I wrote this in 2010, about an incident that happened to me in 1985.
In 1985, in my ignorance, I performed an experiment upon myself. What if I tried the combination of severe negativity with large quantities of marijuana? Create an uncontrolled negative space on hyperdrive... what a fabulous idea! (Never let it be said that I have ever lived a mainstream life.) Well, guess what? It took me 25 years to figure this one out, but this is what happened: I managed to manifest my Shadow in the spiritual realm. This was for real. I literally manifested it. It was alive inside of me, and there was no way to escape it! (Such are the risks of inadvertent experimentation when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.) The Shadow was going to destroy me, of that I had no doubt. I have never experienced such primal, existential fear in my life, and hopefully I will never need to again.
To make a long story short, God (or whatever you want to call it) took over my life for about 10 days around Easter 1985 (the time of spiritual resurrection, how symbolic). I was but a speck of dust within the Cosmic Hurricane. (It’s really not so bad if you surrender to it, and you have no choice but to surrender to it.) Events soon deposited me at the home of a charismatic Christian woman who performed a spiritual healing on me. She lived way back in the hills outside Truth or Consequences, NM – a wonderfully symbolic name for what was happening -- and was about to happen -- to me. It was like a scene straight out of The Exorcist. It took a couple of hours, and I was disconcertingly awake during the entire process. I lay on her bed and twisted and moaned as the demon fought back. From time to time my breath turned bad, so I was told afterwards. She prayed and spoke in tongues and finally drove that demon out.
I stayed at her house to recuperate from my ordeal, and a few days later she took me to her “Full Gospel” church in Truth or Consequences, where I received further spiritual healing from two deacons of the church. (Full Gospel, by the way means they believe every word in the Bible, including such spiritual gifts as speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy.) One thing I remember from this healing was, I was pulled from a seated to an upright posture (without them touching me), and they had to catch me to keep me from falling forward onto my face. The next evening a lay minister (one of the aforementioned deacons) from the church baptized me (full immersion) in an irrigation ditch next to the home of the lady who had healed me.
A couple of days after that, I received what they call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” -- the ability to speak in tongues, among other things. During the "healing" segment of the Wednesday night prayer service, after the sermon, several church members, both men and women, gathered around me while I stood on the stage. Raising one hand to Heaven while placing the other hand on my head or shoulders, they started speaking in tongues. What followed was one of the most remarkable spiritual experiences of my life. It felt like my head no longer had a top to it, and my spirit was shimmering upward towards Heaven. When I was almost there, Heaven shimmered down to meet me. At the exact moment when the two energies met, I started speaking in tongues. In my personal file of incomprehensible experiences, this one had a folder all to itself.
“Yes,” Yoda would say, “The Force was strong with young Solbergwalker then.”
Throughout the ten days of being not in control of my life, I was fully conscious and aware. Events definitely had their atypical aspects, but I was at all times fully aware of what was happening to me. I didn’t “lose touch with reality.” It was more like “gaining touch with reality.” Events happened to me that have never happened before or since. And frankly, once is plenty.
The members of the Full Gospel church took me in and put me under their collective wing. They gave me a lot of love and acceptance. The funny thing was (and I knew this at the time), I was being helped by the very people I had held in contempt -- or at least, disapproval -- just a few days before. Such a rich irony, no? But such an obvious twist of fate, considering how I had set myself up for this particular lesson. I was raised a Southern Baptist, was taken to church and Sunday school every Sunday, and stopped going as soon as I was old enough to insist upon following my own path. Since the late 60s, I had considered myself an Earth pagan. Christians... well, what did they know? I had found a much better way, or so I thought.
So here I was -- mind blown yet hyper-aware, going to church picnics, hay rides, even going to Wednesday night services, for crying out loud. Me? Who had never set foot inside a church for almost 20 years? You’ve got to be kidding! Yet there I was, no doubt about it. Me, Mr. Earth Pagan himself, going to church with a bunch of fricking Christians! Talk about stirring the pot, this was more like dumping the pot into an erupting volcano and waiting for a bit of mixing action to occur.
The Christians gave me a lot of love and compassion, which I obviously needed at the time. They let me play my guitar in the church band. None of the boring organ music I grew up with as a kid, these people really knew how to rock out.
Of course I had trouble with the ideology. But I put my skepticism on the back burner for the moment. I knew I was there to learn something, though I wasn’t sure what it was. I wasn’t pretending to be some kind of sociologist, viewing the Christians dispassionately as if under a microscope. I was more of a frazzled nerve ending with my senses wide open: totally there, engaged, participating, drinking it all in. It looked to me that what the Christians were doing spiritually was nothing less than shamanism, and I found this fascinating. Shamanism in a sterile-seeming, fluorescent-lit church on a Wednesday evening, who would have thought it possible?
