So I’m Catholic, but I’ve never been to any Catholic events [unless you count Church]. After being told by my sister about this wonderful place in Chertsey, UK [that I now realise is a shithole in the middle of nowhere], I decided to give it a try and make my long journey there to meet some other nice Catholics. My main purpose for going was to meet people. I wanted to make myself some Catholic friends [I don’t currently have many] and who knows, perhaps meet a nice Catholic girl, if I was lucky.
After paying the £10 cover [bargain, considering there were three meals per day and accommodation] I filled out my details and was ready to go. After leaving the house early one Saturday morning, I reached Chertsey station at about 8.30 am. I saw some Polish folks there [I mean, I heard them speaking, so I knew they were Polish]. I had a map that I hoped would take me to the place, but decided not to bother with it and took the risk of following them to wherever they were going. Yeah sure, there are a lot of Polish people in the UK, but I figured the chances of a dozen of them all getting off the train in Chertsey, because they happened to live there, were slim. After a 10 – 12 minute walk, we were there.
After giving my name at reception and putting my stuff in the room I would be staying in, I made my way up a flight of stairs to another room [already half full] that had five or six rows of chairs set out. There were probably about 60 chairs in the room. At the front of the room there was a projector screen and a couple of funny posters of stick men, that I assume were in some way were supposed to resemble something from the Bible. I also noticed a couple of music stands at the front, and one guy with long hair strumming a guitar.
“Uh oh! We’re gonna be doing some singing” was my immediate thought.
Yep, I was right. Song after song after song after….you get the point – it didn’t stop! It must have lasted almost an hour. Now look, I joined in, but what I saw going on around me was something I was not prepared for. I saw people raise their hands in the air as they sang. Others were swaying and shaking with their eyes closed. I thought some of them were going to burst in to tears. Obviously they were getting more out of this than me. Even the cool looking kid in front of me started to raise his arms in the air. I didn’t expect that.
To save you having to read through a chronological piece of writing done in diary form, detailing what happened at every hour, I’m just going to lay out a few examples of some of the things that took place, so you get an idea of what kind of course this was.
At one point the leader [not sure what to call him, he wasn’t a priest so I’ll just call him Marcin, since that was his name] told us to go outside for 10 minutes, listen to the sounds around us, then come back in and tell him what we had heard. Again, first thought, “This seems a bit kindergarten. What is this, a warm up for a performing arts class?”
So anyway, out we went, making our way down the stairs and out of the front door. After 10 minutes we were back, and Marcin asked what we heard. I stayed quiet. People were saying all kinds of stuff. They heard birds, children playing [because there were some nearby], the sound of planes etc. Yeah, they weren’t lying, I heard that stuff too.
Anyway, he told us to go out again, but this time, shut those sounds out and try to hear God [or Jesus, I assume]. Out we went again, walking about, listening. At one point I walked in to an alley way and hit a dead end with nothing but a dumpster against a wall. I made my way out of there, only to see another dude going to where I had just been. I joked, saying “You can’t here God in there, it’s just a dumpster.” He wasn’t amused, and continued to head for the dumpster!
We later got back inside, went up the stairs and took our places. Marcin asked us what we had heard. I remained silent again. Some of the stuff other people said they heard really amazed me. One girl said God told her not to worry, another girl said he told her he was with her all the time. I didn’t hear a damn thing. I wondered what part of the outdoors they went to to hear this.
Another example of me feeling I was in too deep was the Bible study part. That is what this whole thing was, a Bible study. I didn’t know this before I got here. I thought it was more a place for Christians to socialize, not a full-on intensive course [more on that later]. Every few minutes, Marcin would tell us to look in to our Bibles and find a particular passage. Look, I don’t dig in to my Bible too often – so I was having a bit of trouble finding these passages. At one point, the guy next to me saw I was struggling and showed me the passage on his phone, and I joked once again
“I see you have the newest technology. I’m still working off the book.”
He shushed me! SHUSHED ME! Then he pointed to Marcin, as if to suggest that I ought to be listening to him. It was just a little joke, said quietly. Damn that guy, whatever his name was.
Long story short, there was a lot of Bible reading, singing, Bible reading, singing, Bible reading, singing, Bible reading, singing….oh and more Bible reading, with the occasional discussion about what he have just read….in the Bible!
What I’m getting at is, going to this place taught me one of two things, and it’s an either or case.
A) I’m not cut out for group prayers. I’m happy praying on my own, kneeling down in my room and uttering a few words, or even going to Church, but when it comes to being with a group of people who like to read the Bible all day long and go in to crazy trances when they are listening to somebody else read the word of God, it’s not for me. Perhaps I’m just a private Christian who likes to keep my faith personal.
B) I have not reached that level of faith yet. I said I’d get to this earlier. What I later found out was that this course was one of four, and it was the last one. In other words, there was an order these courses were supposed to take place in, and this was the most intensive one of the four. Most of the people who were on this course had taken the previous courses [or at least some of the previous courses]. They were well in to it. I was like an amateur going in to a music/acting/wrestling/academic/whatever class full of people who were already two or three years in. I was way out of my depth. It could be that if I had gone to some of the previous three day courses, I would be more comfortable with what they were doing, and perhaps I’d be doing it as well.
I went in as a Catholic and still am one, but what I saw going on was similar to some of the stuff you might see on American television, where people seem to feel God with their whole bodies and let out all kinds of extreme sounds. I’m a sceptic Christian. I am a believer, but just because I have faith doesn’t mean that if somebody walks up to me and says God told them to do something, I’m going to buy it straight away. I’m more the type to say
“God told you that if we both go sit on the edge of that cliff, he’s going to raise us up in to the sky and allow us to get a glimpse of heaven? Yeah, well, tell you what, you do it first and if you see it, I’ll join you.”
The experience hasn’t left me with a sour taste in the mouth, but it has reminded me that I might not be as devout as I thought I was. I’m the first to defend Christianity when it’s being viciously attacked, but I have a feeling some of these people I encountered might defend it even harder than me.