What follows is the second chapter, “Contemporary Christic Visions and Apparitions”, of Prof. Phillip Wiebe‘s book Visions of Jesus (1997).
The persons whose experiences form the central material in this study were found mostly through advertisements in newspapers and religious periodicals in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, and Australia. Some were also found through acquaintances who knew about my interest in studying the Christic visionary experience. The advertisement requested that those who had experienced what they took to be a “direct visual encounter with Jesus Christ” write me a letter indicating an interest to speak with me. Subsequent letters or telephone calls were usually sufficient for me to determine if the respondents had experienced the kind of vision I wished to study, although the reticence of percipients to speak about such experiences occasionally prevented me from knowing enough about them until I conducted face-to-face interviews. Several long and arduous trips resulted in accounts of a dream experience, some out-of-body experiences, and an encounter with what the percipient took to be God, not Jesus. I have not included these in my study.
The interviews were conducted between 1988 and 1993. The descriptions that follow are based on transcripts of the conversations I had with percipients. I do not know whether any of them would accept the designation “visionary,” for most were quite mystified about haying had such an experience, and none is in monastic life, although some are very active in their religious communities. None of them, moreover, seems to have deliberately induced the visionary experience(s), and most appear to think of themselves as quite ordinary. All of them were quite committed in their faith when I spoke to them, although a number indicated that this commitment had fluctuated in their lives, even after the visionary experience(s). Further demographic information about their education, ethnic heritage, religious background, and so on can be found in Appendix I. I recognize that the group of cases I have assembled is neither large nor randomly selected, and a study of this kind should be viewed as only exploratory. Quite a number of the percipients live in my home province of British Columbia, and the fact that I found as many as I did living near to me suggests that many more such experiences have never been documented.
I shall divide the experiences into five groups. These groupings are tentative, for the phenomenological variety (i.e., the variety in the content of the experiences, as experienced by the percipients) makes them difficult to categorize. The first group consists of experiences in which people appear to have fallen into trances, or where the experience began in what seemed to the percipient to be the “normal” world but did not continue there, or where the experience had a dreamlike character. I shall refer to these as “Trance and Dreamlike Experiences.” I am not using “trance” in a technical sense, complete with physiological criteria, but only in its ordinary sense, in order to identify experiences that hardly seem to occur in a person’s normal waking consciousness.
The second group of experiences consists of those in which percipients were aware of a significant change in the physical environment they knew themselves to be in. Jim Link’s first apparition experience, for instance, described in the Introduction, involved a phenomenological change in his physical environment, inasmuch as his surroundings did not appear to be his own living room, where he knew himself to be. I shall identify the broad group of cases to which Jim’s belongs as “Experiences in an Altered Environment.”
The third group of experiences consists of those in which the physical environment appeared to percipients as they knew it to be, apart from the visionary figure that appeared in it. I shall refer to them as “Private Experiences,” because although they may have occurred in public, only a selected percipient experienced the apparition.
The fourth group of experiences applies to those in which several percipients were simultaneously affected, including cases in which two or more percipients apparently saw the same thing, as well as one unusual case in which one percipient only saw that which another person only felt as a tactile sensation. This group will also include cases in which other intersubjectively observable effects or causal concomitants were alleged, for example, a case in which the Christic apparition was allegedly filmed. I add the qualifier “causal concomitant” because it is difficult to differentiate causal effects from concomitants in isolated cases. I shall collect this fourth group under the heading “Experiences with Observable Effects.”
A fifth kind of Christic vision was not presented in detail by the percipients, but is well known from the literature surveyed in Chapter 1. I am referring to visions in which some event in the life of Jesus is apparently reenacted, for example, an event of his childhood or his crucifixion. Perhaps this kind of experience could be classified with trance and dreamlike experiences, but I have chosen to classify them separately.
The descriptions that follow do not generally include precise information on where these experiences took place, for that did not appear to be significant to percipients, and in some cases percipients were unsure about the precise locale. Many of these percipients have moved far from the places where their experiences took place, and show no evidence of attaching significance to the physical locations where the apparitions occurred, by, say, erecting statues or shrines. The accounts often make use of descriptive phrases deriving from religious traditions within Christianity that have influenced percipients, as well as some quite explicitly biblical phraseology. I occasionally had difficulty understanding what percipients were talking about, but had the advantage of being able to ask for explanations. Further details of the phenomenological characteristics of the experiences described here can be found in Appendix II.
Group I: Trance and Dreamlike Experiences
Case 1: Joy Kinsey
Joy Kinsey was born in Oakland, California, and has lived in the vicinity of Oakland much of her life. One of her earliest memories is kneeling with her sister at her father’s knee, saying prayers just before bed. Joy and her sister went to the Presbyterian church near their home in San Leondro as children, but in 1947, at fourteen Joy began to attend a Pentecostal Holiness church in Oakland, which is where her experience took place some ten years later. Prayer was a central feature in the life of her new church, and people would pray together for hours on end, sometimes all night long. The informal nature of the services allowed people to come to the altar for prayer during the service, and this is what Joy did one evening, along with others, as the service was in progress. Her intention was “just to kneel and pray and just really totally surrender my will to God for whatever purpose.” A minister came over to pray with her, and when he touched the back of her head in a gesture of blessing, she fell backward and lost consciousness.
For three hours Joy was unaware of anyone or anything around her. She had the sense of being in a place where a temple was surrounded by a courtyard. The temple had three domed parts to it, attached together so that they formed one continuous building. She began to walk through it, each part beautiful beyond description, but when she came to the threshold of the third part she stopped, for she felt unworthy to enter. As she looked in she saw Jesus sitting on a throne about fifteen feet away, but sitting sideways in relation to her and partially obscured by a lattice. He looked pleased at her having come so far, such as a parent might look upon seeing his or her child take its first steps. He appeared average in size, solid in appearance, much as she had pictured him.
Joy attempted to enter the third part of the temple, but he put out his hand in a gesture that indicated that she could not. He told her from behind the lattice that she was not allowed to approach him. At hearing this she fell to her knees and prostrated herself on the floor, which seemed to be made of marble or alabaster. It was so immaculate that she felt dirty and unworthy. She begged permission to approach him closer, but he would not allow it, and instead instructed her to get up and go to a nearby window. She looked out of the window onto a landscape of fields and trees bent by the wind. He drew her attention in the ensuing conversation to a kite, which was barely flying because its tail was too long. He told her that her life was like the kite, burdened down by sins and encumbrances that impeded its flight. As she looked at the kite again its tail became caught in a tree, whereupon the one flying it yanked on the string and freed it to soar away, leaving half the tail in the tree. Jesus told her that her life could be like that kite. She left the window and fell on her knees again. As she looked in front of her she saw a goblet filled with wine. Jesus then said to her, “I will give you a new anointing.1 Drink the wine.” As she obeyed she could see him smiling at her. He was still seated, but now his hand was on the lattice in a parting gesture of blessing.
Joy regained consciousness and discovered that approximately three hours had elapsed since the vision began. She found that the people around her were distressed because they smelled a strong aroma of sweet wine coming from her mouth. The smell filled the church, and she felt drunk. She was so wobbly that she could not stand on her own but needed two people to hold her up, and when she tried to speak she could not speak English but could speak only a language that she had not learned.2 Joy had never had an alcoholic drink in her life; moreover, the church of which she was a part practiced total abstinence, even refraining from the use of wine during eucharistic or communion services. Joy says that the experience made her feel greatly loved by Jesus. Her life has been difficult at times, particularly because of the care that her husband, who has Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, has required. But she has also sensed the sustaining presence of God. She has two children, and still lives in the Oakland area.
COMMENT: This experience would not have qualified for inclusion in my study, since Joy had her eyes closed, but for the provocative, intersubjectively observable effects that she reported. I haven’t verified them however. I place her account first because it is the most dreamlike of the experiences described to me. Readers familiar with the NT will hardly fail to notice the striking similarity between this experience and the one briefly described by Luke in Acts 2 when glossolalia was first experienced in Christian circles, and bystanders thought those speaking were drunk.
Case 2: Robin Wheeler
Robin had very little contact with the church or with Christians for the first thirty-eight years of his life. He occasionally went to a Catholic or an Anglican church when he was young, but he had no interest in religion until neighbors moved in who were quite religious. His wife became a Christian as a result of their influence. This annoyed him greatly, especially when she prayed openly for him. One Saturday night several weeks after her conversion he had what he described as a battle with an evil creature as he was trying to sleep. Its face resembled a human face without skin, and it frightened him. He tried to fight off this creature, but he was not successful. Just off to his right stood a man wearing a brown sackcloth robe with a sash around his waist. Robin never did see above the shoulders of this second figure, but he considers it to have been Jesus. Robin tried to tie up the creature with the sash from Jesus, and as he did so Jesus disappeared. Again and again he would struggle with the monster, and each time Jesus would appear long enough for Robin to grab the sash, and then would disappear.
Robin’s wife was with him while this struggle was taking place. She told me that he levitated for long periods of time that coincided with the struggles, and seemed to go in and out of consciousness. She says that Robin floated in midair in a horizontal position about a foot above the bed. His body was in a perfectly rigid position, and all the veins in his body were bulging. His head was bent so far back, she says, that she thought it would break. Although she did not see the figures that appeared to him, she could ask him what was happening, and he would describe the events taking place. She estimates that the various struggles occurred over a six-hour period, but he had no sense of the passing of time. When a fight sequence came to an end, his body would drop back onto the bed, and he would relax until a new struggle began. But Robin was not aware of his levitation. During the fights he could see his wife as well as these two other beings, and they seemed as real as ordinary persons. The place he seemed to be in did not fit with the physical description of the bedroom, however. Jesus would appear with Roman sandals, and he entered the scene with his feet first, as though he descended from above. The struggles finally ended when Robin found that his efforts to tie up the monster did not succeed, and he requested help from Jesus who bound the monster for him. Robin considers this to be symbolic of his own inability to restrain the powers of evil that tried to envelop him. The next day Robin decided to become a Christian. This event took place in Abbotsford, British Columbia, in 1984.
COMMENT: This is one of the few experiences involving a struggle with forces considered to be diabolical. Robin’s wife clearly understood the levitation she witnessed to be an intersubjectively observable concomitant, but no one else was there to see it. Their children and pets were elsewhere in the house, and slept through the bizarre events, even though Robin shouted all night long. Robin and his wife said that they interpreted this deep sleep as indicative of unseen forces that were controlling the events of that night. Robin’s wife evinced no surprise at the fact that he had levitated, for she said she had witnessed levitation of other people on several occasions. Both said they had been involved in “occult” practices earlier in their lives.
Case 3: Marian Hathaway
Marian was brought up in Swansea, Wales, as an atheist, by parents who were atheists. She said she was really a third-generation atheist, for her paternal grandfather had also been one. She wanted to believe in God when she was young, but could not find any reason to do so. When she was seventeen she had a dream in which a man with dark bushy hair came toward her with his arms open, asking her to love him. She said she knew it was Jesus, even though she did not know much about him. She had heard a story about Jesus born in a manger, who grew up to be a good man, but that was the extent of her knowledge. Her education in a state school included prayers and religious instruction, but these meant nothing to her.
Marian married soon after secondary school and had children, but she was not happy. She gradually became so depressed that it interfered with her ability to work, and she began to contemplate suicide. In her desperation she prayed to God for help. She soon began to sleep better, which she attributed to her prayer. She then went to hospital for a short stint in order to rid her body of toxins that had accumulated from the medications she had been taking. She began to feel better, and she wondered if her prayer for help had worked.
Several days after returning home Marian received a visit from a young couple who belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Marian was very receptive to the things they said, and soon they visited her four times a week to instruct her. But the position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on blood transfusions-that they violate scripture-was a point of contention with her mother, who encouraged an old family friend from a different religious persuasion to visit Marian. Marian now heard a different point of view on a variety of subjects. For the next seven months she studied both points of view. She asked God to show her the truth, particularly about the divinity of Jesus but felt desperate about ever finding it because of her own sense of unworthiness. In Easter week of 1969, as she was riding the bus home from one of these instructional meetings, she heard the words inside her, “I died for you, and I love you just the way you are, with all your sin.” Then she heard the words, “I am God.” At this she burst into tears of joy. The bus driver asked her if she was all right as she left the bus, and she assured him she was. The question that remained, as a result of this experience, was whether she should attend any conventional Christian churches, since she wondered if God was present in any denominations besides the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She decided to attend the Baptist church with the old family friend. She worried greatly about being at the service, however, wondering if it was the right thing to do. She was seated in the balcony of the church, and as she looked toward the large pipe organ she saw shimmering blue and gold colors in front of it. The images reminded her of the jumpy pictures of the earliest silent movies. They gradually became clearer until she found herself looking at a big face with beautiful golden hair and a golden beard. The face was so large it filled the front of the church-some twenty feet high. She thought it must be Jesus, but she was puzzled by the fact that he neither looked Jewish nor resembled the image of the person that appeared in her dream when she was seventeen. She saw him looking at the congregation, with a smile and an expression of love for the people. Then she saw his arms, draped in white, move in an embrace of everyone present at the service. They were large enough to take in several rows at once. To describe his action Marian used a Welsh word meaning to cuddle, to comfort, or to love by touching someone. He loved everyone there, including her. She kissed his cheek in response, and felt his warmth, although not the feel of his skin. Because Marian did not know if this experience was real or imaginary, she closed her eyes, but she could still see him with her eyes closed. When she opened them a moment later he was still there. This went on for some time, and Marian felt assured that she had come to the right place. When she went home that day she prayed, asking God whether it was really Jesus that had appeared to her, and if it was, why he appeared with only his face and arms. She reached for her Bible, which was still quite new to her, and opened it at random. The first thing she saw was the passage in Ephesians 1 that speaks of Jesus being the head of the church, and the church being his body. Everything fell into place for her at that moment, and Christian beliefs about him and his death became clear.
