Faith verses Religion-growing up!


Jesus Christ

Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (NKJV)

My childhood was colored by both times of trial and times of peace. My most peaceful memories growing up were usually found in those summer days. I spent many of them with my older sister. Older by just one year, she was my closest, and at times, my only friend. I relied on her for companionship. We rode bikes together, bought candy from the ice-cream man and chased each other on our bikes around the neighborhood. 
We also watched many long hours of television. We had a weakness for sitcoms such as “Happy Days,” and “Laverne and Shirley,” and often found ourselves quoting from these shows.  To pass time on longer days, my sister and I busied ourselves with games of imagination, often imitating what we learned in church that Sunday. Because we were raised as practicing Catholics, church was near to our hearts and minds-even in play.  One of our favorite games was to imitate Mass. My sister would play the role of the priest to a congregation of teddy bears and me. Our hearts were purer then!
Even at a young age, we had all of the prayers memorized and could recite the entire mass by heart. When my sister would tell me to sing a hymn that was unfamiliar to me, I often found myself making up the melody. Later, we would laugh for hours at our attempt to recreate the worship service.
Along with warmhearted memories of playing with my sister, I also remember summer vacations with the extended family. Every year, for two weeks during the summer, my mother, father, sister and I would find our place in a line of rented cabins at Yosemite National Park. As a large group of uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents, our family would river raft, climb Half Dome and barbeque together.
I experienced many enjoyable moments during these vacations. I especially remember times when we all attended church together at the Yosemite Valley Chapel. Unlike back home, during these times, the family dressed casual for Mass. The church building was open and airy. I remember a feeling of peace sitting on those warm church benches. The weather was usually very warm. So immediately upon entering the church building, I would smell the cent of the pine trees found just outside. I felt safe and often found myself daydreaming during the service. I remember always trying to sit next to my  mother’s father. My grandfather had a habit of holding my hand a little too tight as he playfully sang out of tune during each song.
In these peaceful times, it was easy to believe in God. As a little girl,  I would imagine God standing behind the priest at the alter. Sometimes, if I squinted my eyes, I believed I could even see a glow around the priest’s head that resembled a halo. It was during these early years, that I believed God was with me.  And I prayed as though He was. On Sundays and with all my heart, I would recite, alongside my fellow parishioners the prayer of the Nicene Creed. I would say, 

“We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

I believed in the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost. I believed they were real!  And looking back now, I can see Their presence in my life on those “Happy Days.” I had felt God’s presence in the warm breeze in that Yosemite chapel. I had heard His laughter through my sister’s voice as we road bikes around our neighborhood. And I had felt God’s presence as my sister and I innocently reenacted Mass.  
Yet, I didn’t know I was to turn to God when the pain of life would soon overwhelm me.  I didn’t know that it took more than belief to see God in the trials of life. I didn’t know that seeing God’s saving grace during those painful moments would take a faith I did not have, until now.