Have you ever had a spiritual experience that confirmed for you the existence of God? In the ‘Spiritual Experiences’ category on the Navigation Menu you will find several firsthand accounts from people who have experienced God’s presence. One of them is entitled “A Miraculous Intervention by Accident”. It reveals a young man’s promise to turn his life over to God in exchange for God’s miraculous healing of the young man’s critically injured sister. The following account is the sequel to that post and reveals the young man’s unconventional search for God in India.
After God had healed my sister and baptized me with the Holy Spirit, my senior year at Barlow High School was focused on trying to get answers to these questions:
- What was the meaning of what had happened to me?
- What did God want me to do with the life of service that I had committed to Him?
- How could I learn more about God?
I spent time reading and re-reading two books: The Bible and Be Here Now, a book by the former Dr. Richard Alpert, (now Ram Dass). The story line of Be Here Now is that Alpert had gone to India to meet a holy man, the guru Neem Karoli Baba, who he had read could perform miracles like Christ. His encounter with the holy man convinced him of the guru’s miraculous abilities and their encounter so transformed him that he gave up his job as a professor at Harvard to become a disciple of the holy man. The main point of his book was that all of us can achieve Christ consciousness and amazing spiritual power if we will follow the Buddhist Eightfold Path (right effort, right thought, right employment etc.) and use spiritual disciplines and practices outlined in the book, such as meditation.
The religious philosophy of Be Here Now is that of Zen Buddhism that God is an impersonal power in all and through all, which we can tap into through carefully following Buddha’s Eightfold Path. I already knew that God was not an impersonal God because God heard my prayer and healed my sister, but I was interested in Zen Buddhism because of their spiritual disciplines and the practices they promoted to help one attain Christ consciousness.
Alpert reported that practitioners of the spiritual techniques of Zen Buddhism were able to achieve real spiritual power and obtain amazing spiritual experiences. In contrast, Christianity does not offer an Eight-fold path or any systematic plan to attain Christ consciousness or having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). The key point was that Neem Karoli Baba could allegedly perform miracles like Christ; that was fascinating to me and I hoped it was true.
The weight of my experience and my commitment to God was continually pressing on my mind; it pressed so hard that by the time I graduated from high school everything else seemed trivial in comparison. I knew that I must, for the sake of my sanity, my peace of mind, and my personal integrity find proof that God is real so that I could get on with the process of giving the rest of my life to God in whatever form that was going to take.
When I graduated from high school in June of 1974 my only goal was saving enough money to enable me to go to India, meet the holy man, and if I was convinced that he actually could perform miracles like Christ then I would know that he would be able tell me if God was real, and thus I could put my mind at ease about serving God for the rest of my life.
I immediately started working at a job my father got me, as a dishwasher in a pub on Fire Island NY, working 6-8 hours a day for minimum wage. Fortunately, within two weeks, due to a happy set of circumstances, I was promoted to bartender. The pub I was working in, the Schooner Inn was at that time a transplanted British pub. It had about six tables and the bar itself could seat only about a dozen. It had a limited menu, and the bartender was also the cook and the waiter.
I opened the bar every day at noon and I closed it at midnight on the weekdays and 4:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Working those long hours, six days a week I was able to save enough money so that by the time the beach season ended in early October I had enough saved for a round trip ticket and living expenses for, at least, a three month stay in India. I will never forget Peter’s typical English reaction when I told him my plans; he announced to everyone in the bar, “Bloody Timmy’s going to bloody India to see the bloody guru!”
I flew to New Delhi in October 1974. My plan was to spend a few days getting my bearings, then get a train ticket and set off for the mountains in search of the guru. Alpert (Dass) didn’t want to turn the guru into a tourist attraction so only vague information was given as to his location; the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in the north of the country. True pilgrims would find their way to him. I had his name and photo, a rough idea where he was, and he was famous; I figured it would not be too difficult to find him.
India however was a giant culture shock to me; within a day or two I realized that I was never going to get my bearings; I was in way over my head. I didn’t have the life skills, knowledge, or experience to cope with or take on a solo journey from New Delhi to the Himalayan Mountains and from the end of the train line to who knows where else. My dad had an idea of what I was in for; he tried to talk me out of going, and failing that he gave me his Air Force dog tags to wear saying, “that way when they find your body they will know where to send it.” Once I was in India and saw how difficult it would be to make this journey alone, I thought, “If I go off into the mountains, not only will I likely be robbed and killed, but my body will probably be thrown off a cliff and they will never even find my body or the dog tags to send it back home.”
