-by Keith Albert Little, “The Cordial Catholic” (@cordialcatholic)
“I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada in a wonderful, loving family: my sister, my Mom and Dad, and a cat we’d adopted from the pound. It was an idyllic, carefree upbringing in a home that I affectionately describe as “Christian without Christ.” That is, we were morally Christians, raised with a strong sense of right and wrong, of kindness and generosity, and of doing to each other what we’d have done to us — we just didn’t know much about Jesus.
To be fair, we did go to church a few times. It was a tiny United Church which, in Canada, is an amalgamation of several mainline denominations that merged in the 1920s. Their teaching presented a rather watered-down version of Christianity, with Christ largely out of the picture. But I wouldn’t have picked up on such nuances in those days. Instead, my memory of attending church was the childhood anxiety that I might accidentally rip off too big a chunk of bread when we went forward for communion, that and the resentment I felt when Dad got to stay home watching The Three Stooges in his pajamas while Mom packed my sister and me into the family station wagon.
It was in high school that I finally “met Christ,” and it happened in a strange way: by encountering an alleged Wiccan. I met this Wiccan at a campfire get-together with friends. It was the beginning of summer, and we were hanging out, celebrating the end of our first year of high school. The Wiccan kid, a couple of years older than the rest of us and a friend of a friend, stood out immediately with his long hair and earthy wardrobe, and I was instantly drawn to the way he talked, the content of his speech. At one point that night, he said, “Did you guys know that everything is connected and that there’s more to life than just us?”
To the ears of an unchurched, irreligious fifteen-year-old, that sounded like high philosophy, and I was hooked. I hadn’t thought those thoughts before. Suddenly faced with the reality that, yes, there was more out there than just us, that there was, probably, a greater power, something holding everything together — I was suddenly taken with the idea. I remember rushing home that night, firing up my computer, and trying desperately to find something, anything, on the Internet about Wiccans. In those days before Google, the search was fruitless. Everything I found contradicted everything else, and nothing seemed straightforward.
But it was then that I considered God. I’d heard of Him, of course, at church, but I didn’t have a clue where to begin my search for Him. Still, I knew I wanted to search, so I said a prayer. I prayed, “God if you’re there and you can accept me, send me a sign.” Incredibly, for reasons I still don’t understand, I knew that if God were real, if He were out there, I’d have to approach Him in holy fear. Although I knew nothing about sin — the concept was foreign to me at that stage — I knew that I wasn’t exactly “worthy” of God and needed a measure of forgiveness. It wasn’t long before I received my answer.
Later that week, I was walking home with a friend. We rounded a corner and came face to face with a boy we had teased years earlier. We were nerdy kids, but we had found someone even nerdier to bully — the neighbour of a friend who now was all grown up and much taller than we were. My friend, never the bravest of our crew, took off running and left me alone on the street with this kid who, it was clear, was looking for a fight. I could tell he was on drugs; he looked angry, and I was quaking in my shoes. When he cocked back a fist and said, “Where do you think you’re going?” I panicked and shouted, “There!” pointing to a house just up the block. At that exact moment, completely by happenstance, a woman pulled back the curtain at one of the windows and peered out at us. The boy knew instantly that he was caught. He panicked and ran away. I went the opposite way and ran home, saved by the woman in the window — and by the grace of God.”