Baptist youth achieve young adulthood around the age of thirteen. They become Christians by studying their Bible, faithfully attending worship services, participating in Christian youth activities, and being plunged below moving water in what Baptists call full immersion baptism. As I approached my thirteenth birthday was quite ambivalent about being baptized. Didn’t know if God thought I was ready yet. But my kid sister Pat, eleven months younger than me, declared she felt ready. So ready or not prepared to take the plunge! Knew what to expect from reading about Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:10: “Just as he was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him.” Was pretty sure the affirmation Jesus received from God: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” was unique to his situation. But was still counting on seeing the heavens opening and descent of the spirit. At least some kind of warm feeling of welcome and well done good and faithful servant. So was more than a little disappointed when after being prayed over, and then plunged into Founder’s Brook, that I emerged merely breathless, wet and cold.
Experienced my first radically transformative spiritual phenomena the next year. We were in the woods at a Baptist youth retreat. Had spent most of the morning sitting in a dark stuffy room watching what can best be described as some form of cheap teenage indoctrination videos. When we finally took a break late morning I shot out of the room into the bright daylight of the surrounding forest, making my way quickly up the path before anyone else could engage me in conversation, just wanting to be alone with all my thoughts. Suddenly noticed the path was shining before me, the leaves on the trees were emitting light, and the very trunks of the trees were luminous. The surrounding forest burst into song almost as if sounding the music of the spheres. Saw and felt my hands and arms as waves of pure energy. I was pure energy. One with all being. At peace with everything perceivable. This was my first truly transcendent state!
I was ecstatic! The experience lasted for only a few minutes but evoked both feelings of joy and fear to find myself suddenly in this inexplicably transformed state. This unitive experience was what it felt like to know the creator of the whole universe and to co-participate in creation. Gradually the light shining forth from everything began to fade back into normal reality and at the same time my sense of universal oneness faded simply into a feeling of foolishness. Would seek this feeling of transcendence many more times, in many different religious traditions, but it was here in the woods at 14 that I first knew what I was seeking. Given that the grown-ups and other youth at this retreat were all Baptists, and 1970’s rationalists, I never told them about my experience. But I cherished it in my heart forever after. I was now a Baptist nature mystic. What a blessing! I came away hungry for more.