Walking across “The Oval” at The Ohio State University in 1972 with a young coed named Erin, we took a break between classes and sat down next to the library on a warm spring day.
She excitedly told me she had just joined a campus Christian group whose members agreed, as Jesus taught, to sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor.
Erin planned to do so, except for her piano, as that would have been just too much of a loss.
An obvious question: Didn’t selling “all” include the piano? But I didn’t ask — we students had little and Erin’s sacrifice and commitment was more extreme than any I’d contemplated then or now.
In college, most of my attention was focused on Buckeye football (the Archie Griffin years) as well as the opportunity to pursue my education and interests at one of the largest universities in the country.
And despite my introduction to 3.2 beer, I can still recall a few college faith experiences.
Libby, an Orthodox Jew who lived across the hall, invited a few of us to her house for dinner on night where we were gently told we would not be having dairy with meat that evening. Something about Mosaic law, it seemed, so I just opted for Pepsi instead.
On occasion, students wearing ties would knock at my dorm door inviting me to a Bible study to which I would never go.
Some evenings, I would stroll down High Street to the corner of Long’s Bookstore to the fascinating sight of the Hare Krishna singing their well-known 16-word chant. (Ironically, 40 years later I would chant those very words during an evening candle festival on the banks of the Ganges River in India).
Although a seed of curiosity about “other” peoples’ religions was planted during my university days, I mostly focused on my inherited Catholic faith.
Being a Catholic meant that I needed to “keep the Lord’s day holy” and to miss church was a “mortal sin.”
Wow, talk about pressure.
So, on Sundays I attended Mass at the nearby Neumann Center, where I worshipped God in “His house.”
I had been taught that church, a brick and mortar building, was the place I should pray to, talk with, and think about God.
Weekly, and for the most part, weakly, I did just that.
A priest acted as a faith “broker” between God and me and also decreed what beliefs I should hold.
I never really thought about or questioned the system.
That is, until I talked with a fading counter-culture composed of several “members” who still dotted OSU’s campus — hippies.
While the hippie movement had a huge impact on our country during the ‘60s, by the early ’70s its influence was fading.
Hippies’ talk of peace, love, protests – and the need to challenge authority – were similar to the pronouncements of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus, but their words had limited application to my robust college life.
One conversation with hippies did give me pause.
They told me they not only felt, but experienced, God everywhere, especially in nature.
Of course that implied no building could contain God ... nor any one religion.
Prodded by the experience of life and a maturing spirituality, I eventually freed God from the four walls of the church as well as from dogma, creeds, and, finally, even the Bible.
My faith journey continues to be never-ending.
I feel compelled to search for the truth, or at least my truth, a faith that must be shaped by my own study, thoughts and experiences.
As a young college student, I had no idea what would eventually impact my spiritual growth in the following decades.
However, looking back on my university days brought to mind a Buddhist statement: “It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
In college, Erin and her sacrifice, dinner with a Jewish neighbor, invitations of study with Christian witnesses, the song of the Hare Krishna and the hippies.
Was the student, ready? Yes.
Tom Bresko, retired from Mill Creek MetroParks, is a Christian on a spiritual pilgrimage.