Although I grew up Catholic until my parents left the church when I was ten, I never knew Jesus.
I met Jesus as an adult in a dream after wandering forty years in spiritual deserts. At the time, I lived in Ojai, California, a place known to attract spiritual seekers, artists and visionaries. Surrounded by the rocky desert mountainside of the Topa Topa range, dotted with lush pauses of green, Ojai sits within a majestic and sweeping valley, a poetic terrain of orange and avocado groves.
We had rented a sweet yellow cottage propped on a grassy slope in the Taromina community originally built for members of the Krotona Institute, an exclusive Theological Society. The community sits adjacent to acres of Krotona’s manicured property, part of a land conservatory. I loved the English garden surrounding our house, painted a warm, pale yellow, often crowned with a halo-like glow from the beaming sun. During the magnificent sunsets dipping below the desert mountains, a halo of pink and pale blue tones illuminated our house, as if peace descended. Being surrounded both by acres of land and mountains felt both expansive and comforting, like being held by great, warm arms in a slice of heaven.
Our nestled neighborhood winding with circular streets into pools of cul-de-sacs, comprised a plethora of religious families practicing Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. We befriended a Tibetan couple who escaped from Tibet to India over the rugged and wild terrain of the Himalayas fleeing the fierce invasion of the Chinese. They had two beautiful children, one an infant, the other a 4-year old who played with my son. A former Catholic Priest lived down at the end of our street. A Christian homeschool family with three freckled faced little kids, one boy my son’s age, a 2- year old boy and a 5-year old girl, lived adjacent to our backyard a whistle away. The cottages were all fairly close to one another, so the mixture of religions seemed like potpourri in a large bowl.
On occasion the community would have potlucks where we’d set tables out on the corner of our street, spreading out a variety of foods: potato salads, chicken wings, pesto pasta, cheeses, tabouli, hummus, fresh baked bread and Tibetan dumplings. The potluck was a neighborly gesture, yet lacked a sense of warmth. Everyone seemed tense and unnatural, straining politeness, as if invisible fences marking religious differences stood between families.
Regardless, we made several acquaintances in Ojai, a mix of spiritual seekers, home school families, Buddhists, New Agers, and the Christian family. We especially enjoyed the Tibetan family who often shared their stories of the harrowing and tumultuous journey over the Himalayas, and finally to America.
My son played most often with the young children from the Christian family that lived behind our house. Before this, I had never known an evangelical Christian. The children’s mother always welcomed me into their home with gracious hospitality. When I first knocked on the door she said, ‘don’t ever knock just come in and make yourself at home’. They invited us for barbecues, dinners, for movie nights, and to their church (my husband went once when I was away working, and told me in passing on the phone it was really interesting). Although I enjoyed their hospitality, I also found it perplexing her two year old drank Coke from his sippy cup, and this new Christian mom friend smoked Marlboros and drank Gallo Chablis wine from a big carton that hung off her kitchen counter. Her saving grace was her hospitality, and speaking often of Jesus as if he were our neighbor.
I wrote a bit about this earlier, but I realize this woman really set the stage for my dream. One evening, particularly distressed, I opened up to her about some financial concerns we were having. Squinting, as if looking right through me, she took a long inhale from her cigarette. Exhaling, pointing her lips toward the sky so the smoke streamed upward, she looked at me again and said, “Kathy, you need Jesus. You need Jesus.”
A week later, after tossing and turning trying to fall asleep, concerned about finances and worrying about a loved one’s health issues, I had my Big Dream. As the Santa Ana winds whipped tiny branches that looked like shadows of Balinese toy dancers against my window, after hours, I finally fell to sleep, slipping into a deep dream where I found myself in an expansive, ancient desert in Israel.
The vast desert landscape, outlined by low hills, seemed endless. The ancient sun at the height of its midday intensity and the dense heat made the desert feel like a hot, dry sauna. The disciples lined in two rows, simple cloth dripping from their shoulders, gazes steady ahead, walked in a synchronized, slow pace, just a hundred yards before me. Dusty earth made small billowing clouds around their bare, sturdy feet. Another slender man trailed a bit behind. Neither the heat, nor hard ground seemed a distraction from this intense meditative walking prayer. It was clear they were on a mission, a Godly mission. Their calm sense of purpose and the confidence of their stride filled me with awe and humility.
Soon, the man trailing behind walked over to me, his soulful gaze filling me with a warm flood of love.
“Would you like to follow me?” Jesus invited.
Dreams can can be angels in the night, striking through thick barriers of worries and despair, shaking us out of our lost states. Big dreams like this change lives, leading some onto new spiritual paths, or bring life changing messages. This particular dream was a magnum force lighting up the lonely desert of my life. A spectacular shower of glory pierced my soul, like the last blast of fireworks on the Fourth of July filling the dark night sky.
When I woke up that morning, it was as if I woke from a life of sleepwalking.
In the Ragamuffin Gospel, author Brennan Manning describes such a visceral spiritual experience as being “seized by the power of a great affection”. In my Big Dream, Jesus’ gaze into my eyes reached the very core of my soul, his agape love like a blood transfusion of emollient love. In that instant, an old me died, birthing a new, vivid, love-drenched self, the experience much like giving birth. As I forced one last push before my son breathed life, I thought ‘this must be like what it’s like to die’. And then, ‘’shwoosh’, he came flying out in to the doctor’s hands.
A new life born! In both instances, love infused, I was never the same.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here. – –2 Corinthians 5:17