This is the fifth part of the story of my conversion to Catholic Christianity together with my wife Judith and our three sons.
The seminary in 1969 was trying to teach things in new ways. One thing they tried was teaching Greek in four weeks. Greek was the common language of the Eastern Mediterranean world in the time of Jesus, and the part of the Bible called the New Testament is written in it. I didn't learn any Greek after the first week, but I was fascinated to read and hear the original words of Scripture. I took a second semester, this time not such a hasty course. Our teacher picked the Gospel according to Mark because Mark's Greek is simple, and we read Mark's report of things Jesus did and said:
A great storm of wind arises, and the waves wash into the boat so that it is filling. But Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat on a pillow. They wake him and say, "Teacher do you not care if we die?" And he woke up, and scolded the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" And they feared a great fear. They said, "Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
I think I liked the great calm, and I was impressed with the great fear. Something happened to me, reading those stories in the ancient language, from people who were close to Jesus. I began to love the man I was reading about, and I decided that Mark and the others who wrote about him were honest. There were some things about Jesus that I did not understand, but because I loved him, I decided that I would be baptized first, and learn and understand later. One of my professors, who was a priest, baptized me at Easter Even in 1970. The Berkeley Gazette printed a short article on the church page, reporting that I fell in love with Jesus.
The same professor had explained to me that the modern translation of the creed says, "we believe," instead of, "I believe," as it used to, because the creed is the faith of the community. It did not help me, because I did not want to share a faith with other people, that I did not believe myself. The creed of course was very important to me because of my father, but I set my questions aside for later, out of love for Jesus. I learned later that my attitude has a long tradition in Christianity, starting with Jesus' statement, "I am the way, the truth and the life." It turns out that Jesus, not the creed, is the center of Christianity.
My wife Judith was not attracted to Christianity. She loved the old Zen teacher, and she was a Buddhist. We engaged in separate religious practices for several years. Sometimes it was painful. When I graduated from the seminary in 1972, my wife and little son were at that peaceful place in the mountains that I had left. And when I was confirmed by a bishop of the Episcopal Church, my wife was at the funeral of the Zen teacher whom she loved. Confirmation is the ceremony in which one receives the Holy Spirit by the touch of a bishop's hands. When the bishop put his hands on my head, I felt that the touch of Jesus had been passed down from person to person through the centuries into his hands.
Our oldest son Aryae was born in 1970 during student demonstrations in Berkeley, when colleges all over the United States shut down, after President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia. Even the seminary closed for a couple of days, and I was able to spend time at the hospital with my wife and our newborn son. There was a cheerful camaraderie among the new mothers, half of whom were black, as was the nurse who taught the mothers how to give their babies a bath. Our baby was the demonstration baby. One mother from Nigeria could not eat American food, and I brought her fresh fruit.
The pain of labor was the first crack in Judith's self-reliance and confidence in Zen. Before she gave birth to our son, Judith was planning to have a natural childbirth, without the aid of modern medicine. She prepared with classes, that taught techniques of relaxation. The reality of the pain was a surprise to Judith. Her labor was thirty-six hours, and she became dangerously exhausted. Dr. Beernink (I do not know his first name, because Judith's obstetricians were identical twins) knew she wanted to remain conscious, but gave her enough of a pain-killer to allow her to sleep. I slept too.
To the next part of our conversion story: Follow Me
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To the Short Version of our conversion story
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Send comments or questions to Dwite
1. Jesus's mother tongue was Aramaic, but he studied the Scriptures in Hebrew. He was an intelligent man, and probably knew some Greek and Latin.
2. The Gospel According to Mark,
3. The Latin "credo" means "I believe."
4. The Gospel according to John,
5. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in