This experience took place in Swansea in 1969, when Marian was thirty years of age. She worked as a library assistant when I interviewed her in 1993.
COMMENT: This was one of the few experiences in which a percipient described the Christic figure that appeared as much larger than life-size. It was also the only case in which having one’s eyes open or closed made no difference. I surmise that this would warrant its being classified as imaginative, rather than corporeal, according to Augustine’s traditional classification. The two experiences previously described are clearly trance-like in character, whereas this one is less so, since Marian was awake.Yet it shares a dreamlike quality with them, for it made no difference if her eyes were open or shut. Her experience is illustrative of the difficulty in classifying visions in precise categories.
Case 4: John Vasse
John Vasse was brought up in a devout Catholic home in Fairfield, Connecticut, attended church regularly as a child, and was educated at a Jesuit high school. But something happened halfway through high school-something he did not divulge-that made him turn his back on God and the church. For the next twenty-six years or so he was filled with loathing and contempt for God. He would go into churches to scream at and curse the figure on the crucifix, daring Jesus to come off the cross so he could physically abuse him. Meanwhile, he attended college, graduated with a degree in engineering, married, and entered the U.S. Air Force. Although he held down a number of good engineering jobs, he lived a life that revolved around going to bars and consuming alcohol. He drank so much that by the time he was forty he had damaged his liver and suffered an apparent heart attack. His drinking also affected his marriage, and when he got word of a transfer to St. Louis, where his wife was unwilling to move, he felt as though his life had reached bottom. At this point a friend who had recently become a Christian suggested to John that he should follow his example. John decided that there was nothing to lose by praying, and so he prayed, apologizing to God for the way he had behaved for most of his life. He took the transfer to St. Louis, and after about six months his wife decided to join him there. On Christmas Day that year, 1984, the experience that changed his life occurred.
John and his wife tried to go to church on Christmas Eve, but ice had made the highways treacherous. The roads had not improved much by morning, so they stayed in their apartment and ate a late breakfast. As John sat at the table after breakfast, reading the editorial pages of the local paper, he had the uncomfortable and peculiar feeling that someone was standing behind him. He knew that no one was there, but nevertheless felt a “presence” who wanted “entry.” John felt he had the choice of excluding this unidentified presence or inviting it in, and made a split-second decision: “OK, sure, come on in.” He was immediately flooded with a weight of despondency or heaviness. But it did not seem to be his own despondency that he was feeling, but that of the presence he had invited in. John began to weep uncontrollably because of it, and not wanting to be seen crying, went to the bathroom to be alone. He locked the door and stood before the mirror as this weight became heavier and heavier. As he stood there he realized that the presence that he was feeling was Jesus. As he reflected on his contemptuous attitude in the past, John was filled with enormous guilt and shame. He fell to his knees and began to weep uncontrollably again, wetting his clothes, his shoes, and the bathroom floor with his tears. He sobbed, “Please forgive me, please forgive me.” He wanted to crawl into the tub, pull the shade around himself and hide from this presence, but he was unable to move. As he continued to beg forgiveness he felt as though two plugs at the bottom of his feet popped out, and all the shame and guilt in him drained away as water would drain out of a bathtub. He was still immobilized, but the feelings of guilt and shame disappeared. The presence gradually faded. He returned to the kitchen table but could not talk to his wife about the events that had just happened. He anticipated that something else was going to happen, and in less than a minute the presence he had felt before was back. He did not want to fall onto the floor of the kitchen, so he walked toward the couch in the living room. Halfway there, he collapsed. Again the weight crushed him, but this time it did not last. It lifted, and the whole room was flooded with light, but not from any apparent natural source. He says that the wall of the living room in front of him was lit up as bright as the sun, but he could look into it without hurting his eyes. In the center was an area not illuminated quite as intensely as the rest, and here he could see the outline of a head, neck, and shoulders (a cameo). He was instinctively certain that this was Jesus, from whom came an overpowering sense of love and compassion that extended to John and then returned back as though in circular motion. The intensity of the light surrounding the figure obliterated facial features and other details. Ecstatic joy replaced John’s earlier sense of anguish and despondency. As the experience came to an end, Jesus raised his hands in an inviting gesture. The whole experience lasted about thirty minutes—John happened to look at his watch before and after—and he had no control from the moment he made the decision to let the presence in. John was not sure if his eyes were open during the visual part of the experience, and he is uncertain about whether the figure appeared on the wall in front of him or was present only in his own visual space. His wife was in the apartment at the time but saw nothing.
John still lives in St. Louis. When I interviewed him he was working as a computer systems analyst with the U.S. Army. He has since taken early retirement, and works with an organization in St. Louis that seeks to develop lay leadership in the church.
COMMENT: The visual elements of this experience were clearly secondary to the emotional effects of it, and the difficulty that John had in determining whether the figure that appeared was present only in his visual space or might have been visibly present, as this is conventionally understood, induces me to classify it with the trance cases. Though this was not the only experience in which a presence was strongly felt, it is a striking example. Andrew Mackenzie contends that presences should be included as apparitions, “although the experience is not externalized.”3 He remarks that figures can sometimes be described in detail even though they are not seen, and he rejects the common view that things that are only “felt” and not seen are experientially inferior.4 John’s experience seems to have hovered between an altered state of consciousness and ordinary perception.
Group II: Altered Environment Cases
Case 5: Marian Gallite
Marian was devastated by the death of her son, Joe. A week after his funeral she began to lock herself in his room for long periods of time, just to lie on his bed and be alone with his childhood toys and other mementos of him. Joe, 18, was killed in a traffic accident, the only fatality in a car with four other teenagers. He had been an extraordinarily caring child, and so his death left a great void in the lives of Marian and her husband. One afternoon as she lay on his bed she began to express her anger toward God, demanding an answer to the question how he could have caused or allowed Joe to die. She felt betrayed by God, for she had been devoted to God and had tried to obey him. She fell asleep after this outburst and awakened around nine o’clock that evening. She felt as though someone had awakened her, but no one else was around. As Marian sat up she felt as though she was commanded to go downstairs and gather her family for prayer and a reading from the Bible. She came downstairs to join her family in the living room, but didn’t quite know how to convey the command, thinking that her family would think her mad if she spoke about it. She finally told her husband that she wanted to read the Bible and pray, and he consented. As she opened the Bible to a passage in the gospel of John, she sensed a command to stand up. They all stood up as she read, and then joined hands to pray. At that moment the back door flew open from what seemed to be a gust of wind, and a breeze moved through the room. The atmosphere of the room suddenly changed. A painful sensation creased Marian’s chest, and she wondered aloud how much more pain she would have to bear. Then a light brighter than anything she had ever seen exploded upon her and filled the room.
The light gradually faded, and a man dressed in white came into view. It was Jesus. He appeared to be transparent rather than solid, and his long hair caught her attention. She first saw his profile, and then he turned to her, stretched out his hand, and commanded her (so it seemed) to look down the length of his arm. As she did so, his body disappeared from view until she could see only his hand. From the end of his hand a hill covered with green grass began to form. As her attention was directed toward the hill she saw Joe running toward her with three other children. Joe was wearing his favorite checkered shirt, blue jeans and jacket, and the belt with the big brass Harley Davidson buckle. She kept saying, “Look at our Joe. Our Joe’s coming.” But the command came to her, “Look past Joe. Haven’t you forgotten them? They are with me.” Then she realized who the smaller children were. One was her child from a pregnancy that had been terminated because of fibroids in her womb, and the two other children were twins that she later lost because of the effect of the terminated pregnancy. The twins would have been fourteen if they had lived, and the other child sixteen, and the three children who appeared with Joe seemed to be of these ages. Marian’s sorrow turned to joy at the realization of who the children were. In response to encouragement from Joe, she began to sing in praise to God. Marian’s husband did not see any of the things that she reported, but he observed that she was in an extraordinary ecstasy as these events unfolded. Her attitude toward the death of her son changed after that, and she now felt like saying to everyone she knew, “Joe is alive, do you realize? I know now that we’re all going to meet him.” When they went through Joe’s room sometime later, she found the clothes she had seen him wear in the vision. Marian lived in London, England, when I interviewed her in 1993, working as a homemaker and dressmaker. The experience had taken place two years earlier.
Case 6: Eve Zelle
Eve was brought up in the eastern United States with a variety of Christian influences. She was born into a Greek Orthodox family and raised in that church, but sometime in her youth her family adopted the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. By fourteen she had abandoned most of her religious beliefs, apart from the belief that God exists. She occasionally went to a Catholic church with some of her friends, and attended a Catholic college because it was near her home. She took a major in mathematics and a minor in Catholic philosophy, and became a teacher. After she married and had children, she took them to church, and sometime in her thirties she finally felt comfortable calling herself a Christian. She began to go to various churches, both Protestant and Catholic, as well as to Bible studies, in order to learn whatever she could about being a Christian. Eve’s first experience took place in 1987 or 1988, when she was about forty-six. By this time she was single, responsible for two teenage daughters, and unemployed.
Eve was desperate about her situation. Not only had she been without work for a long period of time, but her oldest daughter was giving her a hard time. Eve began to feel that God was not aware of her need, and she wondered if he was real, or if she was only fooling herself about his existence. She remembers extending her hand in a moment of desperate prayer and saying to God, “If I could only touch you, if I could only touch your hand.” She opened her eyes, and was startled to see Jesus in front of her. Her words were: “He was on his knees holding both my hands with the most compassionate, warm eyes that I had ever seen, with strength behind them.” The look on his face extended warmth and compassion toward her and let her know that he understood her desperation. He had large brown eyes and looked Jewish to her. She cannot recall anything else about his appearance, although she thinks he had a short beard. He appeared to be normal in size, although an assessment of this was difficult because he was kneeling. Her impression was that he was wearing white clothing, but she could not say whether it was the kind of robe traditionally associated with him. Though the experience was comforting and reassuring, it also scared her, and she ran from the room. The one odd feature of the experience was that she was kneeling at her bed, facing her bed, when it took place. Eve’s words were: “He was where the bed would have been, and there was nothing else.” She is at a loss to explain how the perceptual sense of the bed could disappear and how she could see Jesus in its place, for her eyes were open.
Eve had a second experience some two years later, again in response to prayer. Eve describes herself as very pro-life, and she was devastated to learn that a close friend had chosen to have an abortion. She walked “screaming angry” into her bedroom to pray about this, but before her knees hit the floor she saw Jesus standing and holding a baby. He held it in such a way that the baby seemed part of him. She could see the head of a child, but the rest of the child blended in with him. She got the sense that he had received the aborted child, and that he was not bringing condemnation on its mother. He gave the sense of taking care of his own children. Jesus appeared to be about six feet tall, and stood some eight feet away, clothed in robes that Eve described as priestly in color, perhaps blue trimmed with gold. Although Eve was in her bedroom when this took place, all she could see was Jesus. It seemed as though all the normal furniture in the room had disappeared, much as in the first experience in which her bed disappeared. Both of the experiences gave her a sense that God is deeply concerned about her life.
COMMENT: These experiences are remarkable because, like some dreams, they exhibit spatio-temporal discontinuities. It goes without saying that different objects do not occupy the same space at the same time in ordinary experience, but some visions evidently violate this principle.
Case 7: Ernie Hollands
Ernie was born in 1930 in the slums of Halifax, Nova Scotia, to what would now be called a dysfunctional family. Alcoholism, as well as physical and emotional abuse, characterize memories of his earliest years, and he has no memory of having been loved or embraced. His “private education” began at eight when his mother took him shopping and taught him how to steal. By the time he was ten he was quite expert at it. Ernie was caught and sent to reform school. The challenge of escape was appealing, and thus began a cycle of crime, arrest, detention, and escape. Numerous Canadian and American prisons were “home” for Ernie during the next twenty-five years or so. The events that changed his life took place when he was incarcerated at Millhaven Penitentiary in Bath, Ontario.
