3/20/12- My Conversations with God
Fifteen years ago this week I began a new journey. I heard the voice of God. It was jolting, though an exciting and invigorating experience, too. He spoke to me in a moment of worship, an odd moment early in the morning as I drove up U.S. Highway 431 to an appointment three hours from my home. I was singing to Christian music and praising God for the beauty of the morning, as the sun rose over the rolling hills of the southeast Alabama landscape just north of Abbeville, AL, near the city where I was born, Eufaula.
I was in rapt admiration of the beauty of the blooming dogwoods dotting the woodscape and the wisteria vines that wound around telephone poles, mailboxes, and trees here and there. I don’t know if I said the words out loud or simply thought them: “Surely God has created the beauty of this world for His glory and my delight!” In that split second, God said to me, “Tell others.” It startled me. I knew those weren’t my words/thoughts. And instantly I knew that it was God. I asked Him immediately, “Tell whom, say what?” I had no idea what I was to do or say. My mind began to race. Realizing my words had been words of adoration of God’s beautiful creation and revelation of Himself, I began to wonder if I was to take pictures of what I saw and share it with others in some creative way. But I’m not a photographer and hardly creative in an artistic way.
The day fairly flew by as I finished my work and contemplated what God was directing me to do. As I drove home that afternoon, I had gotten back into the Florida panhandle section of U.S. Highway 231 just north of Cottondale, FL, and was still contemplating the meaning of the morning’s experience. Suddenly, in my peripheral vision there was a flash, almost like a bolt of lightning or an arrow in the sky that directed my sight to the right. There, lying before me was a beautiful freshly plowed field. It undulated gently across the landscape. And I heard the Lord, again, saying, “This is you.”
The events of that day began several months of exhilaration and confusion. For the next week I was transported in the Spirit. I saw new things as I read the Bible. I heard new things as I meditated on the meaning of what was happening to me. Even my pastor at the time was surprised by the things I seemed to be learning. He encouraged me, but cautioned me, too. It got very confusing, as I couldn’t absorb and understand everything that I was experiencing. I had a curious fascination with numbers and suddenly seemed to just “know” what the integers symbolized in my life. I had the sense that the Lord was speaking to me through certain numbers. It felt very much like a prayer language, just between God and me, not something I could teach someone else or even needed to share. After about a week of this incredible spiritual high, I felt that something in me was crumbling. The messages began to be very bizarre, not at all in keeping with the way that I understood God and His world through my knowledge of the Bible and my experience with the Christian faith up to this time. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I was coming unwound. I began to feel that someone was trying to make me believe that I was the center of the universe and had some kind of power. Someone or something was trying to make me accept this power, this knowledge, as my responsibility to mankind. I recognized in this an immense temptation to a supreme egotistical narcissism and kept grounding myself by reminding myself that while I am loved by God, I am in no way loved more or differently or better than anyone else. I began to suspect an element of evil in this experience and began asking God to help me discern His voice from the others I was hearing.
After two months of struggling with what began to feel like an assault on my senses, I was exhausted, disoriented, and in the end, incoherent. I was hospitalized in a semi-catatonic state, repeating the same phrase over and over, “Flip her” which began on a Saturday afternoon when my husband asked me for the TV remote control, which we call the “flipper”. I was later diagnosed by a psychiatrist with “religiosity psychosis”. The sensory hallucinations – visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory – began to subside as medication was administered. Ativan and Risperdal slowly gave my overworked nervous system a rest. After six days of mostly supportive in –patient treatment, I began intensive out-patient counseling with a Christian counselor.
Flash Forward to the Present-
For most of the next ten years I was in counseling with Carol, until her retirement. At first it was weekly, then bi-weekly, then monthly, then quarterly, and eventually only a couple of times a year or when I felt in crisis. She was a godly woman who was very involved in her church, a Roman Catholic congregation near her home and work. She was very discerning and asked me questions that often required me to consider my response for several sessions. Near the end of the ten years, my life had changed considerably. And in 2006 I decided to go to graduate school in counseling and psychology.
