Recently, I was asked to write down the story of John’s conversion from my point of view. Easter seemed a nice time to do this.
In order to describe the events of John’s conversion, I need to first set the stage. Nowadays, John is known for his religious outlook. But before his conversion, it was just the opposite. He was not just an atheist. He was a vituperative atheist who attacked religion at every turn and talked people into not believing in God.
John was not an emotional or uniformed atheist. He knew more about the Bible and what Christians believed than many Christians I knew. He could argue points backward and forward and always seemed to have just the right fact on hand to make a religious person look like a fool. One of his main complaints was that religious people would not debate with him. They always backed down and said that they didn’t want to continue the conversation.
Well, except for me.
I never gave up trying to explain things in reasonable terms. It was very difficult. He would attack each point very fiercely and with much skepticism and scorn. I often felt like I was trying to stand up in the face of gale-strength winds. It was hard not to doubt what I believed in the light of all his “evidence” for his side.
But I never gave up.
When we first were dating, I read a book about the Inklings that included quite a bit about C.S. Lewis. I remember thinking that John was very much like Lewis and might come around to understanding God someday the way Lewis did. I also knew that John loved the Truth and put it first, so I figured he might find his way to the one ultimate Truth.
But I really didn’t expect that he would ever change his mind, despite all my prayers and efforts.
After a while, however, John began to be a bit less annoyed at Christians than he had been when we were younger. His love of tradition led him to value the fact that Christians upheld some traditions—including moral ones—that no one else seemed to care about. He also began spending a lot of time reading Chesterton and Lewis.
One Thanksgiving, I asked him to come to church with me and the children for our annual Thanksgiving service. He had never come to my church. I think he had walked into it once during non-service hours and joked that his feet were probably smoking, as the devil’s were said to. However, I explained that it was a tradition for the non-church-going family members to come on Thanksgiving.
John liked tradition, so he agreed to come.
Church went well. The next day, however, I was rather ill. I was lying in bed, feeling miserable, when my husband staggered into the room and announced that he thought he was having a heart attack, and I should either call an ambulances or a Christian Science practitioner.
Ambulances take time. I called a practitioner.
For those of you unfamiliar with them, a Christian Science practitioner is someone who prays for a living. Christian Science practitioners make their living giving Christian Science treatment, which is a kind of prayer, and helping others by turning to God. I called the practitioner I had been working with myself, and I pulled out our Church textbook, Science and Health: with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy and began reading John some of my favorite passages.
I had previously put together a list of some of the passages from the Bible and S&H that I had seen in testimonies of healings, so I began with some of those. I read John a favorite passage of mine from page 14.
His heart attack stopped.
A few minutes later, he felt frightened and thought it was beginning again. I read the same passage again.
It stopped again.
The passage was: “Become conscious for a single moment that Life and intelligence are purely spiritual, — neither in nor of matter, — and the body will then utter no complaints. If suffering from a belief in sickness, you will find yourself suddenly well.” SH 14:12-16
John decided he wanted to go to the hospital to see what had happened to him. Before he went, however, he insisted on pausing to throw out his rather extensive pornography collection.
So, I drove him to the hospital. Once there, they determined that he had had a heart attack but that his heart had not been damaged.
He did, however, have blocked blood vessels…five of them.
During this time, John was suddenly aware of God. He was both utterly amazed and a bit afraid that he would lose this glimpse and start doubting again. I got him situated at the hospital and went home for the night to take care of the children.
When I returned in the morning, John told me that he had been a bit uncomfortable during the night. As he was praying, it had come to him that if he trusted and did not ask for help, he would not need surgery. At one point, though, he felt scared and did tell the nurse. They gave him some kind of medicine.
And, in fact, the next day, they found that he needed surgery—a quintuple bypass. I had never even heard of a quintuple bypass before.
So John spent the next few days in the hospital. We prayed a lot. I read from the Bible and other works, including Christian Science testimonies, particularly from a book called Healing Spiritually. I was still feeling sick myself, but I was so busy praying for him, I didn’t really notice. Christian Science Practitioners don’t take patients who are under the care of a different kind of practitioner, such as a physician. But I kept talking to the practitioner, who was willing to pray for me and to support my prayers for John.
