Sacred Encounters with Jesus
  by Dr. G. Scott Sparrow
Ave Maria Press, 2002
Originally published by Bantam Books in 1994 under the title of I Am with You Always
*Barnes and Noble Bestseller, Book of the Month Selection, Quality Paperback Selection*
                                                      

Chapter One:
The Christ Encounter Phenomenon


         Laura's doctors were sure that the girl was dying. She, her mother and her brother had all contracted scarlet fever; but her illness had progressed into spinal meningitis, for which there was no medical treatment at the time. The doctors told her parents they could do nothing, and that she would die a terrible death. Her parents were advised not to remain with her to witness her last days. Here is her account in her own words:
         I am now a grandmother, age 62. For many years I never spoke of my Christ experience. I wish now that I had looked up the records so today I could have the proof nonbelievers seem to need. Somewhere I know there is some proof in hospital and church records, as I was called The Miracle Child.
         Today I can't remember the dates. I was eleven years old, living in Ohio. My mother, sister and I had scarlet fever, my own went into spinal meningitis.
         My parents had lost everything. My father, a carpenter by trade, had been unemployed for a long time. The state of Ohio paid my hospital bills, and even flew in a doctor from Chicago. The part of Ohio State University Hospital that I was in was a building apart from the main hospital with a high fence around it. I don't remember going in, but I remember my father carrying me out.
         I remember one of the nine times that I was held in a tight ball and told not to move, as they injected a big needle in my spine. Later, looking in a mirror, for years I could see and count these nine marks. I remember the horrible pain and my thin, twisted legs.
         My parents were told my death would be a terrible, screaming thing; best for them not to see or hear, to go home. I lost my sight and hearing but before that, saw my parents, grandparents and Rev. John Lang standing in the door of my room, not permitted to come in. The smiles, the thrown kisses, the waving good-bye, I remember and then the sea of pain.
         Later, after losing my eyesight, I was laying on my right side. I heard a voice behind me say, "Laura. turn over." I said, "No, it hurts too much to move. You come around to this side of the bed." Then the voice said, "I promise you it will not hurt -- turn over." Turning, I saw Jesus. I remember no other words Jesus said to me, yet I know we talked. I watched His beautiful-shaped hand reach out and touch my leg.
         Sometime later, I remember remarking to a nurse about what pretty red hair she had. She looked at me in shocked surprise and rushed from the room. The room soon filled up with doctors asking questions. I was a very shy person and there were too many doctors, too many questions. I had to talk about this to Rev. Lang. He was the one person in all the world I wasn't too shy to talk to.
         Rev. Lang listened, asked questions and took many notes. I couldn't see the face of Christ, as it was like looking into a light bulb. But his clothes, the color and material I had never seen -- all that I can remember. I was very blonde with very pale skin -- the skin of Christ was much darker. The color of a piece of his hair I saw fall on his left shoulder as He reached out his left hand to touch me, was a color I had never seen. Rev. Lang called it auburn.
         My parents were told I could not live -- I did. I sat in a chair and heard I would never walk -- I did. They were told I never would have children -- I had three.
         I had not seen Rev. Lang for years when I saw in a local paper he was to speak at a church near by. My sister and I were late so we slipped in a side door. Rev. Lang was speaking about a little girl, "a miracle child" he had known, who had seen and was healed by Christ. Here he was telling hundreds of people of the thing that had happened to me -- the things we had talked about long ago. He also said the child had a light about her for days after the visit -- something I had not known.
         This visit from Christ was never spoken of in my home by my family. I was raised thinking it was something you did not talk about. (L.B.K.)

         Laura's experience was an intensely private encounter in the confines of her own blinded state of approaching death. But to the extent that it can still inspire us with the transformative love that she experienced in that moment of healing years ago, it is relevant to us today. Indeed, her account serves to demonstrate how one person's apparent encounter with Christ can continue to inspire hope -- if not actual healing -- in others who hear or read about it.
         Of course it is fair to ask, was Laura's experience what it seemed to be? That is, did Christ actually heal her? And, more importantly for the rest of us, does Christ really manifest himself to individuals today? This might, to some, seem like a naive and childish wish. But if one takes seriously the promises he made to manifest himself to those who love him and serve him, it requires little stretch of the imagination to answer, Why not? And if we add to this the modern-day testimony of a widening circle of credible witnesses, then we might conclude -- with some wonder -- Yes, he does.
 
