I feel like I have been looking for a place like Shalom Place for the last 10 years of my life and am just now finding it! If it’s okay with you all, I’d like to tell my conversion story. I’ve been intensely reading through a LOT of these discussions on the forum and am just overwhelmed that I’ve found people who are searching like I am.
So anyway, I was raised as a United Methodist Christian and was confirmed in the church. Nothing too crazy. The church I grew up in was in a farming community, so big families and people with integrity. Church was just something that people did on Sundays. Of course I don’t want to speak for the whole congregation, but it wasn’t a terribly spiritually transforming church. It was more a civic religion if that makes sense. You go to church because that’s what’s expected of you—to acknowledge that the Lord is over all things. Which I think is a good thing. At any rate, that was the culture I was in, but had friends in school whose parents had broken off from the Methodist church because it wasn’t “biblical” enough. They started an evangelical fundamentalist church in our area that attracted a lot of people. And so I grew up in middle school and some of high school listening to contemporary Christian music (DC TALK, Audio Adrenaline, Five Iron Frenzy, etc.) and having discussions with my friends about biblical things. We even started a “Christian” rock band. At any rate, as I got into high school I got really into World History and the idea that you could think about things “as if” God didn’t exist. So by not attributing things to God, you had to critically think about them. I thought this was a fun exercise which was expanded even more in college when I took philosophy 101, where we were required to critique Paley’s “Watchmaker” argument, and Pascal’s wager. I became more and more disenfranchised with fundamental biblical literalism (which is the crowd I ran with) because it really was conflicting with how I was perceiving reality at the time.
At the same time, I would have these severe moments of nihilistic angst…just an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness that was always buffered by believing in God. And yet I was searching for answers. Finally, I turned to John Shelby Sponge’s “Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism.” Unfortunately, by not taking the Bible literally, I also gave up believing in God literally. So I threw out all of my beliefs (baby-bathwater). After a lot of self-dialogue and a lot of hand-wringing about the possible existence of God, I decided I didn’t believe in any of it. I took on an attitude of hedonism and decided I would just do what I wanted with whomever I wanted whenever I wanted. However, that nihilism came back a couple months into this new found freedom (and shedding your perceptions of God is actually very freeing). And this time, I didn’t have my idea of God to cap it or stop it. It was absolutely overwhelming. It crept into every aspect of my life. Everything was meaningless: relationships, school, eating, and even my normal ‘escapes’ didn’t bring consolation. I have vivid memories of writhing on my bed in the dark in a deep despair. I described it, at the time, of being dropped into a huge deep pit with walls so high that no light could get in and there was no way to escape. No god could save me, nothing any one said had any validity. The one thing that I continued to try to do was read, but that did not help much. I was, as Nietzsche said, daring to stare into the abyss and the abyss was staring back. There was a line from Kevin Smith’s Dogma from the demon Azriel had said that I totally related to: “I would rather not exist than go back [to hell].” And that was really where I was. I thought about suicide quite a bit, but realized even attempting that would be meaningless. Death had no meaning and I think I knew on a pretty deep level that even death wouldn’t bring escape which is why I never attempted it.
Thankfully, I was led by the Spirit (though I wouldn’t have used that language at the time) to theologian Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be.” I thought to myself, “now there is an appropriate title for what I am looking for!” In it, Tillich sets forth different ways of “being” when atheism is taken seriously and how they relieve angst in some way or another, but he recommends being alone and facing it head on. I drudged through the book (it was a bit tedious at first since I wasn’t familiar with the vocabulary he was using, and his “German-isms” made his sentence structure hard to decipher). But by the end as he was wrapping up his points, I got more and more excited because while he rejected the idea of a God as a ‘being,’ he thought that God could be explained as the “ground-of-being” and this made sense in my head and I could kind of see where he was going with his closing sentences. He finished by saying, “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”
Wow. I surrendered to that realization and at that moment, my mind was silent. Absolutely silent. No thoughts. That had never happened in my life. The anxiety and meaninglessness was gone. I sat there and actually tried to come up with something to think about but nothing came. All of my questions were answered, and I just had to laugh. It was so peaceful and inwardly quiet. A short while later, everything felt really vibrant and alive. And still no thoughts came. I decided to pick up a book I had read by Og Mandino (“The Greatest Salesman in the World”…clever book, btw). And in it, he recommends a meditation on greeting the day with love. So I decided that would be a good use of my time. I remember it started with “I will greet this day with love in my heart.” So for a few days I did that as a sort of mantra. Everything that came up in daily life, I just kept repeating it over and over. The world was so beautiful. Why hadn’t I noticed it before!? And I seemed to have endless energy. I felt like the air around me was vibrating, and having no thoughts and no real negative emotions, it felt like there was a surge of energy coming up my spine into my brain. It was almost ecstatic. I was in love with everyone I talked to. I went to a church service in my college town and it was a special service where the choir was performing portions of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” with a chamber orchestra. I sat in the back of the church just overwhelmed with the beauty of the music. I just sobbed and sobbed at how overwhelming it was. I wasn’t embarrassed but thought it was ridiculous how much beauty was present.
