The vision made it real
me there is no moral barrier to doing an entheogen in church. If you have any
spiritual discipline at all, you’re going to be in an altered state no matter
what, whether it’s through fasting, self renunciation, or some other means of
achieving higher consciousness. Three trips in particular have been
transformational landmarks in my spiritual journey.
first of these was the first time I took LSD. I was still in seminary school at
Harvard Divinity School, where I went on to earn a Masters of Divinity. Andrew,
a friend and classmate, gathered a group of us to commemorate the famed Good
Friday Experiment by Walter Pahnke. In 1962, Pahnke, a medical doctor turned
Harvard doctoral candidate in religion, ran an experiment with seminary students
of various denominations from Andover-Newton. On Good Friday, he brought them to
Marsh Chapel at Boston University, where he administered psilocybin tablets and
placebos and conducted a blind survey or the participants. Most of those who
took the psilocybin reported having profound spiritual awakenings, while those
who took placebos did not.
at ten in the morning of Good Friday in 1994, a group of us from the divinity
school ingested a low dose of LSD and made a pilgrimage on foot to B.U. from
Cambridge. It took about an hour, and we arrived right in time for Marsh
Chapel’s service, which lasted three hours. We went to the small chapel
downstairs to contemplate the atmosphere of the experiment site. We found a rose
on the altar there and went back up to the main church. The sermon was not
particularly moving, so I sat and meditated, gazing around the nave.
reredos behind the altar was a huge carved wooden panel of Jesus with two
evangelists at each side. The wood was a gorgeous, rich golden color. I looked
at the statue of Saint John, whose Gospel is my favorite. “Ah, that’s a
lovely work of craftsmanship,” I thought. I shifted my focus to a beautiful
statue of Jesus, which started moving and then began talking to me. “Look at
me,” he said. “Look at what they’ve done to me. I am the living Word and
they’ve turned me into this dead still statue. They’ve killed me.”
was like “Whoa! Wait a minute.” His voice was very soft and gentle, his face
filled with despair. “I want you to go out and be the Word that I embody,”
he continued, “because I can’t do anything here. It’s up to you.” I
snapped out of it and thought, “Wow, this is interesting.”
vision of Christ was a formative moment in my life. I wasn’t yet ordained, and
didn’t know what I was going to do with my seminary training. It was just what
I needed at that time in my life, giving me the strength to continue and
eventually become a parish priest. The acid vision made Christ a reality for me,
whereas before He’d been just an intellectual process. When I saw him moving
on the reredos, I knew that it was real, that there is a Christ. The vision
deepened my own personal faith and also gave me focus in my calling as a priest.
As a member of the clergy, it’s important that you have your own theology.
Still, I wondered how I’d respond to the supplication I’d received. I’m
not an evangelical. I was raised Episcopalian, and we don’t go around
spreading the Word.
years later I was living in central California, serving in the parish where I
serve now, a small Orthodox church in the apostolic succession of Thomas the
Apostle. One of my fellow ministers, a woman, was praying and prophesying for
me, and she came up with something that echoed the Jesus of my Good Friday
vision: “You are the Word incarnated.”
my God,” I realized. “Here is corroboration of my entheogenic experience.
This is serious.” I knew that many people had experiences like mine but most
pushed them aside because they were apparently the product of the drug. But here
my entheogenic-inspired revelation was being reaffirmed by a minister in my own
felt that the Jesus I’d seen had implored me to carry forth the concept of
God’s incarnation, that God lives in the flesh, as Jesus himself was an
incarnation of God, and was now incarnated in me and in each of us. Unless we go
out and share the spirit of Christ, that incarnation is irrelevant.
vision deepened my appreciation for the theology of the fourteenth century
mystic Meister Eckhart, who was condemned as a heretic by the Church for his
conception of imago Dei, man created
in God’s image. Today Eckhart is fashionable among clergy, many of whom are
reading about him in Matthew Fox’s book Western
Spirituality. Fox’s “creation spirituality” borrows much from
Eckhart’s conception of the incarnation of God in each person’s soul, which
is scripturally based on the Gospel of St. John. Now that I’d tasted
first-hand the sort of revelation of God’s incarnation in man that Eckhart
wrote about, I felt I could go out and preach about it. I don’t proselytize
about taking entheogens, but I do give sermons about my vision and the principle
of God living within each of us.
prefer to take entheogens in religious settings to enhance the spirituality of
the experience, but on one LSD trip, I stayed home. I rested on the bed, closed
my eyes, and marveled as a parade of lovely tableaus flooded my brain. They were
fun, but I soon got bored by the unceasing succession of pretty colors and
melting images. I suppose it's okay to let one's mind wander, but when I got
stuck in a bubbly pastel scene featuring Barbie dolls sitting on marshmallow
clouds and My Little Pony and his fluffy, bright-purple tail floating around in
the air, I felt it was time to move on to something less trivial and cute.