During his prison term in Millhaven, Ernie developed a successful business selling hand-tied fishing flies. One of his business contacts, Grant Bailey from Pembroke, Ontario, urged Ernie to read the Bible and become a Christian. Ernie’s initial response was contempt, but the warmth of friendship extended to him by Grant made him reconsider, and so Ernie began to read and reread the Bible. On March 12, 1975, at two o’clock in the morning Ernie awoke with the sense that he should confess his sins to God. He wept as he knelt down by his bed to pray, and felt that his past had been forgiven. When he stood up, his vision, as he calls it, began. He turned to look at the door of his cell, for no particular reason, but what he saw was no longer his cell but the room of a house with a door on the right side of it, positioned where the cell door was located. This door opened up, and Jesus walked through it toward Ernie, stood in front of him, touched him on his left shoulder (which he felt) and said three things. He first said, “I’m so glad you didn’t kill that police officer,” and then he smiled. Ernie understands this to be a reference to the crime he had committed before being sent to Millhaven. In the course of a robbery of a supermarket in Hollywood, California, he had struggled with a policeman for control of a stolen gun, and in the tussle he accidentally shot the policeman in the leg. Ernie then gave himself up, hoping that the policeman would perhaps shoot him and put him out of misery. Instead, he found himself incarcerated in Los Angeles until he was released to the Canadian authorities for crimes committed in Canada. Then Jesus said, “Your slate is now wiped clean,” and here he moved his hands in a way that suggested that something was being erased. The third thing Jesus said was, “Now you can start all over again,” making a semicircular motion with his arms, to suggest that Ernie was being sent into a whole new life. Then Jesus disappeared.
He appeared to Ernie much as he is traditionally portrayed, wearing white, and of medium height. Ernie was not able to be more precise about any other physical details, however. Ernie describes the three statements made to him as sounding as though they came from inside himself, and he was not aware of the movement of the lips of Jesus as these things were uttered. He describes the voice as though it was thunder coming from inside of himself. Ernie’s story was reported by the Ottawa press, and has become widely known through his own telling of it in person and through a book.5 In 1983 he opened Hebron Farm near London, Ontario, as a Christian home for ex-offenders, dedicated to helping them obtain employment and readjust to society.
Case 8: Jim Link
See the Introduction for the description of two experiences.
[From the “Introduction”:]
Jim Link was watching a movie on television one evening in his home in Newmarket, Ontario, when the screen suddenly became invisible. The first thought that occurred to him, which he knew to be absurd, was that maybe he had watched so much television that he had become blind! He next realized that he was unable to hear the television set, and he thought, “Have I been watching so much TV that it is affecting my vision and my hearing?” He stood up to look out of the window next to him just to make sure his eyesight was still intact, but he couldn’t see the walls. It seemed as though he was enclosed in a curtain, but he couldn’t really see a curtain. A human figure then came into view at the end of the room, starting with an outline that became clearer and clearer, until he could see someone wearing long robes and sandals. He wondered, “What’s going on here? Who is this? What is this?” The figure turned to face Jim, extended an arm, and beckoned him three times to come to him. Jim immediately thought to himself, “That is Jesus!” and the lines came to him from the New Testament, “Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He thought to himself, “It’s real, then, it’s real. I have to ask for forgiveness and repent and receive him.” At that instant everything in the room returned to normal, and he decided to become a Christian.
The figure that Jim saw was of average height, and seemed to be situated about fifteen to eighteen feet away. The robe that the figure wore was a dark blue or a purplish blue, Jim was not sure. What impressed Jim most was the royalty of the appearance and the way the figure welcomed him. The figure wore a hood that prevented its face from being seen, so Jim could not report anything about facial features. Jim had been wondering about the meaning of life, what his purpose in life was, and whether he was just on earth to work and maintain a home and watch television! He had been attending church with his wife, just to please her, but having this experience, at twenty-seven years of age, changed his outlook on life.
Jim had another experience in 1977, some fifteen years later, one evening after a Bible study in the home of his brother-in-law. He was sitting at the kitchen table, just having had coffee and something to eat. He discovered that as he tried to get up he was unable to move. He turned to tell his brother-in-law sitting several feet away about this sudden inability to move, but he could not see him. All he could see was the face of one he took to be Jesus “from sort of three-quarters of the way down his forehead to just below his chin, just as clear as you’re sitting there right now.” The radiant or glowing figure seen as Jesus had a beard and brown shoulder-length hair, and looked like the popular images of Jesus in pictures. Just to convince himself that he was seeing something genuine, Jim looked away and then looked back again to see if the figure still was there, and he was able to do this several times. Jim was the only one in the room who could see him, however. As he got up a few minutes later to go home, he was flattened by a force that pinned him to the floor. For about three hours he was interrogated by this being about what he valued most-his job, his family, his wife, his possessions, and so on. The others in the group watched in awe but said nothing. They heard Jim’s responses, but not the questions that were put to him. His brother-in-law wanted to come over to him to pray with him, Jim reported, but could not do so—it was as if an invisible line had been drawn across the floor that he could not cross. Jim describes the second experience as having confirmed his decision earlier in life to be a Christian. Jim does some oil painting as a hobby, and in the front entrance of his home hangs a painting of a biblical scene in which he tried to capture the likeness as he had seen it.1
1. When I interviewed Jim in 1988 he worked in Toronto as a supply manager for an electrical company, and also did some lay preaching. Since that time he has gone into pastoral work.
Case 9: Kris Nelson
Kris’s experience took place in the context of a long, drawn-out illness. She went into the hospital to have a hysterectomy, thinking she would recuperate in six weeks or so, but the operation was followed by complications, including internal bleeding, thrombosis, and blood infections. Two more operations were required before her health improved, and she found herself incapacitated for six months rather than six weeks. Just before her last operation the doctor came to her home to assess her condition. When she heard that another operation would be required, she was devastated, for she knew that her husband and her children needed her at home. As she lay in bed feeling very sad, a sense of peace unexpectedly came over her. She glanced over to the corner of the room, for no apparent reason, and saw the face of Jesus. She describes his face as having been the mirror image of how she had felt. The hurt and sadness were on his face, and tears streamed down his face, as though he was identifying with her sadness. When Kris saw him she felt that all would be well in just a little while.
Kris saw only his face, which appeared about eight to ten feet away and looked very lifelike in the well-lighted room. She described his appearance as quite ordinary, and not quite like any portrayals that she had seen. His hair was fairly long and brown, and Kris was not sure whether he had a beard. It was his eyes that caught her attention, however, for they seemed to show that he knew her heart and was sympathetic. Some radiance shone around his head, but not so much as to obscure the image itself. Kris does not know how she made the identification of the person as Jesus, but did not hesitate in doing so. The only medication she was on at the time was an antibiotic.
Kris is a secretary as well as a homemaker, and has lived in Melbourne, Australia, all her life. Her experience took place in June 1992, and I interviewed her the following year.
COMMENT: This experience is peculiar because it involved the visual perception of only a face. It is not really like the trance experiences described earlier, nor the cases to follow in which the physical environment changed, nor those in which the whole figure was superimposed upon the normal environment.
Group III: Private Experiences
Case 10: Ethel Chilvers
Ethel Chilvers had a visionary experience in her small apartment in Toronto when she was ninety-one years of age. She was in the kitchen washing dishes, and when she looked up in the direction of the table some six to eight feet away, she saw the figure of Jesus in profile above the table. He was not walking or moving, but seemed to be in midstride facing the direction of the city center. She said he appeared much as he does in children’s picture books, with brown shoulder-length hair, beard, white skin, and of average size. He wore a cape or cloak similar to that which she had seen worn by a man from Afghanistan who lived in her apartment block. Jesus did not move at all, and his appearance was like that of a statue, but a living statue and solid. As Ethel said: “It was just as though a man stood there. It could have been you.” He did not appear happy or pleased, but looked to her as though he wanted to “execute judgment on somebody somewhere or do something. I felt like he was capable of destroying the whole world. I had the sense that he had that much power, that he could stop it [the world] if he wanted to, but he was restrained from doing it.” He somehow communicated all this without saying a word. She later reflected on the sense of power that he seemed to her to have, and felt that what was restraining him was his love for humanity.
Ethel had immigrated to Canada from England with her parents when she was six years old. She trained as a nurse in Port Simpson Hospital and Vancouver General Hospital during 1918-1921, and practiced nursing for about sixty years. She was brought up in the Methodist Church and has attended a variety of churches during her lifetime. I spoke to her when she was ninety-three years of age, and although her health was beginning to fail, she was lively in conversation and continued to read and keep up correspondence with friends.
COMMENT: Most of the experiences reported to me have had great personal significance for the percipients, and were often related to some difficult or tragic feature of their lives. This one was different, inasmuch as it did not carry any significant personal message for Ethel. The experience did make her regret not having pursued more conscientiously certain plans she had when she was much younger to work as a missionary nurse in China, but the experience was not interpreted by her in a distinctly personal way. The fact that the figure showed no movement at all and was seen only in profile made this experience unusual.
Case 11: Deby Stamm-Loya
Deby Stamm-Loya, now living in Southern California, moved home just before Christmas 1972 to live with her parents in Tucson, Arizona, after her marriage failed. She watched a movie one evening with her parents that awakened a desire to know God better. She went to her bed and began to think about life, and about the desire that the movie had evoked. She lay on her back for some time with her eyes dosed, thinking about these things, and when she opened them some minutes later a man she instantly identified as Jesus stood at the end of her bed some five or six feet away. His arms were stretched out as though he was reaching for her. He stood there for a moment, appearing much as he does in traditional portrayals of him, and in a manner similar to that in which any normal person would appear, and then he began to change. A radiance enveloped him in a pure white light that gradually increased in intensity. As this radiance intensified, it extended farther and farther beyond him, so that it finally consisted of a pure white light nearest to him and various shades of yellow, orange, and amber beyond the whiteness. As this transformation took place, Deby became conscious of being drawn into the immense universe of which he seemed a part, and had the sense of being in a place far removed from her parents’ home. Then she lost natural consciousness and became aware only of his voice and the things he said to her. In reflecting back on the experience, Deby says that the things that he said had the greatest significance for her. He told her that he had everything in the universe under control, including her life, and that he had many things to teach her. He said that he loved her, and that she should keep her attention fixed on him. How long this experience lasted she does not know, for when she regained natural consciousness she was lying in her bed, and it was morning. She firmly believes that she had not fallen asleep at the time the vision (her term) began, because she does not fall asleep lying on her back. Moreover, the bedroom door was open to the adjacent room where her parents were sitting, and she saw the figure standing at the end of her bed against the background of that room.
Deby had had a difficult childhood and adolescence. Her father had abused her mentally and physically. He was an atheist, her mother a Mormon of sorts, but the dominating influence in their home was anger and depression. By the time she was thirteen she was a thief and a compulsive runaway; by fifteen she was the leader of a girl’s gang in Albuquerque. She experimented extensively with drugs, mostly LSD, but eventually tired of drag experiences. One day she decided to do something different, so she went downtown to the public library, stole one of the books on religion, and took it home to read. This book aroused an interest in the Bible, so she acquired one and began to read it several hours each day. One day she became aware of a living presence that seemed to emanate from its pages, and although she neither saw nor heard anything unusual, she surrendered to that presence. This presence felt as though someone she had known long ago had returned. That is how she describes becoming a Christian.
Deby describes her drug experiences as having magnified or distorted her physical perceptions. If she looked at flowers, they would appear to bloom much more than they normally did; if she watched television, the set would appear to melt. The nature of her drug experiences was such that images in her visual field were always of things she knew to be there, never of nonexistent things. She also experienced flashbacks because of the large amount of LSD she had taken, but these experiences filled her with dread, and gave her the sensation of being paralysed from the neck down. She says that the difference between these experiences and the visionary one was like night and day. Deby was not able to describe the figure in her vision in detail, although she says he seemed average in height, and appeared alive and solid. It was not so much his appearance that impressed her, but rather the way he spoke to her and what he said. She was convinced that it was Jesus in part because his appearance conformed to traditional images of him, but also because of the transformation that took place before her eyes. She was not aware of any other person in recent times having had a visionary experience. It confirmed her Christian faith, and prepared her for the death of her parents soon afterward and the challenges of raising a child as a single parent. Deby had completed a first degree in theology when I spoke to her, and was on her way to completing a doctorate in ministry. She has founded a Christian organization that works with prison inmates.
COMMENT: This experience was interesting for several reasons. First, it combined an experience that apparently involved ordinary perception with one that sounds like an OBE. A person skeptical of visionary experiences might think that the experience was really a dream, particularly in view of its having occurred at night while lying in bed, and also because Deby did lose consciousness. But Deby is adamant about having been awake when the vision began. The second interesting feature is the change in appearance of the figure in Deby’s visual field. I questioned her closely on this matter, and she insisted that the experience definitely did not begin with the radiance that later enveloped the figure. It is also interesting that this transformation contributed to the identification that Deby made. The third element that is of interest is the unique position she was in to compare her drug and flashback experiences with the vision. It is natural to expect that the vision might have been similar to a drug or flashback experience, and perhaps there are cases in which such a favorable comparison might be made, but Deby was quite insistent about the sharp contrast, both phenomenologically and emotionally, between the visionary experience and the others. Though some might think that having taken drugs earlier in life disqualifies percipients from advancing their visionary experiences with authority, it might be noted that only a person who has experienced both can credibly compare their phenomenological character.