A Largely Overlooked Phenomenon

         Contemporary Christ encounters have thus far received scant attention from theologians and ministers -- those who might be expected to recognize their significance. T.R. Morton, author of Knowing Jesus, points to the obvious reason the church and its spokesmen have tended to overlook and discredit such accounts.
        
         "We can well appreciate how the church has always been a bit suspicious of an individual's claim to know Jesus by himself. When you acknowledge the claim, you open the door to all kinds of strange, subjective ideas. You give individual experience precedence over the wisdom of the past. Personal knowledge is always a challenge to accepted opinions and a threat to established institutions...It is no wonder that the church has been chary of these claims."8
        
         This attitude is by no means a recent development. Actually, the church's position on such things developed quite early when, in the second century, a man by the name of Montanus claimed to be receiving messages from the risen Christ. Montanus claimed that Christ would soon be returning to erect the New Jerusalem in Montanus' home province in Asia Minor. The Church authorities saw this as a self-serving prophecy that would establish a dangerous precedent, and declared it a heresy. 9        
         Montanus claimed Christ was speaking through him. This conferred upon him an authority that no ordinary person could hope to dispute. But what I've found in my research is that most Christ encounters have Christ speaking to the individual about his love for them. Such interventions seem to inspire spiritual work without conferring political or moral advantage upon the recipient.
         Some Christ encounters of this type can be found in the writings of a few contemporary figures who are somewhat outside of mainstream Christianity. For example, Starr Daily -- the author of Love Can Open Prison Doors and many other books on the Christian life -- says that his life as a hardened criminal abruptly ended when Jesus came to him in a dream. After a tortuous stint in prison, Daily said he saw "the man whom I'd been trying to hate for years, Jesus the Christ." In the dream, Daily encountered Jesus in a garden. Jesus came toward him,

    "...His lips moving as though in prayer. He stopped near me eventually and stood looking down. I had never seen such love in human eye; I had never felt so utterly enveloped in love. I seemed to know consciously that I had seen and felt something that would influence my life throughout all eternity."10

         It is interesting that Daily had often dreamed as a child of meeting Jesus in the same garden environment, but had gradually forgotten the experiences. Significantly, Daily follows a largely forgotten age-old Christian tradition in regarding the dream as an acceptable avenue for directly encountering the Christ. Daily went on from this experience to author numerous books on the healing power of faith in Christ.
         Edgar Cayce is a controversial figure who reportedly experienced several encounters with Christ during his lifetime. Known principally for his clairvoyant gift that permitted him, while in trance, to give people readings on the treatment of their diseases, he was a deeply religious Christian and an immensely popular Presbyterian Sunday school teacher. And yet, he never made his Christ encounters a matter of public record. One of the only ways that we know about his experiences is through a letter he wrote to a friend in 1939.

         "...often I have felt, seen and heard the Master at hand. Just a few days ago I had an experience which I have not even told the folk here. As you say, they are too scary to tell, and we wonder at ourselves when we attempt to put them into words, whether we are to believe our own ears, or if others feel we are exaggerating or drawing on our imagination; but to us indeed they are often that which we feel if we hadn't experienced we could not have gone on.
         "This past week I have been quite 'out of the running,' but Wednesday afternoon when going into my little office or den for the 4:45 meditation, as I knelt by my couch I had the following experience: First a light gradually filled the room with a golden glow, that seemed to be very exhilarating, putting me in a buoyant state. I felt as if I were being given a healing. Then, as I was about to give the credit to members of our own group who meet at this hour for meditation (as I felt each and every one of them were praying for and with me), he came. He stood before me for a few minutes in all the glory that he must have appeared in the three on the Mount. Like yourself, I heard the voice of my Jesus say, 'Come unto me and rest.'"11        

         Psychiatrist George Ritchie has reported one of the most detailed Christ encounters in his book, Return from Tomorrow12. While his Christ encounter has been thought of as primarily a near-death experience -- perhaps the most famous NDE on record, since it inspired Raymond Moody to begin his research for his bestselling book Life After Life13 -- it is still, above all, an encounter with Jesus Christ. As we shall see in the following chapters, very little meaningful distinction can be made between near-death Christ encounters and those occurring in non life-threatening circumstances.
         While Ritchie was ill with pneumonia, he was administered a drug to which he reacted so severely that he was considered clinically dead for several minutes prior to his resuscitation. During this interval, he experienced an encounter with Jesus, and an escorted view of the afterlife.
         As in so many Christ encounters, when Christ appeared to Ritchie, he realized that:
         "This person was power itself, older than time and yet more modern than anyone I'd ever met.
         "Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this man loved me. Far more even than power, what emanated from this Presence was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me...and accepted and loved me just the same."14

