In the Dream Sequence thread for episodes 6.02 & 6.03, I mentioned that I had an extremely personal and profound encounter with the spirit of Jesus Christ in 1994. I recently received a couple of private communications expressing interest in and curiosity about that encounter. Given that Christ asked his disciples and believers to “witness” for Him to others; given the marked existential, spiritual, and religious themes being explored on the show itself this season; and given that this is Easter weekend, I felt a single, public account of the experience would be a proper and auspiciously-timed alternative to individual private replies.
This proffer should not in any way threaten any of the membership of The Chase Lounge, regardless of religious belief or lack thereof. My intent is solely to relate my experience to others as best I can for whatever that may be worth to them.
I feel any effort to assess the credibility of my story should entail some minimal consideration of my life history. So I offer those background facts which could influence that assessment, in either direction, while hoping that their inclusion doesn’t bore anyone to death(!) or convey some sort of ego trip on my part.
I am the third of three children, born to two very intelligent parents who were models of love and devotion to me and to my siblings and who valued learning and scholastic achievement. My brother, while often disinterested in secondary school, did find academic focus in college, receiving the Merck Award and a degree in chemistry at the University of Florida before going on to medical school there and, eventually, a career in radiation oncology. My sister was always an excellent student and attained a degree in accounting information systems before passing the CPA exam and taking a job as an auditor with the state of Florida. Both followed the “normal” paths to success in life . . . went to college, found good vocations, married, and had children.
I excelled in school as well, enough that I wound up skipping three grades and starting college at age 15 without ever graduating high school. My intellect and scholastic success convinced my mother (and me, among others) that I was headed for “big” things in life. Even so, I was never fixed on a traditional, academic career. I had begun playing piano by ear around the age of four or five and started classical lessons a year later. By early adolescence, music was “the” passion in my life.
The single biggest element of that passion was the music of Elton John, which I discovered around the age of eight or nine. His music prompted me to do things that seem highly symbolic (if not plain weird!) in retrospect, like pointing the speakers of my stereo out of my bedroom window and climbing a nearby tree to listen to “Daniel” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” over and over from the treetops. I saw him perform for the first of 19 times in September of 1974, when I was 10 years old.
He was certainly a major factor in my decision to transfer after two years of academic college studies to Berklee College of Music in Boston, noted for its emphasis of jazz and contemporary music curriculum. I graduated summa cum laude from Berklee three years later at the age of 19.
Unfortunately, graduation came with the sad reality that I was now expected to “do something” with my degree and my life. Somewhere along the journey from childhood obsessions and indulgences to the age of majority, the truth had begun to emerge: the only thing that really fueled my discipline to write and arrange music was the structure of a scholastic environment and the threat of receiving an “F” if I didn’t deliver an assignment on time. Once out of school, I never quite found the musical ambition, regular inspiration, or discipline that I expected I would have. So “doing something” with my degree consisted of moving back home and playing in a local rock band while moving through the first phase of an increasingly urgent existential and spiritual crisis.
I arrested that crisis after a year by attending law school, motivated, I’m sure, by the certain knowledge that this would please and honor my father, who was a lawyer and judge himself, and that it would delay the need to deal with “life” for another three years. The law school experience was valuable in many ways, but my fundamental unfitness for the profession couldn’t have been clearer as I began interviewing in my second and third years with high-paying firms and realized how foreign the people, their values, and their ambitions felt to me.
I came back home for a year after law school, nominally to weigh options, finish a directed study project for which I’d received provisional credit, and study for the bar exam. In actuality, the delay was but another manifestation of my inability to truly leave my parents’ “nest” or find a niche in life, a vocation or calling I could pursue with the same passion I’d put into listening to Elton John or playing music as a kid.
Coincident with this time frame were a rash of personal tragedies -- all occurring within a month of each other -- including my father’s first heart attack, the horrible death of a beloved dog, the death from cancer of a young guitarist who’d formed my first band with me, the complete brain death (followed by physical death some years later) of a family friend and tennis partner who’d flipped his car swerving to avoid a deer in the road, and the death of my grandmother. Already on a track of questioning why there should be any such thing as life, why I had to experience it, what I was supposed to do while here, and why absolute nothingness wasn’t infinitely preferable to it all, these events served as a turbo charge to my existential crisis and accompanying, deep depression. And they also fueled my growing disdain for any god that had any part in authoring “life,” not that I truly believed there was such a god.
Which brings me to my religious upbringing. My siblings and I were all baptized Catholic, as my mother was Catholic, and our earliest, sporadic forays to church were at a local Catholic church.
I was enrolled for five years in a private protestant Christian school, not for religious reasons (my brother and sister attended public schools all their lives) but because that school had an attached and convenient day care/pre-school facility that I’d already been attending the year before kindergarten. The transition to actual school there was the simplest move for all involved. So in addition to studies in math and reading, I was, at a young age, also memorizing Bible verses every week.