I didn’t realize until my first day in India what a sheltered and relatively privileged life I had led up to this point. I was shocked by what I saw, from the moment I walked into the arrivals terminal; it was obvious that I was definitely in a third world country, and in a culture that did not value human life the way it is valued in Western nations. Over a million people still to this day live on the streets in New Delhi. I saw homeless people all over the city and almost everywhere I was besieged by beggars of all ages. I had to keep a sharp eye out for the con artists and criminals who mingled where tourists might be found and quickly went after likely targets like me.
I would have given up and gone home after two or three days, but the airline ticket I had purchased had a variable return date: I could stay in India as long as three months, but I had to stay at least two weeks. So, I decided to make the best of it and get to know the city of New Delhi. I walked around, took in the sights and did some shopping. Always foremost in my thought was my prayer – “God if you are real, would you please give me a sign? God if you are really God, please give me a sign?”
Each day in New Delhi brought its own adventure. Every morning, as I stepped outside my hotel, little children in rags crowded around begging for money. One day I found a man dying on the sidewalk, ignored by passersby and I spent the day trying to help him. Another day I was eating a banana while standing on a crowded sidewalk in a working-class neighborhood. I put my hand to my side for a moment and something warm and wet took the banana right out of my hand. I turned around and was face to face with a holy cow that snuck up behind me to grab the banana with her tongue. One evening there was a huge commotion on the street outside my hotel, a religious parade was going by, complete with an elephant and many musicians. I decided to go down to the sidewalk and check it out, but I was grabbed by some young men, told to “dance rock and roll” and pushed into the middle of the parade and had to be rescued by a policeman.
On one of my days around New Delhi I took a motorcycle taxi (a three wheel vehicle where the driver sits on a motorcycle up front and the passengers sat in a covered two person cab on the back) to visit a jewelry shop to buy a present for my mom. My cab was traveling through a poorer section of the city down a busy major road that had three lanes in each direction. All the traffic suddenly slowed way down; I could see up ahead.
Four large cows were crossing the road a few cars ahead of us and traffic came to a stop to allow them to cross. But instead of strolling across the road, they laid down blocking all lanes. We could not back up because of the traffic behind us; we could not go around them because there were tall concrete curbs. We were stuck. I discovered that while cows are considered holy in India, and no one would kick, poke, or hit them, apparently yelling at them and beeping one’s horn is allowed.
But the cows were not going anywhere so, accepting the situation, I started looking around. I sat in the tiny motorcycle taxicab looking out to my right side. There were some two-story buildings set back about 50 feet from the curb. It was an incredibly beautiful day; above the row of buildings the sky was deep blue and there was not a cloud anywhere. I looked around the driver to see if there was any movement on the part of the cows and there was not, they were laying there on the road and seemed to be enjoying the sun as unconcerned by the many horns blowing, as if they were in some bucolic pasture in the country.
I looked back to my right and there was Jesus standing in the air only seven or eight feet away from me, and he was looking right into my eyes. I quickly took in the whole picture: He had long dark brown hair, brown eyes, a beard, and mustache and was dressed in a full-length beige tunic or robe with a rope belt around his waist.
He was standing inside a door sized and shaped area that started about three feet off the ground; it had a bright white background that was completely opaque and blocked out my view of the buildings and sky behind him. His sandaled feet stood on the same white as the background. I looked into his eyes and he was looking deeply into mine; His gaze was piercing yet compassionate.
I wish I could tell you that my immediate reaction to seeing Jesus was to exclaim, “Thank you God for this amazing miracle!” but I was being the scientific observer. I said to myself, “How is he doing that?” I leaned out of the cab to get a closer look. It was literally as if a door to heaven had opened in front of me, three feet up from the pavement.
I looked down at the bottom edge of the doorway, the closest part to me, trying to understand what was going on. There was no frame around the door, but I could see that at the edges the opaque white faded into amazingly bright rectangular blocks of the primary colors. They looked to be about ½”high and 1/5” wide and were staggered like bricks in a wall. Those tiny blocks of light were intensely bright and the most beautiful and perfect colors of blue, yellow, and red that I have ever seen. They formed a boarder around the door around an inch wide with six rows of blocks. The blocks closest to the door were the brightest and the outer two lines of blocks the colors were not as bright or intense, the fifth line being somewhat transparent and the sixth line fading into invisibility.
