This is my three part Testimony, from the belief of a child to the bitter rebellion of a cynic and the struggle to define God, to the discovery and acceptance of the Reconciliation of Jesus. I have in the past alluded to parts of my strange and wondrous experiences but now because I have been asked to tell the complete story, I attempt to write it down for you.
From the very beginning, God had His plan for my life. Every event in my life was in his plan so that I would become the person I am today, every tragedy, every choice I would make, every pleasure, every sorrow, every person I would meet He knew and used to show me exactly how great He is. And from the beginning, God knew what choices I would make. When my mother discovered she was pregnant with her fifth child in the middle of WWII, she was shocked. My mother had converted to Roman Catholicism about four years earlier and my father had been a Catholic for just more than a year. They were both very intellectual and in their conversion had become very devote and committed to the Church with the exception of birth control. They had taken every step allowed to prevent pregnancy and yet, there I was, growing in the womb. My mother told God that since He had chosen to bring this life into the world, I would be His. When I was born and she held me for the first time, she lifted me up and said,”God, here is my son, he is all yours.”
I was the only child in my family to have a complete Catholic education, I went to a progressive Catholic Elementary School that taught science and math with the same vigour as Catechism I struggled through pout school because I had a learning disability and math, spelling and language were all but impossible for me. The plans that my mother had that I should become a priest soon were dashed to the ground. My father thought I was lazy and could not understand why I couldn’t learn. But there was one area that I did not have a problem with and that was reading and while I could not memorize very well,I could understand what I read. The one class I excelled in was the Catechism. When I chose to go to a Franciscan High School, I once again excelled in the Religion and History classes and in Literature. When I was in school, my mother decided to return to college and majored in ancient history and as a PhD candidate, Mesopotamian Histories. She also learned to read and/or speak the languages of the people; Ancient Greek, Hebrew Latin and Aramaic, and the modern languages of Greek, German and Middle English (Spencer and Donte’). When ever I had questions, she could show me the answer from original sources and translate them for me. As a child, my only desire was to be a living saint. I wanted to be the best christian I could possibly be.
But as I grew older and into my teens, I became jaded, cynical and depressed. I was victimized by my peers, bullied as a child by classmates. When I was just fourteen, a teacher molested me and a year later an person claiming to be a devote Baptist, drugged and raped me. I became a target for homosexual harassment, either by being solicited by perverts or being accused by others of being a homosexual and I suffer from depression, rejection from my parents (in my mind) and having very low self esteem. As I learned more and more of the history of the Christian world I became cynical about the validity of Jesus’ claim of God-ship with the Father. I saw that in the history of man that in every war, religion played a part or was the excuse. From the advancement of the Mohammedans to the Crusades, through the Thirty Years War, the inquisitions, the Persecutions of Cornwall, the persecution of the Jews through out the Middle Ages even up to Hitler’s Holocaust, the persecution of the Catholics and the Anglicans in Ireland to the flight of the many Protestant cults to America seeking freedom from other Christians to the slaughter of the native American in the “Manifest Destiny” of Western Expansion. Even the War in Vietnam was originally a conflict between the corrupt Rich French Catholics and the poor Buddhist peasants. I became very bitter and after I graduated from high school I began to believe that if Jesus came to bring Peace to the world, he had failed and if he failed then he could not be God! And if Jesus was not God then all I had been taught about God was a lie. In 1962, I went to my local church (in those days, all churches were open during the day for people to pray) I sat in a pew and cried out to God, show me who you are. Tell me the Truth of who we are and let me know the truth. I cried because I knew that I did not have Faith.
As the years progressed, I never forgot to search for the True meaning of God. I sought out the understandings of every religion and discovered that most were based on primitive superstitions and myths. Some were modern philosophies and imaginations and none were based on scientific or pure intellectual endeavor. I began an age of mockery and insult to these “fools” who believed in such nonsense. I openly called Christians liars and deceivers, I engaged in verbal battles with them and when I was told by Bible Thumpers that I was going to go to hell, I provoked them to anger an then laughed at them telling them that they demonstrated that I would meet them there. When I would meet a Christian who condemned the Jewish people or who spouted out bigotry and hate of minorities, I told them that their very words condemned them and they would be in hell long before me. I targeted the “Born Agains” with their ignorance, I knew the Bible better than them, I knew the history of Christian bigotry and used it against them. Time and time again they would leave in total confusion. All but one man who simply said that I should give God a chance, but that was much later in my search.
