DAMASCUS PATH REVISITED
It will be difficult for you to believe much of what follows. But this is the most literal and accurate telling I can muster. Like all human narratives, my stories are shrouded in fiction. It’s hard to say how much. You be the judge.
I have three reasons for writing these experiences. First, I never want to forget them. Second, I hope my children will read them. Third, perhaps you, the reader, will gain something of value.
Before I begin, let me define some terms and provide some background so you better understand my perspective.
“Religion” is a pursuit or interest to which someone places supreme importance. It often includes belief in a supernatural, all-knowing, all-powerful being or force.
I despise fundamentalism, dogmatism, fanaticism, and other world-views that stifle sound, critical thinking. Any time religion and science collide on matters of fact, science should prevail.
It is tragically ironic that many Christians and other “believers” (as well as secularists) will be put off by the preceding paragraph and the ones that follow because this is the story about how I became a follower of Christ. This is a story about many things. This is a love story.
Let me add a caveat: every person has some religion. My religions are Critical Thinking, the Scientific Attitude, Fallibilism, and The Warrior Path.
“Critical Thinking” and the “Scientific Attitude” are plain enough. Others have written about them far better than I can. I aspire to hold belief in proportion to the evidence. I don’t always succeed. And, let’s face it. It’s a lot of work. We’re all basically stupid fucking monkeys.
“Fallibilism” is the view that nothing is provable with absolute certainty. To be clear, I believe in reality and truth independent of mind. But I assert very little about the “ultimate nature of reality.” Fallibilism is an acceptance of the fundamental limitations on our ability to know anything. (See, above, “stupid fucking monkeys.”) It is a position of deep humility regarding the human mind. Any knowledge is provisional and may be false in the long run. Nevertheless, we can be justified in holding belief if attained through reliable means with sufficient evidence.
“The Warrior Path” is the disciplined pursuit, mentally and physically, to emulate the warrior archetype for the protection of one’s community and society.
My “religious” claims may seem odd given the accounts that follow. And like any religious person, my beliefs and actions often contradict my religious claims. People are wrought with contradiction and paradox. I am no exception. To confuse the matter further, I propose there exist universal spiritual truths, which are necessary for full human flourishing. My hope is humanity will use our minds and hearts to extract these essential truths from religious traditions without appeal to any infallible authority and the harm it causes.
My father was a traditional Japanese potter who lived from September 19, 1948 to October 2010. He was a mad artist. I remember him in a fit of rage smashing his exquisite pottery against the wall, dusty shrapnel flying everywhere. I imagine him in his young days as an expert Judo man. He moved back to Japan when I was four years old. I stayed with mom bouncing around New England. I met my dad a few times over the years, but his move back to Japan was effectively the end of our relationship.
My mother is a fiery, big-hearted, emotional, and irrational Jewish hippie born in New York on April 13, 1948. She met my father traveling to Japan to study pottery. Doctors diagnosed her as narcoleptic. She slips in and out of consciousness moment by moment, it seems at will. She is a mystic. Had she been born in the right time and place, no doubt she would have been a shaman or medicine woman.
I grew up in Bedford, NY. The surrounding area is a wide spectrum of race, religion and socioeconomic status. Our house reflected this. Given my mother’s general world-view, our household was the gathering place for all our friends and a temporary home for any soul looking for shelter. I grew up unencumbered by the usual parental constraints with a healthy dose of hippies, hip-hop, affluence, and sports.
My mother makes me a Jew. I performed my Bar Mitzvah on April 21, 1990 only because this was one of the few demands my mother ever imposed on me. However, I never felt connection to Judaism. It just never resonated, and I felt out of place in the synagogue. I dreaded going to temple and Sunday school. I found them boring.
Although I was not drawn to Judaism, I had spiritual questions as far back as I can recall. As early as four or five years old, I remember feeling suffocated by the certainty of death and the possibility of absolute, final nothingness. It still grips me. Each one of us is born under the shadow of death. In the sheer vastness of time, the span of a human life is a flicker too small to measure. That you are conscious at this moment is a mystery as profound as any in the universe. I suspect anyone who peers into the darkness eventually faces this fear.