The narrow-minded conservatism of that school eventually wore thin, however. I resented from the get go that I had to wear dresses every single day. I resented the lesser expectations, interest, and encouragement that was shown girls vis-à-vis boys in regard to sports. Most of all, I resented the Draconian attitudes toward rock/contemporary music, manifest in “Rock Record Shoots” the school sponsored where old vinyl rock albums were slung into the air like skeets while waiting marksmen tried to blast them with shotguns. (I kid you not. This actually happened.) Fourth was my last grade at this school.
To ensure that we weren’t brainwashed with any particular religious philosophy, my father used to drag us to a Universalist Unitarian church at least a couple of weeks a month, partly because I think it was the most subversive church he could find in the area, LMAO. As I recall, the creed of the church was belief in “the supreme worth of every human being”. Beyond that, it was pretty much up to the individual . . . be they Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, what have you. They even claimed to welcome atheists, LMAO!
On top of all this, my parents (and my mother in particular) were extremely well-read and would share aspects of certain quasi-religious and atheistic philosophies within the home. So despite a Catholic baptism, a few years of diverse church experience, and some years of protestant schooling, religious belief and its parameters were very much left up to the children in our family.
I would say that my first conviction after reaching an age of “reason” was that either (1) there was no god; (2) there was and he was an incompetent, impotent ass for creating the horribly defective universe and race of humans that we know; or (3) there was a god and he was omnipotent but cruel and spiteful, thus, for example, the very existence of widely disparate individuals with the indigenous need to make and achieve invidious comparisons among their fellow men.
I always had a hard time rectifying the life of Christ with this bleak view of God, so, to the extent that I even let myself consider the incongruity, I pretty much concluded that Jesus was a great but deluded guy who thought he was something he wasn’t.
That was pretty much where I stood when, on the heels of law school and the aforementioned personal tragedies, I finally took a job with an Orlando law firm some 500 miles away from my parents. I soon became so depressed that suicidal thoughts and wishes for terminal illness were common, though not revealed to family. Neither psychotherapy (at my father’s insistence) nor prozac did anything to alleviate matters. So after only four months, I made one simple but tearful phone call to my parents, telling them only that I couldn’t go to work that day.
To anyone who’s ever wondered at the concepts of “redemption” and “unconditional love,” I would wish only for you to feel what I felt in those moments the next day when I opened my door and saw them standing there to pack my things and take me home, no questions asked, no alternatives considered. In an instant they lifted from my shoulders what felt to me like the proverbial weight of the world and did so in only the purest sense of charity and altruism. There was not the slightest trace of shame then or at anytime thereafter that a 25 year-old daughter with undergraduate and post graduate degrees seemed incapable of establishing a career or a life independent from them, that she was back in their home yet again, that she was, in many societal senses, a “failure,” disinterested even in marrying or entertaining romantic relationships.
If these statements sound like projections of my own feelings, they were. Dealing with the guilt over my perceived failures and struggling to find “meaning” in life continued over the next several years as I continued to live – unemployed – in my parents’ home. At my father’s urging, I remained in psychotherapy and tried a range of antidepressants for a while, none of which really helped.
As I suppose is the norm for those enduring existential, spiritual crises, I started looking to “God” for answers. I recall once trying to pray while driving and finding it utterly a sham because I didn’t fully believe there was anything to pray to. The compromise I adopted in that moment was along the lines of, “I don’t have much faith in this, but with every ounce of sincerity I can muster, I ask that you help me believe, help me develop faith in you.”
Nothing came of this for at least a year or so, and I can’t recall praying much during the rest of that time. But things suddenly and quite unexpectedly changed in August of 1994 in an Atlanta hotel room.
The occasion was the first “Elton John Expo,” a two-day communal festival for people that are as freaky about Elton John as most members of this forum are about the Sopranos.:-) Sponsored by a fan magazine that I’d heard about from a longtime fellow Elton maniac and best friend, who also happened to be a very committed Christian that tried to gently tug me toward God from time to time, the guests of honor at this event included longtime Elton John band members Davey Johnstone and Nigel Olsson and the producer of all his greatest albums, Gus Dudgeon.
The closing attraction was a showcase for attendees who were also musicians, and I was among those who played the piano that night in front of the 150 or so people assembled. Without intending to sound immodest, the response to my playing was so singularly intense, prolonged, and effusive that, at one point, I felt badly for those who might have wanted to play but had not yet had the chance, as they would have to follow the whooping, loud whistling, aggressive foot-stomping, rhythmic hand clapping, and unified chants of “More! More! More!” that followed the four or five songs I played.
To allow some sense of “spotlight” for other musicians and to avoid the continuous flow of people coming up to me in the main banquet room asking me to return to the piano, I agreed to go with a couple of nice guys I’d met that evening to a small grand piano off the main hotel lobby, where a “private” concert ensued that gradually picked up more and more audience members as random hotel wanderers (some Expo attendees, some not) dropped by.