Case 12: Maria Elena Martinez
When Maria was young she lived with her mother on weekends, and with her paternal grandparents during the week. Her family was Roman Catholic, and she attended a Catholic school. Maria’s experience occurred as she was walking down the street with her mother. They were waiting to cross a busy intersection when she noticed a tree nearby. It had two trunks, either because two trees had grown together or because the main trunk had divided. As she focused her attention on the tree, she saw that a man was framed by the two trunks. He stood about seven feet away, life-size and semitransparent, for she could see the traffic through him. Maria does not believe she would have been able to touch him if she had stood near enough. His robe was white, and a red cape rested on his shoulders. His complexion was fair, and he had a beard. He looked at her with gentleness and grace, but also penetratingly.
Maria felt that she was being invited to gaze upon him, and as she did so, an extraordinary sense of peace came over her. Because Maria’s parents had divorced, she felt a lot of rejection. His message to her was, “You will go through life feeling humiliated, embarrassed, and made a fool of. You will be laughed at, you will be ridiculed, you will not be believed. You are going to go basically through a lot of rejection.” Then he added, “If you’ll just focus on me, I will see you through this. I will make sure that some day you will be believed, you will be respected, you will be lifted. But you must know that I am with you and you must know that you must focus on me and me alone.” He somehow communicated this message to her, although his lips did not appear to move. He disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared, but just before doing so he raised his hand in a gesture of blessing. His hand was on his heart, with two of his fingers extended, just as he appears in the picture of the Sacred Heart widely circulated among Catholics. Her explanation of this is that he was giving her a mark by which she could recognize him.
By the time the vision was over her mother was some distance ahead of her, but it seemed to Maria as though time had stood still. She has carried the sense of love he communicated to her since this experience, which took place in Florida in 1964. Maria still lives in Miami, and works as a homemaker as well as for a Messianic Jewish organization.
Case 13: Ron Lindsay
Ron Lindsay spent his early years alternating between an orphanage and the home of his grandparents. The neglect and abuse he experienced as a result of being abandoned as a child left him emotionally scarred. After he fell off a swing at sixteen, he began to have epileptic seizures. These seizures compounded his feelings of rejection, insecurity, and fear. It was about this time that he became a Christian. He had attended a Catholic church when he was growing up, but did not take his faith very seriously until he became involved with the Youth for Christ organization. He then started attending a Pentecostal church near his home, and this is where his vision took place.
By the time Ron was twenty his epileptic seizures caused him to be hospitalized for about nine months. Ron was in and out of a mental hospital. The medications he was on compounded his feelings of disorientation. He wondered if anyone loved him, and consoled himself with the thought that God loved him. As he attended church one Sunday morning he was startled to see Jesus appear at the front of the church. Ron jumped to his feet and exclaimed, “Jesus, you’re here! You’re here!” Jesus looked at him with eyes that glistened with compassion, held out his hands in a welcoming gesture, and said, “I love you, and I’m going to heal you.” Ron responded with, “Oh! Have you come for me?” Jesus replied, “I’ve come, and I’m going to heal you.” He stayed for a few moments, gleaming with radiance, and then disappeared. Ron was able to be specific about some of the details of the vision. He said that Jesus appeared from the waist up, wearing a robe that was off-white in color. He stood some twenty-five to thirty-five feet away, appearing solid and obscuring other objects, with the rest of the room looking normal. His lips moved as he spoke. What made the greatest impression on Ron was the brightness in his eyes, for they spoke of love. The congregation accepted his outburst of surprise without much comment. This took place in the early fall of 1965.
The months that followed were difficult. Ron lived in a dark basement room when he was not in hospital. He would sense what he took to be the presence of God, especially in the mental hospital, but he also sensed evil forces that threatened him with death, particularly in his basement room. The voices would say, “I’m going to kill you. You’re finished. Commit suicide. You know you’re done with.” His only solace at these times would come through prayer.
Ron reports that he was healed nine months after his vision. As he entered his church one night, a voice that he describes as that of the Holy Spirit said to him, “This is your night.” As he went for prayer at the end of the service, he had another seizure. The voices said, “I’m going to kill him. He’s mine.” The people in the church prayed for him for several hours, and conducted what he describes as an exorcism. For the first time in a long time he slept well, and when he got up the next morning he felt different. He felt peace and joy, and it seemed as though someone with strong arms held him tight and said to him, “I’ll be your father, I’ll be your mother, I’ll be everything you have need of. Go in peace.” For a minute or so he was overwhelmed by a presence, and then he yelled, “Oh Jesus, you’re here again!” For a moment the outline or shadow of a person’s back was visible, and then it vanished. Ron considers this outline and the arms that embraced him to have been those of Jesus.
Ron completed his high school after this experience, and took some Bible college education by correspondence. He eventually became an evangelist, and for many years now has made his living this way, often sharing his experience with his audiences.
Case 14: Rose Fairs
Rose was brought up in a Greek Orthodox home, and because her husband was from another denominational background, they could not agree about religious matters, including where they should go to church. So they didn’t attend anywhere.
Rose’s first vision occurred in about 1963. She is not sure of the date, because the significance of it did not really dawn on her until some time afterward. She was lying in bed one morning, wide awake, when the Venetian blinds opened up and the head of Jesus appeared. Only his bearded head was visible, but for Rose it was the most beautiful face with the bluest of eyes. The first thought that came to her was that she should pray. She thought it would be selfish to pray for herself, so she prayed, “Would you save thy people.” As she said this tears came into his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. Then he vanished. She woke her husband up to tell him what had happened. The Venetian blinds had been closed before this incident took place, but when the head of Jesus appeared they mysteriously opened. The head appeared solid, for the blinds could be seen on either side of it, but not where his head appeared. She estimates that he was some six to eight feet away, and that his size looked normal for that distance. The experience made her feel elated, and as though she were floating. She could hardly contain the news. After this she began to attend church periodically, but no particularly significant change in her religious life occurred as a result of it.
The second Christic apparition took place in Palm Springs, California, on October 29, 1988, early in the morning. Again she was lying in her bed, and again Jesus appeared about six to eight feet away, but on this occasion she saw his whole form standing in the doorway of the bedroom. He wore a robe, off-white in color, loosely tied up by a cord. Again she was attracted to his face, especially his eyes. He had brown curly hair, and a beard to match his hair, and again his eyes were blue. This point puzzled her then and still does, for she doesn’t think that a Jewish person would have blue eyes. His facial expression was pleasant, but he was not smiling. He stood there for some seconds and then disappeared. The experience seemed as real to Rose as if a normal person had stood there. No message was communicated on this occasion, and Rose believes its purpose was simply to let her know that he exists. Rose and her husband are retired and live in Langley, British Columbia.
Case 15: Margaret Moyse
Margaret was brought up in a Methodist home in Australia. After completing conventional schooling she took up the study of art, and by the time she was sixteen she had left the religious beliefs of her parents behind her and was an atheist. One evening, at age 26, as she was having a conversation with her husband and a friend, she felt compelled to turn around and look toward the kitchen behind her. There in the doorway some eight feet away was a figure whom she immediately recognized as Jesus. She turned away and then looked back again to discover that he was still standing there. He wore a white garment, was of medium height, and had dark hair and a dark complexion. But it was his eyes that particularly caught her attention, for from them flowed a tremendous stream of love. She believes her attention was drawn to his eyes because of her interest as a painter in the human face. The light from the kitchen illuminated him, and he appeared as real as any person standing there would appear. No radiance accompanied his appearance, nor did he appear to move, and nothing was said. But the absolute stillness of the moment seemed to her like a little bit of eternity. She turned away and looked a third time, but he was gone. Her husband noticed that something had happened, and she told him and her friend what she had seen.
Margaret describes the effect of the experience as having awakened in her the importance of love for others. After this experience she felt as though the love of Jesus entered her and flowed through her to others. She began to attend an Anglican church at that time, and is still active in a church near her home, believing this to be scriptural.
This experience took place in 1952, but it has remained as fresh for her as if it had been recent, she said. Margaret worked for some years as a nurse, raised a family, and has been active in a community-based mental health organization. Her experience took place in Adelaide, Australia, and this is where I interviewed her in 1993.
Case 16: Sheila Dalrymple
Sheila was brought up on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, by a mother who was Presbyterian and a father who was Catholic. Because of these differences, Sheila and the other children were brought up without much direct religious influence. Her parents thought they should receive some religious instruction, so they were sent to the United Church.6 Sheila was interested in religious matters when she married, but not involved in religious life at all. When she and her husband moved to Nelson, British Columbia, they attended the United Church, and this is where her experience took place. As the congregation prayed during a communion service one morning, she saw Jesus walk out of the door of the minister’s office. He went to the center of the podium, looked at her and said, “Live by my commandments.” The sandals on his feet made a noise as he walked, just as if he had been an ordinary person walking across the stage. She looked at her friends silting on either side of her, wondering if they saw what she saw, but they gave no indication that they did. She wondered if she was hallucinating, so she looked again to where she had seen Jesus, and he was still standing there. This time he said to her, “I am here,” which convinced her that her experience was real. She did not hesitate in making the identification.
Sheila was sitting about the fifth row from the front, twenty feet or so away from him, and saw his facial features very clearly. He appeared similarly to the image tradition presents him in, but the blue color of the robe that he wore was quite unlike anything she had seen before. He was Mediterranean in appearance, and had dark hair. He was normal in size, and looked solid. The sense of beauty and love that emanated from him was overpowering. Sheila said that something extraordinary was present in the atmosphere of the church that she could not explain. It gave her a sense of “weather,” but she was not able to be more specific about what this meant. This “atmospheric effect” made her feel like a grain of sand on the seashore, and also suggested that he had absolute power. She had a sense of foreboding, but was not sure about whether this was communicated via visual effects or whether it was a feeling whose source she could not identify. Sheila also said that she had the sense of being confronted by God.
She is still haunted by not knowing why this event happened to her. She had not given Jesus much thought prior to this event and does not know why he would concern himself with her. A week prior she had conceived a daughter, who died at birth six months later. Sheila wonders if he was there to strengthen her, for she felt a lot of love and comfort coming from him. Sheila says that Jesus became very real to her through this event, and that it solidified her faith. She now lives in Vancouver, and works at home.
Case 17: Chris M.
Chris was born and raised a Catholic, but found religion a source of ambiguity and confusion. The answer that people gave to his many questions always seemed to be, “It’s a mystery, so don’t worry about it.” When Chris was twenty-five he discovered that he had been adopted, and his sense of having been deceived motivated him to move away from home. He was out of work for a while, but finally found a job in a convenience store in a small town in Kentucky. Everyone in the town seemed to take their religion very seriously, and every street seemed to have a church. A Christian television station had recently begun broadcasting in the area, so Chris began to watch some of its programs. These influences resulted in a search for a meaningful relationship with God.
Working in the convenience store was demanding, for Chris was expected to work ten days in a row before getting two days off. He was sometimes also required to work the night shift. The owner would watch Chris like a hawk as he served the customers, and then accuse him of stealing from the till. On top of everything else, the store was a distance away from the rest of the town, and Chris worried about being robbed. It was patronized mostly by blue-collar workers who worked in factories nearby. They would get their morning coffee and doughnuts at the store before going to work. He was serving a long line of customers at five o’clock one morning when he noticed that someone in line was wearing a tie. Chris wondered what he was doing in the store so early in the morning, for he did not seem to be dressed for factory work. Chris did not pay him close attention, as he was preoccupied with pouring coffee and making change. The man was about thirty years old, six feet tall, and had light brown hair and a full beard. He did not fit the stereotype of a community resident, as far as Chris was concerned, because he looked refined, highly intelligent, and very kind and loving. As he stepped up to be served, Chris gave him the customary “Good morning.” The customer asked for coffee, and Chris went behind the counter to pour it. When Chris returned with the coffee, the appearance of this mysterious customer suddenly changed before Chris’s eyes. He turned into someone slightly shorter in stature, with short, black, curly hair, very dark eyes, a perfectly manicured, thin, black beard and very white skin. Chris set the coffee on the counter and was about to ask him if he needed a paper bag to carry it out, for many of the customers ordered take-out. But he somehow tripped over his words, and instead of asking the stranger if he wanted a paper bag, said, “You carried the cross for me,” with an intonation suggesting surprise. The stranger answered in a soft voice with what sounded like “Sure,” picked up his coffee and walked out. Chris suddenly lost all sense of heaviness, and felt as though he was floating away into an amber light. The euphoria that accompanied the experience was like being drunk. He took hold of himself in order to do his work, but the experience left him changed. All feelings of guilt and inadequacy mysteriously left him. It was only later in the day, when listening to a Christian program in which the speaker talked about Jesus Christ taking away sin and guilt, that Chris put this interpretation on the event that had transpired. Some years later, after moving to Miami where he met Hasidic Jews, Chris learned that the Hebrew pronunciation of’Jesus’ is something like Yeshua,’ and he now wonders if the stranger was introducing himself as Yeshua, rather than saying “Sure.” This event took place in February 1980, when Chris was twenty-seven years old.