May 1999, I graduated from college with a degree in Western philosophy. Breaking from the classical Western approach, the day after college I moved to Green Gulch Farm. Green Gulch is a Zen monastic community in Mill Valley, CA, 16 miles outside of San Francisco in the Marin Hills of the California Coast Ranges. It is an idyllic setting in every way. I can still hear the distant waves crashing through the scent of herb gardens.
During the two years I practiced Zen meditation, I had some extraordinary experiences. My emotions, feelings and thoughts were intense and ran the spectrum. I often felt a deep connection to nature and the people around me in ways I had never felt before. I had some hallucinations. A few were quite intense. All of this gave me insight into the nature of consciousness and the self. But there was one exceptional experience that had deep, lasting effect on me. I believe this experience showed me something true about our existence as human beings.
During the summer of 2000, I had been living the Zen-monastic-life for over a year. I had just finished a seven-day meditation that lasted from Sunday to Sunday. The following Monday, as I had been doing every Monday for several months, I assisted one of my teachers in facilitating a “stress-reduction class” at San Bruno County Jail. The class consisted of meeting with a group of 5–8 inmates for discussion and instruction on meditation.
This particular Monday, the classmates took turns sharing what caused them stress. One inmate told his story. He was in his early twenties, tall and skinny, light-brown skin with a big afro. He was in jail awaiting trial for drug possession. This would be his third felony, and he had already spent most of his adult life incarcerated. He struggled with HIV and drug addiction. His father repeatedly beat and raped him as a child. When he was fourteen years old, the state placed him in foster care after he witnessed his father murder his mother. The young man maintained a mostly-cool facade. It seemed like he’d told this story before. He was almost casual about it. But his eyes belied his pain as he fought back tears. It was the worst story I’d ever heard. It hit me hard.
I was driving through San Francisco on my way home from the “stress-reduction class,” and I was contemplating the inmate’s terrible story. I stopped at a red light, and I saw a mother struggling on the sidewalk with her baby in a stroller. As I watched her, it was as though I could suddenly feel directly, bodily, the suffering this mother felt as a mother. I could feel her body as if it was mine. I could then feel the other people on the sidewalks and in their cars. I could then feel my own mother’s suffering and all the suffering of all mothers and fathers and children. I could feel the suffering of all the inmates in all the prisons in the world. I could feel the suffering of their victims. I could feel the suffering of the universe. It’s cliche, but I don’t know how else to describe it.
It’s difficult to communicate the intensity of this suffering. I had not cried since I was a small child, but it was like suffering erupted from the center of the earth and through me as an uncontrollable flow of tears. It began as a somewhat personal release of emotion, I suppose pent up over years. Then it quickly reached far beyond my own personal experience.
I had no choice but to park my car because I could not see through the tears. After I spent an hour on the side of the road crying, I could not stop weeping so I drove home squinting through watery, burning eyes. Finally home, I took counsel and solace with one of my mentor-Zen-mothers. Then I continued to sob for over eight hours in the silence of the meditation hall.
For that day, I gained a visceral understanding of the interconnectedness of all suffering in the universe. I didn’t feel the tears were for me. I did not have a sense of pity for myself or others. Rather, I saw that suffering is an intrinsic characteristic of consciousness. But within the interconnectedness of all suffering lies a connection to all beings and a deep, liberating compassion.
I am not claiming any attainment. I did not magically transform into a better person. But I had an immediate glimpse at the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha, and they have informed my life since.
Before this experience, I was convinced about important benefits from meditation, i.e., relaxation, focus, and present-state-awareness (mindfulness). However, I was never able to reconcile my training in Western logic and epistemology with Buddhist claims about reality. I had been studying Buddhist concepts vigorously, but my comprehensions were, at best, confused, superficial approximations. I did not understand them, and I never found logical argumentation or empirical data supporting them. Nevertheless, suddenly, in that experience, the Four Noble Truths became clear and unavoidably compelling.
I am not making any assertions about the truth of Buddhism as a whole. But now I believe passionately in the validity of specific claims. It has almost become trite in popular culture, but please allow me to restate: attachment to the fleeting self is the cause of suffering, and the keys to liberation lie squarely within deep awareness of the present moment, which leads to compassion. This present state awareness is difficult and must be trained diligently.
