The first time was after a year of tough and often challenging social work I undertook at the age of 20 in the city port of Marseille in the south of France, before entering university.
On the way home, I decided to make a short retreat in the Community of Taizé, at the time the first community of essentially protestant monks, now a worldwide movement still based in Taizé near Clugny.
I had gone to bed early – something very rare for me – and awoke at midnight with a little voice saying, ‘Pierre, go to the church and pray’.
I immediately mentally heard the voice of my very reasonable father saying ‘Pierre, don’t be ridiculous. One doesn’t get up at midnight to pray. Go to sleep.’
Fortunately the little voice was more insistent. It even had a sense of humour, whispering: ‘If Jesus had been reasonable, he would have been selling peanuts on the steps of the temple’.
So I proceeded to the little church. There was nothing mystical, it was even a little spooky. So I just sat down with my New Testament and quietly started reading, taking notes as I went along.
Suddenly, without me being aware of it, I lost all sense of time. It just vanished. And for the rest of the night I had a vision which has stayed with me ever since, of the whole universe governed by the law of love, the ultimate law governing all, to which one day absolutely everything will bow in total submission.
I even saw that one day I would be imprisoned because of my pacifist convictions – and this happened 30 years later when I refused to perform in the paramilitary civil defense system serving anti-atomic air raid shelters.
Suddenly, I heard the cock crow. It was five o’clock in the morning. I had stayed perfectly alert, without the slightest sense of sleepiness or tiredness for five hours.
My most memorable experience
The second experience I consider to be the most memorable experience of my life.
I was traveling from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina-Faso, to Paris, all along battling a case of dysentery I had just contracted. I was doing all the right things – meditating, praying, reading spiritual texts, uttering all the powerful spiritual affirmations that had helped me before, but to no avail.
Next to me sat an unaccompanied young boy, with his little notice on his chest with his name and address. The stewardess caring for him was the very soul of kindness, treating him as her own son rather than an anonymous passenger.
At one moment, she came and addressed him with such gentleness and kindness I suddenly felt the most immense gratitude for this woman.
And suddenly, the gratitude was transformed into a feeling of cosmic love that I had never had before, or had since. Time vanished. I just had this utterly awesome sense and feeling – I insist on the word, for ultimate truth is not of the mind but of the heart – that love was the basic substance, the only cause and effect, the only law and power in the universe.
Above all, for the only time in my whole life, the ego disappeared completely. I had no sense of ego.
Now this is what heaven is for me – an acute awareness of the all-ness of love with not the tiniest residue of ego left to react, have opinions, approve or disapprove.
For me, this is the meaning of the famous statement of God to Moses, I AM THAT I AM, which means LOVE IS – ALL.
Just praise and rejoicing.
Vision etched in memory
Some moments later I came out of this experience. I felt something shifting in my bowels, and the dysentery instantaneously disappeared.
The consciousness of love healed it on the spot.
Such experiences are no passport to sainthood or illumination. As a matter of fact, I have at times fallen so short of the vision I could barely look at myself in the mirror. But the vision has stayed, and is etched at the back of the mind as a clarion call and above all an imperative demand that I never, never give up until that vision is realised in my life and that of all people.
Maybe that is what is called the Kingdom of Heaven. We will see.
© 2012 by Pierre Pradervand