         One might think that such experiences would come to a very few devout individuals. But from what I have discovered in my preliminary research, Christ encounters apparently happen as much to ordinary individuals who are simply striving in their own way to do their best. From a scriptural standpoint, this is what one might expect. For, Jesus made it clear to his followers that he would manifest himself to anyone who loved him and followed his commandments:
         "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and manifest to him (John 14:21)."
         Understandably, most of us give this promise little thought. Or if we do, we disqualify ourselves without examining the reasons. Feeling unworthy, we may assume that Christ would manifest only to those who live exceedingly virtuous lives; and that rules most of us out. Or, feeling insignificant in the cosmic scheme of things, we assume that he would manifest himself only to individuals who have far greater needs than our own. In this vein, a former patient of mine, who prayerfully called upon the assistance of spirit guides, told me that Jesus had much more important things to do than to attend to her.
         Even if we allowed ourselves to hope for such a visitation on the basis of Jesus' recorded promises, what if he did not come? Would that not underscore our sense of unworthiness? Or, maybe worse yet, if he did come, what would he require of us? A nurse told me that she dreamed she looked out of the window and saw the bright light of the rising sun and Jesus knocking on the emergency room door. Not wanting to face him, she went up to the window and closed the blinds. I can still see the anguish in her face as she told me about this -- her one and only Christ encounter. Another person intentionally sought an encounter with Christ, and thereafter dreamed that a basement door opened in her home, and light poured out. She knew Christ was coming up the steps and would appear at any moment. She ran to the door, and slammed it.
         How many of us are ready for such a meeting? Are we willing to expose ourselves to someone who is "power itself," and who knows and loves us completely?        

Evaluating the Validity of Christ Encounters

    As you read the Christ encounters in the following chapters, you may be inspired by many, unmoved by some, and even offended by a few. We are all different, and we respond to such accounts based on our own beliefs and past experiences. Given our differences in sentiment and worldview, we might ask, How can we know establish the validity of such deeply personal and controversial spiritual experiences? How can we know if they are what they purport to be?
         There are precedents that can assist us in this regard. For, evaluating the validity of spiritual experiences -- especially prophetic pronouncements -- is an age-old concern. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah suggested a simple test of validity -- that the prophecy come to pass! He said that "when the word of the prophet come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord has truly sent him (Jer. 29:9)." Building on this proposition, Jesus said, "By the fruits, ye shall know them." This rule effectively broadens Jeremiah's criterion of factual accuracy into one that we might call "goodness of outcome," and is clearly more applicable to experiences that do not contain prophetic information, but nonetheless claim to be of God.
    By making the goodness that we do the sole criterion by which we are judged, Jesus implies that we should not become overly concerned with the differences between peoples' beliefs and experiences. Unfortunately, a person's beliefs -- and the particular details of their personal spiritual experiences -- have traditionally figured much more prominently than the fruits of their lives in determining their treatment from others. Indeed, concern about the validity of spiritual beliefs and experiences reached extreme proportions during the days of the Inquisition, when even many of the most devout individuals came under suspicion. The plight of St. Teresa of Avila is a good example of how attempts to evaluate spiritual experiences have too often mirrored the fears and biases of the evaluators.
         The young and vivacious Carmelite nun began seeing Jesus appear to her on a regular basis, sometimes when she would be conversing with the visitors who came to the monastery each day. When the local Church authorities -- who were threatened by her growing influence -- found out about her visions, they called for an investigation which immediately threatened her life. Everyone knew she would be burned if her experiences were judged demonic by the Inquisition. Fortunately, a sympathetic Jesuit intervened to supervise the investigation, and to protect her from the harshest remedies of the Inquisition.
         But while her Jesuit protector was temporarily away, Teresa was forced by less sympathetic church officials to do something totally repugnant to her: She was told to test the vision by making an obscene gesture to the Lord. "If it is the devil," the inquisitor argued, "he may take it as an expression of your contempt, and if it is the Lord, he will not hold it against you, for you are merely obeying an order which I have given you to protect our holy faith."
         With great sadness, she complied. "This business..." she related, "caused me the greatest sorrow, for my next vision was one of the suffering Lord." Even so, Christ knew her heart; and he did not abandon her for her compliance. 15
    Eventually, even the considerable authority of the Inquisition could not discredit Teresa. One of the most unyielding inquisitors finally acknowledged the authenticity of her visions. She went on to reestablish the Carmelite order as a beacon of spirituality during a relatively corrupt and materialistic era.         
         Given the presumption involved in trying to validate a Christ encounter, I have made little attempt to conduct this evaluation for the reader, except to apply Jesus' own criterion -- that is, to examine the "fruits" in the person's life.

