I was a child of the late 60s and early 70s, and embraced the values of the “counter-culture,” sex, drugs and rock and roll, all the while believing myself a non-conformist. In my culture, there was a profound undercurrent of spiritual searching. I even took a college course at Tufts University on Altered States of Awareness, whose subtext was: “buyer beware, an introduction to the spiritual supermarket.” It was taught by a balding, sixties-ish friend of LSD guru Timothy Leary, who taught just a couple miles away at Harvard. It was during that class that my dogmatic atheism fell apart. We confronted paranormal experiences from a western scientific model, and concluded that reason and the scientific method were inadequate to explain many things, including spiritual experiences, out-of-body phenomena and faith healing.
Searching for God
The following year found me in Tucson, Arizona, reading about Mexican Indian shamans, and their peyote rituals and bizarre experiences, as retold by a UCLA graduate student, the subject of his doctoral dissertation. All the while, I was studying yoga and meditation at the Sikh ashram. I was searching for God. I didn’t know where to look, or how to find Him, but I was definitely seeking.
The next year, I returned to New York City, rented an apartment, and accepted a position as an apprentice in a local pottery studio. I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college, so I was taking a break. I had seen too much misery in my parents’ generation, too much drunkenness and infidelity and divorce. If working hard all your life, and buying into the corporate world produced no more happiness than what I witnessed, I guess I would have to “drop out” and learn to get along being poor. It certainly wasn’t worth all the effort just to wind up as miserable as my parents’ generation. There had to be something better.
My search for God continued in New York. One night, I was alone in my apartment, playing Ravi Shankar sitar music over and over again, meditating and thinking about how to find God. Finally, I stood up and shook my fist at the ceiling, and shouted out: “God, there is no way I can find you! There is nowhere I can go, nothing I can do, no mountain I can climb, if you are not willing to reveal yourself to me.”
Invitation to Hawaii
The year before, while I had been in school in Tucson, I had received a phone call from my old friend and neighbor from New York, David Lawrence. His grandfather was a very prominent figure in the twentieth century, friend and advisor to a series of presidents, founder and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. David had left New York a couple of years earlier, and I had lost track of him. “Alan, I have the truth of the universe to turn you onto, you have to come out to Hawaii and see me.” He was on summer break from college in Australia, of all places. Something deep down inside told me that he was right, and that I had to go visit him.
It was November, and I had already purchased tickets home for Christmas. I didn’t know when or how I would get to Hawaii. New Year’s Eve, I was walking through Central Park with two close friends, on our way to see the fireworks at midnight. Through the mental haze of the evening’s indulgences, my mind was looping on the essential questions: who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning and purpose of my life? How can I know God? Suddenly, God pierced the darkness of my mind and spoke to me: “only through Me can your life find meaning and purpose.” “Repent. “
The next day, David called again from Hawaii and urged me to come and learn about God. He claimed the Holy Spirit had impressed him to call that day. I knew it was not a coincidence. A few weeks later, my brother was driving home from NY to LA and stopped to see me in Tucson. I asked him to play backgammon with me, so that I could win enough money to buy a plane ticket to fly to Hawaii to hear the truth of the universe. He agreed. We played all night. We were very evenly matched. By four in the morning, I had won the three hundred dollars I needed. He was very upset, and made me pay him back later.
Sitting on a mountain top, overlooking the rain forest on one side, and the volcano and ocean on the other, I read the New Testament for the first time with David, and heard the gospel. I did not evolve from monkeys, David said, but God created all this beauty because He loves us. Walking back to his mom’s house that afternoon, the internal argument raged: “Alan, what’s wrong with you, you’re believing this stuff!” I was apologizing to myself, but admitting that the presence of God was undeniable. I knew it as surely as I knew anything.
I left Hawaii convinced but not converted. It would take two and a half more years, and a trip to a Christian college – Pacific Union College, to complete the process. It was there, again listening to my friend David, this time studying the Bible with someone he had just met, that the Holy Spirit descended upon me. I was doing yoga stretches lazily in the beautiful California sunshine, listening to the Bible study, affirming that what I was hearing was true. When we left that afternoon, I knew I had been born again.
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