The story I am going to tell you about took place at the same square in Zagreb, Croatia, where I once had ice-cream as a child, my first time getting drunk. Not intentionally; it was the ice-cream with a tinge of alcohol that happened to be too strong for me at the time. Some years after, around this time of the year in the early 1990’s, a friend and I went for a walk into town. It was Saturday evening. We were at the Main Square when we heard the music a few streets away. We followed the music and it led us to the so-called “Flower Square”. There was a group from abroad singing and giving testimonies. They were Christians. I remember they sang, “Hey Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you could know, ho ho ho.” My journey towards God started a few years before yet this would be a decisive moment. But let me start at the beginning.
My family didn’t practice faith when I was born, though they raised us well and with a lot of love. Due to the complex reality of communism in the country and its influences in some parts of the family, the fact that I was baptised as a child was a secret. Thankfully, my aunt who also happened to be my God-mother, created another secret that only her and I would share. She told me about God, but I was not allowed to tell anyone that we were talking about it. This must have been very appealing to me as a child. I believe her influence watered the seed of faith in my young heart and it stirred the flame planted at my baptism. Many years after, my faith would flourish. This seed would spend a long time being hidden, unnoticed underneath the soil of my heart. I always had ingrained curiosity and longing towards God. God is close to children and I believe that as a kid I knew that, even though I wouldn’t have said it so clearly then. I think that somehow instinctively I knew Him by heart, and later, after many years, this instinctive knowing will reach a level of understanding that we call faith. However, apart from my aunt’s influence and my grandmother teaching me some of the basic prayers, my childhood was quite removed from any religious influence and from the Church.
Even with almost no religious influence, I prayed. I remember being in bed and saying, “If you exist….”. I can’t remember what I said after nor what I actually prayed for, but I did say, “if you exist”. I was talking to Him even before my faith was consciously awakened. But perhaps God starts working in us even before we are aware of His presence. As I said, my family didn’t go to Church at the time. A few of my friends did, but not many. Those few that were going to Church were preparing for their first Holy Communion and we ended up talking about it at school. I remember having the desire to go to the Holy Communion as well, but I doubt I knew what I wanted nor why I wanted it. I asked my parents if I could go and they said I was too young to make that decision. I presume I was around ten years old. I would need to wait another few years before I will ask them again and then they will let me. Now I would say that it was Jesus in the Eucharist who was calling me, my longing towards God wasn’t one-sided. He longed for me too.
Let me now get back to that evening when in my early teens I was in Zagreb with a friend. We followed the sound of music and came to hear testimonies about Christ. By this time I already started going to Church and I already knew about Jesus. I am sorry if this sounds ‘preachy’ but this is how it happened and I don’t know how else to say it. Anyhow, in the middle of their singing and sharing stories from their lives one of them, a man, said “If someone among you wants to give their life to Christ, lift up your hand?” I was already prepared to say ‘yes’ to God, someone just needed to ask me in order to help me make a conscious decision. I lifted my hand, without thinking. There was no doubt in me that is what I wanted to do. The man then told us to kneel, if we were comfortable with it, and he prayer for us. It was raining, softly, like a drizzle, but I didn’t care. I knelt and knew, again instinctively, that this was a decisive moment in my life.
You never know what you are getting into when you say ‘yes’ to something bigger than yourself, and I could have never guessed where this journey would take me. Yet Someone I longed for since I was a child, now called me by my name and He was my friend. And yet, I found more than a friend. The time has come for me to explore this relationship and to grow in and through it. Now my faith would no longer be only a tiny seed hidden in my soul; the seed started blossoming into many flowers, not just into one. This journey would challenge and mould me in ways that were sometimes uncomfortable, but at least from now on I knew I was never alone. It was a journey on which I would find my true self, a journey into love, a journey Home.
© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 24th April 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek