Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four part series that we will be running on successive days at Catholic Exchange. Yes, we think it’s that good. Cari Donaldson’s journey takes us through a teenager’s doubts, a stint among New Agers, an encounter with the South’s Christ-hauntedness and finally to the miracle of new birth, times two.
There are parallels between conversion stories and birth stories. Both start with a tiny seed, planted in darkness, result in the birth of a new creation, and involve blood, sweat and tears. And while I resisted writing the story of my conversion to Catholicism for a long time, it seems fitting that when I finally did so, it would be toward the end of my sixth pregnancy.
While writing this has involved slightly less blood than the birth of my children, it was accompanied by yelling and tears. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to convey your experience with the Word when it refuses to fit nicely into any words. So I ask you, like all mothers presenting their newborn to the public for the first time, please overlook defects of style and appearance, and focus instead on the potential, the innocence, the love that created, sustained, and labored to bring the finished product into the world.
On My Way to “The Triple Goddess”
I was raised, in no particular order:
- With both mother and father, who modeled what a strong marriage can look like
- With one sibling, my brother, who used to be younger than I am, but since I’ve stopped aging, he’s now older
- In a suburb of Detroit, in a dark brick ranch my grandfather helped build and my mom grew up in
- Going to the same Presbyterian church my mom went to when she was a child
We went to church regularly, and I attended both Sunday school and youth group. Any other religious expression was an individual pursuit. I don’t remember reading the Bible as a family, but I do remember my gold foil “Good News Bible,” with stick figures and crinkly onionskin paper. I don’t remember praying much as a family, outside of grace before Thanksgiving dinner, but I do remember, from a very early age, talking to God.
Specifically, I remember talking to God every night, and asking Him to “put my Grandpa on.” I’d wait, imagining God going to get my Grandpa Bob, who had died when I was five. I’d sit patiently in silence, until I imagined Grandpa coming to the prayer line, and we’d chat for a bit. Then God would get back on, and we’d say our goodbyes for the night.
I remember the rest of my childhood formation being tenuous enough that I had slipped it off by college.
My best friend in high school gave me a book to read right before I left for Michigan State. It was called Judas My Brother, by Frank Yerby. Briefly, it is a book that strives to strip Jesus, and by extension, Christianity, of anything divine or mystical. It has footnotes and endnotes galore, and to a 17 year-old girl with little grounding in theology, it was a revelation. With no education in Christian apologetics to help me critically consume the book, I was happy to embrace the whole thing. The ability to toss aside some Bronze-age set of patriarchal ethics all while spouting off quotes from a historical novel is extremely attractive to a new college student.
So, convinced that at its heart, Christianity was nothing more than a monstrous tale of a monstrous God who sacrificed His own Son to Himself to appease His monstrous anger, I chucked it all.
More or less.
I still prayed. Every night. There was that remnant of my childhood faith that I couldn’t even begin to shake. Even if the prayer was nothing more than, “Thank you for this day, goodnight,” I still said it. I didn’t think too hard about who was on the receiving end of my prayer, but I always knew that there was Someone to whom I was grateful for another day of life.