The death of a parent is never easy to accept, especially when you’re an impressionable 15-year-old shielded from life’s harsh edges. That event set the stage for the worst choice I ever made — and its eventual correction.
Of course, I didn’t know how wrong I was at the time. All I knew was that Mama had relied on prayer to heal her of breast cancer. Instead, God took her from me — just when I needed her most. The resultant grief, anger and confusion led to my fatal decision: to reject that cruel, heartless God who separates children from parents.
A devout Christian Scientist
Mama was a devout Christian Scientist. She would spend hours each day studying Mary Baker Eddy’s writings, praying, copying inspirational snippets into her journal, and calling on practitioners for herself and the family whenever needed.
Our family attended church each Sunday and Mama habitually attended Wednesday-evening testimonial meetings, where members took turns testifying how “knowing the truth” cured them of unwanted conditions. The Christian Science reading room was one of Mama’s favorite haunts, and I remember her watching the Christian Science TV show each Sunday morning.
Mama always made sure that my brother and I, who attended the Christian Science Sunday school, did our “homework.” We would take turns reading the weekly lesson each morning at breakfast. She was so proud of a poem I wrote that she submitted it to the Christian Science magazine.
All that praying — to no avail!
When Mama developed cancer at age 54, she called on practitioners to pray for her, and naturally, the family prayed too. As her condition worsened, she finally went against the Christian Science injunction never to visit doctors.
With great reluctance, she saw a doctor who gave her the diagnosis and later, did a mastectomy. But it was too late by then. The cancer returned and spread.
At 15, I was still a believer — so it was a huge blow when she died. All that praying — to no avail! Wasn’t God supposed to deliver her?
No one said so out loud, but it was implied that all of us who prayed for Mama had somehow failed in our efforts to save her. I considered my faith very strong, and thought that my prayers — combined with everyone else’s — would be enough to produce the hoped-for miracle.
I certainly did not want to lose my mother at so young and vulnerable an age. Consumed by grief, anger and deep disappointment, I blamed God for taking her, in direct opposition to my pleas that He spare her.
Swept up in materialism
I might have spent the rest of my life in God-denial — but for the pain. At first it was the indignity of too few acceptances, a not-uncommon occurrence in the professions I had chosen: acting and writing. To numb that awful sense of inadequacy, some turn to alcohol or drugs; my drug of choice was romance. It took years to learn how ultimately unsatisfying such relationships are compared to the bliss of God’s unconditional love.
The source of the pain was twofold: unresolved grief, and fear of being alone. Years later, I came to understand that leaving God out of my life made resolving my grief — and a rising tide of related problems — much more difficult.
I thought I was over my loss, but since I did not really know how to grieve, I pushed it so deep inside, it was easy to pretend it was gone. Having left religion behind, I allowed myself to be swept up in materialism.
Yet something was always missing. There was always a part of me, albeit unacknowledged for years, which longed for God — the sweet, loving embrace of Divine Mother, the strength, power and protection of the Father.
I wanted to believe, but experience made me doubt. And doubt had the upper hand for twenty years.
The turning point: a mysterious illness
When I was about thirty, a barely-acknowledged inner voice began vying for my attention. I responded to that “call” by the usual routes — books, classes, workshops. I didn’t have a clear concept of exactly what I was seeking, but finally, I was able to acknowledge my need to re-connect with God.
The turning point came with the birth of my child, which was soon followed by a mysterious psycho-physical illness. My recovery was progressing slowly until a friend gave me a set of meditation tapes geared to my condition. My illness had added a new sense of urgency. What did I have to lose?
Since I was confined to bed anyway, I began listening to the meditation tapes, following the instructions — and feeling better. In fact, every time I practiced that routine, I noticed far more improvement than simply following the prescribed medical regimen.
The prodigal daughter returns
Autobiography of a Yogi was one of a dozen books recommended by my metaphysics teacher. To say it was the most transforming book I ever encountered is to greatly understate its power. I would have to stop after one or two chapters just to savor the heavenly effects of those timeless truths, so beautifully embedded in Yogananda’s remarkable story.
Tears sprang forth when I came to “An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness.” Never had I read so thorough, poetic and enthralling a description of that sublime state. My spirit leapt at the realization that it could be mine as well — especially on reading Sri Yukteswar’s illumined explanation:
Spiritual advancement is not to be measured by one’s displays of outward power, but solely by the depth of his bliss in meditation. Ever-new Joy is God…seductive beyond thought of competition…Desire for material things is endless. Man is never satisfied completely, and pursues one goal after another. The ‘something else’ he seeks is the Lord, who alone can grant lasting joy….
Through Yogananda, I felt Divine Mother welcoming home Her prodigal daughter with open arms. Willingly, happily, with deep gratitude, I surrendered.
What joy to find a Master who defined God not as some distant Father/Mother, but as Divine Bliss that can be found right inside my Self. Life ceased to be a struggle filled with fear, grief and pain. Yogananda turned on the light, and I have been abiding in its all-encompassing clarity ever since.
My mother was not really gone
That’s how I came to know my mother was not really gone. Between immersing myself in Yogananda’s teachings and meditating — turning off the restless mind and making the leap into the soul — I realized the soul cannot die, and that death is not the enemy nor the loss most people believe it to be.
It’s one thing to be told our departed loved ones are “in a better place.” To actually bear witness to that fact is quite another—“convincing to your very atoms.” In spirit, I am as close to her as when she occupied her diseased body.
I could now totally accept that Mama’s death (as well as those of other loved ones) was in divine order, that it was NOT a failure or defeat, and rejoice in her soul’s freedom.
There was no longer any sadness or guilt, just calm acceptance and love. This liberating realization marked the end of my search, and the beginning of an unbreakable bond with my Guru, dear Yogananda–who also lost his mother early in life.
God knows our true needs
I see now that Mary Baker Eddy had it partially right: prayer does produce results. But Yogananda makes it clear that all the praying in the world is useless unless you are first attuned to God. It’s like making calls with a disconnected telephone; you’re just going through the motions.
With prayer and affirmation, Yogananda places the emphasis where it belongs: on the unassailable power of God to heal any condition, and more importantly — on the precise steps required to connect with that power, and stay connected.
Also, there is so much more to prayer than merely petitioning God for what we want. As Swami Kriyananda writes, “It’s not up to us to decide if a person should be healed; it’s ultimately God’s will…God knows our true needs better than we do.” How much better to live surrendered to God’s will than to regard Him as some spiritual paramedic who can be called on to do our bidding.
Today, I look back on that sorrowful, angry child wandering in the wilderness, and can hardly believe that was me. If rejecting God was my worst choice, inviting Him back into my life was my best. The very thing I worked so hard to deny was the key to my deliverance. And the healing of my mysterious psycho-physical illness was only the beginning.