The Problem of Telling Other People

         Samuel Johnson once said, "Wonders are willingly told and willingly heard." And yet, it seems apparent that the act of sharing a religious experience is strewn with interpersonal difficulties. When one believes himself to have encountered Jesus Christ, an intimidating set of problems arises to legislate against sharing this otherwise wondrous experience with others.
         Some may be afraid that their experience will be seen as corny and all-too-conventional. Others probably worry about being seen as inflated with their own sense of importance. And still others may refrain from disclosing the details of such encounters because they are afraid of being judged crazy, or called liars of the worst kind. In many of the letters I've received from persons who believe they have encountered Christ, the letter begins with such words as, "I know you won't believe me, but..."
         There is also the problem of stirring up feelings of inadequacy in other people who have not had such experiences. Even if they share a worldview which allows for such encounters, it is by no means a sure thing that they will be secure enough in their own spirituality to hear it with an open mind. Jesus, himself, admonished his followers to "tell no man" about what they'd experienced with him; and his statement about not casting one's pearls before swine puts the warning in harsher terms.
         Even religious authorities may not be able to hear about Christ encounters with an open mind. One woman told us that she finally worked up her nerve to share her Jesus experience with two different priests. The first man listened to what she told him, then resumed talking about altogether unrelated matters, as though he had not even heard her. The second priest became angry, saying that he had sought such an experience all his life. Who was she, he asked, to have been so blessed by Jesus' presence? In recognition of this dilemma, C. S. Lewis once wrote, "Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the vicar; he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more."16
         For these and other reasons, it is not surprising that people generally refrain from sharing such experiences. Unfortunately, their silence creates the impression that Christ encounters are less common than they actually are. Because of this, one of the purposes of this book is to provide a vehicle for sharing these experiences that can avoid some of the sticky interpersonal problems cited above. By preserving the anonymity of contributors, this book has provided a way for them to relate their Christ encounters without having to worry about reactions from others.
         On the receiving end, the sympathetic reader is perhaps in a much better position to appreciate the experiences without knowing the other persons, or having them present. By reading multiple accounts of anonymous, ordinary individuals, the reader might more easily resist the inclination to conclude that the other person is a better, more virtuous individual who deserves to have such encounters. And, relieved of the burden of knowing the other person's personal foibles, the reader may also be able to appreciate the validity of the account without letting his knowledge of the other person get in the way. Thus, except for losing whatever benefits might proceed from a direct person-to-person exchange, a collection of anonymous written accounts can, arguably, assist both witnesses and readers in reaping the greatest benefit from Christ encounters.

The Positive Impact of Sharing Christ Encounters

         Not all Christ encounters are equally dramatic and uplifting. Indeed, some are subtle and open-ended, and it is not always clear what exactly what has taken place. And yet, they almost always seem to represent a pivotal moment in a person's life, in which encouragement or healing seems desperately needed, or in which Christ calls the individual to serve him in some way.
         Many of us would be disappointed if we set about to experience a Christ encounter. For reasons unknown to us at the present time, such experiences are still apparently hard to come by. Consequently, we should perhaps be willing to derive whatever meaning we can from the experiences of others, rather than to make such experiences a criterion of spiritual attainment, or the basis of our self-worth. There is ample precedent for this approach. The history of Christianity reveals a willingness among Christians to study and derive sustenance from the experiences of others, rather than feeling disenfranchised in the face of the apparent good fortune of others. Indeed, the whole historic foundation of Christianity is based on Jesus' encounters with a relatively small group of followers and critics. Today, modern Christians derive their knowledge of Christ to a large extent from his recorded encounters with other people thousands of years ago. Each parable, each individual gesture of love and each healing combines to form a cohesive testament to what He was and still is to all people, even though he had direct contact with only a relative few.
         Similarly, if we can accept the stories of the persons whose experiences with Christ are recounted in the following pages, we have an opportunity to derive hope from what is apparently happening in the lives of at least some individuals today. The mere fact that these momentous encounters occur at all might go a long way to deepen our commitment to living according to higher ideals -- if not also to enhance our readiness to have such sacred encounters ourselves.