Archive for June 5th, 2005

Part 1 of 3

On the afternoon of October 7, 1979, I stood in a huge crowd of joyous people, an island of misery in a sea of celebration. The crowd had gathered on the Mall in Washington, DC, to greet Pope John Paul II on his first trip to the United States, and my headstrong girlfriend Debbie, raised Presbyterian and like
me at that point a sort of eclectic Protestant "Jesus Freak," had insisted on taking the Metro downtown from her parents home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

I had been raised Catholic but was now, in my mid-twenties, living in a sort of anarchic Christian commune an hour south of DC, in rural St Mary’s County, and on weekends I would head to Chevy Chase, or Debbie would drive down to our ramshackle farmhouse. I had met her, and the guys I was living with, at a Christian rock festival during the summer of 1978, which I had spent hitch-hiking around the country, traveling the back roads from Virginia to Minnesota to California to Colorado, returning to my hometown in Michigan when I was broke. There I painted signs to earn money and helped organize the Shepherd’s House, a kind of interdenominational youth ministry. We had been given an old house and spent the fall and early winter repairing it- painting, roofing, and so on, in preparation for its opening as a drop-in center and coffee house.

I had been a Christian for a few years by conviction, after souring on the counterculture and reading C.S. Lewis, but my big conversion, of the will and emotions, came some time after my intellectual onversion, in the spring of 1977. I naturally gravitated toward young charismatic Christians. Though suspicious of the Catholic Church, my regular worship each week was Sunday night at a Catholic charismatic prayer meeting. In the Protestant Pentecostal churches I had visited anything seemed possible: anyone could stand up and throw an emotional fit and they had to be taken seriously. In the Catholic prayer group, even though at that time the charismatic renewal was not well integrated into
the life of the Church and harbored all sorts of ideas and attitudes inimical to the Catholic Faith, there was at least a sense that things were not so out of control.

The meetings were sort of like an emotional version of the Quaker Meeting: we would gather, sing a few hymns, and then wait in silence for the Lord to speak. People would then speak spontaneously, offering Scripture and prophecy and "words of knowledge". When things began to wind down, after about an hour and a half, an old man who hadn’t spoken much during the meeting would usually
speak a few words which would distill and clarify all that had gone before.

I admired him tremendously; he was perhaps the first Christian I had met since my conversion who manifested not merely conviction or enthusiasm, but real holiness.

He was an Irishman, but curiously, a convert, an example of what must be a rare breed indeed, the Ulster Protestant who becomes a Catholic.

I was drawn to him, but perceived holiness has always induced shyness in me and it took a long time to work up the nerve to approach him. Finally one night I did. I said something about appreciating his contributions to the meetings, about how attuned he seemed to be to the Voice of God.

He fixed me with his blue-eyed gaze.

"And are ye a Catholic, lad?", he asked.

I offered the standard ’70s spiel. Well I had been raised Catholic but now I just loved the Lord and considered myself just a Christian. I mean, denominations were of the flesh, weren’t they?

His thick eyebrows raised slightly, then lowered, focusing his gaze yet more intensely.

" I will pray to Our Lady that you will return to the Holy Catholic Church," he said.

I was badly shaken; in those days charismatic Catholics never spoke of the "Holy Catholic Church," let alone of "Our Lady." I muttered something foolish and got as far away from him as I could.

Some of the friends involved in the birth of the Shepherd’s House attended the Catholic prayer group, some attended the Assembly of God, or the evangelical Presbyterian church south of town.

After much hard work the house was finally ready. We gathered excitedly the evening it opened for prayer and fellowship. The house was full, the mood expectant.

One of the other leaders, John, an ex-Catholic, and a quiet, intense fellow, stood up.

"Before we get started", he said, "the Lord has laid something on my heart that needs to be done."

There was palpable expectation in the air as he turned to me, pointed his finger and narrowed his eyes.

"In the name of Jesus COME OUT!"

Palpable expectation turned to palpable shock. People sitting by me scooted a little away.

I was stunned; to have someone look you in the eye and address a presumed demon was unnerving, to say the least. There was an uncomfortable silence. John, after a moment, started looking confused. Her tried again, louder: "IN THE NAME OF JESUS COME OUT!!!"

After another silence I asked quietly: "John, what are you trying to cast out of me?"

"A critical spirit," he answered.

A third silence followed, then I got up and left the room. John and another of the leaders followed me out onto the porch.

"Man, I’m sorry; I really blew it," John said.

I asked him what in the world had led him to think I had a demon inside me. He explained that my continued criticism of the televangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker, and of Jimmy Swaggart, had finally led him to his conclusion (this was years before the scandals).

I accepted his apology, but that was about it for me and the Shepherd’s House. When pretty Debbie, whose long blond hair had caught my eye the previous summer at the festival, called on New Year’s Eve to invite me to visit in Maryland, I took it as a sign. I set out hitch-hiking south a few days later in
the subzero Michigan winter. When I got to Maryland romance quickly bloomed and I moved into the hilltop farmhouse our friends had found in southern Maryland.

[Click here to read Part 2]

Daniel Nichols

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