I moved to New York City in August of 2004 to attend Columbia Law School. After graduating, I immediately began my job paying my school loans at the stereotypical New York firm. The horror stories are true.
I don’t carry any regrets because my scars give me strength. But there is plenty during this stage of my life about which I am thoroughly ashamed. Maybe I was compensating for my insecurities and the nagging emptiness expanding inside me. Perhaps I simply caved to hedonism. Whatever my reasons, I tried to eat it, drink it, screw it, or otherwise consume it. I’m not sure how I didn’t develop a worse dependency on drugs and alcohol.
My first-wife, whom I met at Green Gulch, participated in all of it. Over our 9-year relationship, she molded her identity to fit what she believed I wanted, and it tore her apart. She concealed her heartbreak and despair. At the time, I convinced myself it was all okay. I took advantage of her, and, in retrospect, I was so stupid.
I justified my bad behavior based on my commitments to values like honesty, forthrightness, personal liberty and autonomy. And I suppose I was somewhat committed to those values. But, I had forgotten about honor, fairness, respect, sanctity, and, most importantly, care for the woman who depended on me. I had become an utter, complete douche. To those who knew me then, if I hurt you, I am sorry, especially to my ex-wife.
When the financial markets collapsed in the summer of 2008, the shell of what had become my life crumbled. My firm laid me off, and I had no prospect for employment. Within a matter of months, I lost every penny. I was up to my neck in law school debt, most of which I owed to my mother who was financially dependent on me. My emotional health rested precariously on my ex-wife, and, after 8 years of marriage, she left me to “find herself” in Spain with a new guy. I deeply loved my wife, but I broke her heart with my lust, greed, and moral confusion. She, in turn, did everything possible to hurt me, and she did it well.
Since I was a small boy learning tales of samurai, I have been fascinated by “martial arts.” With no wife or employment, I moved to Sedona, AZ to study from a sword master.
My spirit was crushed when I first moved to Sedona in December 2008. I was doing menial labor to bring in what little income I could. I slept on a cot in the storage closet of the martial arts school. My teacher let me stay for free. I had few other choices.
Relative to how human beings can suffer on this earth, my situation was not that bad. But, to that point in my life, I did not know it was possible to suffer the way I did. Perhaps the most important lesson is how the mind creates our greatest suffering.
This was not like the suffering I experienced those years earlier at the monastery. This was much different. This suffering was much smaller, but I could not see anything else. I was nothing but sadness, and anger, and hatred, and weakness, and judgment. For months I would wake up at night every hour on the hour sobbing. This time, the tears were self-pity, loathing, and regret. I could not eat. I felt alone. I could not see any escape. It seemed the only thing keeping me alive was my sense of responsibility to my family and teachers. I was in Hell.
In dire straights, I began selling timeshare in Sedona in November of 2009. After about 8 months in sales, to my surprise, I had the ability to meet all my financial obligations while living in Sedona. Still sleeping on the cot, I focused most of my free time and energy on the martial arts training.
I was heartbroken, but I was still attached to my ex-wife. We tried to reconcile, but our sins had caused irreparable damage. In 2011, after almost three excruciating years, I finally shut my heart to our marriage. My choice immediately lifted a great weight off me. I felt happiness, freedom and power I had not felt for a long time. I began to enjoy my life again.
The lowest point of my life was 2008–2011. But I would never give up those years. They were my crucible. The martial arts training began to fill my veins. I was becoming the person I was meant to be.
I came to esteem the warrior path and the pursuit of excellence. I still struggled with my demons, as I still do. But I realized the most important relationship in my life needed to coincide with these ideals if I was going to take them at all seriously. I had learned so much from my failed marriage and failed ways. For the first time in my life, my only interest in a woman was finding a wife.
Emily is the most beautiful, good-hearted, kind woman I have ever met. I feel love radiating off her like the sun. Her bright smile fans the depths of my soul and unlocks the light of God.
When Emily and I first met, I was still attempting to reconcile with my ex-wife. After I was free, my fantasies turned to Emily, but she lived in Hawaii. Without many expectations, I reached out to her. Perhaps there’s fate because Emily had plans to visit her parents a few days later for Thanksgiving in Sedona.
