« Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall | Main | The Amazing Youth »

October 1, 2014

Back to My Faith Journey - The College Years #3

If you read this blog, you may remember that some time ago I began writing about my journey of faith. The first two installments included my time spent as a child in the Episcopal Church and some musings about attending the Mormon Church with my neighbors and friends. This installment focuses on the journey into the wider world of college.

Occidental College

I have always loved school, but college was the best of all once I found my stride. Two important events happened during my two years at Pasadena City College. The first was rediscovering my love of choral music and the second was finding a class that prodded my intellectual growth. I loved choir in Jr. High, and I played the piano in high school in a group called the "Live Five" with four friends including my best pal, vocalist Darla Daret, who sang on television with Bob Mills and Cliffie Stone. At PCC, a friend dragged me to the choir that changed my life. The teacher, Dave Thorsen, was a phenomenal director and mentor, and the reason I subsequently went to Occidental College to study with the famous conductor, Howard Swan.

It was an Intro to Philosophy class where, on day one, we examined the nature of existence. How did we know that the chair we were sitting on was actually real? How did we know for sure that we even existed? That got my attention! This abstract thinking was completely new to my brain and absolutely fascinating. No wonder I felt like a pest in Mormon Sunday School when there were bigger questions to conquer.

When I got to Oxy, I enrolled in the church history class that my Presbyterian boss, the secretary of the music department, thought was the devil incarnate because students came out of it questioning their faith. I absolutely ate up the class. I knew from the moment I went to that little Episcopal Church when I was little that I had a deep affinity for religion, but I knew little about theology or the beginnings of Christianity. This is probably a good place to interject that singing beautiful sacred music in two stellar college choirs was one of the best introductions to Biblical texts that I could ever have.

It was illuminating to find that the books of the Bible were written at different times, that events don't have to be factual to be true, that the Bible was filled with stories, metaphors, poetry, literature all gathered together from people who lived and believed in their own ways. Instead of ruining my simple faith, it deepened it, because I could finally put my heart and my head in the same place and not ignore one at the expense of the other. What an illumination that church history class was to me, and what power it had in my life. How fascinating that even in the holiest of books for the Christian Church, people had a variety of experiences and different points of view.

Theodore Gill, the president of San Anselmo Theological Seminary spoke eloquently at my college graduation. He remarked that although we were celebrating the completion of our college years, we were just beginning our learning process. College taught us how to learn and should have instilled the hunger and quest for further knowledge. As we continued to expose ourselves to different ideas, different points of view, and different worlds we would gain real wisdom.

These formative intellectual experiences were the foundation upon which I built all my later systems of religious belief. I'd like to say here that in learning to sift through what was important to me, how various theological ideas fit my experience and my temperament, in no way diminished my respect for those who believed differently. One thing college taught me is that people form their belief systems out of a multitude of experience. I personally have difficulty believing in absolutes. The more I expose myself to new ideas, the more I change my original premises.

I find it difficult to believe that all the truth in the world might reside in one particular basket. What connects me to my Mormon friends, or my Presbyterian boss, or my Buddhist neighbors, or atheists, or physicists, or philosophers or whomever is that we're all curious for a deeper understanding of who we are and why we exist. I can understand when some believe so firmly in their own answers that they want others to embrace them too. But, as you can see, that point of view only makes me more resistant.

Posted by Marilyn at October 1, 2014 11:03 AM


Post a comment

Remember Me?