I was fifteen years old when I had my first dream of Jesus. I was stunned, but I remember the dream vividly. It’s not the sort of thing anyone forgets – easily or ever.
I was in the desert alone, lost. As far as the horizon, there was nothing in sight but sand. I felt the sand on my bare feet.
And then . . . something extraordinary. . . . In the midst of that barrenness, an immense wooden cross emerged from the earth, rising up with sand spilling from it back to earth. I felt then a spectator in my own dream, and the sight of the cross gave me neither fear nor joy. But I was a curious and began moving, almost floating, towards it, the most magnificently . . . concrete thing I’d ever seen or imagined, and as I came closer to the cross, I suddenly saw a man walking towards me: a broad-shouldered, long-striding man, with a dark complexion, long hair, and wearing a white robe. And just as suddenly I ceased to be a witness to my dream. I was in it, walking towards the man walking towards me. I knew him immediately. He was Jesus. Without knowing why I fell to my knees. He stood over me and touched my face with his right hand.
I awoke. But I dreamed the dream again and again for several days. These were very strange dreams for a young Bosnian, a Muslim girl.
I had survived the first nine months of war in my country, living in a refugee camp in the Czech Republic, away from my father, away from my family, and away from friends. I spoke to no one about my dreams. As the years went by, more dreams of Jesus came. Some were violent and grotesque, of the day Christians strangely call Good Friday, but some were peaceful, heavenly, and in a few Mary was also present. The nineteenth sura of the Koran is titled “Mary.”
All my dreams of Jesus led to the same question: What is God telling me?
Surely, I thought, God is not speaking to me through dreams about conversion. And yet, I found myself being strangely, passionately, and increasingly attracted to Christ. During my studies at the University of Chicago, where deviant scholarship reigned in most classrooms, I defended Christ on more than one occasion. I tried to present proofs that God does exist. To me, the fact that I had never lost my faith in God in the midst of the incredible suffering of my childhood was proof enough, but I struggled to convince others too.
And I have always felt at ease with Catholicism. I began attending Mass and was welcomed no matter what church I visited. I felt peace during Mass and at home in the Church, but I also realized I can’t keep doing this indefinitely: attending as an observer; as a spectator, just as in the beginning of my dreams. I participated in RCIA classes but I bolted before the final step was to take place. And now I’m in the process of finally completing an M.A. in Theology . . . at the Christ the King Seminary in upstate New York.
I have knowledge of faith. But that is different from having the gift of faith.
At some point, I began doubting everything, including the meaning of my dreams. One starts to wonder where the line is between dreams and reality. And doubt is a very strong force – almost Satanic in the way it wants to devour faith, hope, and love. Allow doubt to penetrate your heart and mind, and it leads to restlessness, perhaps even to despair!
And yet, I am pleased to say that I do not despair. But I am restless.
For me, the question of conversion is inextricably linked to the question of identity and belonging. Who am I and who will I be? What does it mean to be a Bosnian-American and a Muslim, yet someone whose spiritual journey seems always to involve Jesus Christ? Ultimately, the biggest question in a way has nothing to do with me explicitly but rather with the meaning of suffering. In light of everything I have seen and experienced during the war, in light of absolute chaos that was attempting to attach itself to me during my years as a refugee and a new immigrant in America, in light of all the emotional loss and lives perished – I wonder what will make me (or any of us who have suffered and endured such pain) whole? What will take these fragmented pieces of my existence and put them together?
Most things in life – and faith is one of them – cannot be forced, nor should they be. Each day is a mystery to me, and I don’t know what the present moment will bring, let alone what the future has in store; whether I will come into the Catholic Church, or whether I will remain a Muslim. I am reminded of Francis Thompson’s famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” which begins: “I fled him, down the nights and down the days/I fled him down the arches of the years/I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways/Of my own mind . . .”
It would appear I am still fleeing.
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