Because in all this time of em-battlement against mainly Evangelicals, I was searching for the True God and I approached it by reason. I searched for the most logical definition of Who and What was God. I never doubted that God was, just that man had been unable to define Him. That was my first Goal.
1. There is a God: Science, Natural Law and the simplicity and yet complexity of the Universe demands that there was a Creator. Life and existence could only be possible if it was created by design and with purpose. It could not be by accident or in Chaos but by a Logical and defined Order. God is and was the Ultimate Force of Creativity and Logic. Without a Logical and Creative God, there is no order in the Universe. therefore:
2. If there is Logic and creativity there must be intellect. And as man has limited intellect, a Creative and Logical God must have Pure Intellect. Every event has shown that man was the last creation to enter the world and he was created to be physically the weakest most defenseless creation on the planet. This Intellectual God gave man a taste of His intellect so as to not only survive but to dominate the Earth and all its creations. Therefore:
3. A Creative, Intelligence and Logical God would want to reveal Himself to his intelligent creation, man. He would design a way to communicate with him. A logical, communicative God would have to show that not only was He the most powerful thing in the Universe but also the most caring. He would show his power and reveal to man knowledge and understanding that man would be capable to grasp. The best way was to show man that He was a loving, caring and yet a Stearn God. He would present Himself as a father figure; one who demanded obedience yet showered his children with love, mercy and compassion. This God would raise man up to understand that mankind was to be not only the dominate of the world but also its caretaker ( a lesson we are still learning). And as man grew in his ability to comprehend God more of His Love would be revealed. Therefore:
4. God has a plan for mankind, God has the ability to foresee when and how man would be able to grasp the fullness of the potential of mankind. God has a dream! He can imagine great things for man. In order to do this, God would speak to certain men and use them to guide mankind to a path that would reveal His goodness.
And after more than ten years of study, thought and reasoning, I came to the conclusion that as imperfect as it was, the religion of the Jewish people was the only one that followed this understanding and most closely resembled the understanding I reached. I made a determined effort to understand all I could about the Jewish understandings and to see what they may have missed. I knew the Old Testament fairly well and started to studying the Torah from the Jewish understanding and notices that certain passages read different from what I was taught from the Catholic bible. I compared them with the King James bible and found the same differences. This bothered me so I researched the oldest Hebrew texts and the translations and discovered that many passages were not the same as the newer Jewish translations. Something was wrong here. The Greek, Aramaic, Ancient Jewish were in agreement but the modern Hebrew was not. Why were the Jews now teaching something different than the people knew before the birth of Jesus? This bothered me so much that I restudied the early history of the Christian churches and turned their beliefs into a philosophy. In the end I came to accept that Jesus was the fulfilment of the understanding God had for man. That as good as the Judean Beliefs were, they were incomplete without the understanding that Jesus provided. I began to call myself a Christian and joined my wife in attending a Presbyterian Church which also taught the Jewish traditional beliefs. I believed that Jesus was the Son of both God and man, He was God made in the flesh. But in all this, which took me from the time I was nineteen to the age of twenty-eight, I was still not really a believer. That was to come years later.