We connected immediately, and we quickly became serious about a relationship. We had tangible chemistry between us, and we agreed on so much. However, we had one significant difference that troubled Emily: she was a devout Christian, and I was a Jewish fallibilist and skeptic with a deep commitment to disbelief on matters concerning the God of Abraham and Jesus Christ.
We spent hours discussing God and religion. I explained my beliefs about the limitations on knowledge, particularly as it relates to Christian Theology. History is limited, incomplete and inextricably tangled in bias and fiction. Aside from specific, discrete measurable objects and phenomena, it is impossible to prove any historical event with any degree of scientific or logical certainty, especially if the events defy science and logic. Therefore, there is no way to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God born of a virgin or that He was bodily Resurrected after the Crucifixion. But, to me, it didn’t matter. I could still happily be “Christian,” at least culturally.
I explained to Emily my view that a belief is a good one if it makes a person happier, more compassionate, more virtuous, or in some way improves his or her life. Given my disposition, I could not hold such beliefs about Jesus Christ or the Resurrection, but it didn’t matter because I was happy to support Emily’s beliefs, even though I would challenge her. And I was more than happy to raise our future children as Christians and participate in church with them. I could see how it could enrich their lives, instill morality and values, make them accountable, give them a sense of community, and make them happier people. I believed this was a perfect compromise. Emily tacitly agreed.
When Emily returned to Hawaii, we were already falling in love fueled by the usual cocktail of neurochemicals. Emily planned to spend a few more months in Hawaii saying her goodbyes then to return to live in Sedona if our love was real and survived the time and distance. A few weeks later, I visited Emily in Hawaii. We fell deeper in love.
After I returned to Sedona, I was lying in bed with memories of my ex-wife. I recognized how I was completely responsible for our failed marriage. I did not have a sense of longing or desire to be with her again, but I was overcome with an overwhelming sadness for her. The feeling of deep empathy returned. I cried deeply, this time for her.
Days later, on December 22, 2011, I was lying in bed again. This is when it happened. It is difficult to describe the experience. My mastery of language is tragically inadequate. Had it not happened to me, I would have no reference. I would not believe it myself.
It was a dark night. The moon was as at five percent illumination. The blinds to my room were closed. I was not sleep-deprived nor particularly tired. I was not aroused or emotional that day. I had eaten and drank as usual, no mind-altering chemicals. There was nothing out of the ordinary. My mind was clear.
I turned off the lights to go to sleep. My bedroom was pitch-black. Ten minutes or so after climbing in bed, wide awake, my thoughts went to Emily, and I could see her beautiful, bright smile in my mind’s eye. This time it was not empathy, but the familiar, deep compassion filled my heart. There was joy, but no sadness.
Suddenly it was like a thick cover over my chest opened, and white light reflected off my heart. The white light filled the pitch-black bedroom. I could suddenly see everything as if I was under a full-moon in the desert night. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the room, but I could clearly see every object in hues of silver, white, and grey. I mean this literally. There was light.
I could not see through the walls of the room, but I “felt” the light from my heart expand past the room and into the infinite universe. I looked to my right. A human-shaped figure made of white light and warmth stood by my bedside. He did not have any definable features or appendages, but he was clearly standing next to me. I looked directly at him to be sure. I could see lucidly and feel his presence as if he were any ordinary person standing beside me. But this was far from ordinary.
To claim that I “understood” is inaccurate. Stated slightly better, I “apprehended” and “felt” immediately with my heart. No words were spoken. The light, warm figure made no sounds or gestures. Yet somehow in that moment I apprehended that God is everywhere but not in one place. He is One and completely incomprehensible. To approach the vastness of the galaxies across every possible multiverse down to the depths of the smallest possible distance does not approach a superficial comprehension of God. To understand is impossible, but to deny His existence is also impossible and absurd, even unintelligible. To deny God is to deny everything and nothing. God cannot be seen or heard or touched or measured. Somehow we can only “feel” Him with our hearts.
