There are special moments in our lives where God speaks into us in such a surreal way that it can’t be ignored. One of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, had such an experience and writes about it in his memoir.
For three hours I found myself in terra incognita. It was the very heart of Jesus Christ, the place of unconditional love. To have experienced just the terrain would have been sufficient, but then the “more” came: Jesus called my name. I still to this day have not revealed to anyone what I heard; it was not Richard or Richie, but a name by which Jesus alone knows me. The experience was like roiling waves, spring storms, and bursting dams all in the same breath. Like the prophet Isaiah, it left me a man undone. The little child who heard “Boys don’t cry” throughout his life was then a man sobbing uncontrollably. It seemed the only response I could make to so great a gift—that Jesus had died on the cross for me and then called me by name! The Catholic crucifix finally took on flesh and bone. It was in those golden moments that I was battered by wave after wave of the theology of delight, that God not only loves me but also likes me.Brennan Manning, All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, Chapter 8
I had an unexpected moment last October that wasn’t quite this intense, but hit me in a similar way. I was nearly alone in a movie theater watching the musical Evan Hansen when something strange happened. I don’t exactly know how to describe it, but within a line or two of a song, I felt a deep impression that God was saying, “Listen: I’m singing this over you.” It suddenly felt like the room was fading around me as the lyrics continued.
I don’t need you to sell me on reasons to want you
I don’t need you to search for the proof that I should
You don’t have to convince me
You don’t have to be scared you’re not enough
‘Cause what we’ve got going is good
I don’t need more reminders of all that’s been broken
I don’t need you to fix what I’d rather forget
Clear the slate and start over
Try to quiet the noises in your head
We can’t compete with all that
So what if it’s us?
What if it’s us
And only us
And what came before won’t count anymore or matter?
Can we try that?
What if it’s youEvan Hansen, Only Us
And what if it’s me
And what if that’s all that we need it to be
And the rest of the world falls away?
What do you say?
I remember the spiritual intensity letting up right around then as the song went on. These initial lyrics were what needed to be said. Up to this point, my tears grew with every additional line as I kept losing my breath. I didn’t know the song ahead of time, so I was deeply surprised that I was first told to listen and then that all of these lyrics described the condition of my heart so perfectly. As the tension lifted I thought to myself, What just happened?
Jesus’ experience with his Father was some next level stuff—a mountaintop experience on an actual mountaintop. There God spoke identity over Jesus as his Son and Chosen One. There Jesus was revealed in his true form not just as a human, but as a shiny, radiating spiritual being. There he was covered in the Shekinah of a glory cloud. There he found council amongst famous leaders of ages long past. And there some select disciples watched, unable to find words to make sense of what was going on.
We must lean into these moments, for they do fade if we don’t keep them fresh in our minds. Likewise, the world will try to take them away from us. For just as God spoke the identity of “Chosen One” into Jesus, he would also be mocked with those words on the cross: “We thought you were God’s Chosen One! What’s stopping you from getting off that cross then?” The harsh irony, of course, was that within his chosen-ness was the story of the cross—but this was lost on his scoffers.
Remember who you are. Remember whose you are. And may the entirety of your identity be formed around that.