My Faith Story: Sandy Mackenzie
Good morning, everyone!
Apart from attendance at a memorial service for a friend who was a parishioner of St. Columba’s some years ago, I first attended St. Columba’s in the late spring of 2018, following a difficult period earlier in the year, when I had been hospitalized for many nights. I hale from Nova Scotia, grew up in Toronto, and being brought up as an Anglican, it was natural for me to join you lot when I moved to the United States some four decades ago. I had sporadically attended a number of churches in the area before coming to St. C’s. I was undoubtedly attracted to the ritual, music and language of the church, but I must confess, had become pretty skeptical about Christianity’s basic doctrines.
That said, it is now obvious to me that I was never a total skeptic, and certainly not an atheist. There were definite signs pointing in another direction. I had for long been an admirer of C.S. Lewis, particularly of his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy, and of The Screwtape Letters. Tolstoy’s longish short story The Death of Ivan Illich, has captivated me ever since I first read it as a young man. It is a harrowing account of an intelligent and well-mannered man whose life has been hollow and meaningless, although a dreadful and fatal illness ultimately redeems him just before he dies. Religious music could at least temporarily assail my doubts. I also remember a time, while in Jerusalem in business some fifteen years ago, when I unwittingly found myself before one of the stations of the cross. I well remember the spontaneous sob I uttered at the sight.
But I digress--back to my story. When the time for communion came, on that hot spring morning in 2018 a kind person sitting next to me asked me if I wanted the officiants to bring me the bread and wine. She told me that I looked as if I was in pain, and indeed, standing up did cause me discomfort because of a lower-limb range restriction that I had not been able to shake off since hip revision surgery late in the previous year.
As I recall, I politely declined, and made me way haltingly up toward the altar. I took the wafer, and then stooped to drink from the chalice. As I drank the wine, tears came to my eyes, and the thought to my mind that I should simply tell the most basic of my doubts to take a hike. Later, I thought of the passage in Surprised by Joy, when Lewis asks the reader to picture him as the most dejected convert imaginable. But I did not feel dejected. Perhaps I even felt a sense of relief. Later, I also thought of the wonderful words from the KJV of the bible set so memorably to music by Handel in the Messiah--“His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light.” I also thought of the overwhelmingly powerful ending of The Death of Ivan Illich, where the protagonist, just before dying and after suffering indescribable physical and moral pain, conquers his fear of death as he realizes that his family would be better off if they were spared further witness of his sufferings. “What joy!” he thinks to himself, just before he dies, and, as I think Tolstoy meant, before entering into eternal life, having renounced a meaningless and hollow existence. This was the theme, I think, of Rev. Flanders’ wonderful Labor Day Sunday sermon. If you have not read Tolstoy’s story, please consider it a must-read.
I did not return to the Church until Eastertime of this year. The second half of last year saw me spending many more nights in hospital. The year as a whole was excruciatingly hard on my family. [For the middle service: as a consolation, my wife and daughter acquired a beautiful little calico cat named Sweet Pea (Sweepea for short), who has become our delight.] When I did return last spring in much better health, I was warmly welcomed and taking the plunge, I joined the choir (I had had some experience singing at another church and in the Choral Society of the World Bank and IMF, where I had worked for many years—yes, believe it or not that den of Mammon has a choral society!) Anne, our marvelous director of music, her husband David, our baritone soloist, Diane and the rest of the choir have welcomed me like a brother. Indeed, so has the whole Church.
Are my doubts completely vanquished? No, but I have taken a great stride along the journey of faith. St. Columba’s has become a great part of my life, even a second home. God bless you all and thank you.