I knew that more focus was desperately needed if I was going to apprehend
the sacramental power of this wonderful entheogen. I decided to drop the concept
“God” into the effervescent pool of wisdom in the far reaches of my mind, to
see what would happen. I saw a beautiful iridescent sphere resting above an onyx
sea, slowly rotating on a north-south axis. Drops of clear blue water rose up
from this sea, midway through the dark air and back down, as if from an
invisible fountain. I felt like the breath of God hovering over the face of the
deep (i.e., the ruach) in Genesis 1.
I moved closer towards the sphere to see what was in it. I saw a carousel
with white wooden horses, but as soon as I approached, it gave way to the Christ
of the Book of Revelation (Chapter 1, Verse 16), white-robed among the seven
candles, though there was no two-edged sword coming out of his mouth.
The scene changed when I blinked. I was lost for awhile until I found
myself inside a shiny, gilded room surrounded by the Egyptian pantheon. Clad in
lapis, emerald and gold, the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt -- inter
alia, Anibus, Horus and the semi-divine pharaohs -- were stunningly
beautiful. I was talking to them, admiring them. The colors were sumptuous, rich
and bright, like a Fifties Technicolor movie. It was very vivid and I was quite
comfortable beholding such splendor -- that is until I remembered what I was
there for: "God."
I turned to one of the deities and excused myself. I had to leave. I was mortified: I’d asked the entheogen for a revelation of the true god and then diverged from the path and wound up at a pagan palace that was a sensory playground! God was going to be real pissed off at me now, I knew it! But the Egyptian deity from whom I was taking leave looked at me and smiled. "Don't you know?” he asked. “We’re all the same!" And then I realized that he was telling the truth: It didn't matter what shape or form I assigned to God. There was no god that would be cross with me for “misconceiving” his image. There was just the great divine, ineffable yet tangible, incorporeal yet manifest. I opened my eyes.
(I’ve since made peace with world religions. I’d known intellectually that there was an equality among the various creeds of faith, but now I knew it in the flesh, realizing that all aspects and faces of God are equal. This vision sharpened and refined my theology, because it was a lived experience.)
A while later I dropped the word "incarnation" into the same
mind pool. I soon found myself hovering over a sort of Alice
in Wonderland landscape with a fellow with a top hat like Uncle Sam standing
before me. He doffed his hat and I could see into his head, but inside it
wasn’t skull and brains but the sum total of his life: his memories, his
feelings, his hopes, everything that constitutes a life. All of these elements
were escaping from his skull, floating away into the great void.
I knew somehow that this figure was God and that I was watching the whole
process of creation take place before my eyes. Then he looked up at me and asked
me, "If you were to bring back one thing from an acid trip to someone
who’d never had one, what would it be?" I thought the question a bit odd,
coming from God, but after a moment I answered, "A rainbow." He asked
why and I said, "Because it is the perfect symbol of light.” I pondered
the image and realized how pale a single image was in conveying the full force
and meaning of the divine. And then
it hit me that the incarnation is only an icon of the mind of God, that it is
not the totality but only an archetypal expression of deity. You cannot know the
power of the incarnation until you actually commune with God Himself.
hope to write a book about Marina Sabina, the Mexican shaman who introduced
Gordon Wasson to psilocybin. After experiencing its prophetic power myself, I
became especially intrigued by that dimension of the sacred mushroom.
Sunday I officiated the Eucharist, laying the wafers on the tongues of the
congregation. (I take the high Anglican view of communion: The Eucharist is the body of Christ. I have no problems with the theological
veracity of transubstantiation). Then, during the singing in advance of the
sermon, I took some mushrooms. I was finished with my part of the service – or
so I thought – and no longer had to worry about performing. I’d expected to
just sit back and take in my colleague’s sermon and the rest of the service.
church is somewhat unusual in its inclusion of both the Eucharist and prophecy
in its service. When the sermon is over, ministers may exercise prophecy if
they’re so inclined and also so moved on the occasion. Prophesying in this
context is praying about somebody, receiving thoughts or images about that
person, and then sharing them with the person before the whole congregation. Two
of our ministers have this gift or penchant, which is not really my thing due to
my Episcopalian background. I do the Eucharist; that’s my job. I’d never
prophesied in my life. But as soon as the sermon was over, I had this urge to
prophesy to a woman a few pews away whom I really didn’t know and about whom I
did not have any concrete feelings prior to that moment.
saw things about her that I would not have thought possible to know. She’s an
occasional member of the church, a middle-aged African-American woman who has
her own “ministry” on the side. She’d always worn a collar to church, even
though she’s not ordained. People tended to regard her as a bit odd. I’d
never spoken to her before. I was astonished that she of all the parishioners
was the one my prophecy had focused on. If the choice had been mine, I would not
have picked her as the object of my first prophecy.
was in a trance. I’d closed my eyes and was totally out in space. I heard this
voice: “You need to talk to her, and this is what you should tell her….”