While all this was going on, from when I first recognized I had no Faith, throughout the process of formulating a belief, I had dreams and strange interventions that I could not explain. At the age of twenty, I was very depressed after being victimized by a girl who, I had planned to marry. My Catholic upbringing had a fear of Hell’s Damnation that was greater than my hate of life, but now, when I lost my beliefs, that fear of hell was gone. As I planned to kill myself, I got a phone call from an old girl friend who just wanted to talk. We had not seen or heard from each other for almost two years. She talked to me for hours on the phone and at the end, I had changed my mind about suicide. A few months later, I again was overwhelmed by the cruelty of life and was preparing to suicide once more when another young lady whom I knew knock on my apartment door and literally dragged me out to her car and took me to the beach with friends of hers. She and her friends spent the whole day making me laugh and play with them. I gave up trying to kill myself because it seem to be futile. And then the dreams! I dreamed I was jumping (not falling) off a cliff and then being lifted upon to a plain with a narrow road going straight down leading to a shimmering city. While in the Service, I had two vivid dreams. In the first I was standing beside a small child crouched in the ground as a crowd of people picked up jagged stones and large knives and raised them up to throw at the child on the ground. As the first stone and knives were thrown, I jumped in front of the child and all the objects fell to the earth as if they hit a wall. The child got up and the crowd disappeared as the child spoke to me saying, “You will always be for me as I will be always there for you.” In the second dream, I was standing on a hill between my sister who is a nun and a man dressed Ina black suit and a large silver cross about his neck (whom I took to be a Baptist Preacher). Below us was a man dressed in a dark grey robe who was shouting at the people that they were cursed, that he was the only path to righteousness, that all other faiths were doomed to damnation. My sister in her white robes took the crucifix in her hand and looked to me and said, “What are you going to do about this?” The man in the black suit looked at me and nodded in agreement and I raised my hands up and floated in to the air over the grey man and spoke in a voice that was not mine shouting, “Why are you scaring my people with your lies? You are nothing but the fool of Satan and your place is in the very Pits of Hell. Deceive them no more.” and I pointed to him and in a flash of fire and smoke, he vanished.
I had three other dreams during the years in which I placed my self in the way of danger to others, offering up my life instead. And each dream ended the same way with a voice saying, “Because you are willing to die for me, you shall live.” all these dreams happened while I still was fighting Christians. But even after I came to accept Jesus as the God of Gods, I still was full of myself and I fooled many people into believing that I wad redeemed. I worked in churches and we even elected to Elder in one church. When we moved however, I stopped attending churches for a while and when my son started to attend a Sunday School I went to investigate the church and was very concerned about it because of the way they approached the new Testament. I started to search for a more scriptural church and strangely when my friend who kept on asking me to give God a chance invited me to his United Methodist church, I went. There I found a strange mix of believers, some very spiritual, some very literal and some very liberal. The Charismatic group of the church which included the pastor invited us to be a part of them in studying the word of God closely. I learned many new things and I began to feel stronger about God.
It was during this period that I suffered abuse at work, neglect at home and became depressed all over again. I sought approval from the wrong places, I started to have fantasies, sinful desires and began to be very abusive to my family driving a wedge between my wife and my children. After a couple of years of this,my wife had enough and wanted a divorce. But at the same time, the charismatic group of the church was talking about the United Christian Ashram, an ecumenical group founded by E. Stanley Jones for the Christians of India. They did not know the problems in my house but simply said, we should go because “miracles sometimes happen there.” So we went but my wife told me that as soon as we got back from the week long family camp, she was filing for a divorce.
The Christian Ashram camps are divided into three “activities.”
1) Work…we leave the campsite better than it was when we came by working together on various projects.
2) Prayer… Each day is started with group prayer, each activity is began with prayer and the chapel is manned twenty-four hours with at least one person praying.
3) Study… there are three classes each day by spiritual leaders in Bible application and Spiritual growth.
Because I wanted desperately to save my marriage and family, I volunteered to take a two AM time chapel prayer slot. the only thing about my life I was sure of was that God wanted my wife and I to stay together. I know from the very moment I walked down the aisle with her, this was God’s choice, even though I still did not know who God was. So when it came to my time to be in the chapel I got on my knees and I prayed over again and again for God to show me how to save my marriage, I said that I would do any and every thing to preserve what He gave me. and while taking a small breather in my prayer I opened my NIV bible randomly to Romans and the words seem to blur before me and when they came into focus I read this: “You see, Paul Shiras, at the right time, when you are powerless, I died for you, the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly Dre to die. but you are not righteous, Paul, are you? But My Father demonstrates love for you Paul Shiras, in this: While you are still a sinner, I did die for YOU!” And as I finished reading these exact words, I saw the book blur again and return to the written words of Romans 5:6-8. In Shock, I dropped the bible and staggered to the alter and crashed to the floor weeping in great sorrow and guilt for my ways. And as I cried I saw every offence against God flash before me. Then I felt a light above me and as I raised my head, I saw the front wall of the chapel fade away and although it was still deep into the night,it was as day with a light centered in the sky. And from that light came a large bird. As it grew closer I saw that it was an golden eagle with wings the show like jeweled prisms casting out shards of rainbows in every direction. This Eagle landed in front of me and stood as a man and as His eyes gazed sadly into my very soul I heard the same Voice I had heard in the dreams say to me, “Paul, I died for you and if it were possible I would do it again. But I don’t have to because one death is for all and One Life is given that you, dear Paul, might have life!” And then the eagle spread His wings about me and embraced me. The embrace totally enveloped me in a pure peace, its warmth drove out all fear, doubt and trembling. and in that moment, I saw every dream again, I remembered all the times that God had sent someone into my life to intervene on His behalf. and every scripture I knew had new meaning, a clear understanding. And the Voice said to me, “These are the Truths you must believe. You now have ears to hear and eyes to see, now you shall understand what was hidden. You are My disciple and I called you to be mine, even before you were known in the world, I called you.”
