The following story is totally true, at least as much as I remember it. However, it’s lingered around in my drafts folder for these years because I really don’t know what to think of it...
In my life, there have been a few...um...let’s call hem mega-goals. Not mega as in particularly huge really, but mega in that I really see now real way in which they might happen. Maybe long-shot goals is a better phrase. Anyway, as I was leaving high school I got the mega-goal of going to Kenya someday and shortly after I arrived at GFU, like ten years later, I found myself thinking, “Wow. I’m really at college. Cool.” Going to college in the Pacific Northwest was another kind of goal, something genuinely challenging but achievable you know. “What would be a good goal to replace it now that I’m here.”
Before I go on, let me say that I’m not your typical goal oriented guy. I tend to have loosey-goosey goals...sometimes...but I’m not at all driven by them. So I don’t want you to picture me flipping in my day planner to October 12, 2019 and making an entry, I was just looking forward with a comfortable sense of “cool. I made it.” Anyway, as I thought about what might be next God distinctly said, “You always wanted to got to Kenya.” and I smiled. “Yeah.” I thought sort of whimsically. “Kenya would be cool.” The next day in the student paper was an offer to go to Kenya for a semester, already paid for by my tuition, which was already paid for by the Navy. I was the only person who applied.
Fast forward about 18 months and I’m again thinking about mega-goals and He says, “You’ve never seen the Aurora Borealis.” - and that’s how I get to today’s story.
I’m not certain of the date, but I’m pretty sure it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, 2003...give or take a year. I’m up at my mother-in-law’s house and somebody at Alice’s church realizes that the pastor wont be around on Sunday and instead of doing a potluck or something they think, “Hey, Becky’s husband seems like a nice guy. Maybe he will preach.” How this idea came to them I can only speculate, but I blame God.
At that time I don’t think I’d ever done anything even remotely like preaching and the last time I’d been on a stage was playing a wizard in a college play...not exactly preacher-man stuff. But you know, when the offer came across my bow I guess I figured what the heck. And while I was pretty nervous I think it went pretty well all things considered. And they even gave me $100 for the trouble which is interesting since I’ve never made a dime at that since then even though that was the smallest group I’ve ever ‘preached’ to...
Anyway, later that night Re and Alice and I were walking home in the dark when I noticed a faint shimmer in the sky. I stared for a moment thinking it was light from the dam reflecting off low clouds but another little shimmer told me otherwise. No these shimmers were barely visible – just dim, soft whispers of light, but I reckon I realized what I was seeing because it really couldn’t be anything else. I was seeing the far southern vestiges of the Aurora Borealis. I told Alice and Rebekah, who’d both seen the aurora before, that I’d be along later and I laid down in the sage to watch the slow, lazy waves of sun fed electrons.
The sky got darker and darker as it got later. The aurora got marginally brighter as my eyes adjusted to the dark and there was less of the failing sunlight to compete with and I began to see, more or less, what I expected to see. Long, sinuous filaments of pale yellow light undulating in the sky like some kind of slow motion sail in the wind. You almost never get the colors below the arctic circle so I knew this vanilla pudding yellow was the ‘right’ color. I probably laid out there for an hour and a half watching the slow dance and smiling from ear to ear. I was well aware of my five year old mega-goal and how it was being fulfilled not in some exotic locale but in my mother-in-law’s back yard and I felt deeply loved by God. I felt as if somehow this light show were a kind of ‘well done’ or ‘thanks’ for having thumped my Bible that morning and it was wonderful.
Not thrilling, but wonderful. The thrilling part comes next.
In time, I became aware of an increase in the tempo of the aurora, if I can use that word. Instead of the slowly waving sails of light, I starting seeing what looked more like thin clouds that would start near the horizon and move up toward the ‘center’ of the sky where they would dissipate. In the space of about 15 minutes, this new presentation had completely replaced the previous one and I thought, “That’s odd...maybe really odd.” I’ve seen many video clips of the aurora from Alaska websites and astronomy websites and even Art Bell’s website, but nothing I’d seen there looked like this. It was still, without question, the Aurora Borealis in its essence but it’s behavior had turned to something I’d never heard of nor seen. Still, I’m obviously the new guy so I thought it might be something that Alice had seen and anyway, I was getting cold. So it seemed like a good time to go inside, grab a coat, and grab my family.
A few minutes later the three of us are out on Alice’s deck and the sky is dancing. Now that I’m not in a dark little hollow I can see that these ‘aurora bolts’ are manifesting across the whole horizon. Every compass point is sprouting these increasingly fast moving blobs that silently cross ninety degrees of sky in a rush and it’s as if they are all racing toward a single point in the sky...directly over us. I want you to remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Nazis open the ark and all the ghosts start floating around the scene. Not the ones that coalesce into recognizable shapes, but the more vague white spirit blobs. That’s what we were seeing, but magnified thousands of times since each sheet must have been hundreds of miles long.