A couple of mornings later, my only-recently an atheist husband was wheeled off to surgery, he and the orderlies all singing, as they went, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
I sat in the waiting room and prayed. I was reading a bound volume of Christian Science Journals. I can’t recall the year. I do recall that I was also praying for a friend who was pregnant. She had had several miscarriages and was very worried about her pregnancy. As I was praying for John, a great sense of peace came to me about her situation. That baby is now an active thirteen year old.
I also was able to offer words of comfort to some folks whose father was in surgery and someone whose baby was in surgery. I shared with them the idea that God loved their loved one. That “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) and the truth was: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)—that this applied to their loved ones, here and now. Both of these surgeries were successful.
John made it through surgery. When I saw him afterward, he told me about the visions he had seen. He had talked to Jesus and Paul and G.K. Chesterton, and St. Mary. He told me at the time that he had been told not to repeat any of this to anyone but me. But we both felt that I could repeat it as appropriate.
He told me that he asked Jesus and Paul about which religion/denomination was true, but they would not answer him. (Which is exactly what happens in all the Near Death Experiences I have read. No one ever answers this question.) But he asked Mary, and she told him that Christian Science was true.
One day, I was driving to and from the hospital and listening to hymns. I was praying for John, but also for our four-year-old son, whom the pediatrician felt was behind in his development. I was listening to a hymn that was based on some lines from Psalms: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.” (Psalms 37:37)
Suddenly, I heard a Voice in my thoughts, and it said: “Who told you that there was something wrong with my son?” (I say “my” here but at the time it was clear that it was both “my” God’s and ‘your” as in belonging to me, at the same time. )
I was filled with a sense of awe and joy, and when I reached home, my son—who had never shown any awareness of time or the future came running out to tell me that he wanted to be a lion tamer when he grew up. Funny thing is, he still remembers saying that, even though it was a random comment spoken many years ago.
John had a roommate in his recovery room. And older man who was sad because he wasn’t recovering well and feared he would not get to go home, at least by Christmas. I prayed for him, too, and when I returned the next day, he was filled with awe. His situation had turned around. He was doing better, and might be going home.
John came home. I recall being really sick, with flu type symptoms, and praying for him a great deal. At one point, I realized that the baby was sick, too. I prayed hard with a practitioner about that and, while it took me a while to recover, the baby was well the next day.
John had another vision at some point in here. This one had to do with questions he had about the nature of the universe—time, free will, that sort of thing. It sounded very nice.
It was somewhere around here that he dragged himself out of bed, went to the office, and wrote down an outline for an entire novel in one sitting—it had come to him from some kind of vision or dream.
The novel was called Iron Chamber of Memory.
Twelve and a half years later, John found himself out of work. It came to him that it was time to write Iron Chamber of Memory. He wrote the entire book in five weeks—an amazing record, even for the fast-writing John. Not only that, but during that period, all our bills were paid by the generosity of John’s fans and friends. (Another writer and his wife even generously paid our mortgage one month!)
Between the book’s arrival as a vision and the way our needs were provided for while John wrote it, the entire experience related to this book was miraculous!
There is one, to me, sad part of this story. John was doing well, relying only on Christian Science when he returned from the hospital There were a few issues, but they were getting better at a steady rate. Then, he went to see his doctor. His doctor was so terrified at the idea of him not taking any medicine that he really scared John. John came home scared and started getting worse. The doctor convinced him to start taking various medications, which he still takes to this day.
During this point, I assumed that he would recover and join my church. After all, his life had been saved by Christian Science. But John didn’t seem to grasp some of the concepts involved with Christian Science. He looked at things from a much more material point-of-view. He spent several years being annoyed about the Reformation and that he would have to pick between the denominations, but eventually he picked the Catholic Church, which seemed to appeal to his lawyerly training—including the idea of precedent, his love of tradition, as well as other things.
At first, I was a bit sad about this…but then I noticed that even though he had not said he was considering becoming a Catholic, many of those commenting on his blog were Catholic. This led me to feel that, while I couldn’t see what it was, he had some kind of process of thought in common with the Catholics. Since then, I have figured that he is in his right place.