Tuesday, October 27, 2009


During mass, I usually sit in the last section of pews, even sometimes in the very last pew. Contrary to what one might think, I am not far from God there. In fact, I find God’s presence to be very strong in our Old Mission Church, so strong that when I approach the altar, I involuntarily tremble. Deep within me and simultaneously all around me and spread throughout the church but epicentered at the altar is a power so immense that it exceeds the ability to comprehend. In the back of the church, I am free to bask quietly in the radiant presence of God’s love. Sometimes, in the basking, I do not know where I stop and God begins, a continuum that I experience in greater intensity during contemplative prayer.

All the same, there is a part of me that feels unworthy, having spent so many decades as an atheist, to approach the altar, that awesome place of divine glory, and so I sit, appropriately in my consideration, in the remoter pews in our large church. When I look around me and especially in front of me, I see people who have spent their entire lives worshiping God, and then I begin to feel like an interloper even though I know that God wants me there. Especially difficult for me were daily masses the winter before last when the only warm place in our unheated church during an unusually cold spell was around the altar, where chairs were placed for the few of us who attended daily mass. I would shake throughout the entire mass. It was not from the cold but from the overwhelming sense of God's powerful presence.

There was a time, however, when I was impelled to approach this glorious presence. A visiting friend, Julie, preferred to sit in the front section of pews. I described to her my reaction whenever I came close to the altar, so we compromised on the last row of the front section. She had not experienced such a reaction, but she was a cradle Catholic who knows much more than I do about God and His church. Most of my "knowing" comes from experiencing God although I do read voraciously. Most of her knowing came from catechism lessons and a lifetime of church activity. She was, however, to have an experience similar to ones I have periodically.

As she was getting on the plane to return home, she heard a very clear voice say, "Tell Beth to come closer." She immediately knew that this referred to my reluctance to approach the altar. Surprisingly, she never questioned what she had heard. As soon as she arrived home, she called and told me.

"I don't know, Julie, if I can do that," I told her. "I am afraid."

"Well, I think you better at least try," she responded. I knew she was right, but I really was nervous about it. I also knew that if I shared this nervousness with anyone else in the congregation, they would consider me odd. And if I told them what Julie had heard, they would likely consider both of us delusional. So, I said nothing, but I knew I would obey. Since my conversion, I always obey, which is quite strange considering that I had previously always been considered a rebel.

At vespers the following Saturday after receiving the host, I paused nervously at the altar railing, silently stating, "Okay, Lord, here I am; I came all the way to the front and instead of quickly passing on to the cup and returning to the last pew, I am still here."

"Not enough; come alone" was the response. Alone? Alone was even more frightening! Alone, in fact, was highly frightening! But alone it would be.

Our mission church is considered a tourist attraction. Therefore, it is open all day every day. Nonetheless, there are times that it is empty, and I know when those times are. So, I came back -- alone, as ordered.

As I knelt alone at the altar railing, I saw what looked like heat waves rising from the altar. As I watched, the height of the waves grew higher and higher. Concerned that my eyes were playing tricks on me, I pulled my driving glasses out of my purse and donned them. Once again, the waves started as a thin layer on top of the altar and grew higher and higher. And then I heard the words: "Do not be afraid to come all the way to Me."

I do not know how long I knelt there. I could not immediately move. I did not want to move.

I am still sorting out what this experience means and why God graced me with it. Maybe I will never know the answer to either question. Maybe it is not meant for me to know. If I am supposed to know, God will send someone or another experience to teach me that which He would have me understand.

Meanwhile, I continue to sit in the back of the church where I do feel God's presence. I still feel less worthy than others to sit farther forward. I am no longer afraid, however, to come all the way to Him, to experience the awe of His divine glory, or to allow Him full access to every fiber of my being during contemplative prayer.

I would love to know if others have had similar experiences and how that experience was interpreted. What do you know about such things?


  1. I once heard an audible voice that said "Leviticus" It was a shout that filled the room. I was very close to the Lord at that time..in prayer and study. I still am but he has never responded to me in that way sense.

  2. I think God responds to us in the way He needs to in order to get us to listen. He may have to be rougher with me than with most because I am so hard-headed, stubborn, "deaf" (i.e. not tuned into the subtleties of life), and otherwise impervious to input. It does not happen to me regularly but at important or critical junctures -- and usually I am being a blockhead at the time.

    What was in Leviticus that you were supposed to read? I was twice told to read something, and both times it contained an answer.

  3. Hi Elizabeth, how nice to find you as a follower of my humble little blog. I hope you don't mind but i always consider my followers as friends.:)To answer your question... It took me awhile to realize that Leviticus is about living a holy and obedient life. I must explain that a few weeks prior to the event i was going through a difficult trial and one day in prayer I had tearfully asked the Lord "What are the rules of life?".. I often have dreams that i refer to as my spiritual check ups. My best friend told me that i was not special :) but that i wouldn't listen to the Lord in the day time so he had to speak to me at night. :-)

  4. Your friend may be right! I don't think God gives up on us just because we belong to the obtuse set of people!! ;)

  5. Oh Gosh... I've had lots of experiences... I'll stick to the one that fits your story here the best.

    When I was in my mid 20s a very dear friend tried to convert me. Now... I've always been a Christian, never had one moment of doubt in God's presence, but I've never found a church that fitted. As a child it never bothered me. I loved God and Jesus with as much innocent passion as I loved my parents and that was that... then I started schools where church-going was questioned and labelled and I started feeling guilty. Less worthy.

    ..and the converters arrived. They mean well, but usually do more harm than good. From the age of 16 to 36 I have had seven close dear friends try to force me (lovingly, but bullies nevertheless) to join their particular church.

    Interestingly, I just realised all seven belonged to different churches.

    But this particular story belongs to friend #4.

    It finally reached a stage where I knew I had to tell him, firmly and gently, that the answer was and always would be "no". I felt so bad. I didn't want to hurt him. So I daftly agreed to go to church with him... in order to then let him down at the end of it all.

    I'd never been to his church before and he was so thrilled (he was kind of my adopted brother in spirit so this was a big deal for him). I sat there feeling appalling guilt through the service as he sat there GLOWING.

    Then it got worse... they started to bring the water and wine around. Up till then I'd only been to churches that expected you to walk to the front. I'd never done that, because as a non-church member I either felt I had no right or I knew I had no right.

    But in his church they send around little trays and everyone takes their bread and wine together. As the tray came my way I was in sheer terror. My palms were wet and my heart thumping. How could I do this, for the first time in my life, on the day I intended to admit I was never going to convert to this church?

    As the woman next to me handed me the tray every eye in the row was on me. EVERYONE was looking and smiling. I couldn't turn the tray away, that would have insulted them all.

    So ... I took the bread and little cup of liquid and did what everyone else was doing.

    Except in my case I first sent out a very heartfelt prayer for forgiveness. I asked God to forgive me and to help me because I was about to hurt this dear friend very deeply by refusing his faith, but I had no other choice. In my heart and soul I knew this was not where I belonged.

    Then I swallowed...

    it was... incredible. I swallowed bread that turned into fire and light. It filled me up from the toenails, like bubbles of golden love so great and all-encompassing I felt like I must have swelled to the size of Australia.

    I have felt God's love once or twice before and since, but nothing as intensely ALIVE as it was that day.

    I learnt, that regardless of what we think or what others may tell us, NO-ONE is unworthy.

  6. I got the chills while your were explaining this. I know God is in my heart and my life. I think if I were to go to your church I would choose to sit next to you!
    Thank-you for sharing this.
    God Bless,

  7. Thank you, Ginger. You are very welcome to come to my church and sit next to me anytime you are visiting the central coast of California!

  8. I'm so glad you shared this experience. I think God likes to surprise us once in a while and bless us with these special visitations. You have blessed me and others by sharing with us. Thank you so much for that.

  9. Oh, my, I just noticed your comment, Charlotte. Only took me a year!!