Why faith is like an organ transplant

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I haven’t put anything on this blog for a while. This is partly due to a crazy workload and partly due to the smallest person in the house playing chords on my computer in accompaniment to a lego movie. The computer was traumatised by the experience and has since then gone into retirement and refused to communicate with the outside world.

I’ve lately been thinking that taking a step forward in faith is like having a crucial organ transplant. Even though I know that I need it, my whole system has revolted against it. I feel as if I am struggling to adjust to and accept this grafted on thing which is so essential and yet feels so foreign and strange.

It’s been a turbulent year since I became Catholic. Instead of the peace and comfort which I had hoped for, I feel as if I have been picked up, turned upside down and stretched and challenged. I have borne things which I felt should have broken me, and yet it wasn’t me who bore them. I am learning to let go, open my hands and ask God to take the things which are too big for me.

I have pondered in wonder the difficult journey which has brought me from a very reformed Protestant tradition to becoming Catholic. I’ve longed to tell other people, talk it over with them, try to understand it, but it’s my journey, not theirs. Most people can’t relate to what’s happened. I’m a strangely-shaped jigsaw piece which doesn’t fit into anyone’s picture, not even my own, of how things should be.

I’ve asked myself why this has happened? Is being Catholic intrinsically better than being Protestant or Muslim or Hindu? I struggled with this question before I even became Catholic. I would feel very uncomfortable if the answer was a resounding ‘yes’. Perhaps it’s the wrong question. The only definite answer I’ve reached is that I was quite definitely asked to become Catholic. My only responsibility is to answer that call or reject it, and what happens to others is between them and God.

Many times I have raged at God. Why did He ask me to do something so difficult? Why is it okay for other people to remain in the clear stream of reformed thinking or bathe in the balmy waters of agnosticism? I liked being agnostic. I was comfortable with it. I could keep God at arm’s length while believing in His goodness in a vague sort of way. Why on earth did I have to be plunged into the melting heat and depth and darkness of this mystery called faith?

The sense of God’s presence has gone, and I’m left with only the occasional glimmer of light. I’ve encountered a taxonomy of doubt, each subtly different from the last, and yet something within has told me to go on. There is quite simply no other way.

When the doubts have been hushed and I slip into church cradling a tiny kernel of faith, I am overwhelmed by feelings of unworthiness. Who do I think I am, mocks the voice within, to go to a Catholic church and think that I’ll ever belong? An ex-Protestant can’t ever be a proper Catholic. I’ll always be a foreigner in a strange land.

In the last few weeks, I’ve stopped trying to force answers or solutions to the things which feel so difficult and confusing. I can’t understand what has happened, never mind why. In one sense I will always be becoming whatever it means to truly be Catholic, but I have stopped puzzling over the process. My spiritual immune system has calmed down a little, and I am beginning to accept that this foreign, life-giving transplant of faith is part of what I am.

I recently watched ‘My Mediterranean’, a BBC documentary in which Adrian Chiles, himself a Catholic convert, travels around the Mediterranean and asks exactly the question which has puzzled me. Do we, through our different religious traditions, all worship the same God? He met Jews, Muslims and Christians who were celebrating the presence of God in their lives in quiet, unobtrusive ways. It reminded me that God isn’t limited by the human desire to sort things into categories. I also enjoyed Adrian Chiles matter-of-fact conclusion: I think there probably is a God, so stop worrying about it, and enjoy your life.

It’s a timely reminder. I need to stop fretting over the ‘why’s’, thank God for what is and enjoy the gift of life.

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