The Far-Reaching Arm of the Real God
By Joy Carren
I suppose you could say that I came by my confusion honestly. I do believe that only a real God with real power couldhave brought me out of it.
I was born to the leaders of a metaphysical group in California. People clamored after my mother because she was a medium. In her trance, a “Teacher” spoke through her to tell them about their past lives. My father wrote books, and together they traveled and lectured on reincarnation and the paranormal, earning their living. They felt they had “advanced knowledge,” which was given to them to share with the world. “Truth” was whatever they proclaimed. The source of truth was the channeled information and their own interior insights and revelations. I was an advanced “old soul,” the reincarnation of a beloved leader. It was a privilege to be born into their family, and I was destined to become their successor. That’s what they said, anyway. I couldn’t doubt them because “God” had given them special insight which other people didn’t have. Me, I just felt disjointed.
In my late teens, a sense of unreality hit me hard. Then I found reality…in LSD. I became deeply involved with a hippie commune for several years; through the psychedelic drug use and rapport, I felt I’d found a real family. I was crushed when it started to fall apart. So I went to India to follow a guru who said, “I can show you God,” and, “I am the source of peace in this world.” He taught a “secret knowledge” which he proclaimed was “the same knowledge taught by Krishna, Shankara, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed.” He urged us to meditate on it until we merged
with it, as he had. That’s exactly what I tried to accomplish when I flew back home to America. In fact, that’s what I tried to accomplish over the next 24 years. Although I followed the guru’s “wisdom,” I never “found God,” nor any lasting p ace. I chalked that up to my own personal failure and inadequacy. It didn’t dawn on me that perhaps what he said was not true. I continually resolved to try harder, and lived in a communal or “ashram” setting for most of my twenties.
Throughout my thirties and early forties, I also dabbled in many other New Age practices, always coming rather quickly to an empty feeling, then finding something else to try. I would get high or clear for a while, but could never maintain it, and because of that, there was a sense of failure
deep within me.
Despite the inner discrepancy, I would have followed Eastern teachings all of my life. But eight years ago I met a man with a New Age background who was a recent convert to Christ. He was an old Vietnam vet who had lived a hard life before finally trusting Jesus. When we met, the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart and said, “I want her. She’s mine.” And thus he began to tell me about Christ.
There was no way that I was going to become a Christian. But this man took an active interest in what I believed, and that touched me. So after a while it seemed fair to listen to what he was saying. He had a deep love for and knowledge of Christian history and theology and thus was able to help me start to wrestle with my own beliefs: “All paths lead to God; it’s arrogant and backwards to say otherwise... Pantheism is the ground of all being; there is no other possibility.” And so on and so forth.
As he dialogued with me, the Holy Spirit began to awaken my mind. I started to experience something I don’t think I’d ever known before— the ability to discern. I realized that my beliefs did not cohere with each other or with reality. What he had to say about Jesus went right over my head, but I was entranced with the experience of my mind coming alive. Listening to him speak of Christian theology began to intrigue me. One day I asked him in awe, “How can people think such thoughts?” He then went on to name some of his professors he had while auditing courses at Gordon-Conwell Teological Seminary. I had never hard of this Gordon-Conwell place before, but whatever it was, I came to the conclusion that it must have been some sort of Mecca.
I began to think that this new ability to discern was a gift from some real God—probably that guy’s God! I thought. And if He had the ability to awaken discernment in me, then He was real. And I very much wanted to find something real, even if it meant leaving what I had known. So, on that basis, I prayed to “trust Jesus.” Within two weeks, I had the distinct conviction that this “Jesus,” although I had little knowledge of Him, had done more things inside of me than the guru had done in 24 years (though I couldn’t have verbalized exactly what). A year or two later, I discovered what exactly sin was. That excited me to no end because it made all the pieces of my life fall into place. No wonder I felt so disheveled and unreal. It was because almost everything I’d ever believed, done, and thought was a sin against the real God and had separated me from Him. Christ gave me something real to base my life on and a firm foundation on which to stand and step out from.
As a new Christian, I wanted to be “in the Lord’s flow,” and I began to feel a strange pull toward prison ministry. I didn’t know that a volunteer pastor at a local prison had been praying for nine years for a woman to minister to the women there. We didn’t know each other, but I was making myself available to God and praying for a place to serve. I’ve been at that prison now for seven years. I coordinate the Sunday services for the men as well as the women, and spend a lot of time with the women in Bible studies and such. I never thought of being in prison ministry, but now I see how God has used old fragments of my life to fit me for service there. One was my sense of isolation. I know what isolation feels like. And God took that ugly thing which had broken my heart so often and made it into a beautiful flower, a love and compassion for these women.
Three years ago, through a series of little miracles, the Lord provided for me the time, money, brain cells, and attention span to be a full-time student (not to mention the much needed stamina for a two-hour commute to class) at that “Mecca” called Gordon-Conwell. The biggest miracle, though, was and is the change in my life. Only Jesus Christ could have changed such an impossible person. And I am forever grateful to my very miraculous, very real God.
“I am deeply grateful to finally have found something real to base my life on and to serve.”
(Joy Carren’s article originally appeared in the Summer 2004 edition of Contact, a publication of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.)