It is a gloriously sunny winter Sunday morning. I am attending a church service in Blackheath, Blue Mountains. I sit where I always sit in the first row and do my usual once-a-service-casting-my eyes onto the ceiling above the altar. I am taken back to my childhood and recall a time when the words ‘Az Isten Szeretet’ (God Is Love) appeared in capital letters in this position.
It was a quote from John’s gospel. It was written in Hungarian on the ceiling above the altar in my childhood church in Budapest. I attended service there until the age of 17 when my father passed away, three months before our remaining family migrated to Australia in 1964. After my father’s death I saw no point in going to church any more.
I lost my faith when Dad died. As if my faith, together with my soul, died with him. I was in shock that I lost him so young due to a massive lung-liver cancer. It left me so emotionally numb that I could not grieve over his death. It did not help that my young church minister, when he came over an hour after my Dad’s death, looked as lost as I was. He just stood there, metres from me, as I sat forlorn on my Dad’s death bed. My minister’s expression seemed inconsolably sad and helpless. He did not even walk over to me let alone give me a hug or try to console.
Where is God? I thought. I could not feel God nor any consolation and I was getting no help from my equally lost minister. ‘Maybe God died with Dad‘, I despaired, as if watching a surreal film. Of course, this was true to a point. I did see my Dad until then as my God and now he was gone. Together with him went my faith in God.
It took me another 20 years before I could grieve over my father’s death and more than 50 years before I started to believe in God again.
Since the 1970s, I had undergone grief counselling over Dad’s death. Yet, still some deep sadness had remained that I lost the person I loved most in my life before he could even guide me to adulthood.
Now, nearly at the age of 72, I look up once again at the imagined sentence on the ceiling of my Australian church: God Is Love. Looking up at the sign I offer my father to God’s mercy. I hold his cancer-emaciated dead body in my arms and address God:
“Dear Beloved, please take care of Dad. He was the best father ever. He gave his life for us, his family. We had the richest Christmases imaginable. Love was always palpable during those Christmases as I always got every present and more than I asked for.”
And he worried himself to death for us that we should be able to continue having such Christmases. He lived in constant anxiety that the communist regime would deprive him of his private medical practice and then we would become poor. He did not lose his private practice but lost his life instead due to heavy smoking to relieve his anxiety.
Dear God! Give him peace now! Restore his faith in you. I wish he had clung to you instead of those wretched cigarettes. I would have rather had us hundred times poorer than the proverbial church’s mouse but not lose you my sweetest Dad!
But now I give you back to God. Feel the divine love now and forever, Amen.
Tears are rolling down my cheeks. I am back here and now in my Australian church. Something is shifting inside of me… At long last, I am letting my dad go in love.