As a New Age Enthusiast, I Fancied Myself a Free Spirit and a Good Person

Then a strange dream, an old friend, and a disturbing psalm woke me up to reality.
As a New Age Enthusiast, I Fancied Myself a Free Spirit and a Good Person
Image: Justin Clemons

I met God in a dream. He arranged the encounter; I was not looking for him. At the time, I was 41, and I considered myself wildly progressive. As a college professor, I had been teaching critical theory, radical feminism, multiculturalism, and postmodernism since the early ’80s. One colleague reported to another that I was “the party girl of the department.” I was “spiritual but not religious,” which meant I could be good without God. In my spare time, I would attend all kinds of “paranormal seminars”—the kind advertised on Whole Foods bulletin boards.

As a graduate student in the ’70s, I had attended transcendental meditation classes and experimented with marijuana and psychedelic drugs. Then, as a professor in Los Angeles in the ’80s, a colleague and I would regularly explore the city’s weirdest religions. I would collect crystals and study strange spiritual books. (Authors like the feminist Neopagan Starhawk were among my favorites.) Eventually, I would dabble in workshops where we bent spoons and practiced hypnosis on each other, while the braver ones tried walking on coals.

A central image in my life was the actress Shirley MacLaine, dancing on the beach in free-spirited fashion. I was seeking happiness, self-fulfillment, and freedom from restraint, all the while deluding myself about my own “goodness.” We were children of the ’60s, products of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” culture.

In my mind, I was like Shirley, dancing freely on the beach. but in certain moments—in the middle of the night or in the darkness of depression—I could see glimpses of who I really was. I was not growing freer. My heart was ...

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