Sometime in August, when I was 27, I encountered God. It wasn’t entirely a surprise, though the nature of that encounter and its impact on me still strikes me as extraordinary. I had, after all, been looking for God for about 15 years. I had gone looking for him in drugs, in churches, in music, in literature, in obscure and arcane practices, and relationships with the wild and the willful. But in August of that year my search had turned serious.

I had just finished my first year teaching in a small Ontario town, and had finally achieved a measure of financial and professional security after a decade of upheaval. I had finally grown tired of my dissolute and deceitful ways with women and the world, and was looking for a fresh start. I wanted that fresh start to include an understanding of the Infinite that I had glimpsed in the lives of others and heard of through the testimony of those who had encountered It/Him. I had read finally read enough and seen enough to know that an Infinite Being did exist, and that there were those who had lived and were living in the presence of that Infinite Being. But I never thought I would ever have a personal encounter myself. I was about to.

I packed up my car with my worldly belongings. They didn’t amount to much. Among them were three books of special note. There was a zippered leather Bible that my grandmother had given me at my confirmation, a Good News Bible that I had picked up at the Sally Ann in town, and a copy of the I Ching that I had been following for about a year. I parked on the campus of Brescia College in London and got out for a cigarette. It was two in the morning and not a soul around. The sky was achingly clear and the Milky Way was spread out across it like a diamond carpet beyond the pines that rimmed the parking lot.

After all the turmoil of the past ten years of my life, the moment was a pool of serenity. I thought it might be a good time to cast some coins and read what the I Ching had to say about the road ahead. The first three tosses of the coins all yielded solid lines, an auspicious beginning for the hexagram. The next two throws were also solid lines, and I became very excited. Six solid lines are the most favourable reading in the entire book. I had never cast a perfect hexagram, and here I was facing the distinct possibility with my last throw.

I paused, bowed my head and prayed to God to allow these coins to fall tails. All three did. A perfect hexagram. The best possible throw. The best possible future. But that is not what struck me. What struck me was that Someone had answered my prayer. I had not prayed to the Chinese god of the I Ching. There is no such god. Those who follow the I Ching believe that fate and wisdom determine our earthly outcomes, not some Infinite Being that cares for us personally.

No, when I had prayed, I had prayed to the God that I had known as a child. The God that had once walked on this earth and left instructions on how to find Him. The God that I had sought and not found at my confirmation. That is the God I prayed to, and He, ignoring a decade of personal failure and weakness, ignoring even that I was looking for answers in the practice of ancient superstitions, He had graciously answered that wistful prayer for guidance.

I was overcome with gratitude, and confess that not knowing how to express my thanks, I looked up into the heavens. Those who are familiar with the Hitchcock Effect, or dolly zoom, will best understand what came next. Hitchcock pioneered the dolly zoom in Vertigo by moving the camera away from the object while simultaneously zooming in. The effect is disconcerting, and a good analogy for what happened next. I thought as I looked that Someone beyond the pines, beyond the stars, beyond the universe itself had heard my insignificant prayer for guidance and had heard me.

In an instant, in a breath, that entire distance seemed to collapse in a rush of vertigo that brought the Infinite beside me. I know that this cannot sound anything but foolish, and there is no other way to express it than this. I felt the presence of the Infinite beside me. There was no electricity in the air, no sudden change of temperature. I did not hear an audible voice. I felt no reassuring hand on my shoulder. But the Infinite stood beside me, and it was overwhelming. I gasped in wonder. The Bible speaks of a God who is able to do “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). I know what that means. I know what that feels like. It lasted less than a minute. It has stayed with me for a lifetime and completely altered my life.

Yes, I did read through the Bible, or at least the four gospels, until I understood what I needed to do to accept that God as lord of my life and begin living according to His precepts. But that outcome was a dead certainty after that moment in the presence of God. I have talked to hundreds of Christians about their encounters with God since that day. In North America my experience is still considered unusual, and I typically don’t mention it for that reason. When we lived in Asia we heard plenty of stories like mine, and others far more compelling. I do not believe that such experiences are unique. Nor do I think that they are necessary. My wife has had a vital relationship with Christ for her entire life and has never experienced an encounter with God such as mine.

I am not offering this as a template or a prescription, but rather a reflection on my own journey from the vantage of age. Like all who have walked with God in the daily grind of life, I have had my troubles and woes. I have tasted both success and failure. I am far from perfect, as anyone who knows me will testify. But beyond all my weakness, beyond all my trials, beyond anything that this life can offer or deny, this one thing I will know to my last breath. I have stood in the presence of God. And will again someday.

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