Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Study in the Changing Face of Evil

I'm writing this article from my desk on Halloween night. It strikes me from the outset that evil is not only a touchy subject, but one that may be approached from myriad angles. Unfortunately, I won't be able to touch upon them all in one article. Time is even less of a luxury tonight than it normally is for me, having just returned from my father's house, where he discovered earlier this afternoon, a gaping hole in his backyard that is at least five feet deep and four feet in diameter. There's a metallic structure around it near the bottom that's mostly disintegrated to the point of being unrecognizable. As near as we can tell it's probably a very old septic tank that was used many decades ago before mom and dad came there to live. At any rate, I had to find something strong to cover it with to keep any trick-or-treaters from discovering it the hard way until I can haul some gravel in on Monday. It's been a record month for rain here, so things like this are bound to come up along with the inevitable sweeping water out of the basement of such an old house. (He still has spool wiring and a coal chute). But the truth is, it's a great joy for me to be able to take care of my father's needs in his old age. My dad and his dad will in fact both play a small part in my next topic once we've covered this one. But for now, let's get to this most misunderstood subject of evil in the world. And unfortunately, a good deal of it will be autobiographical in nature.

The first thing I must tell you is that I have as hard a time with this matter as anyone. I do, however, have some experience with it that has probably allowed me to perceive evil in a way that I never would have considered beforehand. When I was just seventeen, I had something along the lines of what some may consider a mystical experience. Actually I don't call it that. A mystical experience is an otherworldly encounter with the divine. I'm not sure the almighty had any part in this. I really couldn't say for sure. At any rate, it was an otherworldly experience, but not necessarily a mystical one. As I lay across my bed one afternoon, I felt what I can only describe as a great pressure, not unlike a giant hand, pushing me down into the bed. I was completely frozen and not able to move or cry out whatsoever. It was a frightful event (though without a hint of evil) that seemed to last several hours, yet when I looked at the clock afterwards, only a few minutes had passed. I went searching through the house for other clocks. That time just could not be right! But they all read the same. Did I simply fall asleep during this event? Did I enter a dream world of sorts? Or did something else happen?, something important perhaps that I could no longer remember and possibly was not meant to remember? As strange as that terrifying pressure felt, it was the lost time that continued to plague me for many days thereafter. Where did the hours go? I really connected years later with an episode on TV of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode written by Morgan Gendel was called The Inner Light, and in the story, Captain Picard was knocked unconscious by a beam of light from an alien probe. During this state he awoke in another world on a planet called Kataan. A woman named Kamin is at his bedside who says she is his wife. As the days go by he eventually realizes that the people in his village think he has been there all his life. The days turn into years. He grows to love his wife and friends on this planet and it becomes a real home, and he grows old there and learns to play the flute. Then one day in his old age he suddenly finds himself waking up in the sickbay of the starship Enterprise. He has only been unconscious for twenty five minutes. Oddly, the episode ends with him in his room onboard the ship playing the flute quite well as though he has truly done it for many years.



I knew nothing of mystics or the mystical experience at that age. Maybe Catholic kids learn of these things in church, but we protestants certainly didn't. I went to church and was very involved with the youth group and had gotten involved with the last stage of the Jesus Movement (something which lingered on into the mid 70s here in the Midwest long after it had already died out on the West Coast). It's true that evangelicals during this period considered themselves to be more spiritual than other Christian sects, and frequently you could find people prophesying, speaking in tongues, and literally rolling on the floor in what was supposed to be a spiritual ecstasy of some kind. So, in full disclosure I must admit that this was the environment I grew-up in, having been raised in an Assembly of God Church. My getting involved with The Jesus Movement at sixteen or so seemed the most natural thing in the world.

You might be thinking that my religious surroundings prompted the strange encounter I had in my room and that it was nothing but a trick of the mind. I disagree. While I believed in God and wanted to know him, I never engaged in any of the wilder side of spirituality I saw at church and various group meetings. I also thought most of those people prophesying were quite full of themselves rather than the Spirit. While I still contend that the Jesus Movement was the height of my spiritual adventure in the flesh, and some of the friends I had then were the best people I ever knew, I also must interject that I saw a great hypocrisy going on as well, especially by those involved in leadership behind the scenes.

I don't believe my religious atmosphere had any effect on me that strange day in 1976. In fact, I was already becoming very disenchanted with my church and felt I was ready for something else. At that point I was about to get out of high school, join the army, and move to Alaska. I was working after school in produce at the grocery store and mostly playing basketball in my free time with my non-Christian friends and my old Catholic pal, Joe, who was a good boy but had little interest in his church. I would soon be going on a brief 10-day mission trip to help rebuild a church in Guatemala that had fallen during the great earthquake of 1976, but truth be known, this was just something to pass the time for me until my Army enlistment got underway. I never thought of the mission trip as a particularly spiritual event. No, this thing in my bedroom hit me out of the blue, and it would be something I would never forget. I also would never tell another living soul about it for many years aside from my mom and dad.

When I was in my early 20s I had a similar experience, but this time much worse. I was home from the Army and living in my parent's attic room at the time. The same paralyzing force hit me, this time accompanied by a full blown out of body experience where I found myself in a place of great darkness--that darker than dark blackness like you find in a cave--with some kind of creepy-crawly phosphorescent creatures around me kind of like spiders but different from anything I had ever seen. Worse yet was this intense feeling I had never had before that a being of pure evil was near me. I thought, this is it--I've died and gone to Hell. I couldn't talk, but in my mind I pleaded with God to let me go back to my body and give me another chance. You don't know what frantic is until you're literally in a place you think is Hell surrounded by a feeling of pure evil. I don't know how long it lasted, but it seemed as though only a minute later I was back in my bed.

