The year was 1972
I had just gotten out of the U.S. Coast Guard and was finishing up my exploration of Native American shamanism..cactus buttons, vision quests, and the works. My friend, Andy Causey was going to Lenoir-Rhyne at the time, so I hung out there with him doing Acid, TM, and we even went out to his professor’s house, a Ph.D. anthropologist and a Comanche Medicine Man. That was a trip, but the popcorn was good.
My friend Eddie Dearman said I should take a year off to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I thought that was good advice.
It was the days before Google when we had The Whole Earth Catalog. I had just read Be Here Now, and as I had been meditating since the mid-’60s, self-guided, I planned to head out to New Mexico to seek out Ram Dass. But before I could go, my partner in adventures, Jeff Steele took me to see this old guy, Lynn Hay, who was ministering to the hippies in Love Valley, a little western town in the Brushy Mountains that had had a rock concert. It was the beautiful time of the Woodstock generation before the burnout. It was also the time of the early Jesus Movement before it got co-opted.
So Lynn ‘led me to Jesus,’ the 4 Laws, and all that. I spoke in tongues and we all hugged, but nothing really changed. Lynn gave me a Billy Graham new believers packet. It started with the Gospel of John. As a seeker, John nailed me. All the religious stuff had always been meaningless but this was different. I was a preacher’s kid. I had seen it all. I was done with religious form and working my way to heaven.
Lynn started meetings at the Vance Hotel, a block from my house as I continued with my studies and inner-exploration. You see, Jesus was at the bottom of my list, mostly because of church folk. The one’s I came in contact with were Churchgoers, religious gatekeepers. When push came to shove, they were just like everybody else, small and mean. Now I knew about God, but I didn’t know about this Jesus.
The Night Everything Changed
It all came to a head one night as I was studying and searching. I had felt the struggle my whole life. I had provisionally given Jesus a try. This time was it. Words fail me here. I came to Jesus and was filled with the Holy Spirit, at 1:30 in the morning the 25 of May, with no one around, in my mother’s living room on Center Street. I went to the meetings at the Vance, but I needed to sort things out that I wasn’t gonna find in church.
Into The Wilderness
So as my spiritual practice was a three day total fast every month, and the mountains were my home, I took my little New Testament and headed to the mountains to fast, pray, and seek God. I threw some things into my little sky blue VW and took off for Linville Gorge where I had climbed Table Rock and all over the Chimneys. I had decided on the spur of the moment, so it was evening as I whipped around the corners of Hwy 181. I passed a little brick church where I could hear shouting as a man appeared in the open doorway with sweat running down his face. I couldn’t hesitate. I was being drawn up those old logging roads like a moth to the flame.
Into The Gorge
I parked and began the five-mile hike down Spence Ridge Trail. I was used to hiking at night, so I was in no rush as I came to the log over the Linville River at sunset. It was a beautiful evening hike into a deep mystery. I was outside time the moment I began.
I found a spot on the Sandy Flats Trail where the moss-covered rocks framed the running river. The air was crisp and fresh as the stars blazed in the night sky. I built a fire and settled in for the night.
Down By The River
I woke up a little after midnight thinking a bear was eating my face, slowly realizing it was a Blue Tick Hound slobbering all over me. I played with him a bit, but he had the scent of a bear and took off baying into the night.
The next morning, I woke up and read the book of Colossians on the moss-covered rocks by the river. The Spirit taught me about form and substance, light, and shadows, as I built the fire back with fresh kindling. It was then God spoke in my heart and said, “Some people blaze up and are gone, but you’re like that backlog that burns through the night.” Probably foretelling of my 40+ year night I was going to go through.
A Divine Encounter
As I stuffed my backpack for the hike to the Chimney’s, I asked God what should I do if I ran up on a bear on the trail. Suddenly there was a bear standing off to the left as Jesus was beyond him with his arms held out. Then I realized it was an open vision and smiled. Probably a leftover from my night’s visitation.
I hiked up Sandy Flats Trail to the log crossing the river when two hikers approached. Who could it be but my old friend Eddie Dearman and his wife Elaine? The last two I would have ever expected to see. Eddie and Elaine were house parents at the Baptist Center at Appalachian and Eddie was the only person I knew for sure was a Christian. I was in shock and stammered a few words about coming to Jesus and seeking God. We smiled and with hugs, they went on their way down the trail. They were the only people I saw in the Gorge for the whole trip. I was in the middle of the choreography of God I was to walk in for the next three years.
Up In A Chimney Cave
So it was back up Spence Ridge Trail hiking in slow stupefied wonder up the forest trail. Then down the connecter to Table Rock, finally coming out at the Chimney’s an hour before sunset. It was breathtaking. I easily came up to a sloping rock overhang, my shelter for the night. I dug it out a bit for my sleeping bag while someone had left a pile of wood for a little round campfire.
As sunset burned red in the little cave, I read Galatians. I was captured by its unconditional grace, being God’s work to, for, and in us. I put a few sticks on the fire and looking up at the rock wall, Jesus was hanging on the cross. I couldn’t bring my eyes to look up past his feet above me. I felt his drops of blood splat, splat, splat on my back. I was overwhelmed and fell into a deep sleep.
I don’t remember the next day or the next. I don’t remember hiking back to the car or driving home. Everything was a blur after seeing Jesus in an open vision. Time ripped and I was there. It’s the realest thing in my life. I have no reasons to give, no great insight, only the love of God. I realize that nothing begins with you or me. Everything begins with God. God is all in all.
I’ve sat on this story for over 40 years and this is the first time I’ve told it in full. God had to fatally wound my ego before I could share it.
I hope this encourages you to tell your story.