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Finding a way back to faith

Q: When I was young, I felt I was very spiritual and in touch with Jesus and, through him, God. Now, at 55, I feel old, tired and removed from God's presence. I moved to North Carolina a few years ago and started reading your column. I'm trying hard to find my way back to Jesus and God. I feel ashamed and small, however, not a Christian nor worthy of being in Jesus' presence. Can you recommend a website with a daily study program that could get me back to basics and the true path?

-- L., North Carolina

A: I think you need human, not digital, contact, to find your way back to Jesus and faith. You need to find a good church with a faithful pastor and a congregation with open arms. A part of our spiritual journey is private and personal, but another equally important part is public and communal.

And remember, no one can feel ready for God every day. Sometimes we're just too sad or broken or filled with despair. On those days, praying in a community that can give us strength when we're weak is a soul-saving experience. Also, a religious community gives you the opportunity to return the favor when your faith is strong and others are struggling.

Never think you're unworthy of Jesus. Christianity teaches that no one is worthy of Christ, which is why God sent him to die in sacrificial grace and mercy for all. Grace is what God does for us that we don't deserve. Every faith embraces this concept, and in Christianity, that idea is embodied in the mission of Jesus on earth.

Easter is tomorrow, and I strongly urge you to make this sacred day a marking point for your return to faith and the church. Wherever you choose to worship, try to introduce yourself to the priest or minister, and try to meet some of the parishioners.

Remember Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." I'm not a Christian, but I believe that Jesus was right. God occasionally appears to us when we're alone, but God usually appears to us when we're together.

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Q: Four years ago, I had a heart attack and open-heart surgery. As soon as I opened my eyes, I said. "My soul is missing." When I told my doctor, he laughed it off and said, "In a year, you'll be all right." Well, ever since that day, I've felt something was missing.

Two years ago, I had a second open-heart surgery. I cried because I didn't want to lose my soul again. Outside the operating room, they talked to me while they put me out. This time, when I awoke, I didn't feel like my soul was gone, but I still don't feel like the same person I was before the surgeries. Have you heard of anyone else having the same feelings?

-- A., Manteno, Ill.

A: Don't worry. You can lose your car keys and your sunglasses. You can lose your shopping list, and you can lose your mind, but you can't lose your soul! God placed your soul within you, and only God can claim it when you die; however, what you describe is a phenomena I have encountered in my counseling.

You're experiencing a kind of post-operative "spiritual amnesia." This is not a medical term, but my own spiritual observation. It has two causes, in my view. The first is that under anesthesia, you lost touch with your conscious life and your connection to your body. This is disorienting but in time should pass as memories of both surgeries fade. Secondly, you may not have offered a prayer of thanks to God for saving your life through the wisdom and skill of your doctors. Say this prayer, take two aspirin and call me in the morning: "You are blessed, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has shown me such goodness."

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