It was finals week of my first semester, freshman year: December 1987. I was sitting in my room on the 10th floor of Grace Hall one evening before dinner, and a junior from the six-man down the hall walked into my doorway and threw a copy of Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, into my trash can. “I hate this damn book,” he said. He had just taken his theology final and never wanted to see the book again.
I picked the book out of the trash. Later that evening I began reading it, out of curiosity. I was no more than a few chapters into the book when I came across Lewis’s argument for the idea of a natural and inherent moral sensibility we all possess. His explanation made complete sense to me, like I was reading something that was already imprinted in my brain. Then, from out of nowhere, a strange feeling began to overtake my body. It was like a swift dawning of pure euphoria, and it intensified so quickly I had to stop reading.
I put the book down and put on my winter coat. I walked outside and went to see my older brother, Tony, a sophomore living in Morrissey. It was the first snowfall of the winter, and outside some students were having a snowball fight. As I strolled across the campus, the feelings of euphoria began to come in waves — it felt like an interminably extended orgasm, one that encompassed my mind and spirit as well.
I got to my brother’s room and tried to explain to him what was happening, but I couldn’t articulate it. We talked for a few minutes, and I conveyed to him as best as I could that I was having a religious experience. He walked me back across campus, trying to understand what I was feeling. Outside my dorm, students were still throwing snowballs. One of us may have even been hit by a snowball, but I was so caught up in the moment I hardly took notice.
Along with the feelings of euphoria, I began to feel and understand for absolute certain that God existed and that he had a special plan for me. I didn’t know what that plan was, but the more important thing for me was the absolute knowledge that God existed — something I recently had begun to doubt.
Back in my room I locked the door and called my father. It was well after midnight, and my parents were asleep. It took my Dad a minute or two to realize I was calling from neither the hospital nor the police station. I tried to explain to him what was happening to me but couldn’t articulate it to him either. I began sobbing uncontrollably — from pure joy. My father somehow picked up what was happening to me, despite my gibberish and blubbering, and I remember him reminding me about Saul getting struck down from his horse on the road to Tarsus. After a half-hour of weeping over the phone, I hung up.
By that time — nearly two hours later — the feeling had begun to recede. I felt washed clean and emptied out, my insides swept away by the force of the emotions that had been churning in me. The euphoria was gone, but the absolute certainty I had of God’s existence had been implanted like a rock in the center of my being.
As the years went by, and I took courses in existentialism and postmodernism at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, I faced many challenges to my faith. Although my specific memory of the incident is nothing like it once was, and many arguments have tried to weather that rock away, it remains. It is perhaps only a pebble now, but it remains.
James M. Lang, an assistant professor of English at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, is the author of Learning Sickness: A Year with Crohn’s Disease.