We watched this frenzied show for a few minutes when Alice says, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” with notes of both awe and anxiety. Like maybe this was cool, but also a little scary. Me, I was just having a great time. Sure, I knew this was atypical, but it was my first and to date only experience so I was just enjoying it. But Alice’s tone made me wonder...what are we seeing here? I thought about that earlier sense that somehow God was showing me this as a kind of reward or something – like a little Scooby snack for Skaggs – and now I started wondering what else might be going on here. Not scared or anything but starting to sense that might be witnessing something bigger than a light show.
As we stood there in the cold, and the spirit shapes were coming so fast there was no longer any break between them, the point at which they were all meeting was now becoming a kind of empty hole above our heads. A ring that was only perceived as a gestalt of the space never violated, the invisible line that was never crossed, and I’m not kidding you, it was almost directly over Alice’s house. Now if it were directly over our heads I would be more inclined to think it was an an optical illusion, like how fireworks always look like they are ‘facing’ the observer. But this hole, this empty zone, was ‘placed’ just slightly to the north and east, maybe directly over Mansfield which is the next town. We started commenting on this hole – this space where the otherwise ubiquitous aurora bolts, which had also increased dramatically in brightness and intensity (still no color), never went.
Then there started a kind of final movement of the sky symphony. Where the last 30 min or so were characterized by these shapes rising from random points along he horizon and racing to the hole where they broke upon its border, it all suddenly changed to where we would see multiple shapes emerge at once along the perimeter of the sky and race up in lock step to hit the border in unison. In this way the beautiful accident of swarming shapes quite suddenly changed to something regular and just outside of predictable. It was now as if the sky were pulsing or breathing, like we were somehow seeing the beat of a heart and the blood that beta pushed heavenward. It was breathtaking.
Then comes the part that suggests peyote. As we stood watching this celestial breathing we started to see light inside the ‘free zone’ and we each wondered if we were alone in seeing it. With each ‘breath’ the racing shapes would tear from the horizon to the top of the sky in about 1 and a half seconds. As something like a dozen bolts would meet at the ‘ring’ I saw other...distinct...shapes flash to life in the center of the ring. This interior shape would stay lit or just a moment, like a face lit up by a camera flash. It was just long enough for your brain to think, “Was that what I think it was?” but not long enough to be sure. But in the four or five minutes that followed, maybe it was much shorter than that, I saw a a series of explicitly Christian images: a crown, a dove, and yes a cross.
Now I’d be more than happy to conclude that the events of the day put my mind in a certain way and I saw what I was prepared to see. That would be fine with me and still be a cool story since the experience remains interesting and fun without the crown. I’d be equally willing to say that God had given me some kind of vision, albeit mysterious, for his own purpose. Again – it makes a good story and has a neat kind of Jesus spooky to it. But when the dove appeared in that hole I had a moment to say out loud, “Did anybody else just see a dove?”...and they both had. They had also both seen what I am calling a crown, a moment before but there was not a consensus on what he shape had actually been. In another moment, all of us saw the cross – as plain as day – and basically unmistakable for anything else. So with the confirming testimony of my wife and my second mother (third?) I’m forced to conclude that it really happened and probably in the physical world as opposed to some kind of group vision (other people in the following days remarked on the very unusual aurora that night, but nobody mentioned the images...including us).
And then it ended.
The whole thing mostly petered out over the next ten minutes. When I went back inside there were still lights in the sky, but they looked a lot like what I’d seen in video clips – cool, but not really comparable to what we had just seen.
Four or so years later it remains a truly wonderful experience, but it also remains profoundly enigmatic. The circumstances make my brain want to find meaning in it all but the whole thing seems to inscrutable, at least to me, and at least to date. Does something like that properly get the label of miracle or mystery?
Like I said, apart from telling a story that’s pretty neat, I’ve had basically no ability to reflect on it or draw any meaning out of it. I think I’m fine with that though. It doesn’t HAVE to have meaning. I’m OK with it just having been a really memorable event that I got to witness. And yet...there’s a part of me that can’t help but think there is something deeper there, maybe something that won’t make any sense until heaven – but still the meaning of it is in there even if imperceptible in this world. It makes me wonder about the star he magi followed. Surely other people around the word saw that star, but almost nobody recognized what they were seeing. Wise astrologers of the day probably drew all sorts of meaning from the new star...but what percentage were thinking things 180 degrees from what was really happening.
It’s such a strange story, one that seems obviously laden with...something...