My spiritual awakening at Navy boot camp | Worship

By Gordy Arlin | a Bahá’í of Mukilteo | Aug 09, 2017

Major bummer: I am 19 and enduring a rite of passage called Navy boot camp.

An occasional blink would interrupt my vacant stare, my catatonic trance broken only by the 5:15 a.m. wake-up ritual, which was, first, klieg lights in the face, accompanied by the ultimate jarring racket: a large billy club, repeatedly and robustly applied to the inside surfaces of a particularly resonant steel garbage can.

A few eternal days later I realized that being in the Navy was a lot like being in prison, except you have a much better chance of drowning.

I went to the chapel services on the first Sunday just to get away from the barracks. I “believed in God,” but while growing up, the few church services I attended left teenage me unmoved, not understanding and more confused than attracted.

At chapel, the chaplain said, “If you would like to give yourself to God through Jesus Christ, come forward.” About ten recruits funneled toward the altar.

My friend Wayne said, “Want to go?” He was ready. I said, “I can't. I have no idea what they mean when they say ‘give yourself to God through Jesus.’”

The Christian world was comfortable with that phrase, and terms like “saved” and “receive the Holy Spirit” that were all totally Greek to me. I felt that I would be happy to make some decisions about these things, if only someone would speak them in English. The chaplain later mentioned, “If you'd like a Bible, simply ask.”

For some reason – Thank you, God – my own curiosity chose that moment to manifest itself. I wanted to know if I might somehow actually understand what all of the fuss was about. I asked for a Bible.

Six weeks later, all boots were offered the opportunity to audition for the recruit drum and bugle corps. I jumped at that and got in as a snare drummer.

On the first day at my new barracks, six of us new guys were kindly welcomed by the 60-man corps. That day's rehearsal was exhilarating. By that afternoon, I was thinking that boot camp might be semi-possible after all.

That evening, the barracks lights went out with the first notes of “Taps” from the base bugler. In my previous barracks, most everyone would be asleep by the bugler's last notes, so I was surprised to see 50 or so of the corpsmen standing around a central table in the shadow light as the bugler finished his “lights out” call.

I was even more surprised when, after a moment of silence, one of the recruits began to sing slowly: “Our Father…” he began. Then 50 voices joined in: “…which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” I was taken by a strange calmness as I recognized this prayer from my childhood.

I noticed that several fellows who had previously turned in were getting out of their bunks to stand and sing: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

They were singing strongly and in perfect unison. The strange calmness that had settled on me a moment ago was now a very strange calmness.

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” Some took harmony notes for “Amen!”

I was galvanized. Everybody quietly turned in, and in the new silence I was doubly aware that something beyond beautiful music had just happened to me. Tonight, for some reason, the words of this prayer rang with a world of new meaning, not to mention the strange calmness stuff.

The next day, I found this prayer in my new Bible – Matthew 6:9-13 – and I looked at it with new eyes. There they were, the same words I had known for years, but now they meant something more. For some reason, now these words were personal.

That evening I sang, too. Again it was wonderful, as this power in the message and in the music was again being accompanied by the very strange calmness. In spite of myself, I was being opened up to another degree, another octave of life experience.

Years later, reflecting on these beginnings of my curiosity about spiritual things, I am reminded of Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find.”

Requesting that Bible was the first time in my life that I really meant the question: “God, is there something specific that you want me to know? Do you have something to say to me particularly?”

“Seek, and ye shall find” tells us not only what will happen if we seek, it also points out what we must do first if we ever hope to do any finding. Seeking is mandatory; accept no substitutes.

Are you curious about spiritual things? The answers begin with your sincere questions. Say to God: "I want to know the truth." Then, seek it. Open up the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Tripitaka, the Zend-Avesta, the Kitab-i-Iqan or the holy book of your choice, as only those who dig will find the treasure.


Gordy Arlin has been a member of the Bahá'í faith for 42 years. Mukilteo’s Bahá'í community meets regularly in each other’s homes for worship. For more information, call 1-800-22UNITE.

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