I apprehended the figure standing by my bed, the light reflecting off my heart, and God — the Three — are all one-in-the-same. I directly encountered a tripartite “spirit.” At the same time, I apprehended the meanings of Jesus Christ, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
I witnessed Christ as a symbol by which our limited human minds can approach an understanding of an incomprehensible God. His example — his life, death and resurrection — is the freedom from the suffering of our lives. He is a guide and companion, Lord and Savior, to rescue us from the sins that destroy us. Sins are those things that make us turn away from the light of God. Salvation is opening the heart to the Light and reflecting it into the world. These realities are eternal, outside of time, and the temporal comprehension of these realities is irrelevant.
Paradoxically, the oneness of God consumed my sense of an isolated self. I still experienced an individual, specific vantage point. I was still “looking out.” But my sense of self was somehow integrated with the oneness of God, and I was consumed by an overwhelming love, bliss, ecstasy, contentment, and serenity fundamentally unlike anything I have ever experienced. To say these feelings were “complete” is vastly insufficient. It was the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” (Phil. 4:7). I felt no sense of excitement. There was no trace of fear. I experienced no confusion or ambiguity. I did not have the slightest hint of negative sensation whatsoever — not even the desire to hold on to the feelings. I knew without any doubt that everything was, is, and always will be perfect. I rested peacefully in this space for several minutes, and then I easily fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning rested and refreshed and still filled with love, ecstasy, contentment and serenity. I dressed and left for work. As I was driving to work, the warm, light figure sat in the passenger seat next to me as if to convince me the night before was not a dream or hallucination. This time he was not as visually apparent, but I could see him. I could feel his presence as strongly as I could the night before. I was overcome by the beauty of the red rocks of Sedona and the music coming through the car speakers.
After the car ride, he was gone, but the feelings remained for several days. The effects were persistent. To this day, I can bring forth remembrance of those feelings, and I can feel his presence next to me, guiding me.
Everything was, is, and always will be perfect.
To understate the matter, I’ve had some unusual encounters. But the experiences I described above met me with the same brute force as skydiving. Still I acknowledge that any man’s experience is unreliable. Especially when the experiences are, by their very nature, incredible. It is impossible for me to prove or disprove the reality of these phenomena or the interpretations and meaning I have given them. I’ve presented so much context for these stories partly because I concede there are many ways to undermine the veracity of my claims. Nevertheless, I believe I found truth. (But let me be clear, I take my insights to be phenomenological in nature. I am not making metaphysical or ontological truth claims.)
Still, it’s possible my glimpse at the Four Noble Truths was no more than a deep but personal emotional release. It’s possible my baptism by Jesus Christ was a pure fiction. Perhaps, my eyes simply adjusted to the dark room, and my mind “created” Him to convince me of something I needed to believe in order to be with Emily. Maybe I made it all up, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.
If these were simply hallucinations, they were the most sober, clear and intense hallucinations I’ve ever experienced. They were both unlike any other experience I have ever had, and each of them were clear and distinct.
Some refer to these as “peak experiences,” or, perhaps, a variation of “flow” state. I think this is accurate to an extent. But some phenomena are not easily and completely confined to rational language. Perhaps the scientific method and human knowledge will never fully encompass some planes of reality. But that we cannot know them in the narrow sense does not necessarily mean they are not real. This is why humanity will always need philosophers, artists, musicians, poets, and mystics.
As rare and elusive as these experiences are, some are repeatable and non-idiosyncratic, and I believe they correspond to truth about our existence. There is a real spiritual world. On one occasion, I came to believe the Four Noble Truths are, in fact, true. On on another occasion, “God in Heaven” directly revealed Himself and baptized me. That night I “apprehended” spiritual insights. First, God is beyond human comprehension. To talk about God is nonsensical, but he is somehow the oneness and wholeness of all things. God is ineffable, incomprehensible, yet expansive in nature. Second, the gate to this understanding is compassion through the heart, which is where the spirit of God dwells. He is somehow woven into the fabric of human consciousness, profoundly in the ever present NOW. We miss Him because He is so near. Third, it is by emulating the example of Jesus Christ that we can be free from anxiety, fear, sin and, ultimately, suffering.
