Monday, September 17, 2007

A Departure, Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago tonight was a fairly monumental mark in my spiritual life. And I happened to realize the exact passage of time today, so I thought I would mull it over a bit here.

Twenty years ago I called what happened to me receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I don't suppose I'd choose to call it anything different today, although I do feel I understand what transpired a bit differently than I have at various points in the past.

I was a college student, and I had been spending a few months in the company of some friends who came into my life in an odd way. I'll spare the whole story, but there was this ex-con turned con again that I met through a misplaced phone call, and his girlfriend. Then there was a woman from my Lutheran church who I later discovered to part of the underground charismatic movement there. These new friends introduced me to the teaching that charismatic gifts were valid and available in this age as in the early church. I came to be convinced, intellectually, that they were correct. But then one of these friends experienced these gifts herself, which served only to confuse me. I couldn't figure out why "something happened" to her that wasn't happening for me. Agitation fortunately led to prayer, and prayer led me to buy a certain book which walked me step by step through praying to receive this gift myself. And I did.

What I see clearly in hindsight is that I had no concept of asking God for things and actually expecting anything to happen. Receiving from God was not part of my spiritual practice at the time. This was probably the first time I had ever prayed in a way that said "God, I believe you promise x, now I am asking you for x and I believe that you want me to have x and I receive what you give." It was a formula that was so necessary in my life at the time. Passive notions ruled me about practically everything in life. I had no mental framework of actively reaching out. I wonder sometimes how I lived that way.

This was a powerful experience, there is no doubt. In essence I was opening for the first time the "box" if you will containing all the graces of my (infant, water) baptism, and it was like a grace explosion. This happened rather late one night. I remember vividly getting up the next morning, putting on my best dress and going down for breakfast in our cafeteria. One of my professors was there, and he commented "My, you look... radiant this morning!" I felt radiant. I felt God in me. I felt electrified. I felt Pentecosted.

Humans like to carve monuments (like Peter's tents) to capture experiences and "stay there". I learned soon enough that even a powerful experience of God is not all-sufficient. We can never "stay there," we can only journey on with Christ. Looking back on the Christian life is never about marking arrivals, only departures. And every day needs to be another departure, another new beginning with Christ.

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