I am an atheist. I was born and raised Catholic (mostly in paperwork only), but turned away from religion in high school and never turned back. Eventually I decided that the form of spirituality I believe in is universal energy – energy that swirls all around us, to which we contribute either positively or negatively with the energy we exude.
And then last week I had conversations with God.
I was driving on a snow-covered road in Iceland, absolutely terrified I was going to die. I was sleep deprived, the weather was terrible, the rental car was tiny, the landscape was unidentifiable, the winds were bullying and the road was almost impassable. I had been gripping the wheel so tightly for hours that my wrist was seizing up. And that’s when I started talking to God.
I didn’t try bargaining for my safety – I wasn’t going to be one of those people. I was very open and upfront. I told him (“him” because for me, God is a male energy) that I wasn’t even sure I believed he existed, but I could acknowledge that I didn’t actually know. (I suppose that makes me more agnostic than atheist.)
I told him I didn’t want to die in Iceland because I didn’t feel like I was done with my life yet. I’ve been learning and growing so much, I feel like there’s more left for me to do and I’d like the chance to do it.
I told him if I did get to live, I still wouldn’t be going to church or praying because those things just don’t fit into my belief system. But I would keep trying to be a good person who does good in the world because that does fit with who I am and who I try to be and, at the end of the day, I believe being a good person is what really matters.
I talked to him until eventually the road cleared up and, after a 6.5 hour drive, I finally arrived safely at my destination – shaken, exhausted, and a little bit changed on the inside.
On the last night of my trip, I arrived at my final guesthouse which happened to be across the street from the famous landmark Lutheran church, Hallgrimskirkja, in Reykjavik. Since ascending the church tower was on my list of things to do, I went straight over and checked it out. It really was a lovely view! I decided to check out the inside of the church as well and, before I knew it, I was sitting in a pew head down in another conversation with God, crying. That was unexpected!
I shook it off, pulled myself together and hit the town for a nice stroll, crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc and the best catfish I’ve ever had. As I wound my way through the streets back to my apartment, I thought about what an emotional roller coaster this trip had been. I passed the church and noticed it was still open. I puzzled again about my breakdown earlier that day. Before I knew it, I had passed my apartment, circled the block and was sitting in the church again, crying again.
I remember in that conversation asking God to have my back. I told him I wasn’t asking for help and that I was fine with doing all the hard work to get through my life, I just wanted to feel like he was looking out for me. There was no answer. I wondered what I was doing there. I wondered why I didn’t want to leave.
I wasn’t having any great religious revelations, but it was starting to feel comfortable to be in church. There were no priests or pastors, no benches for kneeling, not even a Jesus on a cross to remind us of our evil ways. This church didn’t feel full of punishment and judgement; it felt like a gentle space to be in, a safe place to be vulnerable.
The next day, first thing in the morning, I strolled down to the waterfront to see the famous sculpture, Solfas. Throughout almost the entire duration of my trip to Iceland, it had been cloudy and/or rainy. As I arrived at Solfas, the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the sculpture in the most beautiful way. Nobody else was in sight, I had this perfect beauty all to myself.
As I started walking away, still revelling in the gift of that precious moment of sun at such a perfect time, a light rain began to drizzle. I turned back for one last look at Solfas – a beautiful rainbow segment had appeared in the sky behind it. It lasted maybe a minute, each colour band in the arc so clearly defined like I’d never seen before. The world felt so perfect, my soul felt so still.
At that moment, I felt the universe – “God” perhaps – was answering back, a quiet acknowledgement letting me know he was there with me. No big promises, no great revelations, no demands – just a peaceful presence, like two old friends sitting side by side on the sofa in silence. I smiled and said thank you.
Best conversation I’ve had in a long time.