It was that clear. “No, I’m not
going to tell her that,” I responded. “I’d make a fool out of myself.”
But the voice insisted, like it knew what it was talking about and had a good
purpose for the whole thing. So I thought, “Ooo kay, here goes.” I stood up
and called her up to the front. She looked a little nervous and uncertain as she
came forward. I’m sure she would have felt as though she was in better hands
with either of the other two ministers, who made it a business to prophesy.
in terms of the formal service structure, it was alright for me to step up.
Anyone so moved is allowed to step up and prophesy, but my four colleagues (all
in their thirties) had never seen me come forward for this, so they were
surprised. They looked up at me like “You want to say something?!” It
wasn’t really me talking. It was as though somebody else was talking through
me. Sitting in the choir stalls on the side of the altar, I went on for about
fifteen minutes, knowing what I was saying, but not consciously saying it.
first thing I did was to rip the collar off her neck. It was kind of abrupt. I
told her, “Turn around,” and snapped it off and cast it aside. “You are
ordained by God,” I told her, “but you are not ordained by man. You must be
recognized by man before you can wear this.” She looked stricken when I
defrocked her. “However,” I went on, “your call is not invalid. You
don’t need to wear the collar in order to be a minister for the work you want
to do.” Then I told her that she needed to find her African roots, because she
a very strong woman, but she’s trapped in a man’s world, the
African-American man’s world to be precise. She really needed to focus upon
being an African-American woman, the
prophecy continued. I told her she needed to regain her roots, and that if that
involved some paganism, that was fine. I said she had a genuine ministry and
shouldn’t be caught up in the false one symbolized by the collar she hadn’t
earned. I finished by giving her a prayer and a blessing. It went over fine. We
wrapped up the service and everyone left.
haven’t seen her in church much lately, but when she does come in, she’s not
wearing the collar anymore. She’s sort of hanging in the background, though I
know she’s in touch with some of the parishioners. I hear she’s trying to
start her own church. We’ll have to see if she follows up on my counsel and
delves into her heritage. I’m sure it was humbling and embarrassing for her,
but I’d built up my preachment to her as an urging to go after the truth. Many
parishioners came up to me and said, “I’m glad you said something to her.
Something needed to be said.” I replied, “I don’t know if it needed to be
said or not. It just came to me and that’s what prophecy is about.”
rest of the clergy had a problem with that. Unfortunately, in many churches that
exercise prophecy, it’s used for the preacher’s own advantage. That’s what
had bothered me about prophecy until the moment I’d prophesied myself and
realized that it actually could be genuine. The trouble is that it’s hard to
tell the difference between fake and sincere prophecy. Much of the time, even
when God is not urging a minister to speak out, a minister will say something
that he or she thinks will work for the person chosen as the focus of the
prophecy. But that was definitely not the case with mine. What I’d told her
was most certainly not what she wanted
realized that Marina Sabina was right, that what you say in this way must come
naturally. You say what you say and if it happens to cause a bit of discomfort,
that’s the breaks. Controlled prophecy is telling people what they want to
hear, which is utterly useless, in my opinion. Unfortunately, much of the
prophetic movement is about saying nice things to people in an insincere format.
I was disappointed that prophecy is so misused, which was really underscored by
the spontaneity and non-premeditated quality of my own prophecy. I’d wanted to
say something nice but I really couldn’t, since that wasn’t the true voice I
was hearing within me. I wish I could have told her good news: “You’re going
to get a new car next week!” But that’s not the way it works. I’m sure
there are genuine prophecies that are
upbeat, but if you look at the Old Testament, the prophets aren’t bearing glad
tidings most of the time time.
event was another step in my growth as a minister, but I’m not sure I want to
exercise my prophetic voice again. It’s kind of scary, because you can’t
stop it. It just happens. I’m going to give mushrooms (and prophecy) a rest in
church. I’ll try MDMA next time.
Since this story was narrated, the church discontinued the inclusion of prophecy
in the service.]
used MDMA as the sacrament of an “entheogen-compatible service” that was
held during a two-day conference on psychology, religion and drugs, back in
1995. We began the service with a half-hour of silence, giving the drug time to
take effect. Then there was a chant to announce that the sacraments had kicked
in. The service was directed, but we had to leave it open so that anyone could
stand up and share his sentiments with the congregation. MDMA tends to prompt
people to share of themselves.
the middle of the service, I spoke up. “The whole point of liturgy is the
remembrance of a mythology. We gather to remember the life and death of Christ.
In this service, we don’t have a deity but the whole history of the entheogen
movement to celebrate. So we need to remember our forefathers in this movement
through music.” And then I played “Purple Haze” on a huge boombox.
got up and started dancing. There were ministers, psychologists, psychiatrists,
and professors, some in their seventies or eighties, including some towering
figures in the psychedelic community, as well as some younger “kids” like
me. It was so beautiful, all the generations coming together, unified by the
music and dancing, which underscored the commemorative spirit we’d come to