Chris reported that he took hallucinogens when he was in high school, between 1970 and 1973, and said that he experienced a hallucination during that time that was similar to the experience described above. He had not used hallucinogens during the seven years before this event, however. Chris requested anonymity.
Case 18: Erika Sabo
Erika Sabo was brought up in a small Canadian denomination known as the Apostolic Christian Church, which she described as similar to certain Baptist churches. She was fourteen years old when she experienced what she describes as a vision of Jesus. At the time she was thinking a lot about questions of faith. She wondered, for instance, if she believed in God only because her parents had told her to do so. She thought that she ought to have a greater Christian commitment, but could not help wondering if the beliefs she had been taught were somehow dreamed up, rather than founded on fact. She wanted to know for herself that Christ existed.
One evening her youth group at the church had a campfire service. They circled around the large bonfire, and as she looked at it she saw Jesus walking in the fire. She first saw his profile, and then he turned to look at her with a look of sorrow, but also compassion. Erika was both shocked and slightly frightened, for she had never heard of such a thing happening in recent times. He was of average height, and appeared as he does in traditional portrayals, with shoulder-length hair, robe, and so on. She could not see his feet because they were obscured by the fire, but he seemed to be solid, for he obscured the fire behind him. After a short while he disappeared from view. The service ended soon afterward, and a friend who had been sitting on the opposite side came up to her and said, “What just happened to you? I just know that something spiritual just happened to you.” Erika did not know how to reply, but it amazed her to think that someone recognized that she had undergone a religious experience. Erika believes that she was the only person who experienced the vision, however.
She describes this experience as having been a turning point in her life as a Christian. She interprets the sorrowful expression as reflecting disappointment over her lack of commitment at the time. Although the experience did not result in her complete commitment to a Christian way of life immediately, she did not doubt the existence of Jesus after that. The experience also proved to be a consolation to her some years later, when her parents were killed in an automobile accident. Erika was married and attended a university when I interviewed her in 1988.
Case 19: Peter Isaac
Peter Isaac is now retired, after teaching English, history and geography in British Columbia high schools for more than thirty years. He reports two experiences in which he was aware of the physical presence of Jesus. The first one took place in a hospital in Kelowna, British Columbia, on March 25, 1964. Peter had been hospitalized twice before because of a bleeding duodenal ulcer, but this time the bleeding was more serious. The doctor who attended him warned him that if he did not have the operation he would die. Peter consented to it, although it required the removal of three-quarters of his stomach. He reported that he had experienced healing in response to prayer on a previous occasion, and as he lay there in his hospital bed he wondered why his requests for healing had not been heard. Two days after the operation his wife, Lena, came to visit him, and as they were talking quietly to each other, he became transfixed by what he saw at the foot of his hospital bed. He says: “It was a man of average height, but what was different about him was that he was not wearing a shirt nor any other clothing above his waist. On his right side, at waist level, was a large, ugly scar, and he was facing me with a broad smile. It was Jesus. Jesus had come to see me. I knew without doubt that it was him, for he appeared as he did so that I would immediately recognize him.” Jesus appeared to be of average height and build, had no beard, looked solid, but did not move. The experience was just as real to Peter as if a friend had dropped in to see him, apart from the manner of dress. What especially captured Peter’s attention was Jesus’s smiling, compassionate face, for the smile told Peter that he was loved and understood. Peter says that this image has not faded with time. The look of compassion that Jesus gave him told him that he did not need to worry about his recovery. Although his wife, Lena, was with him during this experience, she did not see any of what he reported seeing.
The second time Jesus appeared was in an experience on January 10, 1990 that Peter refers to as a vision that began with a dream. He dreamed that he was involved, contrary to his will, in a most brutal and cruel murder. Almost killed by the assassins, he began to flee from the scene, begging to be shot because of his reprehensible involvement. Someone came along with shotgun and shot him in the chest. Even though parts of his body were blown away, he was still alive, crawling along the ground and sobbing in grief. He then woke up, aware of his wife in the bed beside him, but still sobbing uncontrollably. He tried to bring himself under control so that he would not awaken her, but could not do so. Suddenly Jesus came toward him, from a distance of about twelve feet away, looking as real as life. Peter describes the event as follows: “His form was that of a healthy man dressed in casual clothes, and he had a bit of a brownish complexion. But when he saw me, he was not walking anymore, but was immediately down on the ground beside me and putting his arms around me.” Peter describes this experience as one in which the dream changed into a vision, for when he woke up, the images that had formed the content of his dream remained as real and vivid as they had been in the dream. He knew that he was in his own bed, and that his wife was beside him, but he still had the sense of crawling along the ground in an alley after having been wounded by a shotgun blast. It was in that alley that Jesus came to him, to comfort him, to hold him, and to calm his fears. In his words: “In my mind I was crawling along that alley in the city, knowing at the same time that I was lying in bed. I didn’t want to cry so loud that Lena would waken. I can’t explain.” Peter was unable to say if the appearance of Jesus on the second occasion was similar to that on the first.
Peter believes that this vision came to him as an answer to his prayer before retiring for the night. He had been preparing an adult lesson on the deity of Christ, and had asked God to show him why Isaiah refers to Christ as “mighty God.” Peter lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, and is a member of the Chilliwack Central Mennonite Brethren Church.
COMMENT: The second of Peter’s experiences belongs with the trance and dreamlike experiences forming Group I, but his first experience is similar to the others in Group III.
Case 20: Fran Haskett
Fran’s experience took place in conjunction with a serious illness that befell her husband Al, about two years after they married in 1948. An obstruction in his bowel required an operation, and infection in his wounds as well as pneumonia put him on the critical list. Over the next two months Fran divided her time between the hospital and her job checking policies with a life insurance company. Her husband was on her mind day and night, and her waking life consisted of a constant stream of unspoken prayers for his recovery. During this time she began to see her own selfishness—always wanting this or that thing that others around her had—and began to realize that the most important thing a person can have is love for others. A sense of gratitude for what she did have began to develop in her, and it was in this context that her experience took place.
One day after work Fran was sitting in the bedroom of her home in London, Ontario, thinking about the importance of gratitude and love, when her attention was drawn to a patch of white light six to eight inches in height shining in the corner of the room. There were no windows that could explain why that patch of light six feet away appeared, and she found herself staring at it in disbelief. It began to grow in size, and to her amazement it took the form of a person she immediately identified as Jesus. He appeared as tradition portrays him, but Fran was not able to describe further details of his appearance. He was as real as if an ordinary person had been standing there, and she had no doubt about his identity. Although Fran has not shared her experience with many people, she once described it to a Bible teacher whom she greatly respected. He told her that the Holy Spirit, not Jesus, had appeared to her, but she disagrees.
Just as the light had grown to form the image of a grown man, so the image began to dwindle in size until it disappeared, much to Fran’s disappointment. But the experience left her convinced that Jesus was alive. She found, moreover, a wave of love coming over her that she could not adequately describe. The hurt and anger she had felt about Al’s sickness disappeared, and an understanding about love in life dawned upon her. Fran views the experience as one in which God decided to show her that his love for her is complete, and that she should not worry about the events over which she has no control. To her amazement, and that of the doctors who were attending Al, he began to mend so quickly that his recovery seemed miraculous. Fran was seventy-four years of age when I interviewed her, and lives with her husband in retirement near London, Ontario.
Case 21: Helen Huizinga
Helen’s experience occurred in connection with her reflections as a Christian about the significance of baptism. She was brought up in the Christian Reformed Church, and had been baptized as an infant. She had an opportunity to work with children in a Baptist church near her home, and although the church allowed her to do this work because she was a Christian, church leaders really wanted her to be baptized as an adult. This made her read and think about Christian baptism for a period of about three years. Second baptism was a point of contention between her and some members of her family, however, particularly her husband, Joe. She eventually decided that she would like to be baptized, and prayed to God that he would somehow allow this to happen.
Helen went to the Baptist church by herself one Sunday morning, knowing that baptisms would be conducted that day. As the pastor preached she noticed that the front of the church began to be illuminated with light, and that a cloud was forming. In the midst of the light and the cloud, a human figure appeared. Helen stared at it transfixed, and a voice spoke to her saying, “Helen, you can be baptized now.” She immediately identified the person as Jesus, and replied (in her mind, not out loud) to him, “Lord, can I really? But what about Joe?” Jesus replied that he would take care of Joe, and then he slowly faded from view. Helen looked around from her seat about five rows from the front to see if anyone gave any indication of having seen what she had seen, but she did not notice anything suggesting that they did. When the pastor completed his preaching, he went to the vestibule to prepare for the baptismal service. Helen followed him, told him what had just happened, and asked him to baptize her there and then. The pastor complied with her request, and when she told her husband later what she had done, he didn’t say a word in objection.
Helen said that Jesus appeared to be six to eight feet tall, certainly larger than she expected. He appeared to be solid, not transparent, but Helen could not make out any other details. He seemed to be wearing a long white robe, for instance, but the features of his face were not sharp, and she could not tell whether he had a beard or whether his hair was long. These details were of secondary significance to her, however, for she was overpowered by what was happening. The glory that emanated from and surrounded him captured her attention. Her response was a combination of joy and awe, for she could hardly believe that Jesus would do such a thing for her. The sense of awe evoked by the experience stayed with her for years, and she still feels honored and grateful. Helen was forty years old at the time, and the experience occurred in Richmond, British Columbia.
This was not the first time that Helen sensed the presence of God. When she was thirteen she lived in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Her family sheltered Jews in their home, and she was alone when a house-to-house search was conducted in her town. She saw the soldiers coming down her street, and prayed to God for protection. When the soldiers mysteriously passed by her house, she became convinced that God cared for her. Helen is presently employed as a university library technician, has authored a book, and has raised a family.
Case 22: Helen Bezanson
Helen’s first experience occurred when she was about twenty-one, living in Southern Ontario. She went to the Anglican church as a child, but by the time she married and began a family she was not interested in religion. Her husband’s parents took her to a summer camp meeting sponsored by a Pentecostal church, but she did not really understand what was being preached. It seemed to be coming out of the Bible, so she thought it was acceptable. The service ended with an invitation to pray at the front, and when her mother-in-law suggested that she go, Helen did so to please her. Helen returned on the next three nights, going forward each time for prayer because doing so made her feel better about herself. As she prayed that fourth night she felt a warm presence around her, and thought that someone had touched her. She opened her eyes to see if anyone was nearby, but no one was close enough to be touching her, so she decided to continue praying. She felt a touch again, this time on one of her hands that was raised in prayer. She opened her eyes again to see if anyone was touching her, and again she saw no one, but then she felt that she ought to look up. Her words to me were: “I looked up, my eyes wide open, and I saw Jesus standing just as clear as I can see you sitting there now, and he had both hands out like this [stretched toward her] and he was smiling as though he was accepting me finally.” He made a gathering motion with his hands, as though to show her that he was accepting her, and looked so real and alive Helen thought that others must be looking at him too. She looked around to see if others were paying attention to him, but no one else seemed to notice him. She thought to herself, “What’s wrong with them? They’re not looking at him.” She looked back to see if he was still there, and he was.
He stood there some eight to ten feet away, smiling and moving. He looked much as tradition portrays him, although what caught her attention was his eyes and the motion of his hands. Helen also had the sense that she was looking at God, which gave the visual impression a characteristic that she was not able to describe. Another unusual feature of the experience was that Jesus seemed to be standing on a pedestal or pillar, for he was not standing on the floor and he did not appear to be floating. Moreover, it seemed as though he stood in an oval doorway on the pedestal, and that a radiance or glow emanated from the oval doorway and surrounded him. As she gazed on him she began talking in another language that she knew nothing about at the time. He gradually faded from view and was gone. This experience created a desire in her to please Jesus as much as she could, and to study the Bible. It also convinced her that Jesus was real. Her words were: “He’s not just something that you learn about in a Bible, in a Sunday school class. Or it isn’t just a story. He showed me that he was real, that he’s a real person. He’s not just an apparition, he’s not a figment of our imagination. Nobody has even been able to tell me since that Jesus isn’t real and that he can’t make himself known to people, because I saw it myself, and that’s all the proof I needed.”