But the final culmination of all of this happened while I was driving in my car a day or two after the concert. I decided to listen to a CD of a live performance of Christian Band Five Iron Frenzy’s final concert. In the last part of the last song, the following lyrics were sung:
“Jesus Christ, light of the world burning bright
within our hearts forever.
Freedom means love without condition
without a beginning or an end.
Here’s my heart, let it be forever Yours,
Only You can make every new day seem so new.”
At that moment, I, again, was sobbing uncontrollably at the beauty of the sentiment and the intensity with which it was sung. And I took a cue from the lyrics and gave my heart to Jesus Christ singing with the album “let it be forever yours”…it was an absolute surrender. I surrendered everything. It was an outpouring of Love to God. At that point, I went into what can only be described as an ecstatic state. Something inside of me, yet above me, opened and I was penetrated with inward light that was, quite frankly, overwhelmingly pleasurable. Like a million orgasms at once. It was a pillar of light and love that was at once masculine in that it penetrated my innermost being, and yet feminine in substance. It was tender and yet firm. Yet it was not different than me. I could tell that this light and love and life was the source of my life and was always present within me, though hidden and wrote in my journal afterward that Life is Love’s form, and Love is Life’s essence. It was infinite, and I could tell was ancient and always had been and always would be, and that what appeared to be the infiniteness of the universe was nothing compared to the infiniteness that was this light. It was like everything I had ever desired or wanted was occurring at that moment. It was home. I remember losing all fear of death, and even understood how Jesus was able to forgive the men as they were crucifying Him. It was a unitive experience and I had the idea that the most profound statement one could ever say was “I AM.” I was experiencing the place where there was no me. Just “I AM.” And it went beyond ecstasy into a deep and utter peace that was beyond anything I could have imagined. Just serene stillness and love. The effects of this encounter lasted for weeks afterward. I felt the energy coming from my spine up above my brain and then back down into my brain resolving issues I didn’t even realize I had. It was truly revelations from the Spirit. I had these breakthrough realizations that helped contextualize certain behavior patterns in my life.
Unfortunately, during this oneness experience, “me” was trying to figure out what in the world was going on. I remember asking (more like screaming) out loud “What……is……..that???” And when “me” realized “I AM,” “me” tried to control it. I think “me” can be described as grasping and wanting to control experiences. At that moment, surrender stopped and a thought got ‘hooked’…I mean I allowed it to get hooked and didn’t surrender it. It came up within me and in hindsight, I could easily call it demonic in the sense that it was trying to get me to stop surrendering. It (or “me”) felt threatened. So it was trying to control the experience. This thought or emotion or whatever you’d like to call it was using Bible verses to “claim” this experience. To say that there was no God, but only “I Am”ness. I thought to myself, “This was absolutely the truth. I have found what absolutely everyone is looking for. Therefore, I need to follow the great commission since I have the truth and try to convert the whole world.” I was experiencing extreme narcissism and megalomania. An over-blown self-identity. I was actually jealous of Jesus Christ for getting to the world before me…HAHA! It sounds absolutely crazy now! Higher than Jesus Christ??? (I think that’s how I justify calling this thought demonic).
I started reading voraciously to figure out what had happened because I had no idea what was going on, to tell you the truth. I read through Eckhart Tolle, some of Ken Wilber’s works, Swedenborg, Origen, Plotinus, picked up A Course in Miracles and dabbled in that for a bit, I found some solace with John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart, but really found a way to contextualize it with David Hawkins. The calibrations hooked me, but I didn’t give much thought to them after a while. It was his descriptions of Divinity that have just blown me away.
Anyway, I had touched the only thing that is Real which I had no idea was even possible before it happened, and I am still recovering from it. That extreme narcissism continued for a while. I ruined relationships, friendships, alienated family members, failed out of my major program at university and had to transfer to another college and almost died (toxic mono combined with altitude sickness…that’s another story for another time but I know that it came about as a result of inner spiritual sickness). I desperately wanted to experience that again. But I knew that my desire was what was keeping it from coming back. It seemed like I couldn’t escape it! It was maddening. I begged and pleaded God to let the experience return again. I didn’t know how I was supposed to surrender my desire to God when it was because of my desire that I was looking up ways to surrender. It was an insane catch-22. As a matter of fact, that’s been my quandary for the last 10 years. Any attempt at surrender seems to be because of my desire to return to that state.
However, the narcissism calmed down after a couple of years and I became a normal narcissist like any regular person (ha!). I decided to try Catholicism and found the liturgy just incredible. So I went through the RCIA process and became a Catholic and was attending Mass as often as I could. At that time, I was also getting really into Thomas Merton and decided to spend some time contemplating going into a monastery. I visited monasteries in Iowa, New York, South Carolina, and Georgia. I also was highly attracted to the Carthusians and loved reading about them.. I had decided that when my student loans were paid off, I would try to enter one of those monasteries.
