There are many examples of sudden conversions to Christianity in spiritual writings. Those of Saint Paul and CS Lewis being well known ancient and modern examples respectively, but if you go into pretty much any Pentecostal or Charismatic church and ask around you will find people who will tell you similar stories. These stories are characterised by what seems to be a personal intervention, and are usually very powerful, producing sudden and irrevocable change. This is what the prophet John called baptism by the “spirit and fire,” in contrast with the usually more mundane and symbolic baptism by water ceremony which still forms a right of passage in most Christian churches. This is an account of how baptism by the spirit occurred for me.
It was August 2013. For a few years I had been developing a 21st century version of the perennial philosophy – the thesis that all spiritual paths are different routes up the same mountain. I had achieved some success with the idea, and the book I had written on it which was with the publisher at the time would be reviewed favourably in major journals by some of the world’s leading academics. I wrote out a basic version of part of the book and sent it to a couple of friends who I had been discussing spiritual issues with. The email was critical of Christianity.
One of the friends emailed back defending Christianity. They suggested I read an apologetics book. The book was large and popular. I won’t name it. I bought it and read it. I didn’t find it the least bit convincing. (I was eventually to discover there are good apologetics arguments that make a good case for the historical basis of the resurrection in Christianity etc – but this one just wasn’t one of them.) I emailed them back and told them so. In fact, I was very clear – there was no good reason I could see for anyone to be a Christian.
Then something odd happened. As soon as I sent the email I got the inexplicable feeling that I had done something that was wrong. It was a sense of unease, which grew as the day unfolded. I had never experienced a feeling quite like it. The feeling increased as time went on. I went to bed feeling terrible, and with the sensation that I was resisting something.
The feeling continued, intensified. I could not sleep. Intense restlessness. It went on and on. By now heart palpitations had begun. A long time passed. The feeling worsened: a crushing sensation, darkness, I could not move. I knew what I had to do. “OK, OK. I give in...” I finally let go and gave in, to whatever or whoever it was that was making themselves known – and by then I knew. “Lord I accept you. Lord come in…” As soon as I gave in, a tremendous current of peace flowed through me, as if every unconscious tension in my muscles completely unwound for the first time, and I instantly passed into sleep.
And then the next day I woke up, and literally saw the light. The room was shining with a strange and beautiful light. There was a timeless feeling. A feeling of Oneness. A feeling of eternity. And there with the light, as I rested with it, faded into it, grew a feeling of the intense bliss I had at times come close to cultivating through other spiritual practices, but this time much stronger, this time unbidden and without any effort, this time utterly pure and untainted without anything to dim it. It was a feeling of being complete, a feeling of coming home.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will be the light of life.”
At the centre of it all, there was also the unshakeable impression that something else was there in the room with me, someone else was there with me, another person, around me, alongside me, within me. Someone closer to me, as Eckhart put it 800 years ago, than I was to myself. In meeting with the risen Christ in this intensely personal manner, all the other (mainly Eastern) spiritual paths I had practiced, begun, and progressed with, appeared to instantly complete, as if I was given all of those insights for free. In having this encounter with the greatest spiritual power, all other insights inhered and were subsumed in this relationship. Yet there was no way that any of these other insights could add anything to the feeling of absolute peace that came from resting in Christ, which was there underlying it all.
The feeling grew over the next few days, coming in waves that stopped everything. Powerful infillings which gave way to gentle lulls, and everywhere this simple, clear, subtle radiance – something rather like light, which transfigured the world without really changing anything at all, pervading every ordinary and extraordinary moment, perforating all with a single eternal moment in which everything felt complete and all questions seemed to be answered.
“I am the light of the world,” the ancient scripture says, “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will be the light of life.” It was a line that had always fascinated me, and perhaps does everyone who reads it. I now knew that this line was not merely an image, but was something that can actually happen. The same light that was there in the beginning in Genesis, which entered the world in Nazareth 2000 years ago, and which will light the new earth which will shine forever in divine radiance without need or sun or moon as Revelations describes – this same light can make itself known to each one of us personally in the midst of ordinary life.
These experiences took weeks to eventually dim somewhat. In the end I drove to a local church, having not gone to a church voluntarily since school, and told them what happened. “Yes”, they said, “Its Him. Encounters like this happen all the time. You are one of us now.”
And so I have been ever since.