Helen’s second experience took place thirty years later in the church she now attends on Vancouver Island. A group of people were praying for the healing of a woman in the church, and although everyone else had their eyes closed, Helen thought that she should keep her eyes open. Again she felt a warm presence come over her, and as they prayed a figure suddenly appeared on the overhead screen at the front of the church. She blinked her eyes to make sure she was seeing properly, and it was still there. Then she looked around at the others who were praying to see if any of them were looking at the screen, but all of them had their eyes closed. She blinked again and thought to herself, “That’s Jesus.” He was kneeling on one knee and looking up toward heaven. One of his hands was raised, and blood was running down his back. He again seemed as real as life, even though the image was on the screen. Helen wondered if this was just a picture projected onto the screen, but when she looked to the back of the auditorium, she saw that no one was operating the projector. As she looked back to the screen she saw Jesus drop his head and slump. Meanwhile, blood continued to pour down his back. The woman for whom the church was praying never was healed, and Helen thinks there is some connection between this fact and the last scene she saw. Helen said that these experiences convinced her of the spiritual realities affirmed by the Christian church. She lives in the small community of Black Creek, and is a homemaker.
Case 23: Maureen Hason
Maureen Hason had her first visionary experience (her term) when she was twenty-nine years old. She and her husband were living in Kitchener, Ontario, at the time, but they were not happy. They decided to go to a weekend retreat designed specially for marriage enrichment. The theme on the last day of the retreat was unconditional love, and the advice they were given was to love their spouses unconditionally, as God loves people. This suggestion was not very helpful for Maureen, for she was accustomed to conditional love and did not understand what was meant by unconditional love. She went back to her room to be alone and to think about the meaning of this kind of love, and as she sat there contemplating this question Jesus appeared before her open eyes, extending his hands toward her in a gesture of compassion. His face was sad, and although he did not say anything to her, he communicated with his eyes. She could tell by the look on his face that he knew her through and through, and that he loved her. She saw that she had been living her own life without his help. What his face said was, “I’ve been here all along. If you would have just come to me I would have been able to help you.” At that moment she understood the Christian doctrine of forgiveness, and the meaning of the Christian belief that Jesus is the Lord of everything. She identifies this experience as the turning point in her religious life.
Jesus appeared only from the waist up, but in other respects appeared very much like the traditional images of him, viz., with a white robe, brown hair and beard, pleasing gentle look, and a tanned complexion. But it was the expression on his face that captured her attention, not his physical appearance. This experience took place in March 1982, and by the time I had interviewed her in 1988 she had experienced several other visions. I will describe one more.
Maureen and a friend were having lunch in Dutch Mothers, a popular restaurant in Lynden, Washington, when Jesus appeared. They were sitting at a table for four when he suddenly occupied a vacant chair diagonally opposite Maureen. He looked as though he was eager and excited to be there with them, for they had been talking about their faith. He did not say anything audible to her but somehow communicated the thought found in the biblical text, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am there also.” Maureen describes this as having her mind opened to understand the Scriptures, and compares it to Luke’s account of Jesus’s opening the minds of his disciples.7 The experience had an air of reality about it for Maureen because he appeared to be solid, and the back of the chair was obscured in just the way it would have been if an ordinary person had been sitting there. Her friend did not see anything, however. Jesus’s appearance on this occasion, as on the others, made Maureen weep. When he disappeared she became a little giddy as she described to her friend what she had just experienced, and somewhat casually said, “You’d think he’d wear normal clothes if he’s coming out to lunch.” Her friend stared at her in disbelief, because of her impudence, and they both “heard” this remark: “That is how you recognize me.” Maureen explained that this simultaneous hearing was not audible.
Maureen has had other experiences of an intense spiritual nature. She described one that she interprets as an encounter with God in his throne room. Although it took place one night while she was asleep, she does not consider it a dream. In the days before it she had been reminiscing about the time when she first heard about God, through a Bible study for children conducted by a woman who lived on her street. She wanted to repay the woman, and was praying to God that she might find her and repay her. That night God said to her, “Your debt is not to Mrs._____, it’s to me.” He then instructed her to open up her home to children for a study similar to the one she had attended as a child. Maureen said that this experience was different from those with Jesus, for she felt comfortable with Jesus, but from God there was no escape. Her words were: ‘There was no reasoning, and he was everywhere. And I remember when he gave me the instruction, I turned, and he was there. And I kept turning, and he was everywhere. It was like he was air. He just enveloped the whole room. It wasn’t a human figure, and the thought came to me, ‘I can’t escape God.'” When she awoke she felt as though she had been somewhere else.
Maureen has wondered why she has been privileged to have visions. After the first one occurred she thought that all Christians experienced them, and said as much to a friend who had been a Christian for a long time. She was surprised to discover that they are not common. She has struggled with “spiritual pride” because she has had these experiences and most other people have not, and told me she believes that she has them because she is a doubter by instinct, and is weak in faith. Maureen now lives in Calgary, Alberta, and is married to an executive of a large food company.
Case 24: Pauline Langlois
Pauline Langlois was twenty-three years of age when she had her first visual encounter. Although she had been brought up as a Catholic, she didn’t go to church or practice her faith, apart from saying the occasional “Our Father” before going to bed. She had been through two divorces and various abusive relationships, and she did not want to live. She drank to cope with what was happening in her life, and was becoming the kind of person that she hated. Although she wanted to commit suicide, she hesitated to carry it out because of her daughter, who was five years old at the time. One night as she lay in her bed and thought about killing herself, she became aware of a presence in the room. She wasn’t afraid, but she sensed that someone was there even though she could not see anything at first. Then she saw a man standing beside her bed looking at her with compassion. He touched her with his hand to comfort her. She wanted to put out her hand to touch him to see if he was real, but was reluctant to do so for fear that doing so would drive him away. So she just lay there, not daring to move. Then he spoke to her, although his lips did not move. The words she heard in her heart were, “It’s OK. I’m going to take care of you. It’s all right. I’m taking care of you.” She felt great love and joy, and throwing restraint aside, reached out her hand and touched his side. It felt solid to her touch. He stayed there for some time and then just faded from view.
Pauline said that the man who appeared wore conventional clothes and was average in height and build, but she could not describe other features of his appearance. His eyes captured her attention, and nothing else was important at the moment. Pauline did not make an identification at the time about who had appeared to her, but the desire to take her own life disappeared.
Pauline did not believe in a spiritual world to this point in her life, but events involving no visible agents convinced her that an evil spirit, as she called it, was trying to scare her. For the next six months, doors would slam behind her, plants would move across the table, water taps would switch on and off, music would come from the corners of the rooms, and furniture would move across the floor of its own accord. At first she wondered if she had gone crazy, but when members of her extended family witnessed these events as well, she thought there must be some other explanation. She went to several priests for help. One gave her holy water to sprinkle on her home, as well as on her daughter, whose safety she was worried about, but this did not seem to help. Pauline finally traveled halfway across Canada to consult the family priest. When he heard about the troubling events, he instructed her to take “the good spirit” with her to confront them. Thereafter, each time a bizarre event took place, she would say something like, “OK, good spirit, that’s what I want you to get rid of? and eventually all of the frightening events disappeared. During these months she also began attending a Bible study near her home.
A short while after the frightening events stopped she had another experience that made her want to commit suicide. She did not describe the nature of it, except to suggest that it involved physical assault. She acquired the pills by which she could take her life, but the thought came to her that she should pray first. She prayed, “God, if there is a God, if you are really there, I need you now.” Pauline says that the same presence entered the room that was there at the first experience. He said to her, “I’m so happy to see you,” and she felt the same love that she had felt the first time. Although Pauline saw nothing, she is convinced that the presence on this occasion, as well as the first, was Jesus.
In another experience, Jesus appeared in the sky above her head. He appeared from the waist up and was surrounded by a very bright cloud. His form was so large it filled the sky. She describes this second visual experience as a vision, but refused to call the first one a vision. Her words about the first experience were: “It was very different. It was alive. It was like me and you…. It was like a real man standing right there. It was a man, not a spirit.” These events were life-changing for Pauline, and when I met her about nine years later she, her husband, and four children were operating a small farm near Sudbury, Ontario.
Case 25: Henry Minn
Henry Hinn had his encounter when he was nineteen years old. He was brought up in a Greek Orthodox family in Israel, and became committed in his faith soon after immigrating to Canada. The family lived in Scarborough, Ontario, in a new development at the edge of the city. Their house was next to a forest, and Henry often walked in it. He would go there to pray, often grieving over the rebellious things he had done as a teenager. Henry went there one day in January 1976, just after snow had fallen. The accumulated snow was about a foot and a half deep, and as he walked along Jesus suddenly appeared no more than eight feet away.
Henry reported that the snow had mysteriously disappeared at the spot where Jesus stood, and that dead grass was visible in an area about three feet in diameter. No tracks to or from this spot could be seen, however. Jesus looked at Henry, smiled, and said, “You are mine.” Henry replied, “I’m yours, and I promise I’ll always be yours.” Jesus wore a white robe draped with blue, and was of average height. His hair was long and a golden color, and his beard was trimmed. Henry was unsure whether his body was transparent or solid. Henry describes his demeanor ‘ as commanding and overwhelming. After Jesus disappeared, Henry went over and stood on the dead grass, just to ponder what he had seen and heard. He felt secure in the thought that his life had been surrendered to the will of God. Henry is now a minister and lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Case 26: Barry Dyck
Barry Dyck was eighteen years old when his vision (his term) of Jesus took place. He was attending a Bible college in British Columbia at the time, and had gone to nearby Mt. Baker in Washington state to ski. As he skied that day, his goggles fogged up, and before he knew what was happening he went over a drop-off. When he reached bottom the back of his skis struck his neck, breaking three vertebrae and herniating one disc. The pain was excruciating as he was taken off the mountain by the ski patrol. He was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Bellingham, where he was placed in a neck brace and traction, and was kept as immobile as possible. During the next week his ability to see became impaired as the swelling in his head created pressure on his brain. Surgery was planned to relieve the pressure. In the middle of the night eight days after the accident he woke up to find Jesus standing at the end of his bed. Jesus stretched out his arms toward Barry, and Barry immediately sat up. Despite all the equipment that was attached to him and the orders not to move, he grasped the hands of Jesus and begged, “Take me with you.” Barry explained that he made this request to die because he was drawn by an indescribable feeling of love. Jesus somehow indicated that satisfying this request was not possible, and that everything would be fine. Barry went back to a fitful sleep, and during the night he took off the neck brace that was limiting his movement. When he woke up the next morning he was disappointed to discover that he was still alive! But he found that he could see perfectly, and that the swelling and pain were gone. He convinced the attending doctor the next day that he was well enough to go home, and the doctor reluctantly agreed. Barry had been expected to be in hospital for three months, and to need a neck brace for an additional eight months. Within three or four days of returning home he resumed his regimen of running, without any ill effects. Barry said that x-rays taken by his family doctor in Seattle several weeks later showed no evidence of fracture in his neck vertebrae, and that the many x-rays taken during the week in the hospital had shown obvious signs of fracture. Barry believes that he was healed by Jesus during that encounter that lasted no more than sixty seconds. Barry’s family and the people in the church they attended were as shocked by Barry’s healing as he was. Although the church he attended did not deny the possibility of miraculous interventions, it did not encourage people to expect them.
Barry says that Jesus seemed to be about six feet in height, and that his hair extended six inches below his shoulders. Barry says that the overall impression of his face was like Sallman’s Head of Christ, but Barry could not see any features in detail. Barry could see the hair draped around the face, but it was as if Jesus’s face were hollow. Barry does not know how he made the identification of the radiant figure as Jesus, but it came to him immediately and without any question or doubt. The experience convinced him that he was loved, but he thinks the incident may have had another purpose. He has often shared his experience with other people, and influenced them to think about God and the spiritual life generally.
Barry went to a college to study science for three years after completing that year in Bible college, and he pursued further studies in accounting after that. When I met him he was working for a trucking firm in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and has since become a stock market trader.
Case 27: John Occhipinti
John Occhipinti was brought up in a very devout home in Connecticut and New Jersey. His mother went to the Catholic church every day to pray, and also attended the services of the Assemblies of God. John was a special child because of an incident that took place when he was two years of age. He fell into the river just behind their home, and was not recovered for more than half an hour. John was rushed to a hospital, where doctors worked for hours to save his life. His mother was convinced that there was a special reason for his having survived. John became serious about his faith when he was about eighteen years old. The next year he went to Bible college in Texas to prepare for pastoral work, and this was where, in 1958, his experience took place.
John shared a room with Nathan, but could not understand what Nathan was doing in Bible college, for he already seemed to know most of what they had come there to learn. During November of that year Nathan came down with a virus and stayed in bed to recover. Nathan was not particularly perturbed about being sick, but said that he was in bed for a reason. Although this was not a serious illness, John felt sympathy for him, and brought him food from the cafeteria when he could, and prayed with him before retiring for the night. As he was praying for Nathan one night he opened his eyes to look at his friend lying about eight feet away. John was shocked to see someone standing over Nathan’s bed, but facing and looking at him. John immediately identified the person as Jesus, in part because of the sense of awe that the appearance of the person evoked. John was about to tell his sick friend what he was seeing when Jesus reached over and placed his hand on Nathan’s forehead and disappeared. At that instant Nathan leaped out of bed and ran down the halls of the dormitory shouting, “I’ve been healed, I’ve been healed.” Nathan later said that although he did not see anyone, he felt something touch his head. John himself intended to go over to touch Jesus in order to establish his reality for himself, but did not get a chance to do so. He muses now on his boldness, but he was only nineteen at the time, and rather new in his faith.
