by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
I am bright enough when it comes to practical or literary matters or getting along with people. But when it comes to understanding, applying, and feeling metaphysical principles, I can be pretty dense. So God has been really merciful and kind to me. She has supplied real-life experiences just when I needed them most, in order to help me feel something I otherwise could not have grasped. Lately I have been sensing that before I die—after all, 84 is a pretty ripe age—I should acknowledge God’s kindness to me, and do it in writing. So here goes!
“I JUST WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY”
Growing up in Protestant fundamentalism, I lived in fear once I realized that I was sexually attracted to girls, not boys. (For me, that realization came in early childhood). For years I resisted my sexual orientation, living celibate in high school and college, praying to be healed, marrying a man and giving birth to a son in an attempt to become heterosexual. People who did not believe in behaviorism in any other context urged me to go through the motions, after which my behavior would transform my attractions. It was a totally false premise; my advisors must have known it, and I certainly sensed it. But I hoped.
All of that changed one night when my husband and son were both asleep and I was on my knees in the living room, begging God to heal me. Suddenly I heard a Voice in my brain (not out loud, but it was a different voice than my own). The Voice said, “Virginia, what do you want for your son?” I did not hesitate to respond: “I just want him to be happy.” The Voice replied, “And that is exactly what I want for you!”
Suddenly, I understood what it means to say that God loves Her children (including me) unconditionally. It’s about mother-love. I remember the great tenderness that stirred in me when I felt my son moving in my womb. I knew the everyday love I felt for him. I knew that whatever he might do, I could never turn against him or abandon him. And above all, I yearned for him to have a happy and fulfilling life. The Voice was telling me that God felt that same kind of maternal love toward me! That concept, I could understand in all my being. So I got up off my knees and became a Christian lesbian activist, never again asking to be healed of the way God had created me. Instead, I shared with others the good news that regardless of sex or gender orientation or race or abledness or any other distinction, God’s love to them is eternal and lovingly maternal. What a kind lesson that was!
“YOU’LL GET WHAT YOU NEED WHEN YOU NEED IT”
When I was a young college professor, I read many mystics from various religious traditions, and was encouraged to assert that God is love because that was the experience each of them reported. When I was reading about the French Jewish/Christian mystic Simone Weil, formerly an atheist, I began to feel envious of the fact that she sometimes enjoyed surprise visits from biblical leaders such as Moses. And she reported that Christ “came down and took possession of her” while she was reciting George Herbert’s poem that begins, “Love bade me welcome.”
So one day I asked God why Simone Weil got such blessed visitations and I didn’t. The Voice responded, “Because she needed them and you don’t.” I understood that the Voice was clearly implying that whenever I truly needed an experience, it would be supplied. And so far, that has certainly been true.
Here is one outstanding instance. I was scheduled to teach a full day of classes, but my heart was broken because my love-companion of 16 years had left our relationship just two days before. Sitting in the parking lot at William Paterson College (now University), I asked God to give me strength to focus on the tasks at hand despite my devastating grief. Immediately I felt the impulse to turn on my car’s tape recorder and listen to whatever was next. What came up was a song based on A Course in Miracles, and these were the first words I heard: “Once you have accepted God’s plan as the one function that you would fulfill / There will be nothing else the Holy Spirit will not supply for you. / Nothing you need will be denied you. / Nothing you need will be denied you. / Not one single difficulty but will melt away before you meet it.”
I thanked God for that amazing reassurance and went to teach my classes with the confidence that somehow, everything would work out. And about nine months later, after learning how to manage solitary living, I met Suzannah Tilton. We married as soon as marriage equality became the law of the land.
“YOU ARE NEVER ALONE”
A dear friend of mine was dying of brain cancer in a hospital near Verona, New Jersey. I had always felt nervous about hospitals and preferred to have someone with me whenever I visited a hospitalized person. But Doris was not able to hold a conversation, and I wanted just to sit peacefully with her without worrying about someone else’s schedule. So I dared to go to the hospital alone.
Walking down the hallway toward Doris’ room, I became very anxious and in my heart cried out, “God help me!” Suddenly, instantly, I felt a powerful Presence walking arm-in-arm in lockstep at my side. The Presence was more solid and more certain than any real-life companion I had ever walked beside. And from that day on I have known that I am never alone.
“THE ANSWERS ARE WITHIN YOU”
As I was nearing age 50, I began to write a journal, and here in 2016 I am currently writing journal number 48. Sometimes during these intervening years I have wondered about various questions—“Should I reconcile with an old friend whose attitudes had caused me to withdraw?”—that sort of thing. It occurred to me that I could write such questions in my journal, then listen for the response, and write down whatever I seemed to hear. Repeatedly I tried this method, and repeatedly I received answers that seemed correct and helpful, frequently answers that had never occurred to me before. Not merely, “yes, no, or maybe,” but finely nuanced responses with options I had never consciously explored.
