Celestial messengers

Several minutes before the Seventh-day Adventist program begins, I slip into a chair next to a woman who is dressed to the nines. She and I appear close in age, though I am a dull stone next to her sparkle. She is wearing a bright yellow dress with a full skirt and matching heels. The color is electric against her black skin. The vibrant, lady-like attire simultaneously fights and flatters her tall, athletic physique. If life was a fashion spread, hers would be part social commentary, part satire: a fresh interpretation of the 50’s housewife. Her smoothed-back hair highlights a perfect heart-shaped face.

In a charming patois, she tells me she has recently moved here from the Dominican Republic to start a graduate program. I listen, enraptured. Her family wasn’t religious, she tells me, and didn’t attend worship services; she would watch from her bedroom window as a school acquaintance waited every Saturday morning for the bus to church. Something in her classmate’s patient demeanor piqued her curiosity about the destination.

Then, in high school, she began to receive visits from Jesus. She explains matter-of-factly that for many nights, he came to her in dreams, so vivid and real. I can tell by the sincerity with which she speaks that this experience had a profound influence on her. Not long after, she began to wait for the bus with her friend.

What she describes is not so different from what happened to Ellen White, the spiritual head of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. White’s visions began within a few weeks of the Great Disappointment. Something about the failed prediction regarding Christ’s return emboldened this otherwise ordinary young woman to channel divine messages.

During the visions, White grew limp and unresponsive on the outside; on the inside, she took epic journeys guided by angels and other heavenly creatures. She learns that Christ’s failure to appear was all part of God’s plan. Jesus hadn’t come to earth, but he had taken up residence in a “heavenly sanctuary” that, from what I understand, is an intermediary space a little closer to earth than wherever he was before. From this new location, the angels tell her, Jesus is conducting an “investigative judgment” of the planet’s inhabitants. In the meantime, true believers must get ready for the moment when Christ’s invisible presence becomes visible. Engaging in this preparation is the backbone of the Seventh-day Adventist belief system.

My new friend is hoping to meet Jesus again, this time in the flesh.

The Seventh-Day Adventists may be anticipating Jesus’ imminent return, but they don’t seem overly concerned regarding the details. The only mention of any sort of apocalyptic vision came at the end of the service as the microphone was passed around for congregants to share a few words about this or that. The microphone landed in the hands of an older Asian woman. She looked aristocratic, with her hair in a chignon and streaks of grey at her temples. She said, “I’m just so thankful the lord will be returning soon.” Everyone nodded their agreement and then it was time for lunch.

8 thoughts on “Celestial messengers

  1. Hi Corinna,
    Many people in Christianity experience visions of Jesus or visits from Jesus. Paul’s ministry in the New Testament resulted from such a vision. His was very dramatic and affected him physically. And, all the prophets in the Old Testament saw a vision or heard the voice of God. You talk about Jesus being in an intermediary space, closer than what we might normally consider heaven. To the Jew, there are several levels of heaven and the first level is all around us; very immediate. The OT calls it the “kingdom of the heavens.” Christians conceive of it as the kingdom of God which is all around you and accessible wherever you are.

    For the Christian, God is the ultimate point of reference, not the physical world. That begs the question, is reality secular? So much of the spiritual realm is speculative. Some people believe secularism is thus safer. But generally, Christians are comfortable with visions and when they are interpreted alongside the Bible, we feel we are on the right track. The Bible has a lot to say about God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit speaking to us. Not always totally clear, though! Many times it’s like “seeing through a glass darkly.”

    The word for church means “called out beings.” That is, we Christians “see” the kingdom of God, the spiritual realm all around us. So we learn how to be led by the Spirit. It is a lifetime endeavor to learn to live in an interactive relationship with Christ. Like anything, there are all levels and varieties of growth!

    Hope you have a great week. Keep at it!

    • Hi Ginger, Thank you for the fuel for thought. I notice that commenters are particularly quiet on this post and it makes wonder if it’s particularly uncomfortable or taboo to discuss such visions or similar phenomenon in our “modern” world. Yet, there’s such a history of these happenings in Christianity and other religions. It also makes me wonder if a person must be open to these events in order to see or interpret them as such and if maybe today’s people aren’t as open to these events…either that or shamed into silence.

      • Corinna, Mark has written some very good points here. Missionaries who work in Africa and India can tell a Bible story there that involves the activity of spirits and people in those countries have an entirely different perspective than a westernized Christian. They are much more aware of the reality of the spirit world. We seem to have a wall up, relying on our own empirical experience. Yet I speak to many western Christians who feel very confident that they hear Jesus’ voice and they trust it and act on it. Education isn’t the qualifier; some with PhDs. It seems to be more a matter of spiritual experience. The more they weigh it against the Bible and the more they pray, the more they trust it. You kind of learn to recognize Jesus’ voice. For example, in Acts, the Holy Spirit guided the apostles’ travels and they got it. It’s a very interesting thing. Sometimes I think God operates that way to keep us in a state of faith. We tend to want to program it ourselves! Such is human nature, right?