Funny, but I hated the Army, and the day I was discharged I got on a jet headed to Seattle, and once there, I recall diving onto the bed in my hotel room with this terrific feeling of relief as though I had just been freed from Devil's Island like Ronald Coleman in one of those old movies. But that couldn't begin to compare with what I felt like after being freed from what seemed like Hell (minus the fire). You may say it was a trick of the mind, a hallucination or what have you. All I know is that I was back home, safe, and grateful. Again, I told no one what had happened to me.

Probably fifteen years went by without another episode. I was now in my late 30s, and mystic was still just a word other people used at this point. I really didn't even know what it meant. The Jesus Movement had long before already turned into the Evangelical Movement, and the Jesus freaks had cut there hair, gotten real jobs, raised families, and started attending regular church services instead of home get-togethers. Many of them in fact attended the same mega-church I went to in St. Louis that had a typical Sunday morning attendance somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000. Gone were the wild, nonsensical prophecies and other fake outward manifestations of a nonexistent spiritual experience. No more seaside/lakeshore baptisms. No more piling into the back of a pickup and driving down to Bald Knob to sit and pray and sing songs beneath the giant hillside cross. No more street witnessing. No, things were much tamer now, much saner even some would say. But things still weren't right. Sunday sermons were typically about psychological hang-ups, how to get along with people you didn't like, removing stress from your life, yada, yada, yada. I simply hated church. There's no other way to put it. Not only had those nice Jesus freaks turned into a bunch of brain-dead yuppies, but as is typical with these independent, interdenominational churches, there were no business meetings, the pastor set his own salary and wouldn't tell anybody what it was, and the whole thing was run like a private business enterprise. It was all feel good therapy with only the faintest hint of religion and spirituality. About this time I had my third experience with those other worlds of spirit. It may have dawned on you by now that these otherworldly occurrences happened whenever big changes were about to come in my life.

Actually, I had several over the course of three to four years. What happened isn't important to you. They were between myself and God. I will only tell you that the fear went out of them for the most part, and they became learning experiences. Sometimes they seemed quite mundane and, like dreams, would only acquire meaning after much time went by. There were times, however, when, just before these things happened, that I would feel that presence of evil around me. This really confused me. Was there some kind of evil spirit trying to scare me out of having an experience from God? Or was the experience itself evil with only a pretense of Godliness in it? Was it possible that this was something having to do with that occult stuff people talked about even though I hadn't been seeking it out? The last thing I was looking for was some kind of secret message from beyond. I needed help and didn't know where to turn. All I knew was, I wanted out of my church and a deeper understanding of what life was about, but I had no interest in devilish things or occult secrets. Around this time I began attending meetings of what might be called a new age group called The Gathering that had several people in it who seemed to be having similar experiences and were also trying to understand what it was about. Many of them also claimed to be Christians. And I met Annie.

Annie told me that what I had been experiencing was called astral projection, that it was nothing to fear, and that she did it all the time. She insisted that God was trying to connect with me, to teach me deeper things about the cosmos, and that this was a good thing. Hmm...I didn't know if she was right or not. One thing I can tell you for sure though is that my spiritual motives were proper ones. I just wanted to be a good person, to know who God really was, and what life was really about.

About this time, actually a few years earlier around 1990, I started to read a lot for the first time in my life, and I do mean a lot! And the very first book I read having to do with God (outside of the bible) also had to do with C. S. Lewis. It wasn't a book by him, but a fictional book involving a conversation between him, John F. Kennedy, and Aldous Huxley written by Peter Kreeft that was called Between Heaven and Hell. I honestly think I bought it because the title seemed to describe my real life experience. To this day I think God led me to it...and to every book that came after to this very moment. Until then I had only experienced spirituality in a sensory way. I hadn't yet put my brain behind it. I was all feeling with no understanding. Now the real learning was about to begin. So on one side I had Annie, and on the other Mr. Lewis was beginning to emerge. But one thing that stood between them both was that crushing feeling of evil I so often had in the room with me during those things Annie referred to as astral projections. Sometimes what came after them was wonderful, but why the overwhelming feeling of something not unlike the Devil himself so nearby? I'll tell you what God had already begun to teach me once I started using my head: that evil was no longer just a notion--a bad behavior that people executed. It had a presence. It was also a living thing.

To be continued...

3 comments:

jesseakers said...

have a lot to say a little time to say it- will try to get on mon. to write more

Ann said...

THIN PLACES AND PARABOLAS
MEDITATION Lent 2010
Matthew 13 and SEEING - Mystical experiences
Samhain- 'Soween' of course was the time Irish pagans felt the veil thin. All Souls/Saints Day for Christian
This article speaks to me:

Thin Places are ports in the storm of life, where the pilgrims can move closer to the God they seek, where one leaves that which is familiar and journeys into the Divine Presence. They are stopping places where men and women are given pause to wonder about what lies beyond the mundane rituals, the grief, trials and boredom of our day-to-day life. They probe to the core of the human heart and open the pathway that leads to satisfying the familiar hungers and yearnings common to all people on earth, the hunger to be connected, to be a part of something greater, to be loved, to find peace.
See the rest of the article here:
www.thinplaces.net/
See a rock interpretation of parable-parabola/thin places:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxiFoYMsIJw
See a classical interpretation of a thin place. Dieu Parmi Nous played in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris- a thin place for many, many centuries.

Or this stunning artistic video montage of Dieu Parmi Nous
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTL6PUcWfC0
Blessings,
Ann

C W Seper said...

Thanks Ann. That's nice, and I agree about what the writers during the Middle Ages called the thin places. Like MacDonald though, I don't seek them out. They come, and I let them go. I know you didn't mean anything more. I'm just saying....