I was raised in a Hindu home, where Dad taught his children that God was a divine spirit of love. Dad’s job as an engineer took us from port to port, so that by the time I was 11, we had lived in India, England, Ghana, Cameroon, Mexico, and the United States. No matter where we were posted, Dad led us in a daily practice of gratitude to God.
I believed in this good God until high school, when a friend was killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver. Clayton’s death opened my adolescent eyes to a world of suffering. What kind of God would allow this and then, according to Hinduism, reincarnate us into a painful world? I grieved for my friend and put my questions—and God—aside for the rest of high school.
College, however, engaged me in different philosophies and world religions. The first assignment in my humanities course was to read the Book of Genesis. I was eager to read the Christian Holy Book for the first time, especially because the few Christians living in my dorm seemed caring and smart.
But the Bible reading left me scratching my head: naked people, fruit trees, a serpent, and a God who spoke, strolled in a garden, and seemed as passionate as the humans he created? Did my friends really believe this stuff? The campus bookstore offered partial refunds for 10 days. I returned the Bible, certain I’d never open it again.
What I didn’t realize is that I’d been preparing to read it for years. No matter where our family lived, Dad made sure I had access to public libraries. In retrospect, most of the fiction I loved was penned by authors who were deeply informed by Christianity. Louisa May Alcott wove John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress into Little Women. Johanna Spyri’s Heidi described God’s forgiveness through the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett perhaps subconsciously provided a metaphorical glimpse of the Trinity—Father (Susan Sowerby), Son (Dickon), and Holy Spirit (the robin). And of course, C. S. Lewis’s Aslan leapt into my mind and heart. For years, these spiritual mothers and fathers had been teaching me about the Bible. I just didn’t realize it.
'You Must Choose'
During winter quarter of my junior year, I decided to study in Vienna, Austria. But while the other students in the program got acquainted during our travel time, I kept to myself. They had so much in common: they were white and born in America; I was a dark-skinned immigrant from India. Trying to forget my “otherness,” I pulled out a book: Mere Christianity, given by a friend from my dorm. I had accepted it eagerly only because Lewis was a trusted name. My dorm buddy had also given me a New Testament. I’d brought it along, not wanting to be rude, but I doubted I’d venture again into the “American Holy Book.”
Vienna’s friendliness soon drew me out of my shell. A postal worker came from behind the counter to re-tie my scarf. Bakers stuffed free cookies into my bag. Classmates ignored my nonverbal cues and kept inviting me to concerts, museums, and films. Mornings were full of classes in art history, German, and music, but in the afternoons I would squeeze in a few lonely rambles. When the snowfall grew heavy, I ducked into cathedrals. Stained glass glowed in soft patterns of mustard, saffron, indigo, and coral. Arches and vaults soared so high I could hardly see where they intersected. Always, the twisted, half-naked figure on the cross at the front shone as if he were sweating.