Called Out of Darkness

Chapter One
This book is about faith in God.

For more than twenty centuries, Christianity has given us dazzling works of theology, yet it remains a religion in which the heart is absolutely essential to faith.

The appeal of Jesus Christ was first and foremost to the heart.

The man knocked on his back on the Road to Damascus experienced a transformation of the heart. St. Francis of Assisi, giving away all of his clothes as he turned to follow Christ, was reflecting a decision of the heart. Mother Teresa founded her world-famous order of nuns because of a decision of the heart.

The immensity of these figures finds an imperfect student in me, but not an inattentive one.

I want to tell, as simply as I can - and nothing with me as a writer has ever really been simple - the story of how I made my decision of the heart.

So here is the story of one path to God.

The story has a happy ending because I have found the Transcendent God both intellectually and emotionally. And complete belief in Him and devotion to Him, no matter how interwoven with occasional fear and constant personal failure and imperfection, has become the true story of my life.

If this path to God is an illusion, then the story is worth-less. If the path is real, then we have something here that may matter to you as well as to me.

Before I can describe how I returned to faith, at the age of fifty-seven, I want to describe how I learned about God as a child.

What strikes me now as most important about this experience is that it preceded reading books. Christians are People of the Book, and our religion is often described as a Religion of the Book. And for two thousand years, all that we believe has been handed down in texts.

But no doubt many children learned about God as I did - from my mother and from the experience of church which had little or nothing directly to do with knowing how to read.

Over the years, I turned out to be a consistently poor reader, and I don't think I ever read a novel for pleasure until I was in the sixth grade. Even in my college years, I was a poor reader and, in fact, couldn't major in English because I could not read the amounts of Chaucer or Shakespeare assigned in the classes. I graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in political science, principally because I could understand the historic background I received for political ideas through good lectures.

I was twenty-seven before I began to make up an undergraduate degree in English, and thirty-one before I received a master's in English. Even then I read so slowly and poorly that I took my master's orals on three authors, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway, without having read all of their works. I couldn't possibly read all of their works.

The reason I'm emphasizing this is because I believe that what we learn through reading is essentially different from what we learn in other ways. And my concept of God came through the spoken words of my mother, and also the intensely beautiful experiences I had in church.

It's important to stress here that my earliest experiences involved beauty; my strongest memories are of beautiful things I saw, things which evoked such profound feeling in me that I often felt pain.

In fact I remember my early childhood as full of beauty, and no ugly moment from that time has any reality for me.

The beauty is the song of those days.
Chapter Two
I vividly remember knowing about God, that He loved us, made us, took care of us, that we belonged to Him; and I remember loving Jesus as God; and praying to Him and to His Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, when I was very small.

I can't really associate any one image with Jesus because there were so many around me, from small highly sentimental holy pictures, which we treasured at home, to magnificent images of Jesus in St. Alphonsus Church.

I'll describe the church in a minute, as it takes considerable describing, but first I want to mention a small place where we went often to pray. This was the Chapel of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on Third and Prytania streets, a consecrated Catholic chapel with a tabernacle and an altar, in which Mass was celebrated every day. The chapel was a huge room inside an old Garden District mansion, set in spacious gardens,