The Peace of God that Surpasses All Understanding

Mystical Experiencer:  Female in mid-forties
Current location:  U.S.A.
Age at time of experience:  39

I am grateful to have grown up with an amazing family, strong faith, and a community of support; despite these blessings, I suffered from anxiety disorder, which led to situational depression by the age of 27. Thankfully, the staff psychologist at the high school where I taught English and theater referred me to an amazing psychologist and nurse practitioner, who was able to treat my disorders with therapy and medication. She also encouraged me to begin a mediation practice for years, but I insisted that my intense energy left me “incapable” of meditating.

I continued to manage my anxiety with therapy, medication and exercise as the years passed. At the age of 28, I married the love of my life, had three children and continued my work as an educator part-time as an aerobics teacher at our local YMCA. When my daughter discovered a passion for the performing arts, I rekindled my own love of theater and became Education Director of our town’s community theater.

In August of 2013, my extended family traveled to a beautiful vacation home on The Chesapeake Bay, where we began a week-long celebration of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. By the afternoon of our arrival, I started to feel terrible, and climbed into bed with fever and chills. After two days and no improvement, I was so weak that my husband carried me to the car; we rushed to the ER, where a chest x-ray revealed I had pneumonia.

After receiving IV fluids and starting antibiotics, I returned to the vacation house to convalesce. I felt well enough to read a book about gratitude. The book urged its readers to end each day by stating three things they were grateful for. In this month of gratitude, readers were instructed to find a stone that they would hold each night as they expressed their gratitude. Two nights later, I experienced an encounter with the divine.

I remember waking up some time after 2am and finding two of my children in bed with me. As I was still recovering, I decided to leave the kids to sleep and find an empty bed in the huge vacation house. I crept to the third floor and found a bedroom with many bunk beds…that was completely empty. I sank happily into a bunk and closed my eyes.

My mystical encounter began sometime between entering this bed and the early morning sunrise…I was not dreaming… dreams are vague and forgotten soon after waking, while this experience has stayed with me over the past 8 years.

A voice, presence, Holy Spirit, spoke to me, but it wasn’t through words. Suddenly, I came to understand in those early morning hours a very simple, yet profound message,

“You never have to worry or be anxious again, Sarajane…

Because what is happening RIGHT NOW, is what is supposed to happen.

If you can live in this place of knowing, all will be well.”

I remember being saturated with a complete sense of peace for the first time in my life. I believed, rather, I knew, that this was the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding.” I sat in stillness until the sunrise, bathed in serenity and joy.

When day broke, I put on my running sneakers and went outside to process what had occurred. As I was still recovering, I walked rather than ran. I prayed, “God, if what I experienced is real, send me a sign.” As I continued my walk that summer morning, I heard a buzzing sound in my ear. I saw no sign of the bee whose buzzing had interrupted my walk, but began to run away.

After I stopped, I resumed walking, and then heard the same buzzing. Once again, I began to run…this cycle continued until I returned to the vacation home. My husband met me at the door and expressed concern that I was up and about. He didn’t want me to relapse. I assured him that I hadn’t felt this calm and centered before. He didn’t understand what had happened to me and I didn’t have the words to tell him at this point.

My then 6-year-old daughter appeared and was covered in sunscreen (which she had tried to apply herself). I scooped her up and brought her to the shower. After I toweled her off, she reached down and picked up a small, smooth stone.

“Mommy, I found this rock this morning. It is going to be our special rock from now on.”

Remembering the book I had read yesterday that had urged readers to find a “gratitude rock,” I was overcome by the “signs” that my experience was real… and filled again with joy and peace.

For the next days, weeks and several months, I continued to see the world through new eyes. It was as if my vision were crisper than it was before my experience. I saw the beauty of nature from a shaper lens; at my niece and Goddaughter’s baptism the following week, which was held in my parent’s back yard, everything was bathed in a radiant light; I was so present in the moment during the days following my experience that I was able to see the beauty and joy in things that I had been too busy, anxious or preoccupied to see before. It made me sad to see my sister so worried and stressed about the baptismal ceremony and celebration. I realized that I had spent so much of my life in this state of anxiety – which had left me unable to be PRESENT to the divine that I now saw in everything around me.

Instead of feeling angry and resentful that my husband’s job kept him away from our family so much, I felt an empathy for how difficult it must be for him to be missing time with the kids and me.

I made different decisions about what was important to me based upon my experience. I wanted to understand what had happened to me. I wish I had known about your organization at the time! I voraciously devoured books about spirituality and mysticism in my quest to make sense of what had happened to me that night. I told my mom’s dear friend Donna about my experience and she said, “You’ve had an epiphany. I have had a few myself. You should read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.” I recalled that I had tried to read years ago at the suggestion of my therapist, but put down quickly, as the words didn’t resonate with me.  After my mystical experience words that meant nothing to me in the past were now insights that helped me develop and grow on the spiritual path.

As the years passed since my encounter with the Divine in 2012, I experienced many joys in addition to several life-changing challenges. When I learned I was “unexpectedly” expecting my fourth child in the summer of 2013, I was not filled with the joy that had accompanied my other “planned” pregnancies. But after my sweet John Michael, Jack, was born in January of 2014, I was, of course, beyond thrilled. Unfortunately, as I nursed my newborn son on the week he came home from the hospital, I fell asleep and the baby slipped out of my arms and fell on the hard wood floor. Imagine the guilt and self-condemnation I felt when my sweet baby had to have emergency surgery due to a fractured skull and subdural hematoma. After the worst moments of my life, God answered my prayer and the surgical team saved my son’s life. Because of my mystical experience, I was able to view this horrific incident from a different perspective.

I saw that God’s message was clear: “Be present, be grateful for all the blessings of your life. Know that everything that is happening is here to teach you something on the spiritual path.”

So I let go of guilt and stopped blaming myself; by the grace of God, I finally began a daily practice of Centering Prayer, which I had recently discovered was the Christian form of meditation; also called contemplation, I discovered the mystics, such as St. Teresa of Avilla and John the Cross, who spent years cultivating a union with the Divine though this incredible practice.

And now, almost 8 years after my experience, I continue to spend time each day cultivating a relationship with God and continuing on the life long journey that is the spiritual path. One of the greatest insights I have gleaned from this rewarding yet often challenging roads is summed up beautifully in an excerpt from an essay written by spiritual teacher, Barbara DeAngelis.

After working on my own for so many years, I have finally found a spiritual teacher who has helped awaken my inner flame, as the ancients say. This awakening created a radical shift in my being. Now, a consistent part of my awareness is conscious of my Self. I don’t have to find my way back anymore. Instead, I simply have to notice that my attention has shifted in the wrong direction, away from God consciousness within me and onto something that is creating suffering. Rather than feeling that I’m lost in a forest and have to find my way out, I remember that there is a beautiful and sacred clearing in which I can live, and if I ever wander off, I know exactly how to find my way back.”

My mystical encounter and the spiritual journey that followed has taught me how to recognize when I am separating myself from God; thanks to many years of study and practice, I have a toolbox full of resources that can bring me back to that beautiful clearing that Barbara DeAngelis describes.

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