I shared in previous stories my personal need for experiencing the presence of God in what we refer to as a “Spiritual Encounter”. By that I mean a mental state in which we feel close to the presence of God. We feel exhilarated, mentally enhanced and strangely detached from experiencing the world around us. We feel at peace. We feel happy. We may receive information on an enhanced plane. And best of all we experience an indescribable feeling of love toward others - even toward those that we consider in a “normal” or “usual” state of awareness with indifference, dislike, even loathing.
I have learned to hunger for those kinds of experiences since I was a young adult. I have found that I can experience them in the peaceful settings of nature, or gatherings that we refer to as “Reunions” or “Retreats”. I have also found those experiences on sparsely inhabited Alaskan islands where I would not encounter another human being for long periods of time.
But I have also experienced that wonderful state of being in such locations as the Auditorium where I would worship, pray and sing in the company of some 6,000 other brothers and sisters in the faith.
And then there also were times when I experienced a “spiritual” experience when I was not even aware of it occurring. I learned from those experiences that they were not necessarily meant for me – and that I was being used by the Holy Spirit to minister to someone else. In such an experience God wanted to touch someone else – to provide direction to someone else, to physically or spiritually heal a life through a life altering event that the individual needed and would never forget or even deny.
The event I am recalling (how could I ever forget it?) in Columbus, Ohio where my family and I resided, worked and worshipped for some twenty years. We had been invited to an event at the Ohio State University where a young man whom we knew as “Teddy” was giving an organ presentation at Music School Auditorium on a Sunday afternoon. You may have observed the same young man (we did during World Conference) exercising his masterful skills on the Temple Organ in Independence, MO. Teddy was giving what we essentially known to be his Master’s Degree Thesis by performing on the organ at the Music Auditorium. Because many of us knew the young man most of his young life, and had worshipped with him and his parents on a regular basis, we had been invited to attend this important occasion – an invitation that we eagerly accepted. I should note that a wonderful lady organist at North Church in Columbus had been his teacher and mentor for several years – my friend Elsie Zellers.
His parents were of course also present and so it was after Teddy’s performance we congratulated the parents on the professional skills displayed by their young son. During our conversation we also happen to speak with a brother, who had been our pastor for several years. He curiously asked me if I had been aware of an unusual event that his young son of 14 named “Paul” (not his real name) had witnessed or experienced that morning during the communion service. I confessed that I was not aware of anything out of the ordinary. It had been an uneventful communion service for me, we had a big crowd and I had given the communion message, which I hoped had ministered to those attending the service.
Then my pastor began to tell me a story that fairly sent the chills through me: I remember the young man and his mother sitting in the front row and moving around somewhat agitated. His father told me that he had whispered to his mother – as I was giving the communion message: “Mom – do you see that arm”. She looked at him and replied “What arm?” To which he replied: “The arm on Joe’s shoulder!”
Being a longtime member in the Community of Christ his mother was familiar with the kind of spiritual experiences that she and others had previously experienced in their worship services during their lifetime. So, she responded in a positive way by asking her son: “What does the arm look like – describe it to me?” To which the 14-year-old youngster replied: “There is a large hand resting on Joe’s shoulder and it is disappearing at the elbow in a mist!”
That is essentially what the young boy’s father related to me that Sunday afternoon and then, asked me if I had been aware of anything unusual happening. I was astounded but I had to confess that I had experienced nothing unusual.
I think we both departed somewhat disappointed, not really being able to tie his son’s experience to anything unusual.
But I could not dismiss the event that the young boy had witnessed. Paul was not the kind of individual that to my knowledge pursued any spiritual encounters; he did not seem to be intend on “tuning” in to God on a spiritual wavelength. It was several weeks later – approximately 6-8 weeks later that my wife and I visited our pastor and his family on a friendly basis. And while in their home, being still very curious about what he had shared with me at the organ recital – I asked if he could ask his son Paul to share it with us his experience. My pastor agreed and called to his son who was riding his Cushman motor scooter in the backyard. Paul came in, flushed from his activities and looked at us – impatient to return to his outside activities. I should tell the reader that Paul was “all boy” on his way to become “all man” it seemed to me. There was nothing soft or sissy about him. And – he really did not seem to be interested in anything “religious” I soon found out how I had misjudged him.
His father inquired of him if he could relate to us the experience of some weeks before. To our surprise, Paul instantly broke into tears whereupon his father asked him, “Paul, why do you think you had that experience?” Paul replied between sobs: “Because I had my doubts about the church that morning, I also had my doubts about the ministry of the church really being called by God.”
It became obvious to me that sunny afternoon that the experience that Paul had was mostly for him. He felt the effect of it to a degree that none of us had. He had doubts about the church and her priesthood was really based on God’s calling. But the vision that he had erased that doubt for him – probably for a lifetime. The experience he had been meant for him, and not for any of us. And I realized in that moment, that for as long as Paul lived – he would never deny what he had experienced. God in that vision had revealed to him that he loved him and impressed on him not to doubt the message that had come to him through the church that he had been baptized in. And that He – his Heavenly Father – was as close to him as his next breath.
We lost track of most of the church members when we moved West but we have never forgotten the many wonderful experiences we shared with so many of the brothers and sisters there. And I will never forget “Paul’s” spiritual encounter – so long ago!