My Spiritual Biography (early years)
My Spiritual Autobiography (early years), by Rick Mitchell
My earliest spiritual recollection is that of marveling at the infinite span of time and space -- as I looked up into the night sky and wondered how it could be that anything could have no beginning or end. And even today, I marvel at how the sky is filled with the stars whose light began to travel toward us so many millions of years ago. How can people try to encapsulate the Reality of such a vast universe within the limited grasp of our small, human minds?
Another equally important remembrance is that of knowing the feel and reality of love in my life from a very early age. Whether from the expressive love of my mother, the steady, if sometimes tumultuous, love of my father, the fondness I felt from my favorite aunt and many friends, or the reticent, almost noncommittal, love of my paternal grandparents, I knew -- amid it all -- that I was loved and wanted.
After all, I was the result of a very difficult birth, where a doctor had given up on saving either me or my mother. But, mercifully, our lives were saved due to the intervention of a dear friend’s mother. I was an only child.
My mother was a very important influence on my spiritual life. We spent a lot of time together after my dad took a job out of town and was home only on weekends. We shared many evenings in which she would read books to me, and occasionally a woman in town whose husband was in the service would come over and play the piano and sing with us. It was a stimulating period intellectually and spiritually for me.
My mother dug a pool, single-handedly, in our back yard and lined it with concrete. It was a somewhat rough and crude job, but it held water long enough to be able to take a dip on summer nights, and she worked at teaching me to float -- in preparation for learning to swim.
A few years later, she would tell me that accepting God’s grace was like floating -- just “let go” and let God support the weight of all my cares and worries. I tried to follow her instructions, but I think my motivation was too focused on the need I felt to “be saved” -- and too little on recognizing and accepting that I was loved by God. It was not until my childhood years had passed that I found that key and made peace with the “issue” of salvation. I was in high school at the time and had gone through a series of responding to “altar calls” through the years -- emotional times of feeling that I wanted to somehow be closer to God. I “gave my heart to the Lord” and was baptized (twice) but continued to feel conflicted and anxious. I know now that it was partly due to the emotional manipulation and at time outright exploitation of youthful naiveté. Instead of getting an onjective instruction on God’s love and care for all people, I was getting a steady dose of emotional revivalist preaching on the “plan of salvation,” and I was constantly told that the only alternative to following the plan successfully was to burn in hell for all eternity.
Although the human interactions around me were (thankfully) very loving and supporting, the understanding of God I was taught was quite limited and narrow. When it finally broke through to my teen-aged consciousness that God was benevolent and truly loved me, I found it extremely liberating and joyful. It was, indeed, the sought-after experience of reassurance and acceptance by God, and while I told no one at the time, I knew the question of my own personal salvation had been answered for me for life. I could begin to focus on aspects of God’s love for me and for all creation -- and on doing something about building my own life.
It was not apparent to me then, but I believe that experience came about as part of (and maybe was even one of the causes of) a social maturing and realization that matters of the heart, spirit, conscience or other important life questions could not be answered and solved by formulas or “plans,” and that the necessary key would always be love and openness to others and to the “other” in our lives -- which we often see and identify as that mysterious entity called “God.” In my experience that force or entity is the love we know and share in our everyday life experiences. And, in my experience, I have found it to have a personal face and so I have come to refer to it as “Love.”