In an ongoing series, Faith: Lost and Found, the National Post is publishing the tales of readers whose life experiences have imbued them with a belief in a higher power -- or taken that faith away. Today, Deborah Gyapong explains how she found God in the most unholy of places.
Though I was baptized Russian Orthodox and my parents sent me to various Protestant Sunday schools to expose me to the Bible, I rejected the Christian faith and derided the faithful. By the time I graduated from college, I was "spiritual," into New Age and the occult. I embraced the 1960s hippie ethos.
All that changed one night in September, 1973, when I hitchhiked to a bar in Cambridge, Mass.
The bartender, an ex-con named Frank, invited me into a back room to snort cocaine. By closing time, I felt like Superwoman. I then accompanied Frank as he sold drugs. At each location, we snorted lines of white powder. ("By the way, that was mescaline you just did," Frank told me at one point.)
Frank and I took a bus to his trashstrewn basement apartment in a dangerous Boston slum near some elevated train tracks. In the front room, a sleeping bag lay on a bare mattress surrounded by cardboard boxes full of marijuana stems and seeds.
When I resisted Frank's physical advances, he told me he wanted to "be with a woman." So he left, promising to return at 8 a.m.
Alone, I expected to be fine. Soon, however, the noise from the trains passing overhead got to me. I sensed evil.
In New Age magic mode, I decided to gather up the evil and flush it down the toilet. So, with sweeping arm gestures, I pulled evil through the filthy hallway, into a long narrow bathroom. I flung the evil into the toilet and flushed. The toilet shook violently, as if it were going to explode. Horrified, I ran into the hallway.
I began to pace, saying, "I want to live. I want to live." The clock on the wall read 3 a.m. Wraithlike shapes seemed to rise from the trash piles surrounding me.
I recited the 23rd Psalm, surprised I remembered it, then the Lord's Prayer. Still, the evil seethed.
In the damp bedroom, I flicked on the TV. A trio of musicians were singing folk songs. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Precious humanity. The music stopped for a commercial break, and my relief vanished when a Marines recruitment ad came on, reminding me of the Vietnam War. I changed the channel to see a man dressed as the Devil, introducing the nightly horror movie.
Usually, he looked silly. But this time, he was the Devil, his eyes burning with intense hatred and malevolence. Then he leaped out at me.
Terrified, I shut off the set. My cigarette's burning end suddenly shone with the same spiteful malevolence as the TV devil's eyes. I crushed it out and began to pace again, desperate.
Maybe if I restored order, I might feel better. So I removed a box of marijuana seeds from a pile of newspapers. A front-page picture displayed three hooded Ku Klux Klansmen. I could not bear the hatred they represented, and so kept foraging. Underneath, I found a paperback book, Hey God! by Frank Foglio. What was a book like this doing in a drug dealer's apartment?
The evil in the room swelled and buzzed as I opened it with trembling hands. Feeling surrounded by hundreds of evil spirits trying to get inside me, I read about Foglio's mamma and her 10 kids, and how she was touched by the Holy Spirit. I'd never heard of such a thing. I read about how Mamma spoke to God in simple straightforward prayers, and about the miracles they experienced, like praying over the spaghetti and having it multiply to feed unexpected guests, or praying over an empty gas tank so the car would keep on running. Mamma was always telling people about Jesus.
Whenever she asked someone a question, I felt as if she were asking me. Did I know I was a sinner? Yes! Did I believe Jesus died for my sins? Yes! Would I ask Jesus into my heart? Yes!Would I turn my life over to Him? Yes!
I was doing some heavy-duty bargaining. Hey, God: You save me from the hell in this room and I'll serve you the rest of my life. I promise. I profoundly understood that Jesus knew the depth of the world's evil, and that's why He died on the cross, to save us from it. I also understood that without Him, I was powerless against it.
Despite my bargaining, the evil seemed to be gaining in power. I kept reading, though, and eventually I came to a line in which God seemed to be speaking directly to me. He said: "Be still, and know that I Am God."
Everything in me was fighting for life, struggling to save myself. But God was telling me to let go, to stop struggling, to know that He is God. Jesus is Saviour. Could I trust Him? Could I stop trying to save myself?
Obeying God's command to be still was the hardest thing I'd ever done, a terrifying leap of faith.
As I willed my release, I could feel Heaven rejoicing. I felt as if God's invisible arm was reaching down and cupping me in His palm. His presence seemed stern, as if He was saying: "Look what kind of mess you got yourself in this time."
The evil vanished. My tears of fear and angst turned to tears of joy and repentance. The sun started to come up, lightening the basement window curtains.
When Frank returned as promised, I was smiling, so in love with Jesus that I could have knocked on strangers' doors, bearing witness of my faith --just like Mamma. Thirty-four years later, I'm still in love. - Deborah Gyapong is a freelance journalist who covers religion and politics in Ottawa. Her suspense novel The Defilers won the 2005 Best New Canadian Christian Author Award. www.deborahgyapong.com.