Then He released me and lifted Himself into the air, flying back into the sky. when He was no more to be seen, the light faded away and the chapel wall was restored. Once more I fell to the floor and wept,but this time it was tears for joy. I came to save my marriage and I was reconciled to the Father, Loved by Jesus and Empowered by the Holy Spirit. The person who was to relieve me at Three AM failed to come so I spent another hour reading scripture verse after verse. Each one had new meaning, a new understanding and in every verse I read I could only see the love of God for man. At four AM, a dear saint among us came in and saw me still weeping for joy. I told her what had happened and she joined me in tears and in praise. All this happened in the summer of 1981, nineteen years after I cried in the church pew about my lack of Faith. You see, while Love is the greatest Gift of the Holy Spirit, without Faith, there can be no pure Love that God wants for us. and at the same time, without God’s Pure Love for us, we cannot find Faith. Hope comes with Faith and brings Love with it.
I went back to my cabin an as my wife woke up I told her of what had happened but she was still very distrustful and it took several months for her to see that I had really changed. But she stayed by my side and soon became my spiritual guidepost. When my son grew up, he also left the instructions of his father but much more quickly returned to Christ’s side and with great vigour. My daughter worked in the mission field for six years after finishing high school and is my proof reader (I still have spelling problems that even spell check doesn’t catch). A few years ago, my son told me to start up this blog and share what the Lord has given me with the world. I thank God that He never gave up on me and that I never gave up on my family. I also thank God that my father while he lived, supported the change in me and even though I never went back to the church of my childhood, he stood by my understandings and even was slightly envious of the gift I was given. One of the things he told me after I came to Christ was that the reason he became a Christian was because one Sunday morning at Mass, while he read the words “Go in Peace, the Lord is with you,” he suddenly knew that God was with him and from that day one lived every moment of the day for God.
Since that day, I have worked with and for many churhces, I left the United Methodist Church and was a part of ministry that tried to bring reconciliation of the churches through common goals but that also failed. After many years of struggle to bring the message of Wholeness of Purpose, I gave up on being a “member” of any church but a “freind’ to all churches.
I leave you with this:
Do I believe in visions? Yes because I have had visions.
Do I believe in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit? Yes, because I have been empowered to do mighty things in the Name of Jesus.
Do I know of the reconcilliation of the Father, though the Blood of Jesus on the Cross? Yes because I felt the unity with the Father in that moment in the chapel.
Can you also kinow this? I don’t know of any reson you should not. If I, a great sinner can know these things you should also know them. Maybe not as dramatic as I but maybe as simply as my father. Know that you know that Jesus, the Holy spirit and the Father want you to know Him the One True God.
Be in His Peace, Amen
A post script to this testimony: Since I wrote this I have returned to the church of my childhood with new eyes and a greater Faith. But the story is not ended, I have a much longer journey to travel in my Faith Walk and I am still excited about the pathways opened for me by Christ. Since the beginning of 2014, I have renewed MY COMMITMENT with the Catholic Church and have been in regular attendance. There has been a joy that I had not experienced before, but this does not end my support of all who walk with Christ, regardless of the church of their choosing. God Bless you all.