Each year around this time in March, I reflect on the experience and what it means in my life today. This week I happened upon a new Fox network series entitled “Touch” about an 11 year old non-verbal autistic boy who is seemingly obsessed with numbers and whose father is at a loss to reach through to the boy. In a surprising twist, the father finds someone who gives him some sage advice and the father begins to be able to “read” the boy’s actions and persistent focus on numbers. The premise of the series is that everyone is connected to certain other people through an orderly, systematic relationship that can be defined by certain numbers that tie them together. Only the rare individual, like Jake, can sense the connections. The people who were connected in either intimate or remote ways through simple series of numbers (bus number, badge number, street address numbers, telephone numbers, lottery ticket number, etc.) were elegantly revealed to the viewer as the episode resolved. It was an entertaining hour and I smiled inside as I reflected on my own numerological conversations with God. In the scientific education I received in my undergraduate work, I had come to appreciate the order, symmetry, and wide range of scale from subatomic to cosmic beauty and majesty of God’s created realm. So I am never surprised to learn that some new “law” that reveals the order of the universe or one of its components has been illuminated by science or philosophy. The unfolding story of the discovery of DNA and other foundational truths of life have only made me more firmly convinced that God is, in fact, very real and is as plain as the noses on our faces, if we just knew how to read the language He speaks. Sometimes, like that moment in time fifteen years ago , and a few times since, when He has spoken to me in my native English tongue, I have known His voice and realized that God is fluent in every language, verbal or otherwise, and can speak to each of us in the language we can understand, including the language of the heart. That comforts me, as the Good Shepherd says that His sheep hear, know, and follow His voice. ( John 10:26-28 )
Today’s devotional by Ravi Zacharias’ ministry touches on the theme that has been in my mind this week. He is still speaking to me in so many ways.
Identification – March 20, 2012 (RZIM)
During a recent stint on jury duty, I had the unique opportunity to ride to and from the courthouse on public transportation—the Metro bus. I say unique opportunity because public transportation affords one exposure to the wide variety of people who live in the city and who make their way around its bustling streets and byways by taking the bus. In fact, a wide gamut of society rides together crammed on the Metro bus. Business people hurry to get to work, multi-tasking laptop, cellphone, and paper folders full of projects and to do lists. Students rush to get to school sequestering themselves from the world of the bus by burying their heads in books or tuning into their IPods. There are also many homeless individuals who ride the bus in the “free zone” downtown back and forth between stops, affording a movable shelter from the cold.
Sheer observation of this dynamic diversity was often the extent of my thoughts as I rode. One morning, a group of developmentally disabled students from the local high school got on the bus with me. I tried to engage in light conversation with the few who sat down next to me, asking where they were going in the city. One young woman just stared at me blankly; another, perpetually talking about absolutely everything and nothing at the same time tried to engage me, but not with an answer. Two other young men simply looked at me, offered a vacant smile, and then returned to fiddling with objects to keep their hands and minds occupied.
As the bus moved forward towards the next stop with our unique human cargo, I was overcome with emotion. I wasn’t crying because I felt sorry for these disabled students or worried about their quality of lives—although I do and I did that day. I wasn’t overcome as a result of my admiration for the adult workers whose vocation led them to care for these students who are often the least and the last—although I do, and I did. I was overcome with emotion because I suddenly identified with these disabled individuals. Though I appear “able” bodied—of sound mind and well put together—I realized that I am just like they are.
Like these disabled students who are broken in body and mind, I have experienced grief in my life that has left me profoundly broken in spirit. As a result of this experience, there are times that I ramble on filling the air with meaningless pieties or pronouncements. Or I offer nothing but a blank stare when I should offer words of comfort. While my appearance is ordered, I am just as distorted and damaged on the inside, confused, and in need of care and oversight because of my disabilities. Though their eyes are vacant or their tongues loll, though they mumble meaningless phrases or say nothing at all, they are not so different from me nor am I from them.
It was this kind of profound identification with another human being—recognizing that though we appear different on the surface we are related to one another—that prompted Jesus to tell a parable about two debtors. As he was dining with religious leaders, a woman had interrupted their festivities by washing Jesus’s feet with her tears and with the finest perfume. Incensed because of her intrusion and asserting his own self-righteousness as one of the faithful, a religious leader remarked to himself that if Jesus was any sort of a prophet he would know what sort of person this woman is who is touching him and that she was a sinner. In the parable Jesus then tells, a moneylender had two debtors. One owed a large amount of money and the other a small amount. Both debtors were unable to repay their debt. Yet the moneylender graciously forgave both of them their debts. Jesus asked the religious leader, “Which of them therefore will love him more?” The religious leader answered, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
The religious leader answered correctly; yet did he understand that he was a debtor in need of forgiveness? Did he understand that he was just like the sinful woman who anointed Jesus feet with her tears and with the finest perfume? We are not told. But later we are given another story of a religious leader and a tax collector who go to the temple to pray. The religious leader thanks God that he is not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. The tax collector will not even lift his eyes, but beats his breast and cries out, “Have mercy on me, the sinner.” Jesus argues that it is this man who goes down to his house justified rather than the one who believes himself to be religious.(1)
It is so easy, if one counts oneself among the ‘faithful’—regardless of religious affiliation or tradition—to cease understanding that one needs the same mercy as the poorest soul or vilest offender. Just as I was reminded of the true state of my soul as I was encountered by the profoundly disabled students, so these stories of Jesus remind those with ears to hear of our shared identity and our profound need. We share a need for mercy just as we share DNA—able and disabled alike.
Margaret Manning is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
1) See both stories in Luke 7:40-50; 18:9-14.
Copyright (c) 2011 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)
3/20/12- My Conversations with God