To be sure, my beliefs diverge from Christianity in some fundamental respects. First, it does not matter about the Truth of the Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection in a literal, temporal, historical sense. Nothing in my experience informs me about what happens in the beginning of time, after death, or forever after. I had no insight into the origin of the cosmos or the “ultimate nature of reality.” The human mind can never know with logical certainty the truth of Christian theology in an historical sense. Moreover, given the current state of human knowledge, it is highly improbable that most of the propositions are literally true.
It does not matter how afraid we are, the human mind can never know some things with certainty, true or not true. Our myths may be comforting to us, and to that extent, they are useful if we are able to believe them. That does not mean our fantasies are real.
Second, I believe the Bible is the word of God. But “word of God” is poetic language to signify it was written by inspired human beings. It is an important book, which stood the test of time. Everyone should read it. The Bible contains deep spiritual insights about the human condition. However, I do not take the Bible to be the literal, infallible word of God. My experiences do not speak to the infallibility of any book. No book is above scrutiny. I do not believe anything I’ve described because of what I’ve read, but some books contain useful frameworks to describe some of my experiences.
Nor do I believe the Bible is the only word of God. There are other scriptures written throughout history, which are also inspired. Given the nature of God, it seems far more likely God contains the Bible, rather than the Bible contains the entirety of God. The Bible does not hold a monopoly. There is evidence throughout history that humankind has experienced overlapping spiritual Truths and articulated them in numerous colorful ways. It is probable humans have come to know God in many contexts using conceptual frameworks, which suited the times and culture. Every human is bound by limited intellect to describe experience.
It is our responsibility to judge where the Bible and all religious scripture are wrong — where we see metaphor, symbolism, outdated mythology, cultural, political and social influences, internal contradiction and inconsistencies, and just simple ignorance and wrong factual claims.
Scientific knowledge is also the word of God — ever changing, ever developing, ever expanding. Perhaps science is the loudest, most precise and accurate voice God uses to “speak” to human beings.
Third, God may or may not be a direct, active participant in our lives in the narrow, literal, anthropomorphic sense. It is unlikely, maybe logically impossible, that God has a single, distinct, isolated consciousness that acts in ways human beings can comprehend. The limited mind cannot contemplate God. And we cannot articulate God. But I can think of no better word for God. The word “universe” does not suffice. And like the word, “universe,” every other word has ultimately proven insufficient. Even the word “God” is inadequate, and it may not have any meaning at all. He does not fully submit to human understanding.
But anyone can access Him directly through the heart where the Holy Spirit dwells. It is through our access of the Holy Spirit that God acts in our lives. So God persists in human consciousness.
And, finally, neither the Bible nor Jesus Christ are the only expressions of Christ-essence. While there is only one historical Jesus of Nazareth who provides the perfect ideal, Christ is eternal and extensive. He is outside of time and always has been. The Bible speaks of people who participated in Christ-like nature and were precursors to Christ’s arrival, e.g., Noah and Moses to name a few. Outside of Judeo-Christian mythology, the Buddha participated in this nature, as did others, many of which I am sure I am unaware. I take Avalokitesvara to be a Christ-like manifestation. Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama are alike in this way. Ordinary people participate in Christ-nature each time we feel pure, genuine, compassion and love.
Let me also be clear I AM NOT CLAIMING ALL RELIGIONS ARE THE SAME. To the contrary, fundamental, essential doctrines across religions diverge and contradict each other. It is logically impossible all can be true. Many religious claims are simply wrong and should be relegated to their place in outdated human mythology.
But let me reiterate: there are real spiritual Truths. I believe I’ve directly experienced at least two: The Four Noble Truths as put forth by Buddhist scripture, and Christ as savior as expressed in the Gospels. And I believe they are connected by the same compassion. Compassion is the keyhole through which we peek at the Light.
Anyone can access these realities directly through experience. They are independent of context, dogma and trappings of religion. Therefore, one doesn’t need to throw away reason, judgment and critical thought to accept them. There is much about religion that is simply nonsense. However, many religious traditions hold deep spiritual truths. There is a balance.
Jesus is real. He is here on earth. He is the Son of God, and we are His brothers and sisters. To take Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is to follow his example and be free from suffering of sin. These are realities that are outside of history.
