Rowena Calleja did not believe in the God she was taught about, the one who had many rules to abide by. At 15 she was done both with God and the Catholic Church. Years later, through the love of a true friend which she met at a metal concert, Rowena discovered that God truly has a personal interest in her life.
My life was a blur of parties, sex and drugs
I was a huge rebel. I partied all my life.
I did not believe in a God that had all these rules to abide. I did not believe in a God that forbid all the pleasures of life. Why on earth would one believe in a God that punishes us with the wraths of hell, and curse us mortals with the woes of death? And so I ceased to believe in all the teachings that I had learnt in my childhood. When I was 15 years old I chose freedom.
The years to follow were a blur of parties, sex and drugs. I chased all the moments that led to immediate gratification of the senses and these ventures like the sparklers in a birthday party blinding my sight with all the pretty white light flittering until they go off and a huge darkness falls in the room until another sparkler is fumbled for and put on alight again.
"My life took a new route when I met a true friend at a metal concert"
At 21 I found myself cornered in one of those dark places which my decisions often led me to. I was alone with no friends left to turn to. I was shattered and the worst moments were actually the weekends. Solitude, as it was not sought, took its form in dreaded loneliness which sank in the pit of my stomach until it took from me the capacity to feel whole in my own company.
One day, a girl through another friend had spotted me in a metal concert. We decided to meet and immediately clicked. There was something really special in her, she was happy most of the time. She was filled with this unconditional love, contagious optimism and she never had a word to say against anyone. She always had something amazing to say about all the other people.
"I tried Kabbalah and Buddhism and was not keen to try a Catholic spiritual retreat"
One day whilst we were talking she asked me if I would be interested in joining her in a Catholic spiritual retreat. I was hesitant since I had no interest at all in getting back to the Catholic Church. I had also tried other spiritual teachings such as Kabbalah and Buddhism. I was very lonely. I was torn between either spending another weekend on my own desolated company or else get to spend more time with my new bestfriend. The weekend was offered at a discounted price at a very high rated hotel. I planned to take on some booze with me but my friend suggested I take only some wine instead of white spirits. The bottle of wine was never opened.
I was now 24. When I arrived at the hotel I was quite surprised to be welcomed even though I was strikingly different in my appearance compared to others. I still felt that these people were not my type and I might be in the wrong place. My hair, clothes, tattoos, piercings, were out of tune in this community. The first day I actually felt like screaming and running away as soon as I started seeing these people praying and hearing the same old bla bla again. I told my friend ‘where did you get me?’ but we spent the night eating and having fun. The second day I heard a talk which got my attention from a man who dressed up as a woman and who led a life full of drugs and also about the life that he now led. Still, when we were told to go pray in a chapel I just stared at the cross and was like “Hi man, I don’t have anything to say to you, I’m sorry but I don’t even know how to pray.”
Afterwards we were in the hotel’s hall and songs were being played. The music was not the type I listened to. I still listen to metal and electronic music. The leader told us to say the Holy Father together. He also asked us to open our hands to show that we are letting God in our life and everyone was praying fervently with hands as instructed. I was like hey what the hell, I just give this a try, and just act like the others are doing. No harm in that, and no one is taking notice of me anyway. Then I had the biggest moment in my life.
"For a few moments I felt the love of God"
As soon as I opened my palms a bit apart, I immediately was paralysed by this huge pounding of unconditional love scorching every cell within my body. I remember I was wearing a hoodie full of skeletons and my hair was dyed bright red. As I literally felt paralysed, my body couldn’t move on the chair; tears of joy were flowing down my cheeks; I had goosebumps all over my body, and wisdom enlightened my perceptions to a point where for a very few seconds, I understood everything, myself, the meaning of life, the meaning of death, the reason for all my pain. My soul acknowledged the true blessed existence of God. God, a throbbing energy of love, compassion, peace and wisdom. It was the sweetest moment of my life where my soul savoured in its glory. That moment changed my life. And as I was struck by this moment in the background the leader started praying for a person amongst us saying that there was a person who had no faith in God and had to open her/his heart for Him and trust. And that is what I did, and my journey to discovering God still goes on, never ever looking back at my life the same again.
At first I was afraid God will take away my identity
No drugs, sex, or relationship ever came close to what I felt at that moment. I slowly started to change. It was not an instant change as I still tried to resist God as I was afraid that I will go back to the life before 15 when I felt a nerd and got bullied, and did not listen to cool music. But I was wrong, God filled my life with beautiful people and experiences. I started to pray, I started my relationship with Jesus and also attended some retreats.
Jesus is the man I love most in my life. He fills me with unconditional love. When I am close to Him I feel l can see more the goodness in every person, I can love people better. When I start not finding time to pray, and time for Him I start losing this and also peace. My life did not become full of flowers after this moment, not at all. Yet God gives me peace even when life is not good.
"God became my hope and freedom"
Now I am 33. I used to think that freedom was living the way I want and I feel like, no control, no rules but I now find freedom and hope in God. I wish to tell the young ones ‘Do not be shy to look for God’, but the best advice is their own experience. I’m not the one to preach!
Published: April 2019
Podcast: Uyen Vu
Photos of Rowena: Christina Gatt