One day, after many such responses, I asked, “What is the name of the Being who is helping me in this manner? I think I ought to be thanking my Helper by name.” The answer was immediate and amused: “Surely you cannot imagine that any of us would object to being called the Holy Spirit!”
I took that response to mean several things: first, that the names of individual Spirit-Helpers do not matter, because all of them are aspects of the Holy Spirit. And secondly, since the Holy Spirit was sent to be our inner companion and inspiration (John 7: 38-39), the answers ultimately are located within my own eternal Self, where the Holy Spirit dwells.
“TIME IS NOT REAL”
I had been studying A Course in Miracles, which teaches that time and space are merely forms that we human beings are temporarily limited by. They do not apply to our eternal Selves, which are the ultimate truth about who we are as the children of God—thoughts within God’s mind, or extensions of God’s Self. This makes complete sense to me intellectually, but I could not imagine how it would feel to be living consciously in my eternal Selfhood while being temporarily limited by space and time. So I asked God please to reveal to me how it feels to know that space and time are not real. In answer to that prayer, I had two humanly unexplainable experiences, each of which answered my question. But since I tend to think of one experience as primarily about time and the other primarily about space, I will describe them separately. First, how does it feel to be eternal while living in a body that is controlled by a human measurement called time?
I was scheduled to meet with my colleagues from interreligious dialogue for a radio show to be recorded at Riverside Church in Manhattan. The trip to Riverside from Hewitt, New Jersey, is approximately 90 minutes in medium traffic, not counting the time it takes to find a parking space. Unfortunately, I got caught up in an argument with my partner and did not realize how rapidly time was passing. By the time I realized, I had only 30 minutes to make the trip.
Impossible! But I raced out to my car and drove to Manhattan. Traffic was medium to heavy, and everything else went smoothly except for the knowledge that I couldn’t make it.
I was surprised to realize that I felt physically ok, somewhat calmed by my prayers, amazingly relaxed, yet wondering how I could excuse my extreme lateness. Whenever I glanced at my watch I felt a bit encouraged, because there always seemed to be time to spare.
I parked in the multi-level lot beneath the church and took the elevator to the ground floor. But when I checked my watch, I was stunned. I had 20 minutes left before the radio show was slated to begin! Apparently I had made a 90-minute trip in approximately 10 minutes! I phoned my partner with the astonishing news and then took part in the radio discussion.
Later, driving home, I pondered what had happened to me. Now I knew how it felt to be an eternal Being living a human life within the boundaries of space and time—something I do every day but forget because space and time seem so real as part of my ordinary circumstances. I am living on two levels simultaneously, one in obedience to the calendar and clock, the other blissfully relaxed because I have forever to get wherever I’m going.
“SPACE IS NOT REAL”
A few weeks later, emboldened by my experience with time, I asked God please to show me in some specific way how it feels to be free of spatial limitations. My trip to Riverside Church had already demonstrated that my body could be moved more than ninety minutes’ worth within ten minutes —a spatial as well as a time experience. But I wanted an experience I could feel as primarily spatial.
Well, it had been snowing as I emerged from the side door of my garage in Hewitt. The top step of the two side steps was icy, and I lost my balance. I landed about ten feet from the bottom step, in the snowy grass near the stones lining a plot of pachysandra. How can a person as heavy as my body is, possibly be carried ten feet after a slight slip on the ice?
Impossible! Except that it happened. To me. For days afterward I would go out to the garage and marvel at the difference between where I slipped and where I landed. Apparently, no matter how real space feels on any ordinary day, my eternal Self is not at all limited by spatial boundaries.
“YOU CAN DIE HEALED”
My long-time friend Marilyn had been a lesbian from her college days on. But she married a man and pretended to be heterosexual. She felt sure that as long as she kept people out of her home-setting, they would assume her “normalcy.” I had serious doubts about that, as did her other friends who knew the truth about her. We sorrowed that her home was isolated because of what she considered her shameful secret.
Meanwhile, I was wondering and asking God what A Course in Miracles could possibly mean by teaching that it is possible to “die healed.” I understood that the Course defined “healing” as a spiritual matter, not necessarily a physical one. But still I wondered: how could a person experience the freedom of feeling healthy while her body was so sick it was dying?
Marilyn spent the last year of her life in a hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with complications from diabetes. On her birthday, when I told her I was embarrassed to wish her a happy birthday while she was stuck in the hospital, she broke into a huge smile and said, “Oh, but this is the happiest birthday of my life!” And the last time I visited her before she fell into her final coma, she said, “You know, if I ever get out of here, I will open up my home to my neighbors.”
Driving home, I realized that Marilyn’s body was dying but her spirit was healed and living in the peace and joy of her eternal Self. And my own spirit took flight with the relief and freedom of what Marilyn’s experience had demonstrated. Now that I have felt Marilyn’s peace at her inner healing, I am able to hope that when my moment comes, I too will “die healed.”
© 2016 by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Christian Feminism Today