The seminary taught me the joy of daily prayer and Bible study, and prepared me for a mystery.
For a good portion of the seminary experience I was in a covenant with one of the professors to read four chapters of the Bible and pray for ten minutes every day. In truth, I just about wore out the chairs in the prayer room. It became a very warm and welcoming place for me.
I learned to feel the often small but steady flow of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. I tried all sorts of prayers, but one of my favorites became blank prayer, the process of emptying my mind, my heart, and my spirit of all distractions and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. I made sure that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit were very specifically invited. This type of prayer is waiting and listening for God’s presence. The prayer room would go from being a dimly lit room to a raging waterfall of the Holy Spirit. In this way I prepared myself for unusual things to happen.
It was the spring of 2006, my last semester of seminary. God had blessed me with a stunningly beautiful wife and a six-month old son. They gave me great joy, and I thoroughly enjoyed the seminary experience and community. I was, however, taking five classes, caring for my son, and did not have enough time to do the work. Four hours of sleep each night was not enough. I was in over my head and often fought off sleep as I sat in class.
One morning in preaching class as I listened to one of my fellow students preach, the Holy Spirit came upon me. I started seeing clouds of fire above his head. It wasn’t a little cloud, but clouds that spread out all across the front of the classroom. There was tension and for some reason I remember praying to God, saying, “Strike Lord, Strike Lord.” In my mind I saw the fires coming down and touching the preacher. It wasn’t malicious or intended to harm him, but more to inaugurate something, something important. After the sermon I told him what I’d seen.
None of the other students had seen what I had. I know they talked about my vision, and wondered about me. Since then I have lost track of the speaker and I can’t say if the vision ever had significance to him or his ministry.
A couple weeks later I was listening to another student preach. My eyes were drawn to a cloth that was hanging from the podium. It had depictions of children from all over the world. The Spirit came upon me, and I started to see them move and even dance. When the sermon ended, the other students filed out for a break.
I sat still, trying to process what had just happened. One other student stayed behind, someone I’d known for the past four years. She was often more emotional than rational, a characteristic that had placed her on the fringe of the seminary community. She knew I had seen something and asked what it was. I told her, and we prayed together. Then the break was over, everyone came back in, and we never spoke of it again.
I have had no visions before or since, and I have no idea how they may be important to others. Some will think they were a product of my sleep deprivation or scar tissue from my tumor. But for me, they were important spiritual experiences. I learned visions are real, and I learned to value the emotional faithful friend who stay in the room with me more that the rational one who leaves.
Sometimes God does strange things, things that remain a mystery to us, things that may change us in ways we do not understand.