  2. Corinna,
    Currently we are going through a massive worldview shift from “Modernity” to “Post-Modernity”. Modernity imposed a western, scientific rationalism that took a skeptical view of anything that could not be proven through the scientific method. And so, any spiritual experiences were treated with disdain and pushed out of the secular sphere. Many western churches don’t know what to do with spiritual phenomena. Someone says, “God visited me,” and we instantly think, “Well, there is probably a psychological reason they concocted this experience through their subconscious mind.” Post-modernity, as a critique of modernity, has begun to embrace the idea of personal experience as a basis of a new kind of “truth.” But combine that with a rejection of capital-“A” Authority, and you get a kind of confusing world of experiences with no standard for judging their meaning.

    When I read the Bible, I realize that the ancient world had a very different worldview. And it is more like our modern third-world (Africa, Asia and Latin America). Any casual reading of the Bible shows a constant interaction of the heavenly realm with the material world. Angelic visitations, miracles, visions, and conversations with God. If you were in a church in Lagos, Nigeria, for example, you would not have a layer of western, scientific rationalism to cut through. There would be an acceptance of the spiritual realm and the reality of spiritual experiences being integrated with daily life.

    The lady from the Dominican Republic probably grew up in an environment that was more like the ancient world (in terms of worldview) and so, her visitations and dreams were not met with a western skepticism, but integrated with her worldview.

    As a Western Christian, I find it a challenge to cut through my modernist tendency to treat spiritual experiences with skepticism, and instead listen for understanding. In my life, I have “heard” God speak to me in many different ways: impressions, through circumstances, through other people, and yes, even audibly. I have embraced and integrated into my worldview a biblical perspective and am also constantly challenged to continue to do it, since I was raised and trained in a Modernist world. I admit it is a challenge.

    Thanks for you blog and keep it up.

  3. breaking radio silence….anyone out there??? Thanks Mark, Ginger, and Corinna (of course).
    A year after we became Christians, Michelle and I went to a Bible School in Wisconsin. That’s part of the old “Bible Belt” (not sure how true that is today). As a new Christian, I got confused early on about the Holy Spirit and all things spiritual. I found the teachers at school most unhelpful–they all had different views, they didn’t really talk much about either the Holy Spirit or visions and dreams in the modern world. Bottom line: I believe they were afraid of being labeled ‘charismatic’ and put on someone’s black list. I call it “Bible Belt McCarthyism.” That fear was palpable at times.

    We spent 17 years as part of a mission, eight of which we lived in West Africa. I realized that the spirit-world was real to these folks, and for a while, I wrote it off as superstition (like Mark, I have lived and struggled as a modernist to recognize the limitations of our scientific and rationalistic world view–though I would not consider myself a “post-modernist” either). If the Bible is true at all, there is a great spiritual realm out there that is just plain scary to most of us. I am frankly afraid to pursue that very much.

    However, yesterday, I was listening to Tim Keller (a Presby pastor from Manhattan). It was a message called “Imitating the Incarnation.” After mentioning the good and miraculous works Jesus did and the fact that he was totally surrendered to his Father as a servant, he said the following: “There was not one thing he did that you and I couldn’t do if we were as dependent on the Father as he was. And that’s an indictment.” He didn’t explore the implications of that (at least not in that message–I’m going to find the series it came from and listen to what else he may have said about it). Keller is no charismatic and is a big name in Reformed circles–but I find him to be honest with the Scriptures, which probably explains why he has such a huge church that he and his wife planted in 1989–in Manhattan! OK bye….

    • Hi Walt, I noticed you wrote “radio silence” and that made me wonder if you haven’t recieved notice of the few more recent posts? Maybe I am misinterpreting that, but there are some more recent posts and it’s possible your email updates have stopped coming to you. Check to make sure you are “following” still and, if you wish to be, come back!

      • I have all the notices! WordPress has a good system. No…I just have been snowed the last couple weeks, and my reading was spotty. I’m off again in a little bit, but I plan to play ‘catch-up’ this weekend. But thanks for noticing 🙂
        It’s remarkable (you remarked, after all) that few responded to this particular post, and I think you’re probably correct about ‘discomfort’ (fear) and ‘taboo’. I was hoping to pry some out. My quote from Tim Keller has been something I’ve been thinking deeply about–but hitly and missly–the last couple days, but I wanted to mention it since it ties in and he’s well-known among conservative evangelicals. I also came to a similar conclusion some time ago when I realized that Jesus did not really have any resources available to him that are not also available to God’s people–ie, the Holy Spirit. People seem to be dismissive about this, saying, “well, he’s God, so it’s easy for him.” The spiritual realm (not the pop definition of ‘spiritual’ but the realm dealing with spirits) is really quite frightening for those who give it serious attention. Keep writing. I’ll be joining you shortly.

        • Oh! Okay, that makes sense. I’ve noticed some people will try to come up with a biological explanation for these sorts of episodes–like maybe the person who claims the vision has epilepse or some sort of seizure disorder. Perhaps that is the case in some instances but I, personally, don’t think this makes the message any less fascinating or relevant. Of course, despite the many people in history that have had similar experiences, it often does not end well. My next few posts will be about Joesph Smith, Mormon founder, who paid with his life…

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