The paving stones in front of the huge old church in the heart of downtown Los Angeles were satin smooth.
She loved the feel of creamy smooth cement under her shoe soles. She and her husband had been attending this great old church for some months now. The church building itself had a strength that, as she stood with her back to it, she could feel was putting power into her heart and mind. She supposed that feeling must be part of what faith is for many people. This was a church that she felt could truly inspire faith in people, much as ancient cathedrals had been designed to do.
She was aware of the church's spires stretching up like the towering arms of a granite protector. Even when she was not looking at the church's facade, she could inwardly sensed its face looking down in benevolence at everyone standing at its feet.
Their interest in the church had started when they had been visiting churches, looking for one of their own. It had started with a Lenten lecture series that the church had presented concerning the charismatic gifts of Christianity. Dr. Marcus Bach, the famous comparative religionist, had been the presenter and both she and her husband had been transported by his words and swept along by the scope and the excitement of the adventure as he described what he had experienced as his life in religion had unfolded and had shown him the infinite variety of supernatural aspects that many of the world's religions display.
After that, they seriously began to consider making this church their permanent church home. They had talked with a minister (there were about six of them) and they were still thinking it over. It was a huge, beautiful church plant and they liked the way they felt being in the midst of it.
This particular Sunday seemed to her like any other. Her sadness over no longer having her children seemed no worse and no better--the same grinding misery that it had been for months and months now. She knew that her grief was hard on her new husband. She knew he hated to hear her talk about it and felt guilty about feeling that way. She didn't want to distress him any more than she already had. She was making a serious attempt to not talk about it after months of speaking about little else.
So she tried not to talk about it but that meant that she had to not think about it. She was a woman in crisis. She could not come to terms with her personal disappointment in both herself and her world. The grief and the guilt and the fears that swept over her all too often threatened to capsize the boat of her life. She didn't know a solution. She was tormented by her feeling that she had done her children great harm, not so much by anything she had actually done, as by what she had left undone--by being unable to stand up to their father and demand that he not take her children away and then leave them with strangers and by being willing to use the ammunition that she had against him, but she was too timid to do even that on her own behalf.
She was afraid now of people in general. She was very reserved. She had always been basically shy but now she kept to herself, she had become reclusive. This great church seemed to have become her friend and she had too few of those these days. She had never thought of a church as being a friend before. But if there's a church family, as they often say there is, then there must be churches that are friends, as well, she thought.
They turned from the people her husband had been speaking with when the great bell tolled the last call for service. They entered through the heavy, carved dark wood of the doors. They found a seat near the front. She loved it there. It felt always like the most sacred place of all to her. There were people sitting near them who gave her prickles on her skin, but she was safe in her part of the pew, her sacred place. She was aware of the prickly ones sitting at her back also, but it didn't matter because now she felt protected by the safe place where she sat.
She had never been sensitive to "prickles" from people before the crisis of the children, but now it happened all too often in public places and, although she knew she shouldn't feel afraid and "surrounded by an unfriendly cloud of awareness," she hadn't been able to stop it.
She closed her eyes and began to meditate as she had been taught to do in the class she had attended with her husband. It was a class they had learned about after the Lenten lecture series when they were visiting various churches and groups of people displaying gifts like speaking in tongues, prophesying, healing, speaking with guides on the other side of life, the whole array of what she had learned from Dr. Bach that many thought to have been the early Christian church's gifts of the spirit.
She let her mind relax its hold on the things her eyes were seeing when they were open, then gradually all of the present, the past and all speculations about the future ended in silence. Nothing disturbed her peace of mind. She was there, but not there, either. She was no longer a creature of thought or vision or hearing, and she could not speculate upon her own existence.
Time passed. A bright light flashed at her eyes. They flew open; but she was not looking at the church. Her eyes were seeing another place-and yet something that had no place, only a light and a voice and there was the hint of an old man behind the voice and the light. The light became her main focus because it was unbelievably bright. The words that she "heard" or that impressed themselves, were: "You/We are a blessing to everyone and everyone is a blessing to you/us." The two slash-connected pronouns were actually some one pronoun that she knew immediately (without knowing its spelling) meant both herself and others at one and the same time.
That was all that occurred.
Yet that simple thing was as long as a lifetime and as far a journey as to the end of the universe.
Then it receded and finally was no longer visible, although the shine seemed to leave a bright place where it had been which was to the left and above her. It stayed sparkling there for a short while and she gazed at it in something like what the word "rapture" must mean. Her heart was full of some feeling she couldn't identify after that. She felt filled up as if either some new element had been put into her or some old element had been taken out of her, letting her true core expand. She felt part of everything and that everything had become one with her.
She opened her eyes and knew she was still in church and wondered if she had missed singing hymns or if anyone had spoken to her or noticed her strange behavior (if her behavior had, indeed, been strange) but everyone seemed preoccupied with looking over his hymnal or whispering to friends or family, or contemplating the inside of his eyelids.
She felt elation. She was stunned because she found the world all new. She now, as a result of that immeasurable length of time moments ago--seconds that seemed like forever--knew her neighbors were all her friends. She knew that the ones who had prickled her back were no longer strangers and strange, but that they were the friends she had longed for in her worst days of fear and loneliness and need for human warmth. She knew the world was now a part of her and she was a part of it and all the world was merged with her and she could not ever be a stranger again. She would always be with, not apart from, others. She had always been, of course, but had not known it until now.
When she left church that Sunday morning, she loved the world. For many months afterward, she continued to love any and all, humans and non-humans alike, that crossed her path--the trees that she passed by, the flowers she picked, all the sights and sounds of earth--and to be aware that personal safety had always been hers and would never leave her.
The major thrust of the effect began to fade gradually, but she had lost all her "apartness," all her paranoia, and was filled with bravery and her heart smiled, no matter what happened. Her heart exulted from that time on, even though it gradually became quiet exultation. She then truly knew that we all are the blessing to one another that the words of the vision had impressed on her. Now she not only knew the meaning of the words, she was the words.
She didn't tell anyone about her experience until years after it had happened. She wrote it up for a British research project in later years and sent it to the researcher. He was inviting people to send him their stories about experiencing cosmic consciousness, that phenomenon in which one suddenly knows oneself to be at one-totally at peace, totally at home, totally merged with all life and without fear-with the world. He wanted to try to analyze the mechanism, she supposed, behind feeling we're safe even though we have no boundaries.
She never saw those results in print but that didn't matter. She was transformed by her experience. She had needed that transformation to be healthy again and she had no need to convince anyone it was so because her inner transformation had given her a certainty of it.
The powerful impact of her experience faded with time. Thirty years later, its impact was only a faint memory. But she's still living and the fact of the change in her attitude toward the world and life continues to this instant. The experience had focused and put in the right perspective the material of her life as surely as if a giant microscope had enlarged it, brought it into clear focus, and then with a supra-physical camera, had imprinted the proper image on it forever...