During the course of this performance, I noticed a woman in her early 50s with a pronounced British accent hanging around the piano and gushing with applause and superlatives after I finished each song and issuing requests for what I should play next. A short time later, one of the event organizers, who’d also joined the fun, whispered in my ear, “You know who that is, don’t you?” I shook my head “no,” and he reported that it was Sheila Dudgeon, longtime wife of producer Gus Dudgeon (who was apparently not up for all the late night merriment and was sleeping in his room.)
The thing that most amazes me about that moment was how utterly calm I remained. Here was the wife of the producer of what I felt were the greatest rock albums ever recorded, a woman who was hanging around the studio when songs like “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, “Candle in the Wind”, and “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” were being written, arranged, and recorded. Here was a woman who was obviously well-acquainted, personally and professionally, with a man I’d worshipped since childhood. And yet I never became nervous.
That remained the case even after she came over, introduced herself to me a short time later, asked incredulously, “what are you doing with your talent,” and offered, even urged me to give her a tape, CD, or recording of some kind so that she could get it to her husband. I remember the incredible irony I felt in that moment, irony at the almost fairytale-like prospect of “discovery” by Elton John (or his associates), how that’s the kind of thing I fantasized about at 12 or 13 and yet was completely unprepared for in this chance meeting at 30. I regretfully informed her that I had no such recording or CD and that I hadn’t been pursuing a musical career.
I continued playing that night, however. And I played as well or better than I’ve ever played in my life and certainly with the most unwavering calm I’ve ever known in any public performance setting. Things finally shut down around 4:00 AM, when the crowd was running out of requests and I was running out of energy and time to rest before a 6 hour drive home later that day.
My first stop was the lobby ladies’ room, where for some reason I suddenly felt incredibly nauseous. I am not a drinker and had had nothing to drink or eat that evening that should have caused that problem. I did successfully quell the urge to vomit, however, returned to my room, dressed for bed, and lay down, excited at my brush with the inner circle of Elton John but terribly exhausted as well.
I hadn’t long closed my eyes and had not yet fallen asleep when suddenly something completely startling and ineffable impelled me to sit up in bed. The light seeping through the cracks of the hotel curtains failed to illuminate anything foreign or animate in the darkened room.
The next thing I knew, a stream of words started forming in my consciousness in an even, rhythmical pulse, one word after another, and seemed to enter my body and mind from the location of my forehead. With each rhythmical word pulse, I “saw” a concomitant flash of metaphysical purple light and felt a contemporaneous burning sensation in my forehead. It was as if a purple laser was searing the words, one at a time, into the frontal lobe of my brain, even though there was no actual purple light in the room.
Frightened, stunned, and somehow comforted all at once, I began crying uncontrollably. The stream of words that came to me (of which I can now only recall a small part, ver batim) conveyed that I was not to blame myself for failing to follow a traditional career path or for failing to become the “star” that I or others might have thought I was supposed to become, that I was put on the earth to be a “star for my family,” a “beacon” to lead them to Him. The one passage that I still recall word for word was this one: “I died for you. Can’t you live for me?”
Still sobbing while rivers of tears ran down my face, I silently asked who was speaking to me. This time, the answer was not verbal but was nevertheless immediate and clear. I suddenly became like a puppet, completely controlled by a master puppeteer. My arms slowly, smoothly, and completely involuntarily extended from my sides, rising from and pivoting at the shoulders until they extended 180 degrees out, hands drooping slightly at the wrists. As they came to a rest in this outstretched position, my head involuntarily drooped forward and to the side, leaving my upper body in complete, non-volitional mimicry of a crucifixion.
For the next couple of days, I recall feeling almost alien on earth, even to my beloved immediate family. Everyone and everything seemed inadequate, pitiful, and/or foreign. I found it nearly impossible to eat, drink, or take in any sustenance and had no desire to hear music or partake in anything sensual. It was like the day after Christmas, pardon the pun, to the 100th power.
When I related all this to my mother some time later, she informed me that my experiences, particularly in the immediate aftermath, were identical to the kinds of things she’d read about in a book entitled, “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” which purports to correlate the objective, cross-cultural, cross-faith similarities that abound in purported experiences of a profoundly religious or spiritual nature.
Long term, the residue of this brief, two-minute encounter with Christ will undoubtedly stay with me for the rest of my life and has already helped me cope with the once unthinkable deaths of both my parents. Whenever my faith is threatened (which often happens from simply reading the Bible!), I can always safeguard it or restore it instantly by recalling the incredible gift of that night.
In posting about it here, I only hope that someone else, in dire need of faith but skeptical of or closed to the notion of Christ as Lord and Savior, will open themselves to a similar gift.