This phase lasted for about 6 weeks until the ideology finally drove me out. I couldn’t hack the whole Bible bit. I remember one service, when the preacher strode around the stage, holding a Bible aloft in one hand and yelling angrily about his faith. Why the anger, I wondered. In my opinion, they were making the Bible into a false God. God is a living presence, to be sure, but the Bible (or any other “holy book”) is just a bunch of words. There was no room for my intellect and creativity within their belief system. Everything had already been explained long ago.
I started reading the Bible for the first time since Sunday School twenty years earlier. I was reading it with the eyes of an adult and the understanding of an adult this time. The spiritual passages just jumped off the page at me. Christianity is actually a mystical religion! But I could also see that there was a lot of chaff mixed in with the wheat. Obviously (at least to me) the Bible is a book about spiritual perfection produced by imperfect humans. The Christians believed that every jot and tittle of the Bible was the inspired Word of God, and I simply could not accept this, since it was so obvious to me that the Bible was badly in need of a good editor.
I had another issue with the Christians: the contempt and anger they directed at anybody who didn’t share their ideology. It looked to me that this anger serves the Devil, or whatever you wish to call this planetary manifestation of negativity. If there is indeed a Satan who is ruler of this Earth -- as fundamentalists believe -- then it’s a no-brainer that Satan’s highest priority would be to co-opt the Christians. And this, in my opinion, is exactly what has happened. Just look at all the angry preachers preaching fear and hatred from their pulpits every week, and all the slick mega-church pastors preaching the Gospel of Mammon. Where does Jesus’ simple message of peace, love, and spiritual awareness fit into all this?
Christians of the fundamentalist stripe consider Secular Humanists (that is, scientists, atheists, and the non-religious in general) to be the enemy. I think it’s a shame that Christians feel compelled to create human enemies. But I would suggest, if Christians insist on having an enemy, that it be Spiritual Humanists. Anything that leaves out Spirit, as Secular Humanism does, is a fatally flawed paradigm, and not to be taken seriously. Secular humanism is much too limited. Carl Sagan standing in awe under a canopy of stars is all well and good, but mere awe leaves our deeper spiritual needs untouched. Secular humanism leaves out the unexplainable and in so doing, is leaving out the deepest levels of the human experience. Spiritual humanism, on the other hand, has the potential to be a revolutionary new worldview that might overthrow the Christian paradigm, which has needed overthrowing for a good long while. If there’s ever been a hot new trend on this planet, this is it -- it's the "spiritual awakening" people have been talking about for decades now.
I’m out of touch these days. I’m not sure what’s going on with the spiritual non-Christians. But I do know that back in 1985, only the fundamentalist Christians had a worldview that could begin to explain what had happened to me. The secular humanists thought I had suffered a psychotic attack, which I knew to be a facile explanation. The New Agers of that era were pretty lukewarm for the most part, compared to the Christians. The Christians had an ideal of being “on fire for the Lord,” and many of them were. They were fanatics who had the absolute Truth. Skeptics are incapable of such intensity of belief. The Christians brooked no doubt about anything, and thus had a laserlike focus, a one-pointed intent, that the wishy-washy “I believe in everything” New Agers lacked. But a lot has happened in the past 25 years, and I think we might very well be seeing a non-Christian spiritual revival before long. Things are about to get that desperate on this planet.
Even though I disagree with them ideologically, and have thus become their “enemy” (these people don’t fool around), I will always have a warm place in my heart for those Christians who took me in and offered me succor in my hour of need. In many respects they truly lived their Christian ideal, and I will always deeply respect them for that.
My ability to speak in tongues faded over time, since I never used it and never got “recharged” by fellow believers. Sure, I could give a demonstration even today, but I would just be going through the motions, so why bother? But I have been left with a permanent sense of wonder and humility about it all. There is more under heaven and earth than I ever dreamed of. It was very beneficial for me to get my face rubbed in this fact. I like to say that "I'm a lot more humble than I would be otherwise." Whenever I catch secular-types acting smug and making fun of Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues, I just shrug. What do they know?
I moved right along, of course. Life goes on. I checked out other Christian churches in Las Cruces, and eventually settled for a couple of years into the Church of Religious Science, a New Age church that explained the Bible in the spiritual terms I had already come to understand. (Maybe I’ll write about my “New Age Adventures” some day.) In September 1986 I met Laura for the first time. Even though I had never seen her before, I knew her instantly. And thus began a new chapter in my life.