God is a vengeful God and a harsh judge, whom will punish you for your sins, and your sins will lead you straight to hell! That was the impression I grew up with in a small central Georgia town in the 1950's and '60's. I was scared of God! Daily, I wanted to hear and learn more about the man, Jesus Christ, who loved me so much that "whoever believes in Him will never die but will have everlasting life". When I grew older and moved away from home, I still hadn't heard enough about Jesus. Wondering if God and His son, Jesus Christ, were the 'only way', I became slightly involved in the occult. During those same months and years, a close friend and I spent hours studying and discussing different religions and belief systems. Often, Benny and I would sit, sipping coffee in a Denny's restaurant, until 3 or 4 AM, poring over our Bibles opened to our favorite reassuring, intriguing or confusing passages.
A few years later, I was in a spiritual, social and emotional rut. I wanted to belong to something, to someone. Because I'd tried "free love", dabbled in non-hallucinogenic drugs and alcohol, and nothing filled me or had lasting value, I decided to visit a monastery. I'd decided that maybe I'd enlist in the U.S. Air Force, and wanted some quiet time to pray and think about my past, present and future. Quiet time wasn't easily found among my friends or in my Atlanta neighborhood. I called the monastery's office, and was told that I'd be welcomed to spend a weekend there, as long as I adhered to their rules. I could bring no radio, no television, no telephone - theirs was a non-speaking order.
I welcomed the opportunity, but prayed that I'd not made the wrong decision for perhaps selfish reasons. On the Friday afternoon I was to leave Atlanta, I bought a few packs of crackers, bottles of water, and grabbed my Bible and a notepad before hopping into my roommate's truck. On the 30 mile drive there, he and I discussed how I'd reach him if I went 'bonkers' before he was to come back to pick me up on Sunday evening. We became quieter as we neared the monastery; Jimmy dropped me off, looking worried. He knew why I wanted to go, but didn't completely understand.
One of the monks met me at the door, and I was shown to a private room with a narrow cot, a table and chair, and a small bathroom. Then, the monk (whom was allowed to talk only on such an occasion) wished me well and told me when and where their services and meals were - if I wanted to partake. I did not. I wanted to be alone.
Although I avoided the monks and visitors that weekend by staying in my room or wandering the grounds during the daytime, God was with me. Early Sunday morning before I was to leave, I awoke in the darkened room just before dawn. I lay there listening for but not hearing a whisper or a footstep. I said a prayer, thanking God for the day, then cleaned myself up, dressed, and as silently as possible left the building. The sun was rising, and I walked toward the rear of the property where a lake, perhaps two acres in size, sparkled about one-tenth of a mile away.
When I reached the edge of the maintained grounds, where thick, tall dew-bedecked weeds and grasses stood sentinel, I glanced to my right and saw a small pen with three to four peacocks quietly strutting, their iridescent tail feathers dragging behind them. Glancing around to ensure that no one was nearby, I knelt on my knees, clasped my hands together, and bent my head. Closing my eyes, I prayed silently, asking God to see me, to know me, to accept that I wanted Him in my life and to forgive me of my sins, of which there were many. I also repeated, thinking about my mistakes and my fears about military service, that I needed His guidance and His protection.
I prayed for maybe four to five minutes. When I raised my head, opening my eyes, I stared straight ahead. I could see the lake, the trees and grasses around it, and the clear blue sky where a few clouds, white as cotton, slowly skimmed past. But, nothing was as I normally saw it; the water in the lake, normally a light blue tinged with purple, with small wind-driven white caps, was no longer a wind-stirred flattened surface. It was a huge bowl, holding to its depths trillions of molecules like sparkling crystals - some tinged clear to blue, some clear to white, some clear to myriad deeper and lighter hues! It was as if someone had taken the water from the lake and filled the basin with aquamarine and other polished, shimmering jewels that shifted, submerged and re-emerged without sound, without friction, without rancor. The individual crystals gently undulated against and beside each other as if alive.
Then, I glanced at the trees to my left. Each oak, elm, maple and dogwood leaf, every pine needle and cone, every striated or smooth span of bark, while retaining their form, was made the same way with colors and 'jewels' unique to each of them! Then I looked up, and saw the clouds and sky; they were the same! I hardly believed what I saw; I started to cry. I knew I wasn't hallucinating or dreaming. A second later, I heard a quiet voice inside my head: "Michael, I made all of this; you're just as important as anything else in my creation, and no more important than anything I have made."
I lowered my head again and closed my eyes in awe and worship of almighty God. I knew He was telling me that I was valuable to Him and always would be, no matter what I feared or others said. He was also telling me that I shouldn't think too highly of myself. I was part of His creation, yet I still saw through a glass darkly. God was real, He forgave (and forgives) me of my sins, and recognizes my fallen state and lack of perfection. He holds a place for me that I will one day reach and that place is called "heaven".
God gave me a glance at my destination and my home. I have never doubted God's existence or His love again.