Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003) 39-41
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Wishing I Were Here:
Postcards from My Religious Journey
Grace G. Burford
Summer 1966, Bowling Green, Kentucky
An energetic ten-year-old, sitting on a red-cushioned wooden pew in a Presbyterian church leans over to her mother to whisper, "Which is it? Are we supposed to be like little children, or leave behind our childish ways?" After church, her mother does a reasonably good job at answering the question.
Later, perhaps even later that day, this little girl has gleefully exchanged her dress and going-to-church shoes for a cotton shirt and shorts and blue Keds, and has escaped to her favorite spot in the woods behind her house. There she swings on vines in imitation of Tarzan and plays contentedly on her own for hours, feeling utterly at home.
In this scene, we see that the little girl has discovered that she can best deal with a certain type of recurring physical pain by focusing her entire attention on her breath, as she silently repeats "breathing in, breathing out."
Fall 1971, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
A group of eight or so teenagers attend their English literature class at an elite college-preparatory school for girls. Our hero, recently arrived, southern accent still quite in evidence, revels in real education; this a delightfully stark contrast to what she got from Kentucky public schools, then forty-ninth in the nation according to some poll or other—only Mississippi's were worse. In this particular class she finds herself defending Presbyterians against what she considers simply inaccurate descriptions of them by James Joyce. At the same time, she is waking up to the realization that she does not believe—and the suspicion that she never really has believed—the Christian doctrines she has been raised on. Indeed, she feels quite foolish for never having properly examined what exactly she had bought into when she participated in all those church activities. She can't recall ever actually believing in "God the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth," much less in "Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord," and all the rest of it. [End Page 39]
Spring 1975, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
Having thoroughly rejected religion—for she knows none other than the one she grew up with—our hero pursues study of astronomy, math, language, and music, quite intent on becoming a college professor of some subject or another. Somewhat annoyed that she must take two courses in the curricular area that includes religion, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology, but encouraged by her friends' assertions that religion courses are "not too bad," she signs up for religion and science, figuring that at least half of it will be rational. At the same time, she takes a course on Asian religions. Sometime in the middle of a clear spring night we find her engaged in her part-time job, seated at the eyepiece end of a twenty-meter-long, twenty-four-inch refracting telescope, patiently keeping a star placed just so on the cross-hairs in the siting scope, making fine adjustments to the telescope's precise tracking while the light of stars collects on glass plates coated with very fast photographic emulsion. Between clicks of the shutter she ponders the curiously attractive ideas she is encountering in her religion courses this term.
Spring 1983, Evanston, Illinois
Our hero earns a Ph.D. in the history and literature of religions, with a focus on Buddhism and Hinduism, and heads for Washington, D.C., to become what she had always aspired to be—a college professor.
Summer 1997, Interstate 40
Having experienced a denial of tenure, the challenges of part-time college teaching, training and freelance work in the field of copyediting, life as a wildlife-wielding teacher of auditoria full of elementary school children, an administrative job as second-in-command to a self-described megalomaniac, and the vagaries of teaching two hundred students a term—this lifelong seeker eagerly moves across the country to start a job teaching at an alternative, experiential learning-based...