Why I Can't Be an Atheist
Somehow the conversation created what I think of now as a 'teachable moment' when he told me his heart's message, “All God really wants from us is our love.”
Here is why I can't be an atheist.
When I was a small boy, about five or six years old, I really liked going to church in Texas. I loved to sing the songs and hear about the stories of David, Joseph and Jesus. I also liked how at church, everyone was nice to each other; compared to school, where sometimes kids could just be mean.
The songs were sometimes exciting when we all sang as a group.
"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine."
On occasion, my parents wouldn't go, so I would get picked up by the church bus that mainly catered to the Hispanic families in our outer suburban area of Houston. I was the only white kid on what was called “The Joy Bus”. The Mexican niñas and niños treated me really nicely, and lots of them would want me to sit next to them when I boarded. We'd sing songs on the way as the bus winded through the neighbourhoods, stopping often to pick someone up. I had not been tainted with cynicism, or socio-economic prejudices, so I happily participated and really just had a lot of fun.
"Hide it under a bush - OH NO!
I'm gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine."
One Sunday, our church was having an outdoor festival. They had stalls set up with games and other activities. It was like a mini-carnival, and my mother let me explore under the supervision of this really sincere older Christian lad who I think was named Mark.
The festival had a person there selling helium balloons. I really liked getting these balloons and would tie them to my wrist for the whole day. So I waited in line and even got to choose my favourite colour: blue.
I was one of those kids who asked a lot of questions. Sometimes this must have been annoying but, at the time, I didn't know anything of social etiquettes other than the basic manners any Texan boy learns, like saying "ma'am" and "sir" when addressing elders or waiting until the prayers were said before grabbing the spoon or fork.
So, as I walked around the festival, I asked Mark, who regularly studied the Bible, lots of questions about God; and he gave me really nice answers without any tinge of the annoyance I would sometimes get from others. I don't remember the exact question that I asked, but somehow the conversation created what I think of now as a 'teachable moment' when he told me his heart's message, “All God really wants from us is our love.”
For some reason, the sound of this gave me pause for thought, and I went silent for a moment. The feeling of what he just told me seemed to make so much sense and made me want to show God love. So I asked him how I could do it?
“Well, we can give to Him.”
I thought to myself that I didn't really have anything to give. Then I saw the blue balloon floating from a string tied around my wrist. I really treasured this balloon, but thought that I could maybe give it to God. So I untied it and released it into the sky.
Mark looked astonished, “Why did you do that?”
“I'm giving it to God”, I replied plainly.
His face reflected affection and satisfaction that I was actually listening to his heart that he was so kind to share with me. I reached out to hold his hand. I felt like Mark was my best friend ever.
We both stood there gazing upwards as the balloon gradually merged with the blueness of the clear sky, and I couldn't help but wonder if God received it.
“Do you think He got it?”
“I don't know, but He definitely got your intentions, and that's what matters”, Mark spoke calmly.
A few moments later, something happened that made it hard for me to ever think like an atheist. In my life, I've undoubtedly made some bad decisions and suffered as a result; but I've always felt that God is by my side looking after me.
It started like a trickle of water that quenched a dry and thirsty tongue. Then, I felt so much love in my heart that I didn't know what was happening. Still holding his hand, I looked towards Mark, who was walking me towards a bench.
We sat down, and I asked him in a shaky voice, “Why does God love us so much?” I felt tears well up and I couldn't restrain my emotion. It felt like my heart was flooded with God's love. Mark went silent and closed his eyes.
I looked around through tearful joy at the church grounds with all the people and somehow could see that they were very very dear to God. Everything seemed to make sense. The whole reason the church was there and the whole reason we sing those songs was to experience God's love for us.
And His love is very real. Somehow, in my young mind, it dawned on me that this is actually the only thing that exists. For a moment, I could glimpse that everything in existence is born from God's love and that there isn't anything outside of this.
Mark spoke, “This is very special. We're being blessed by Jesus right now.”
I was so elated to know that Mark was experiencing this too, but I could tell that he didn't want to talk about it. He just wanted to close his eyes and sit on the bench.
Psychologically, whether intentional or not, my whole life has been directed at trying to understand who could be so loving to me as to give me that experience. There are a lot of stories I could tell but, eventually, my questions were answered when I heard Kṛṣṇa's names being sung by a group of saffron-clad devotees at a Houston art festival in the 1980s when I was in my teens. When I heard Kṛṣṇa's names, I somehow immediately knew, “These are my people.” As in my original experience, I could see how extremely dear these people were to God.
The devotees were dancing on a makeshift stage and one was sitting off to the side of the stage, rubbing his ankle as if he were hurt. My heart went out to him, so I approached and just stood there awkwardly looking at him, not sure what to say. He looked up at me.
“Are you ok?”, I asked.
He smiled broadly, which overwhelmed my emotions to the point that I couldn’t even hear what he said. I didn’t want to leave that place. I felt completely at home.
Śrī Vallabhāchārya (1479 A.D.), contemporary of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, has gifted us:
गोपा मधुरा गावो मधुरा यष्टिर्मधुरा सृष्टिर्मधुरा
दलितं मधुरं फलितं मधुरं मधुराधिपतेरखिलं मधुरम्
gopā madhurā gāvo madhurā
yaṣṭir madhurā sṛṣṭir madhurā
dalitaṁ madhuraṁ phalitaṁ madhuraṁ
His gopas (cowherd boyfriends) are sweet, His cows are sweet, His cane (herding-stick) is sweet, His creation is sweet, His victory (trampling) is sweet, His accomplishment (fruition) is sweet, Everything is completely sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.
Now that I'm over half a century old, I've become quite reflective. I don't feel that I can give you everything, but like my balloon, please accept this gift of sharing my experience of God's love, because that is what I have to offer you. You can rest assured that Kṛṣṇa loves you at least as much as I can attempt to convey with words. I pray this story helps you to take confidence in His love for you, and that your own story can help to elevate me when I forget.
"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, all the time."
Suburban Mysticism is free, but if you feel inspired and want to share some love, consider buying Ekendra a broccoli.
No part of this text was generated with artificial intelligence; just “flawsome” human thoughts here … with, of course, homage to The Algorithm that abides over us all.
Thanks for reading Suburban Mysticism! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.