However, the Spirit often leads us in unexpected places. I had the grand delusion it was easier to seek God in monasteries than it was in real life, but my life was still a wreck. The narcissism and desire were manifesting themselves in my life and I was trying to escape them (or express them?) through sexual escapades. How I convinced myself I would be a good monk, I have no idea (haha!). But the girl that I was dating became pregnant. As can be expected with unexpected pregnancies, I had very mixed emotions about the whole thing. I realized at the moment I found out that my escape into monasticism wasn’t going to happen. We arranged for a small wedding and were married in just over a month after we found out. She was Presbyterian, so we were married in the Presbyterian church. I have to say, more than anything else in my life, my marriage has grounded me and has helped me become less narcissistic, less self-driven, and more attuned to something other than myself and my desires. We attended church at the Presbyterian church, and I still went to Mass when I could. In 2007, I got married, graduated college, got a full time job (with insurance), and bought my first house, and experienced being a father for the first time. It was a crazy year.
I am musically inclined (my full time job was as a public school band director) and soon found myself singing in the Presbyterian Church Choir, as well as the church choir in the Methodist Church across the street (and still attending Mass when I could…I was the lector whenever my schedule permitted me to be one). It so happened that there was a bit of a scandal in the Pres. Church and I found myself directing the choir and playing the organ and piano for Sunday services. Then I also got offered the choir director position at the Methodist church across the street. So my Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings were busy! I realized through those experiences that leading a music ministry was where I was being called. So I started searching for jobs and am now the Director of Music Ministries at a medium sized United Methodist Church in south-central Georgia. The church is a bit Southern Baptist-y, but I love my job. A guilty pleasure of mine has been sneaking in Catholic and Episcopal musical responses into the service. People love it, but I don’t tell them the source. Otherwise they might take issue with it. I have been trying to get back to Mass when I can, but my days have been pretty booked. I miss the liturgy and the eucharist terribly. Methodist communion is great, but it’s just not the same. My wife and I now have two children (ages 7 and 3).
I still read David Hawkins when I can, I enjoy reading Hindu and Buddhist scriptures to corroborate and bring clarity to my understanding of Christian teachings, but I definitely still consider myself a Christian because of my allegiance to Jesus Christ and his teachings.
This forum is a blessing because I feel like I can talk about pretty much anything and there will not only be compassion, but understanding and comprehension of what is said. If you have read the whole thing, wow. Thank you. I’m just happy to be able to finally talk about it “publicly.” I look forward to any comments you might have. Apologies for writing an entire auto-biography.
All the Best,
Hi, Andy, This all sounds like a normal awakening to me, complete with kundalini. Welcome to the forum. Thanks for sharing your story so fully.
Thanks for the welcome, Derek. It's nice to know that you aren't the first one to go through something.
Andy, glad you found your way here and am grateful that you have so generously shared of your journey. Maybe we can spend time on this discussion thread reflecting on parts of it . . .
- the inadequacies of biblical fundamentalist theology to engage the real world;
- the emptiness of atheism;
- the transformative power of mystical experience;
- the importance of some kind of egoic re-integration;
and other themes.
Hi Phil, thank you.
For the inadequacies of Biblical Fundamentalism, the main realization I've come to is that the phrase "Word of God," has been used to describe the authority of Scripture instead of, say in the 1st chapter of John where it is referring to the actual WORD of God that became flesh. This in itself seems to be a big issue, where language is concerned. It might just be a straw man that I'm throwing out there, but it seems silly to equate physical words on a page with the incarnation of Jesus Christ. By saying that the writers of scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit already puts a distance between the actual written word and the Spirit behind it. I think a more rational approach might be to say that Scripture provides us with all the information we need for Salvation. In that sense, I believe the Bible to be authoritative. But using the Bible as a science textbook doesn't seem to be the correct context.
I get the thinking behind it (after all, I am living in Southern Baptist country), but the reasoning behind it is a bit off. One of the Bible Scholars I read when I was younger said, "The Bible doesn't need to be taken literally to be taken seriously." As a fundamentalist at the time, I was kind of blown away by that statement.
I've also really enjoyed reading articles and watching youtube videos from biologos.org that models a working relationship between science and the Bible. I haven't used the search function on this forum for biologos yet, but I probably will in the future.
I have really loved diving into these forums. You all really get to the heart of the matters with so many of these issues. I have really enjoyed reading the posts these last few days.
Earnest, I think your sharing here points up the need for adult education and scripture study. I used to teach a class with a local university on "The Bible and Leadership" for local business people, and I would ask the rhetorical question: "What is the meaning of a passage of scripture?" There were all kinds of responses, but the one I emphasized was that the passage meant first and foremost what the author who wrote the passage intended to convey. That doesn't discount inspiration from the Spirit, of course, but it does mean that we need to learn more about that author, his/her religious mindset, thecommunity being addressed, the needs in that community, the nuances of the language being used, cosmology, and so forth. This obviously takes work, and much has been done during the past century to shed light on all these considerations. The fruit of it is something of an "objective" explanation of the meaning of scripture, which often constrains the meanings we have projected onto certain passages from our distant historical vantage point.
In my own experience, this objective understanding only enriches the subjective encounter with Scripture. God really does communicate to us through the Scripture, only we have to learn to hear the message as it was intended to be understood.
Glad you've found the forum helpful. It's nice to hear that our discussions through the years are helping others.
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