two nuns would come, wearing blue jean skirts and what we used to call “Jesus sandals” and we would have guitar masses. The words of so many of the hymns went straight to my heart- and the part of me that wept over dying animals in movies, and felt the sorrow of the parting of star crossed lovers, would literally ache when we sang of Jesus walking under the weight of the cross.
So my faith as a young child was simple, trusting, comforting, and enough for me. I went through Confirmation classes and took the name of Kateri, the only Native American saint, as my confirmation name. I began to attend weekend retreats known as TEC- Teens Encounter Christ- intensive, three day workshops, where we were deprived of any sense of time, and a lot of sleep, and in the end came out feeling like we had bonded with all those other people, and had a truly religious experience. I see now that they used a lot of techniques- such as the sleep deprivation and loss of secure placement in time- which are used by cults to break down people’s natural defenses. Even then, I felt it was a little odd, and I soon came to realize that for many of the people attending it was not a religious experience; rather it was a place to meet members of the opposite sex.
After high school I went to a Catholic college in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It was connected with a convent of Franciscan nuns who were Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. I joined an organization that paired up female students with a nun…my sister/partner was a sweet woman, very peaceful within herself and content with her faith. I was impressed by their devotion and the surety of their faith, especially as at that time I was starting to question more deeply some of the beliefs and teachings of the Church.
To be continued…