My first encounter with the Holy Spirit took my breath away, literally. Or should I say, it was the first time I anticipated an actual encounter, but I was skeptical that it would materialize.
A close friend had invited me to her church, so I went out of curiosity and a desire to experience something new and perhaps a bit bizarre. I am always up for a little je ne sais quoi.
My initial impression when I saw how many cars were in the parking lot was surprise. Peering through the window in the door to the chapel, I saw the enormous crowd inside. The man standing in front of the altar, a large middle-aged man with a great crucifix hanging about his neck, was speaking to them.
I spied a seat in a pew to the far right and waited there for my friend. The speaker from New Mexico, Dr. Bob Rice, a recent convert to Catholicism, explained what was going to follow, given the multitude of people in attendance and the need to create some semblance of order. Each individual would first approach the altar, then take a place around it on the vast expanse of carpeted podium. Behind each person a man, ranging from high school age to a gentleman with a shock of white hair, would come and stand.
Before this took place, Rice spoke passionately yet humorously, causing the huddle of three women in my pew to burst into fits of giggles. Rice clearly knows how to speak to the human condition, goading us while encouraging us at the same time. I had missed the day prior in which he spent a full day speaking, providing stories of his life as well as the many healings he has witnessed, healings that are as normal and expected for him as a stroll in the garden.
Rice reminded us of the Spirit’s presence within each of us, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
For the first time I participated in singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in public worship. It was a moving experience, hearing so many voices echoing the very words I have sung so many times. Afterwards, there were two large tear puddles left on the top of the pew we kneeled behind, one mine and one my friend’s.
Our chief difficulty was that we had only three tissues between the two of us.
Then it was time to begin the procession to the altar, where we would stand in a circle in small groups. It was clear from the direction of the lineup that we would be some of the last people to go, allowing me ample time to observe others and know what to expect.
The first group consisted of women, all of whom promptly fell. By this I mean they literally leaned back and keeled over like the softest pillows were piled behind them and not just a single man who may or may not be able to catch them as they did the Lipton tea plunge.
This must be a particularly gullible group of women, I decided. I noticed my son’s soccer coach was standing with his youngest daughter across the church from me, and I worried that I would look like an idiot and fall over, too.
To my disbelief, grown men were also falling over. Nearly everyone that Rice approached fell over. I watched closely, and there was definitely no pushing going on. He simply placed his fingers below their jaw, barely touching them. “Be healed in the name of Jesus,” he said.
After witnessing my son’s soccer coach falling over, which I had to crane my neck to see, I quickly revised my worries. Now I hoped I wouldn’t look like an idiot and not fall over.
I had been praying that my friend would fully receive the Spirit, not resist it at all, for she had been to several healings and never fell, due to what she believes is her resistance based on fear. I didn’t know what to pray for me, but I was eager to embrace the Spirit in any way it would manifest itself.
As we stepped up to the podium, I said, “Wow, there sure are a lot of angels here.”
Why I felt that, I don’t know, other than I had a sensation of great movement around me in the arches of the ceiling. As we waited our turn, I wondered if the heels of my shoes would allow me to tip over backwards, and I had a strong temptation to inconspicuously test them out.
And then my friend’s daughter fell. My friend said, “Oh, my God” in response, and then Rice stood before her, and she didn’t fall, just as she’d predicted.
I closed my eyes as Rice walked in front of me, forgetting to check if there was indeed someone behind me, and if he looked strong enough to catch me. The first thought I had was, “See, I knew nothing was going to happen,” and then I was overcome with the compulsion to gasp.
I felt a force like the wind. But unlike the energy that moves tree limbs, it was a wind that can’t be felt in a tangible way. Simultaneously, I gasped and fell over. Before I could think a conscious thought, I found myself on the floor.
“I didn’t even bump my head,” was the next thing I did think.
Opening my eyes, I lay there wondering what on earth had just happened to me. I thought of Genesis and God breathing life into Adam and considered that perhaps the energy I sensed contained within these walls had something to do with what had just touched me with only the barest of its strength.
Because I knew that what I had felt was only the tiniest increment of what this energy was capable of.
“And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’” and in 50 days, at Pentecost, the Spirit would come…
“Like the blowing of a violent wind,” the Spirit entered this space and somehow entered me and the other participants. This powerful energy that Christ left behind when he joined God over two thousand years ago, the Spirit of truth, the Counselor, the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Trinity, that dwells in our hearts, fills us, baptizes us, sanctifies us, vindicates us, and empowers us.
“Harry Potter is one boy in a long line of mythical heroes who have reminded the human race that we are so much more than we think we are, so much more powerful than we seem to know. Jesus said that we would someday do even greater works than He; should we not take Him at His word? And should not ‘someday’ be today? It’s time for us to start working miracles, if indeed we have the capacity within us to do so.”
~ Marianne Williamson, Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness And Making Miracles