I looked back up at Jesus’ face and He was still looking into my eyes. I could feel the full weight of his presence, Christ was standing here in front of me, but I felt no fear or even shock – it somehow seemed natural. It looked from his expression that he had complete knowledge of my every thought, including my recent “How is he doing that?” but there was no condemnation in His eyes, just compassion. I felt immediately unworthy to meet his gaze and I turned my eyes to the inside of the cab. Instantly the thought flashed through my mind, “This is Jesus and as long as he is here, I need to be looking!” I looked back but he was gone. The whole vision had lasted no more than 10 seconds.
I settled back in my seat. The cows stood up and began to move off the road and we were rolling again. I was stunned; what had seemed so normal when it was happening now hit me and I tried to take it in. It is now forty-seven years later but as I think about it, I sigh, and my heart still beats faster. I saw the living savior with my own eyes! He came to me in the middle of a clear blue-sky day. He didn’t say a word, but he didn’t have to, I got the message: He is alive and of course God is real, and He knows and cares about everything that is going on in our hearts and minds all the time.
It was such a relief to get the answer to the question I had been seeking for so many years. God is definitely real! I could not ask for more powerful proof. Since that time I have reflected on how cool it was that God answered my request for a sign of His reality by sending Jesus because the next deep religious question I was going to have was, “God, now that I know you are real, is Jesus really your son?” How amazing it is that God would answer my prayer in such a spectacular way as a vision of Christ which answered both of my most important spiritual questions at once.
It is a great advantage for me as a pastor to have seen the risen Christ; I don’t have to take it on faith that He is the risen savior alive forever, I have looked Him in the eye. To this day I thank God for that experience every day. It remains a most important moment of my spiritual life because that experience confirmed that my path was set; the rest of my life was to be spent serving God. Now that I have the benefit of education and experience, two things stand out to me about that vision:
- the shocking realization that God has an amazing knowledge of what is going on in our hearts and minds.
- God’s compassion for us exemplified by giving a vision like that to an eighteen-year-old who was nobody special in the eyes of the world.
When I was begging him for a sign, I never would have expected such a powerful and perfect answer to my prayers.
Finally, it was my last day in India. I went to the American Express office to cash a Travelers Check for the trip back. As I walked towards the office, I saw a group of attractive looking young women standing at the end of the block talking. I walked in their direction to get a closer look when I saw a bundle on the sidewalk which they were ignoring. The bundle was the general size and shape of an infant. It was wrapped in a dirty light-colored cotton blanket.
I walked towards it; I had to look; and as I knelt on the sidewalk I said, “Please don’t let it be!” but it was. I gently pulled back the blanket: and it was a dead baby! I gently touched its face, but the baby’s skin was cold, I checked it several times but no pulse. If the baby had been alive, I would have taken care of it, even if it meant missing my flight. Dead, it was India’s problem. I covered its face again with the blanket, stood up and walked slowly away; it was I thought a symbol of how I found India to be: overwhelming poverty everywhere and a resignation to the plight of the poor.
On the plane that evening, I thought about all that had happened in the two weeks I was in India: the several other narrow escapes (I haven’t bored you with), the amazing things I’d seen; the few friends I’d made, and of course the miraculous vision of Christ that answered my prayers. My disappointment at not seeing the Guru was forgotten.
About an hour into the flight I began to pray, and I finalized my agreement with God. I gave God my complete and eternal loyalty to the agreement with God that I made on the day of my sister’s accident. I simply said, “Okay God, I will serve you for the rest of my life!” I was relieved to be on the plane and exhausted; my mission was accomplished – I had a clear and undeniable sign of the reality of God. I slept almost the whole flight back.
About a year ago I did a Google search for Neem Karoli Baba; I was shocked to discover he had died on September 11, 1973, over a year before I got to India. I would have loved to have met him, but it would not have altered my path which obviously was not with gurus, but with Christ.
In India God gave me the answer I had been seeking, proving Christ’s words to be true, “seek and you will find.” God also gave me a second demonstration of His knowledge of us and compassion for us. Each subsequent miracle I have seen or been a part of has shown that to me more and more – God truly knows what is in each of our hearts, and He truly loves each of us. Still to this day God’s omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence thrill and amaze me.
This post is an excerpt from Rev. Dr. Timothy W. Ehrlich’s book entitled The Long Road to Eternity available at Amazon.
Pastor Ehrlich has consented to publication of more posts describing his spiritual experiences. Watch for them in the next few months.
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Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. 1 Corinthians 15: 8 (NLT)