Dr Reb, the author of All Things Strange and Wonderful, talks about the origins of his Christian faith and how they were challenged and enhanced by the African spiritual beliefs of the community he stayed with during his visit to Malawi as a young vet.
My introduction to Christianity was through the Catholic faith. If I had a beef with my twelve years of Catechism classes, it would be that I was taught to fear God, and I really wasn’t taught to love God.
However, my Catholic education did give me a foundation from which to question my faith. I recall a session in the confessional with Father Dan. I was around fifteen years of age and going through my laundry list of sins, essentially the same list as the time before and the time before that and… I think you get the picture.
I said to Father Dan that it wasn’t adding up for me. I was studying the bible, and I couldn’t find anything on mortal sins, venial sins, purgatory, holy days of obligation. I was questioning my faith and thinking the church was just an organized racket shaking down parishioners with the promise of end-of-life paradise.
Fully expecting Father Dan to blow up at me or have a heart attack on the other side of the screen, I was surprised when he said, ‘Well it’s about time.’
In addition to all my “Hail Mary’s,” “Our Fathers,” and an “Act of Contrition” (which he doubled from the last two sessions) my penance was to try to understand the following Bible verses.
But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
For everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
That’s what got me started on my own spiritual journey forty years ago.
I’m the first to admit I didn’t dive into this and seek with all my heart from the get-go. I had long periods of doing nothing and actually running in the wrong direction. Periods best described as self-centred, self-absorbed, and just plain selfish behaviour. Lust, drugs, and alcohol played a big part. By the time I hit the ground in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I wasn’t seeking much of anything other than personal gratification.
Everything is interesting looking back. Looking back, God asked me to confirm an appointment to see Him/Her in sixteen years time when I was just nine years old. I accepted it and did make it, meeting God in Malawi, Central Africa.
Malawi is called the “Warm Heart of Africa.” It’s one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Ninety precent of the population is made up of subsistence farmers, living in mud huts with no electricity or plumbing, non-existent food security, high infant mortality rates, and low life expectancy. Everything you need to make any person from the Western World whinge and sulk. There is no place in Malawi for wimps or cry babies, and this is where I met God and came to know God.
Now, I’m about as “stiff-necked” as a person can be. I’m not the kind of person that hears God when He whispers in my ear. God had to knock me over the head to get my attention and wrestle me to the ground in order for me to look in His/Her face.
God gave me a teacher, a soul I’ve known in other lives (Yes, I am a card-carrying Christian that believes in reincarnation) in the form of a kind witch doctor, Dr Mzimba, to help me along me way. He’s a man worth knowing and All Things Strange and Wonderful: My adventures as a vet in Africa will give you a wonderful introduction to him.
We had a number of one-on-one sessions as he instructed me on how to become a more joyful person. He taught me the value of enemies and how to harness power in hardship. Most importantly, when he felt I was spiritually strong enough to meet my greatest enemy, he brought us together for a showdown.
I could tell you more but that would give the book away, and my hope is that you will choose to read it.
Until next time, God’s Blessings be upon you.
Read an extract from All Things Strange and Wonderful.