by Judy Horton
I met the Holy Spirit at the age of eight, when my father was baptized by a preacher he’d gotten to know and respect. A lifelong alcoholic since the age of 14, he’d reached the end of his rope. Unchurched since birth, it was a miracle that he grabbed for that lifeline. A desperate hope had to have been born in his heart to even try.
Sitting with my aunt and brother in a darkened church—the first I’d been in in my life—I watched as the curtain drew open onto what looked like an enormous fish tank high in the brick wall. Incredibly, in the tank stood my father and the preacher, whose words rang out as he pushed Daddy’s head down in to the water: “Paul Abraham Page, I baptize thee in the name of the Father” and again, “and of the Son,” and again, “and of the Holy Ghost.”
I began to shake and shudder, overcome by the mystery. That experience was the greatest gift my father ever gave me, even though his conversion lasted only a few precious weeks before his death by suicide.
Four years later I was living with my grandmother, Daddy’s mom who in her own search to find peace had taken refuge in Christ. And so I found myself at age 13 leaning over the baptismal font in a beautiful Episcopal church in Abilene, Texas.
I went on to marry too young in the church but never returning to it. After 13 years and three daughters, my husband left and divorced me. In a few years, I remarried, as blindly as the first time. My new husband Jerry and I moved to Texas with the girls for me to begin working on a Ph.D. at UT-Austin.
One day typing away on end-of-term papers, the Holy Spirit showed up again (see previous blog). If I hadn’t recognized my old acquaintance from childhood, I would have gone running to the nearest psych ward, but…I did recognize him.
And so my search for God began. First, the Unitarians. Nice people, full of social concern but no mystery. Unity? Believe it or not, they had a kind of “communion” that involved tossing miniature marshmallows into the air. I even looked into Baha’i. Mainstream Christianity clearly held little appeal at that time.
Oddly, finally…I landed with the Society of Friends, aka Quakers. There I felt safe. We worshiped in silence, in a circle. There was no dogma, either to uphold or to contend with. I made many friends, and for five years, Sunday after Sunday, sat in the circle, occasionally sharing as the “Spirit” encouraged. But mostly sitting in silence.
You can hear a lot in silence, and what I began to hear after a few years was, “Come to me, ye who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Learn of me…” The Eucharist began to call in the silence, and in my dreams. For a few years more, I sat with it, in silence.
Then I became pregnant with my fourth child—Jerry’s and my first together. We were surprised, but happy. We knew I risked bearing a child with Down syndrome because of my age, but I refused the test that would have detected it. Thank God for that, because our Kelly was born, a big, happy, healthy baby with Down syndrome. Right after the birth, Jerry spoke prophetic words, “Now, we find out who we really are as a family.”
At first devastated, within weeks we were madly in love with our funny, fat baby, and our lives began to change. They had to. We were overly proud of our daughters’ intelligence, accomplishments, and beauty. It took Kelly to make us look deeper and learn a different way of loving.
I think it was to find that way that Jerry, the outright atheist of the family, suggested out of the blue one Sunday morning that we go to a small Episcopal church in our neighborhood. We went that morning and for several years more, until we moved to the land that would become Down Home Ranch, where we joined a small Episcopal Church in a nearby town.
After a few good years, Jerry surprised me once again by saying he felt called to the Catholic Church. Partly this was because of an extraordinary Catholic priest who befriended us and the ranch, and also because Jerry had taken to reading papal encyclicals! The more he read, the more he felt pulled toward the Church.
As for me, I was disturbed by the Episcopal Church’s stand on abortion. When I was growing up, the church’s positions on marriage, sexuality, and family had been practically identical to those of the Catholic Church. By the early 90's, the Episcopal Church was rapidly liberalizing and specifically condoned abortion for children like my Kelly.
And so, with a heavy heart, Jerry and I left our Episcopal friends and signed up for RCIA in a small mission church in Elgin. I looked around and realized I was home, at last.