Jesus appeared much as tradition portrays him, with a long white robe, shoulder length hair, and a short beard. He seemed to be just under six feet tall. He exhibited no radiance, and he seemed as solid as any ordinary person. His skin was neither very dark nor very light, but his eyes seemed to be on fire. John preferred the term encounter rather than vision to describe the experience. It was as real to him as seeing an ordinary person, and he does not think that Nathan would have felt the touch on his head if it had been a vision. Moreover, John does not consider experiences that occur while a percipient’s eyes are open to be visions. He was not aware at the time of anyone else in recent times having had such an experience. John considers the experience to have had two purposes: to bring healing to his friend, and to reaffirm John’s desire to do evangelistic work.
John now lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and is active as an evangelist, a counselor, and a musician.
Case 28: Kenneth Logie/Lakeshore Gospel Chapel
Kenneth Logie’s life has been marked by a number of extraordinary experiences. He has been the minister of a Pentecostal Holiness church in Oakland, California, for about forty years,8 and reports events that rival the NT in kind and number. Among these are various Christic encounters, including several claims of group experiences.
When Kenneth and his wife moved to Oakland the church was not capable of fully supporting them financially, so he sold bread to supplement his income. His work sometimes meant that he was late for the evening service, but the small congregation accepted that. He would begin his preaching a little later than usual when this happened. One Sunday night in April 1954 he again arrived late and, as a result, was still preaching at 9:15, when he saw a shadow on the exterior glass doors, made by someone standing outside. He wondered who might be arriving so late in the evening. He reported that “the door opened up, and Jesus started walking down the aisle just as plain as you are.” He turned to the people on one side of the aisle, and then to the people on the other side of the aisle, smiling as he went. He walked up to platform where Kenneth was preaching, but instead of walking around the pulpit, moved right through it. When he placed his left hand on Kenneth’s shoulder, Kenneth collapsed to the floor. Jesus then knelt down alongside him and spoke to him in another language. Kenneth responded in English, believing that he was interpreting what was being said to him. He says that this event was witnessed by the congregation of about fifty people present on that occasion.
Kenneth reported another incident that took place in May 1959 in the same church. A woman in the congregation described a vision she said she had when she was in a hospital and was thought dead. Mrs. Lucero reported that Jesus appeared wearing the clerical robe of a Catholic priest. He told her to have faith in God. She explained that because she was of Catholic background, this apparel somehow assisted her in making the identification of the figure as Jesus.
Kenneth says that when Mrs. Lucero got up to tell her story, she was wearing a black raincoat because the weather had been rainy that day. As she spoke she disappeared from view, and in her place stood a figure taken to be Jesus. He wore sandals, a glistening white robe, and had nail prints in his hands—hands that dripped with oil. Kenneth reports that this figure was seen by virtually everyone in the congregation, which he estimated at two hundred people. He also reports that the figure was filmed (in color) by a member of the church with the kind of eight-millimeter movie camera popular at the time. Kenneth says that the photographer was so awestruck that he shook, and placed the camera on top of the organ in order to keep it steady. The appearance was much like Sallman’s Head of Christ. Kenneth says that the effect upon the people in the church was electrifying. After several minutes Jesus disappeared, and Mrs. Lucero was again visible.
COMMENT: These allegations put the Christic apparition experience into the spatio-temporal domain and, if authentic, would challenge the reigning hegemony of physicalism within the scientific community. They would also challenge the religious beliefs of many people, including Christians. I shall elaborate on the second case in some detail because of its significance.
The circumstances surrounding the film were described to me in 1965 by Kenneth Logie and his wife, both in a public meeting in Grenfell, Saskatchewan, and in private conversation. I was a young undergraduate at the time, and was not comfortable with the thought of giving the film or the supposed incident any attention. I did not speak in detail with Kenneth about these events again until 1991, by which time his first wife had died. I visited him and the church that summer, and spoke with four or five persons who were present in his church in 1959 when the incident took place. They supported the account given above. I naturally wanted to see the film again, primarily to refresh my memory concerning what I had seen twenty-six years earlier, and was disappointed to learn that it had been stolen from the apartment in which Kenneth lives. I estimate that there were about two hundred people present in the public meeting in Grenfell when I saw the film. I do not know how often it was shown in public, but my impression is that Kenneth showed it in his church from time to time. The woman involved in the incident, Mrs. Lucero, who was already quite old at the time it took place, died a few years later.
My own memory of the film is that it showed a figure that looked like traditional images of Jesus. The woman in the black raincoat did not appear, to my recollection, evidently because it was not significant enough to attract the attention of the person who held the camera (with whom I have not spoken). My memory of the glistening white robe as well as the outstretched and scarred hands is clear, but I cannot remember any movement of the figure, nor do I remember seeing the full face appear. Kenneth, who naturally saw the film a number of times, says that the face appeared on the film. Joy Kinsey (Case 1), who was a member of the church at the time, concurs with his memory of the content of the film. The memories of others who were present at the public screening in 1965 conflict. One remembers it the way I saw it, another remembers it the way Kenneth describes it, and several others have no memory of having seen the film at all (and I am sure they were present at the public meeting). I cannot explain these discrepancies. The conflicting memories of the public screening in 1965 illustrate how different people’s memories can overlap substantially on general matters, yet differ in detail, even on important points. The fact that some have no memory of the film at all is intriguing, for it suggests that the implications of the film for claims about what is real were not noticed, or perhaps were not important to them.
There are competing views, naturally, on how the film was produced or what it represents. Some people of course believe that it recorded a paranormal event. Some who saw it with me are convinced that the whole thing was fraudulent, that an actor was hired to play the part, and that an amateur photographer filmed it. But I am sure they reached this conclusion without investigating the circumstances surrounding it. One person who attended the church regularly at about the time of the alleged event, but was not there for it and saw the film only later, told me that he wondered whether the film might have been a film of a (painted) portrait of Jesus. My own recollection is that there was movement on the film of various members of the congregation that could not be explained by motion of the camera. The suggestion that it was produced by the kinds of sophisticated methods of film enhancement now available seems dubious to me, because its production in 1959 probably predates the easy availability of the required equipment, and it had the amateurish quality that home movies from that era generally display. The conflicting views on events and possible explanations illustrate what typically happens to reports of paranormal events, and this incident shows how paranormal claims often (nearly) evaporate under critical scrutiny.
There is quite a bit more to the Oakland context than so far suggested. It is natural to wonder why someone would have had a movie camera in the services, and the explanation for this lies in the accounts of other strange phenomena alleged to have taken place in the church. Kenneth says that the church went through a period of extraordinary healings, exorcisms, prophetic insights, glossolalia, resuscitations, and so on-he has dozens of fascinating accounts. He reports an experience, for instance, in which the roof of the church was bathed in visible but nonconsuming fire, causing the neighbors to call the fire department. He also reports that images of crosses, hearts, and hands mysteriously appeared on the walls of the church, and from these flowed streams of liquid having the consistency of oil. The appearance of these images coincided with fragrant aromas that seemed to come from them. The person who wondered if the film might have been produced by filming a portrait of Jesus told me (in 1994) that although he was of a skeptical bent, he had witnessed the formation of the images firsthand and was convinced of their authenticity. But he also reported to me that when the church was remodeled some years after these events, his skeptical disposition induced him to examine the structure of the walls on which the images appeared, just to make sure that these images had not been contrived. He said that he found no evidence of tampering, and found himself still pondering these phenomena some thirty-five years later. I suspect that this curious combination of belief and doubt is often felt by those who have encountered (or believe they have encountered) paranormal phenomena. This witness seemed to exhibit the attitude that Aristotle recommended concerning claims that the future could occasionally be divined through the interpretation of dreams, that is, that one should neither summarily dismiss such claims nor uncritically accept them.9
In 1991 Kenneth showed me still photographs (black and white) of the images that had appeared on the walls. He also had still photographs of one or two occasions during which stigmata appeared on his hands, and another of an occasion on which a white cross appeared on his forehead. I asked him about the stigmata, and he said that these had occurred perhaps nine or ten times during a period of about three years, and were accompanied by a burning sensation, as if his hands were on fire. He was understandably sympathetic to similar claims that have been made over the centuries by Christians of all persuasions, and he showed me a few newspaper clippings and photographs he had collected that featured similar incidents from various Christian traditions. The subject of stigmata recently received critical attention from Ian Wilson.10 Wilson’s study also includes crosses on foreheads and other strange phenomena reminiscent of the Crucifixion of Jesus.
This was the context in which the Oakland apparition experiences described above supposedly took place. Kenneth said that he did not know what to expect next in the life of his church, and so bought the home movie camera in the hope that he might record any noteworthy incident. The accounts that Kenneth gives of various wonders and miracles that were part of his church for a number of years are reminiscent of NT accounts, for of course the Gospels and Acts are replete with accounts of such phenomena. There is much other Christian literature alleging paranormal phenomena, such as the account of the life and work of St. Francis of Assisi.11 Augustine also speaks extensively in The City of God about miracles of which he knows either first- or second-hand, and mentions seventy miracles attested during a two-year period at Hippo.12 Augustine goes on to deplore the fact that the taking of formal depositions was not generally practiced by Christians-a sentiment that is still appropriate today, I regret to say.
The time gap between the alleged event in Oakland and the present time corresponds quite well to the thirty-five years or so that is widely thought to separate the alleged incidents central to the Christian faith and the first gospel narratives of them. I am not aware that any attempt has been made to document the events alleged to have taken place in this small church in Oakland, although people in the church told me in 1991 that they had been visited quite often by reporters and cultural anthropologists. Neither Kenneth nor members of his congregation, to my knowledge, have written anything down, although he spoke to me in 1991 of wanting to do so. One wonders why these experiences have been kept alive only in the oral history of the community and are not documented. Are such experiences considered so holy that they are reserved only for the hushed contexts in which participants speak of them to select audiences? Do the participants expect “unbelievers” to dismiss the allegations with contempt, and expect “believers” not to need the authenticating value of depositions and documents? Do phenomena of this kind (or even the belief that they are taking place) produce such strong apocalyptic expectations that participants think the “end of the world” is imminent-too imminent to make documentation of any use? It is tempting to think that a deeper understanding of the mind-set of those associated with earliest Christianity might be gained by examining contemporary religious communities in which paranormal claims comparable to those found in the NT are made.
A group apparition experience is remarkable in itself, but the photographic images are perhaps more remarkable, for mental or neurophysiological mechanisms internal to percipients cannot be plausibly suggested as an explanation. The suggestion that telepathic powers might somehow account for such images is as challenging to a physicalist understanding of the world as any supernaturalistic explanation. It is curious to note the insistence of some psychical researchers that apparitions are not photographable,13 This position does not tally with an article tided “Ghosts” in Man, Myth and Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, in which it is asserted that hundreds of still photographs portray what are said to be ghosts.14 Half a dozen or so are reproduced in the article. They include some amorphous shapes that are in keeping with various popular ideas of how ghosts might appear, but also several semitransparent human shapes, and a photograph of cherubs (with wings) hovering over a child’s bed. There evidently is no agreement among those who investigate paranormal phenomena about the susceptibility of such events to being photographed. Perhaps nothing can be established beyond reasonable doubt concerning the Oakland experience, in view of the unavailability of the film for critical scrutiny, but the number of claims emanating from this single locale make it worthy of serious study.
I will comment briefly on several other people’s Christ apparitions. Two accounts derive from percipients with whom I could conduct only brief and incomplete interviews, and two derive from percipients with whom I was unable to make direct contact, but who are well-known to acquaintances of mine. I present these four cases separately from the accounts of the twenty-eight percipients with whom I was able to establish direct and significant contact. The two with whom I conducted brief interviews are well-known public figures and authors.
Hugh Montefiore, now retired, was an instructor in the NT at Cambridge University and later a bishop of the Church of England. He was brought up in the Jewish faith, and as a child never attended Christian worship or read the NT. He credits his conversion to Christianity to a vision he experienced at sixteen years of age. The figure that appeared to him said, “Follow me,” and “knowing it to be Jesus” (this is how he described the effect of this experience to me), decided to embrace the Christian faith, although he says he has not ceased to be a Jew. Only later did he discover that the invitation “Follow me” was in the NT. When I spoke to him in 1993 some fifty-seven years had elapsed since the incident, so he was not able to remember many of the details on which I wanted to query him. He said that the import of the experience still had validity for him. “For me it has total reality,” he said.
