About me? I am a dead woman, who yet walks (and talks and laughs and sings) and no, I am not a zombie! — though my children do wonder, when I’ve had too many sleepless nights, if they are dealing with the walking dead! I will tell you the story of my death, because it was the day I truly came alive.
It started with some burning bushes. Sometimes when God is showing someone their shortcomings — the Christianese language calls these ‘sins’ — and when His Holiness is revealed to a heart His kindness is bringing to a change of mind about these things — which ‘ Christianese’ terms “repentance” — well, to me it feels like a burning bush inside my body. In ‘Christianese’ this would be called “being under conviction.” The only question, when faced with continually burning bushes, is how quickly we will take off our shoes — because baring our soles is a way of saying “Yes, Lord you are holy, and I am not”; it is a sign of submission to a greater Authority. Moses performed this act of humility when he saw his famous burning bush, and, Dear Reader, it is a really, really wise thing to do, when you begin to see and understand you are a sinner — to agree to God’s understanding of these issues of holiness. And oh, how our pride hates that. It is why so many refuse to take off their shoes, and submit before a holy God.
There were burning bushes frequently before me — like when I first heard the Book of Isaiah, a really magnificent poetic book of the Bible, read aloud in my presence — and I was filled with awe. But I would quickly rationalize these moments all away: “Must be a lightning storm”; or, “Maybe, I dropped my cigarette, and started this shrub aflame!” I did that a lot, until my heart was completely humbled, and my shoes came off.
And though I was not humiliated like that proud king Nebuchadnezzar, whose history is told in the Bible: How his mind –and even his shoes! — were completely lost for seven years. The Emperor of Everything lost all of his kingdom.
And Nebby became your basic ‘crazy’ homeless person. Those who are overfond of psychiatric categories for ‘mental illness’, would have slapped a ‘schizoaffective disorder’ label on poor Nebby and sent him out to wander the streets fifteen minutes later with a $600 dollar bottle of an atypical anti-psychotic in his grubby paw. But we in the Critical Psychiatry movement would argue that our brother Nebuchadnezzar is having a Spiritual Crisis:
” Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33)
Nebuchadnezzar’s delusions were directly given by a Sovereign Lord, who drove him from a sound mind and out of the community for his eternal benefit, and so quite irrationally he began to eat grass. Because the hand of the God of the Universe — that “Strong Hand of Love” hidden in the shadows” was heavy upon pathetic Nebby! Sometimes delusions are a terrible mercy — but at the end of them, a tender mercy, so cherished in remembrance! Individuals suffering these spiritual crises must be offered a safe place to interpret such dreams and visions, and work out their issues. They must not have these experiences medicated away just because they make those observing them uncomfortable, or disrupt society’s status quo, or overthrow your own theological understanding of The Way Things Work. God forbid poor Nebby would come into our churches seeking help from God. We all know what would occur when the ushers observe his sad and slovenly state, his dirty overgrown fingernails and his dreadlocks, and when they hear his slobbery animal talk –all because the sovereign Lord deemed it time to fill his proud mouth with grass.
I can say these hard things because I too was humbled like Nebudchadnezzar in my pride and self delusion, and I too lost my mind, when I smoked grass. I was alone, and unused to the hashish-laced marijuana my addicted room-mate smoked, and so my mind unraveled. ( a side note to those whose guide for interpreting signs and wonders is the DSM-5: Psychosis is a very common side effect for some people who smoke grass, or even use other psychotropic drugs. A Canadian study,and an earlier study in the Netherlands demonstrate that youth with a family member identified as having a mental illness are 4x more likely to develop psychosis if they use marijuana — and, Dear Reader, my mother was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder)
So I had these terrifying delusions.
It is a horrible thing to hear voices that mock, like those voices did. I believe they were demonic. In any case, the voices were terrifyingly real and evil sounding. And they taunted me because I was afraid to turn and look at them. In the midst of my terror, while cowering on my bed, a different voice spoke, a voice completely different from the others. It was a voice sounding as if all the love in the world was compressed into one sound, and this Love spoke and said, “She will turn for me, won’t you, Karen?” I answered joyously, “only for You.” In my crazed state I still knew who it was, that it was the Lord Jesus — and they ugly voices were banished from my presence, but his Voice was gone too, and I ran outside to find Him again. But I saw only a vision of my best friend, who had become a Christian, and she said, “you need the Book, you are not safe out here.” Or perhaps I saw an angel on that motorcycle, smiling at me through the helmet. All I know is that I was protected from harm. God kept be from being medicated for my ‘mental illness’.
Hours later, my mind was completely restored — and I never again smoked pot, either! But I did not forget that Voice. I found the safety of that Book the angel directed me to, on the year anniversary of my bad trip, on March 13, 1983. I kept a journal at the time, so I know. Visiting my sisters’ church, I heard for the first time 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter in the Bible describing unconditional love, and I knew then that I was not the good person I thought I was. I did not have the least bit of love in me. The Bible on my lap was opened by the finger of God to Psalm 139. I read,
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
I had made my bed in Sheol– a Bible word for Hell — with my bad choice to use drugs– but He had been there, even there, calling my name, leading me out. On that beautiful morning my shoes came off. My ideas of God as an impersonal force who started up the universe but then left it, and me in it, all alone, were destroyed with the magnificence of the revelation of the omniscient One who was knocking and bidding me open the door. I did open the door of my heart, and I was captivated by the beauty of the One who shone there in all His glory. I was convicted He was the Truth, and that I was a wretched wrongdoer who needed His Life, and must follow His Way, and not my own. I was forgiven for my rebellion against Him, and felt the burden of my sins lift away. I was filled at that moment with His Spirit, so pure and clean, that when I tried to smoke a cigarette later I could not, because it felt like it clouded the purity I could palpably sense. I was truly a new creature. I had looked upon Him and I was radiant.
I do not know what could have kept me from opening that door. There was a kind of death of my will. My pride was already broken. Even C.S. Lewis describes himself as the most reluctant convert, and uses this word, that he was “compelled” to come in. But he said, “The kindness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” Our liberation begins as we open the door, and see His beauty, and by that beauty we are sanctified and by our fixed gaze we are kept. And where else can we go? Who but the Beautiful One has the words of eternal life?
This is how I died on March 13, 1983 –how it is that it is no longer I who live — but Christ! who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God– Jesus! — who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galations 2:20).
Thank you Lord, Loving Father who answers prayer–the prayers of all my concerned friends and family, you heard their anguished cries, and you snatched me from a dangerous fire. So thank you that I did not choose you, but you have chosen me– before time began, you wrote my name in your Book of Life! Thank you that it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. Thank you that you are a good God and no one will ever accuse you of evil; you are the potter, we are the clay, and out of the same lump of clay some pottery is made for noble use and some for ignoble. You have done this to make the riches of your glory known to the objects of your mercy, whom you have prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom You also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles. We shudder at the great patience you have shown to the objects of your wrath, and clap our hands over our mouth, resisting the temptation to talk back to you, “Why does God still blame them?” Because You, in Augustine’s words, “Give what You command, and then command what You will.” Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace we have been saved. For you will be proved just when you judge. Gratefulness for your mercy constrains us to live holy and blameless lives, as befits the beloved children of so gracious a Father. Oh to you be the glory forever, for from you and through you and to you are all things!Amen