During my sophomore year in college I shared a room on the third floor of a co-op with a friend from junior high. On the floor below lived Diane, a girl I jokingly referred to as “the devil” because she slinked around at night wearing dark clothes and kept a devil puppet on her bed post.
One afternoon I sat on the floor of my room listening to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly and painting designs on the drawer fronts of my dresser. Suddenly a vision of an old man with a long white beard appeared in front of me, as if suspended in a cloud. There were no words connected with the vision, just an overwhelming sense that I was loved and I was safe. After a few seconds the vision faded and I was confused. I considered myself far too sophisticated to believe God actually looked like an old man with a white beard. So what had I seen? Who had I seen? Had I really seen anything at all?
Just then the vision appeared a second time: the same face with the same beard and the same deeply calm reassurance that I was loved. I jumped up in a state of ecstasy and rushed out of my room, needing to tell someone what had happened.
In the hall I ran into Diane on her way to the shared bathroom. Even though I would never have chosen to bare my soul to someone I called the devil, I couldn’t contain myself. “Diane,” I blurted, “I think I just saw God.” She didn’t scoff or scorn me as I expected, but took me seriously. We re-evaluated our opinions of each other: Maybe this tall blonde entitled prep school brat is actually interesting. Maybe this opinionated self-absorbed Jewish poet has a kind soul. We became lifelong friends.
But how was I to understand these two visions? What did they mean? What should I do? Was it normal to have visions of God?
As a child I was baptized and then confirmed at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor before being sent to boarding school. St. Andrews’ campus outreach, Canterbury House, hosted top-name folk groups in an uber cool setting near campus, complete with a super hip young priest in charge of the ministry. I made an appointment to talk with him about my visions. We met in his basement office and I began by asking if any people in the Bible ever had visions of God. Without missing a beat, he said, “No.” I mumbled some excuse and left with an even more confused and heavy heart.