John White, also retired, was associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba for many years, and is well-known in Canadian Christian circles for the books he has written. I made brief mention of John White’s experience in the Introduction, including his account of having seen the arms and hands of Christ extended toward him as he was in prayer with some of his friends. His comments on this experience are significant: “The effect was overwhelming. All strength left me, so that it was with difficulty that I remained kneeling. I began to sweat profusely and to tremble uncontrollably.”15 He goes on to say that he was “fully aware that what I saw was a product of my own brain. I felt that God was, as it were, using my mind as a projectionist uses a projector. The hands I saw were not the real hands of Christ: They were weak and effeminate, whereas I knew that the hands should have shown the evidence of manual toil. They weren’t carpenter’s hands.” He goes on to remark that the wounds of the Crucifixion were in the palms, not the wrists, where they should have been if they had been the hands of Christ, for Romans nailed those they crucified in the wrists, not the hands.
John White spoke to me of another experience that had taken place in Honolulu several weeks before I interviewed him in October 1990. He was sitting on a settee, and was wondering what it would be like to have Jesus sit with him. He says that Jesus was suddenly there, sitting at the other end of the settee, although he could see Jesus only in outline, and could see through him. Jesus sat there for a moment, and then raised his arm and placed his hand on John’s left hand that rested on the back of the settee. After a while Jesus stood up to go, and John said, “Please don’t go, stay.” But this request was not granted. While Jesus sat there on the settee, John was unable to see his eyes, but when Jesus got up to leave, John saw them. He interpreted this as indicative of some unconscious reluctance to get too close to Jesus, and he described this experience as one in which he felt that he was “penetrating into the beyond.”
John White’s remarks to me about hallucinations were fascinating, for his experience with patients in psychiatric hospitals has given him a perspective on the experiences of hallucinators that those of us who are not in psychiatric services rarely have. He said his impression was that the hallucinations of those in psychiatric hospitals could possibly be their encounters with evil forces, but he did not think that having had such a hallucinatory experience implied that such a person was demonically controlled. He thought that psychoses left the psychotic vulnerable to the “dark world,” and that such people might be encountering other realities in visual terms.
White’s position on this point is similar to one expressed by Sergius Bulgakov, who was a professor of theology at an Orthodox seminary in the early part of the twentieth century, and a popular exponent of the theology of the Orthodox Church. Bulgakov writes: “It cannot be affirmed that all mental maladies are of a spiritual nature or origin, but neither can it be affirmed that demoniac influences have no connection with mental maladies; what is called hallucination may be considered-at least sometimes-as a vision of the spiritual world, not in its luminous, but in its dark aspect.”16
John White’s impression was that those who had aberrant experiences in two sensory domains at once, visual and haptic (or tactile) domains, for example, were not simply hallucinating-experiencing something whose causal origins lay only within the percipient-but he acknowledged that other psychiatrists would look at this phenomenon differently. He said he regards the hallucination theory as just as much a theory as the theory that there is a spiritual world into which some people are capable of seeing. It is apparent that he is using the concepts coming from various competing explanatory structures, each with its own characteristic ontology.
The two Christic apparitions that came to my attention through acquaintances are people who know the principal persons well. Both experiences involve healings, and have been published. Betty Baxter has very widely recounted her experience of having been healed by Jesus when she was twelve from a condition of being crippled and deformed. Her mother and several other people were present at this event, and reportedly also saw Jesus perform the healing. Betty Baxter describes details of trying to touch him as he stood before her, of a friend reprimanding him for standing too far away, of seeing a vision within this apparition experience, and finally of being healed as he placed his hand upon her severely deformed spine. Her story was written up in The Fairmont Daily Sentinel (Fairmont, Minnesota) in 1952, according to the dust jacket of a recording.17 Her story was available in booklet form for some time, but I have only heard the recording. Gulshan Esther reports having been healed after an apparition of Jesus at a time in her life when she was a devout Muslim and her only knowledge of Christianity was the little information found in the Quran.18 She was crippled by typhoid when only six months of age. She claims that Jesus and his apostles all appeared to her, and that she was taught the Lord’s Prayer during this encounter nineteen years later. It was her knowledge of this prayer that convinced a Christian missionary in Pakistan to risk his right to stay in the country by catechizing her. Esther now lives in Oxford, England, and conducts frequent missions to Pakistan. This case is unusual inasmuch as the knowledge apparently exhibited about Christian beliefs by the percipient seems to have been very minimal. It presents interesting evidence pertaining to the extent to which previous knowledge shapes the phenomenological content of a percipient’s experience.
I identified a fifth group of cases in my introductory remarks to this chapter, cases in which percipients see Jesus as a child or as a crucified adult. These are cases in which people seem to “see” events as they happened long ago, or ones in which people somehow have events of the past replicated in their phenomenological experience. Julian of Norwich’s experience was of this kind, and some of Teresa of Avila’s experiences were as well, and in each of these cases we have some fairly detailed accounts. Christianity Today recently conveyed a report of such an event having been collectively observed in China. The account comes from Karen Feaver, legislative assistant for U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf. She reports the following incident as a message was preached to a crowd unfamiliar with Christianity: “A vision of Jesus walking among them and then suffering on the cross appeared to all gathered. When the teacher told of Jesus rising from the dead, the vision showed Jesus ascending to heaven gloriously.”19 Ted Harrison also gives an account of a twentieth-century stigmatic who saw, among other things, “Christ being whipped, mocked and given the crown of thorns.”20 It is very difficult to understand how one might experience visual reenactments of past events “not as a dream but as real life,” as one author has described this phenomenon.21 The extraordinary character of these claims is far beyond the scope of conceptual resources derived from ordinary experience to handle. These kinds of experiences are reminiscent of time-travel stories found in science fiction, where people are able to experience events of the past.
This completes the cases toward which most of my critical reflection will be directed. I believe it is instructive to compare them with cases of Christic “encounters” that are very clearly experienced as OBEs. One person not included among the percipients already mentioned described an OBE experience to me in which she saw and touched Jesus in so lifelike a form that she was convinced that he somehow presently exists. Ann Bukalski had the sensation of leaving her body and traveling to a place of very bright light, where she saw and embraced him and her deceased parents. She described her OBE experience in the words: “I had physical sensations that felt as physically real to me as strong physical sensations feel when I am awake,” adding that she felt that she was fully awake at the time. The figure that appeared to Ann as Jesus was a man wearing a long white gown made of tightly woven, smooth linen. He had long dark brown hair, piercing eyes, but no beard. He seemed to be about thirty years of age and of average height (under six feet). No wounds appeared on his body, but the recognition was instantaneous and unquestioned. Ann said that in her OBEs she would “leave her body” through her head, and would see places from some distance above the earth. On one occasion she saw well-known landmarks in Washington, D.C. When I had driven up to her house a few hours earlier I had noticed two basketball hoops at right-angles to each other, attached to the house and garage. I suppose they caught my attention because few houses have two such hoops. I asked her about her sense of location in her OBEs, and whether she had ever had experienced images of these hoops and the roof of the house from the top. She assured me that she had, and went on to describe an incident in which she had “left her body” and was positioned between two expanses of wood, one of which was moving. This puzzled her greatly, for she did not know where she was. Finally she figured out that she was below the wooden ceiling of the family room, and above the wooden blade of a moving fan. She directed my attention to the exact spot where this had occurred. I find it remarkable that people can provide convincing descriptions of experiences whose phenomenological details do not correspond to positions that their bodies would normally be in. By excluding from my study the OBEs that involve a Christic encounter, I do not mean to imply anything about the relative value of this kind of experience compared to Christic visions and apparitions. I simply think there is value in examining a cluster of similar experiences, all the while retaining awareness of the much broader experiential domain to which this cluster can be considered to belong.
I mentioned above that my interest in Christic apparitions was aroused in 1965 by seeing the film mentioned in connection with Kenneth Logie. But several reports in the seven or eight years after that persuaded me that the phenomenon deserved closer scrutiny. One report was made by a professor of engineering from India in a public meeting in Adelaide, South Australia, during 1970 or 1971. My recollection is that he told of two Christic apparitions, and after the second he converted to Christianity. This experience caught my attention at the time because it seemed that the dominant religious influence in his life had been Hinduism, not Christianity, so the experience did not seem to fit with the common belief that it is only Christians who have visions of Jesus. Of course, Christianity has been in India for a very long time, so the influences upon him might have been subconscious. I did not speak to him about his experiences, and cannot report their details with any confidence.
A second incident is of a more personal kind, inasmuch as it involves a Christic visionary experience reported to my mother by one of her friends. It seems that her friend had such an experience just after Mother had prayed for her, and reported it while it was happening. Mother saw nothing, but was awestruck by the incident. My recollection is that it happened in about 1972, but Mother did not speak of it often, and would only do so if she was fairly sure that it would not be met with ridicule. She died well before the research on this book began, and I do not know the identity of the person involved, so I cannot say much more about it. Lifelong associations with family members produce convictions about their credibility that argument is impotent to alter, so I have no doubt at all about the accuracy of Mother’s portion of the report. I cannot comment on her source, however, although I know she believed it was genuine.
There are several features of the foregoing accounts that I find particularly thought provoking. The first is their extraordinary variety, and in saying this I reveal my earlier inclination to think of visionary phenomena in a stereotypical way. A careful scrutiny of the accounts that have come down to us in history would probably have revealed this variety, but only upon being confronted with the contemporary experiences did I come to appreciate their variety and complexity. This point has important implications for any explanations that might be proposed, and might even call into the question the plausibility of grouping together all of the Christic visions and apparitions described above for purposes of explaining them, as though a single kind of explanation could be adequate.
A second interesting feature of the accounts is the complexity of the experiences revealed in them. Visions are much more than vivid mental images produced at will by concentrating on sensory information previously experienced, perhaps aided by closing one’s eyes, dimming the lights, or ingesting mind-altering substances. The percipients I met seemed to have little control over the onset, duration, or content of their visions. Moreover, the phenomena were not confined to the visual domain. Philosophers have often isolated momentary perceptions for analysis, such as the circular red sensation. Such an approach to analyzing experience could tempt one to interpret a vision as a series of visual phenomena isolated from sensory phenomena of other sorts, and poorly connected to the physical environment in which visionaries find themselves. Perhaps visions of these kinds occur, but the ones reported to me included a complex interplay of sensations of various kinds and interaction with the immediate environment.
James Gibson is often credited with having shown the complexity of ordinary perception. In The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems he develops the view that the senses are active systems, not passive ones, and that they are interrelated, rather than mutually exclusive.22 He notes that five systems are typically involved in ordinary perception: (1) the basic orienting system, (2) the visual system, (3) the haptic system (including touch), (4) the auditory, and (5) the system of taste and smell. Although taste and smell were seldom reported to me, most of the other systems were frequently involved. The basic orienting system allows us to determine the position of our own bodies without the use of sight or touch. It very rarely functions independently of other systems, however, and the combined and integrated information they yield allows us to know about the space we are in and changes to the environment. For example, the interaction between the changes in retinal images and the semicircular canals in the inner ear that detect movement allows us to avoid misinterpreting movement of our heads as moving objects. People whose canals do not work properly report the world bobbing up and down as they walk, for the correction of retinal information does not take place as it should.23 Virtually all of the apparition percipients give silent testimony to the functioning of their basic orienting systems in close cooperation with their visual systems. Even in cases where percipients thought that the environment they were in had changed, the experience did not seem to exhibit any deviance as far as the basic orienting system was concerned, for they knew if they were lying down or standing, moving or stationary, and so on.
A third provocative feature of the accounts was the presence of reports that placed the experience in a group setting or in the intersubjectively observable domain. Though there are not many of these, there are enough to give one pause. Reports of intersubjective experiences naturally call to mind the NT post-Resurrection appearance stories, for that literature describes both private and group experiences, as well as some with intersubjectively observable effects. Of course, the post-biblical literature on Christic visions also makes reference to group experiences and those with intersubjectively observable effects. The arresting quality of the contemporary experience cries out for a reconsideration of the NT appearance stories.
1. The term anointing is used by some to refer to a special bestowal of divine favor.
2. This is known as glossolalia or speaking in tongues.
3. Apparitions and Ghosts: A Modern Study, p. 7.
4. Ibid., p. 273.
5. Ernie Hollands (with Doug Brendel), Hooked. Ernie passed away in October, 1996.
6. The United Church of Canada is a union of Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist churches.
7. Luke 24:45.
8. This is the same church in which Joy Kinsey reported the experience described in Case 1.
9. On Prophesying by Dreams, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, 462bl-3.
10. The Bleeding Mind: An Investigation into the Mysterious Phenomenon of Stigmata.
11. The Life of St. Francis. In Bonaventure.
12. 23.8 in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 2.
13. For example, G.N.M. Tyrrell, Apparitions, p. 8f.
14. Richard Cavendish, ed., vol. 8, pp. 1093-1101.
15. Putting the Soul Back in Psychology, p. 87.
16. The Orthodox Church, p. 128.
17. Praise Records FRS1026.
18. Esther, The Torn Veil: The Story of Sister Gulshan Esther.
19. May 16,1994.
20. Stigmata: A Medieval Mystery in a Modern Age, p. 109.
21. H. A. Baker, Visions Beyond the Veil.
22. P. 47f.
23. J. Z. Young, Philosophy and the Brain, p. 107f.
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