But was the actual man born of a virgin? Was he bodily Resurrected in the Flesh? Did this all happen at moments in the past in a literal, historical sense? Well, until sufficient evidence for these claims surfaces, which at this point seems impossible, it is not likely. We shall never know with logical certainty. To accept the essential, eternal truths does not mean we must accept every silly claim that has tagged along through the centuries. This is where I diverge most strongly from Saint Paul. To me, none of the nonsense matters. Further, I do not accept C.S. Lewis’ famous argument that Jesus was either “Lunatic, Liar or Lord.” He simply used the conceptual framework available to describe deep spiritual truths.
It is our responsibility to remain critically minded and ever vigilant in every aspect of our lives. We must live in this world, the real world, make sound judgments, and use every faculty we have to protect what is good and what is right materially, intellectually, culturally, socially, as well as spiritually.
So, here is what I hope you take away from my stories. When I proclaim that I am a “follower of Christ,” and that He is my Lord and Savior, this is what I mean:
The essence of Christ is to identify not with the transient flesh of this body and the desires of this world, but with God, who is All and One. And in this identification be fully present and guided by the Holy Spirit. To follow the Holy Spirit is to follow God’s Commands — to love God and Humanity with all of your heart — which is the key to unlock the door to Heaven and complete Liberation and Salvation. Heaven is not some far off distant place. God in Heaven is somehow right beside us, here, always in the ever present, profound NOW.
The most important [commandment], answered Jesus, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
John 15:10–12 (emphasis added).
And what does “God’s Love” look like? Examine the mythology of Jesus Christ as the Gospels tell it. He was born divine, perfect and pure in every way and committed his life to helping others whether or not they deserved help. He studied and sought truth in every step. He was guided purely by the Light of the Spirit and lived perfectly with passion. He transcended “Law” while embodying the essence and spirit of the Law. Then, after living a pure and innocent, perfect life, he suffered the greatest hardships and injustices humankind can endure, including state-persecution, betrayal, ridicule, torture and crucifixion. It was deeply cruel, unfair, unreasonable and unjust. He suffered as much as any human being ever has or ever will.
Still He loved his betrayers, accusers and executioners with fullness of heart. Amidst all of this, through God’s Love he was completely free from the suffering of this world. In His story is the essential Truth: Godliness and Freedom come through compassion and forgiveness. It ignores logic and reason, but it is the Truth. Love is the only way to access the Peace of God.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil. 4:4–7 (emphasis added).
It really is that simple.
It’s not that I was made perfect by these experiences. God knows I am far from perfect. This was the beginning of a journey. To this day, I am tormented by the bitter sweet pain and fear of dearly loving people who suffer. I wish I could keep them from suffering. I suffer myself, and I make many mistakes. The uncertain nothingness of death still haunts me. I sin.
But God in Heaven revealed Himself to me as clearly as the sun shines in the sky and the stars at night. And it changed me. Indeed, this experience may be the only thing that could have changed me. No amount of intellectual discourse could have convinced me of the things I now believe. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, I needed brute experience to knock me off my feet.
However, unlike the sun and the stars, I cannot verify these every day. It is a rare blessing to experience these in a lifetime. I do not expect them again. And like any past experience, logical certainty is impossible. As time distances me, memory fades. However, what I will never forget, what never loses veracity for me, is the way I felt that night: love, bliss, ecstasy, contentment, and serenity. It was complete. It was perfect. It was so fundamentally unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. It was the Joy and Peace of God. It is very real.
This is what I want you, the reader, to take away. God revealed Heaven to me in that dark bedroom. His light shined the Holy into the mundane. The Joy and the “Peace of God” are accessible to each one of us. Everything is perfect if and when we access the present moment and allow the Love of God to reflect from our hearts.
I am not certain where this leaves me, but I feel a profound sense of responsibility. More than anything, I feel responsible to share my stories. Since that night, verifications and challenges abound. Like all life lessons, it does not leave me in a place, but guides me along a path.
With diligence, perseverance and discipline, I must remind myself and draw ever closer to God by training my mind into the present moment, silencing my mind, and opening my heart as it was that night. With thanksgiving, by prayer and supplication, His presence is always accessible, and it is my duty and my honor to listen to the Holy Spirit and reflect His light into the world. And I pray I fall less and less each day.
In the end it is so simple and so profound. I’ll restate it one last time: