In 1996, my supervisor loaned me the book “Conversations With God,” by Neale Donald Walsch. Walsch’s testimony: “In the spring of 1992, an extraordinary phenomenon occurred in my life. God began talking to you. Through me.”
I would have had an easier time had Walsch said God was talking to Walsch. I’m quite open to the idea of a person’s experience of receiving revelation. I’ve had that experience, myself. And, while I’m not, in principle, closed to the idea of God saying something to me by way of saying it to you … well, that extra layer of mediation can’t help but add a wrinkle to the equation. I was reared in religious community, and have spent most of my life hanging with religious people. I’ve learned to hesitate, to foster a healthy suspicion when someone says, “Steven, God told me something he wants to say to you.”
I’m not saying it’s impossible, mind you. To the contrary, my own testimony includes the experience of receiving a divine word of inspiration, instruction or correction communicated “prophetically.” That is, through another human being. Yet, most of these experiences have happened in moments of inspiration that surprised and delighted both myself and the “prophet” in question. Walsch took it to another level. He presupposes that anybody who reads his book is/was intended to be in God’s audience.
So, I hesitated. It’s no easy thing to tell the difference between an authentic religious experience and mere psychological projection, not to mention covert political agenda. To put it graphically, if you say to me, “Steven, God wants you to know that you are going to hell,” the only thing about which I can be sure is that you are pretty sure I should go to hell, and perhaps would even be pleased and satisfied to know I was there.
So, given my history, and given that my supervisor was, in my opinion, easily enamored by “woowoo” spirituality, I accepted the book mostly to demonstrate my willingness to know and respect my supervisor as a colleague and friend – a fellow traveler in this human experience. Plus, I’m the sort who likes to stay abreast of what is going on in collective movements of human spirituality, be they, in my opinion, evolutions or devolutions.
All to say I opened the book with a skepticism bordering on disdain. I mean, come on. Really? God began dictating to you? Hmm …
And then, right there in the introduction, Walsch did the one thing that always buys credibility in my company. He revealed an abject humility:
“I need now to say that I am deeply embarrassed by my own life, which has been marked by continued mistakes and misdeeds, some very shameful behaviors, and some choices and decisions which I’m certain others consider hurtful and unforgivable. Though I have profound remorse that it was through others’ pain, I am unspeakably grateful for all that I have learned, and found that I have still yet to learn, because of the people in my life. I apologize to everybody for the slowness of that learning. Yet I am encouraged by God to grant myself forgiveness for my failings and not to live in fear and guilt but to always keep trying – keep on trying – to live a grander vision. I know that’s what God wants for all of us.”
That little speech is all I need to know that Walsch and I could talk. Could be colleagues and perhaps friends. That, whatever we agreed or disagreed about theologically, however different was our spiritual practice, we could embrace each other in the universal truths of human finitude, folly and brokenness. Because Walsch “gets” that, I could trust him to be a human being, and trust that he won’t pretend to be anything else.
This is a defining theme for me in intimate relationships. If I can’t trust this in you, we’re not going to be close.
If I ever meet Neale Donald Walsch, I wonder if he would find it ironic that that one introductory paragraph is my favorite part of the entire book. That I have it near memorized. That I wake up every morning with that same confession in my mouth. I intend to recite it from my hospice bed.
To some, the confession might sound negative. A real downer. To me, the confession is light and liberation. Because it’s the truth about me. And about you. And the truth sets us free.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or email@example.com.