In short, it blessed me with grace.
I had no idea that a grand jury was closing its debate over my indictment in New York City. I had no idea that I was days from getting arrested for treason on the Patriot Act.
I was only mindful that something so beautiful, a force that I call God, was leaning to embrace me, and lift me up. And it was pure beauty and love--whether anyone believes in God or not. I remember thinking that people suffer through all sorts of ordeals and indignities. (I had no idea what was coming at me!) And all of us wait for just one moment like this. A moment of pure mercy and abiding love. And it puts perspective on everything else, including what's bad. It washes all of your pain away. And it cleanses your soul with unconditional love.
This deep feeling of love--and grace, that's what it was--came out of nowhere. There was no external explanation that I could see. Nothing special happened that morning to invite it to me. It was suddenly there. And it washed over me for hours. I remember thanking God, or the universe, whatever you want to call that greater essence that we belong to, for all my blessings, though my life had been incredibly difficult recently. I thanked God for staying with me.
I wanted to celebrate that moment of grace. So I went out to a nursery, and bought a tree to plant in my front yard. A beautiful Japanese weeping cherry tree with tiny white blossoms that peak in the spring-time. I call it my "peace tree."
Five days later, I got arrested for treason on the Patriot Act.
And yes, I think there's a force of God or something phenomenal out there. And I think it knew. I believe it saw the forces converging on me, and it reached down to comfort me. And it came to me before my troubles. And it gave me love. And it told me that everything was going to be alright. It saw my confusion before I ever experienced it, and it eased my sense of betrayal. And it took away my shame.
I believe that. In my heart, I am sure of it.
I would like to point out some important similarities in these accounts. The encounters were all unsolicited. That is, none of us begged God to come into our lives.
The encounters were not mere instants of inspiration or realization, but lasted at least several hours. This, I believe, helped to convey the unmistakable nature of these events to each of us.
An interesting theme of the tree appears in Ms. Lindauer's and Ms. Stickney's accounts. There is such a theme in an earlier encounter I had--quite powerful, but still not as profound as my second encounter. So I will relate it. It happened, as I recall, maybe two weeks or a month prior to the one I relate above.
I was quite discouraged, and I flopped myself down on the bed in my bedroom on the top floor of the house already mentioned. Tannhauser Overture by Richard Wagner was playing. Suddenly, I lept out of my bed and stared out the window at the Ialanthus tree, a tree that is quite common in and characteristic of Brooklyn. A dark and foreboding specter only a moment earlier because of my depressed state, the tree now conveyed an absolute sense of purposefulness. The tree was beautiful again like it used to be to me. Yes, life did have meaning, absolute meaning. I knew now. It was true. I felt like a giant, hundreds of feet tall. And I remember looking at that tree outside my window, and my belief in the meaning of life was powerfully affirmed. At the time, I had no idea that I would have an even more profound encounter in the coming weeks.
So the "tree" motif also occurs in my encounters. It was a poplar tree for Dorothy Stickney, and for Susan Lindauer, it was the cherry tree she planted.
In all of these unsolicited encounters, God, love and beauty are recurrent themes.
I recommend these events as they are recounted, as among the strongest evidences that God indeed exists as fact, not as superstition or mere belief. One imagines that God will continue to visit people in a similar manner as long as human history continues, so stories about God will never disappear. We then ought to abandon questions of God's existence, and instead attempt to understand the implications of that reality for us, and to raise the conversation to a new level, not one of a mere exchange of beliefs, but rather one of investigating God's existence and its implications for our lives and for our global community.
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