Yale University

Sound Off !

My Spiritual Journey

Nick von Baillou

August 18, 2013

Category: Philosophy and Religion > Belief Systems

I call this a "journey" as I have long had a strong spiritual interest but have no intuitive understanding and was too preoccupied to develop it. Initially I was Catholic, as was my family since the 14th century. In our tradition we honored the faith and always attended the church my ancestors built next to our home in the Czech Republic. Our family coat of arms is framed in the stained glass behind the altar.

It was indeed soothing in hard times but it did not pull on me. And so, by degrees I drifted away.

In the years up to Yale, I could think only of survival. Coming to America without my father, who was killed at the end of the war, I felt rudderless and uncertain. I sought the future with the hope that the American dream might come true … my peers all seemed so sure of what was to come. But the shadows of a dark, blood-stained past and separation from most of our family that remained behind in Germany haunted me.

I did attend an Anglican prep school and felt much at home with the similarities in format and the lovely prose in the Book of Common Prayer.

I made little trips back to Catholic Church but was rarely satisfied. It drove me further into the search for spiritual understanding and the astonishing complexity of faith that Catholicism preferred to interpret for the faithful. There was no advanced class for faith, no way to get beyond the archaic service and the blandishments to behave and send money.

And so I drifted further over the decades until I was invited to a local Baptist church in rural Alabama. There was something strangely familiar about attending church with my neighbors, in close readings of the Bible, in cheerful hymns and songs of praise. It was uplifting and I felt deeply moved.

Perhaps it was the simplicity of the service, the directness of the message, the Bible studies with my neighbors, and their strong faith that lifted me up to sense joy, release, and hope in the message. There is much to learn still. But for the first time I can see my way beyond the present, that the promise is as great as my need to hear it, that belief in salvation is a personal choice, and that God does have a direct relationship with each of us. The message is simple but the meaning is complex, increasingly complex the deeper one goes to explore it. It is a philosophy built on love, not force, not elitism, not power, not confused with material things. It is as infinite as the universe and it has sustained mankind for over 2000 years. How many have passed across the earth in all those years and how many have had the blessing of understanding God's love for all of us? It is a gift.