Darkness came--it hung over me like and impenetrable shroud--and then, in the hollows of nothingness, an uncontrollable feeling of despair topped with horror came over me. Trembling--I feared for my life.
With a hiss like that of a panther's, the demonic voice quickly turned into a growl as it spoke to me. I remember trembling--looking around for a trace of light--but nothing. I felt motion in the air, but the blackness was thick, and I couldn't see a thing--I could only hear the demon's terrible voice.
It was no nightmare. I had barely begun to fall asleep, I even recall that the television was still on, but suddenly I was transported to a spiritual dimension--an astral plane. Then silence. Blackness.
The hideous voice shot fear laden chills down my spine--or what felt like my spine. My ears were ringing with the shrill sound of it's voice. Then back to the demonic taunting--the cruel words--the deep rattle in its throat.
I know what you're thinking--it was all in my mind--a delusion brought on by guilt and disgust for myself, for my bad habit of abusing myself, and the understanding that I would never amount to more than a depraved sinner basking in his own bodily juices--how could I be a man of God and a sinner? It just wasn't possible.
In my moment of weakness--the demon descended upon me. Began choking the life out of me. I felt as if I was levitating, as if I could feel my physical body back in reality being yanked into the air, my back arching, as if something had reached into my body and tried to rip out my very soul.
"You think you're special? You think you're God's little soldier--don't you?" it snarled.
I refused to engage it. Instead, I began praying out loud to Jesus--the son of God--the Savior--the Lord on high. I prayed to Jesus, invoking his name, that he would save me from the clutches of this darkness. Every time I said the name Jesus the demon growled and hissed angrily.
"Don't say that name!"
"Jesus, I accept you," I cried, "please heal me, please take this burden of sin from me. Please, Jesus... protect me from this evil." I pleaded, and prayed, and cowered.
Suddenly, two streaks of light flashed by. They sounded like fighter jets buzzing overhead--powerful--fast. A loud earth-shattering THOOM suddenly shook the very ground beneath me. Then the demon began shrieking for its very life. An even louder KRA-KOOM! And the terrible voice ceased.
Before me stood two enormous and magnificently powerful figures--with wings. They had elaborate golden laced armor which shone hot white with heavenly light. They looked at me and a wave of fear, even greater than with the demon, came over me. Raising my hand to block out the brilliant light, I closed my eyes to deter the hot pangs I felt from the extreme radiance of the light. From the distance, a masculine yet soothing voice came forth, and said, "Do not be afraid, my child."
Opening my eyes again, I saw one of the guardian angels pointing past my shoulder. I spun around. Hovering in the sky, like Superman, was Jesus Christ. Stretching across his shoulders and rising into the sky were what appeared to be two giant wings--but I have never heard of Jesus having wings. No, not wings. I squinted hard forcing my eyes to focus. They weren't wings--but rather two enormous battalions of warrior angels all decked in the same radiant armor as my two protectors.
This was the Christ of Revelation leading his army, preparing for the return, where he would overthrow the old Devil, Satan, and take his proper place at the head of the Kingdom of God--to be established here on earth.
Unexpectedly, the glowing visage of Christ transported down to where I stood, abruptly materializing beside me. We had a long conversation--although I cannot remember what was said. Only that I felt soothed as a flood of love came over me and washed the darkness away.
That's when I woke up. Tears streaming down my face. What sort of dream was this, I asked myself. No, not a dream, but a vision.
Lesson 5: Don't believe everything you see on the broadcast station of revelation.
Now before you write me off as a crazy person--just know that many religious people, of various religious backgrounds, experience "visions" and "nightmares" of the sort I am referring to. When you are under the control of religious thinking--all of this phantasmagoria seems real--and your brain interprets it as real.
Such visions often have real physiological and psychological effects. The person experiencing them cannot always tell the difference between the vision and reality. Like Saul of Tarsus (before he became known as Paul the Apostle) on the road to Damascus, you fall down onto the ground convulsing, cowering in the dirt at the visions of light which dance in your mind. You fear the voices and heed their warnings. These strange voices are not your own--because you couldn't imagine anything so terrifying and life changing as this--no dream is as vivid--no nightmare as realistic. It is the spiritual realm you have experienced.
Of course now I know better, because I know the scientific explanations for what I experienced. I know about both the physiological and psychological responses and the stimuli which triggered them. I know about migraines and seizures and the way they can trick your senses into perceiving reality incorrectly. I know about false memories and the psychological burden of religious indoctrination and years of programming. I know about the side effects of anxiety and stress. I know about the amped-up hormonal drug induced dreams which become hyper real--in fact it is these very same hormones that make a young man's wet dream such a pleasurable experience can also cause him to have the most terrible nightmares imaginable.
But back then, none of this was known to me. What I experienced--it was as real to me as anything. And the only way I could come to terms with what I was experiencing was via my religion--precisely because I lacked the real scientific explanations.
For weeks after the experience I had to sleep with my bedroom light on. Imagine that, a fifteen year old boy who is active in sports, gets decent grades, does school newspaper (even on the weekends), is the top artists at his school, plays four different musical instruments in brass band as well as being the lead soloist in jazz band, and manages to get up at the crack of dawn to jog and do weight training everyday before classes--suddenly, and for no apparent reason, developing an unhealthy fear of the dark.
Indeed, the very thought of it is preposterous.
After that experience, I began having visions regularly. I spoke with angels--I was certain I was seeing demonic forces prowling the streets--as my visions started coming even while I was awake. Waking dreams. This religious experience confirmed what I already knew--from what Christianity had taught me--there was indeed a spiritual war happening right under our very noses. Most of us, however, are just not aware of it.
At my church my pastor began talking about the youth that would lead the next generation of Christians in preparation for Jesus's return. He spoke of the visions they would have--and the chosen prophets which would arise among the Christian ranks. Even as he assured us this would come to pass, I was too timid to share with anyone my experiences--the visions--for fear that they would merely think I was mocking them by having a bit of rebellious fun and pulling their leg. It wasn't until years later that I told my mother of the experience, and she broke down crying as she told me that she heard me waking up screaming almost every other night for several weeks and simply did not know what to do. So she prayed for God to alleviate my anxiety and fears and continue to diligently watch over me.
A few years later, when I had graduated high school and was halfway into my college education, my mom would take me to see a rabbi, or rather, Messianic rabbi--or Jews for Christ as they are commonly known. He would put his hands on my brother and I and pray for the Lord to shield us from the evil that always seemed to be nipping at our heels.
Shortly after that, I did a student exchange and came to Japan. While in Japan, the visions stopped. The horrible boughts of fear relinquished. And I felt a calm peace come over me for the first time in my life. I believed God had healed me--he had answered my prayers!
Soon thereafter I met Sayaka--the woman who, unbeknownst to me at the time, would become my future wife.
[In Part 4: Crisis of Faith, I explain the events which lead me to begin questioning my faith, and which would ultimately prove to be the catalyst for my loss of faith. Indeed, it was the turning point which would send me on the path toward skepticism and eventually... atheism.]