Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A rare mystical experience

Grace is often the experience of God’s consoling and loving presence in circumstances where we least expect or deserve it – as I experienced it one afternoon on the Klipfontein road in the Somerset East district where as a young minister I had to conduct a prayer meeting on a fairly remote farm. On this particular day I was not looking forward to the meeting. For whatever reason I felt tired, moody and uninspired, almost like a soldier who had become weary of battle and had only one wish: to retreat and get some rest. But there was no way out – I had to see through my designated task, although I silently hoped for some special grace or outcome.

What happened in the next 40 minutes – the time it took me to reach the farm – was something rare I had not anticipated. Looking back on it today I still count what happened that afternoon as a profound mystical experience which restored my lost energy in an instant, and at the same time strengthened my awareness of God’s unique involvement in our lives. Such involvement never fails to surprise, even overwhelm us when we are open and attentive enough to receive it.

The surprise started just outside of town when I noticed a group of about fifteen baboons to the left hand side of the road. Although I had to stop to allow them to pass safely, this was not too unusual. Baboons were a common feature of the district. They mostly roamed the mountains, but from time to time came down to feed near the road. Then, a bit further on, just after I had turned onto the Klipfontein road, I came across a second group of animals – this time two meerkats (mongooses) basking in the sun in touching distance from where I passed. Again, this was no big surprise. But then two or three kilometeres on I had to stop unexpectedly again to allow a really big lizard (a leguana) to slowly make her way across the road, forcing me to wait ... and to reflect.

I think it was at this moment that I felt that something unusual was taking place, because from that point onwards, for the next 30 kilometeres, I was confronted by all the familiar animals of the veld and of farms along the road: grazing sheep, staring cattle, playing buck and even some runaway horses. At one stage two startling white horses suddenly appeared in the veld close to the road as if out of nowhere, frolicking - I just watched in silent amazement with cold shivers running down my spine. And this was not the end of the spectacle, because as I was about to take the last turn towards the farm, an enormous eagle was waiting there for me, sitting on a post at the entrance as if to guide me in.

I know that for many people this story may sound either incredulous, or a report of a merely accidental chain of events without any hidden significance. For me however, to this day it remains a benchmark experience on my spiritual journey; something I often remember and draw on when my mood turns black or I tend to lose faith. Not that I fully understand what happened that day, but as with Job (in Job 38-42) I could not escape the feeling that God had spoken to me in a unique way. By offering me a glimpse into the wonder of his creation, I was not only reminded of my own special place and value as a human being on earth, but more specifically of God’s constant love and concern for us, even as sinful creatures. The fact that God’s love was offered to me in this very concrete, and yet in a strange, mystical way, and on a day when I felt down and undeserving, was particularly consoling.

This is of course what God’s amazing grace and concern for us is all about!

Carel Anthonissen

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