Here are some cases taken from Phillip Wiebe’s book Visions of Jesus (1997), which, of course, involves people claiming they’ve seen Jesus:
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 Christie 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 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 mementoes 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 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 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, afterher 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 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 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.
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 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.
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.” 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.”
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.