[Author’s note: This is the third and final piece about my coven’s visit to a “spirit-filled” Christian church. In the first part I wrote about what prompted us to visit the church and together with Autumn, who has no background in Christianity, we shared our initial reactions. In the second part Autumn and I compared notes on our experience, how we sensed and sawthe flow of energy and understood the sermon.]
“You’re here for the healing rooms? Ok, so I need you to fill out these forms.” It was Saturday morning at Bethel and we had just walked in the door, still in the process of waking up after a night in a stuffy hotel room. We were handed clipboards and ushered into a waiting area where we hurried to fill out the forms.
Born Again? Yes – No – Not Sure
Baptized in the Holy Spirit? Yes – No – Not Sure
The form asked if we were under the care of a doctor or counselor and then told us to read a “Legal Liability Release.” I was reminded of last year when my coven also sat in a waiting area with clipboards, signing pages and pages of disclaimers in preparation for our first Skydive.
Autumn: Our clipboards in hand, we headed to the “hall of miracles,” which was by all appearances just a double-row of chairs inside the hallway at Bethel. All of us filled out our forms, which had us specify why we were there along with basic demographic and contact information. I went ahead and wrote down my fatigue/adrenal issues as well as the headache I had from sleeping in a poorly ventilated hotel room the previous night. No particular reason to refuse healing from any source, I figured. While we were in this waiting area, there was a brief opening prayer and we all held hands. The young woman who was holding space for the group suggested we didn’t need to wait to be healed, and we could be healed right now! She asked if anyone was here for joint pain and suggested trying to move the joints and see if they felt better just from being here. It seemed a little odd to me; I’m used to energetic healing practices not deliberately suggesting what is going to happen. But maybe this could help some people if they really didn’t believe that healing was possible.
Annika: A man stood up and said that he did indeed suffer from joint pain. He started walking down the hallway accompanied by other murmuring “praise God”, and “yes, Jesus, yes”. When he had walked the length of the hallway once, the young woman asked him if he felt better, and he nodded. This was met with exclamations of “praise the Lord” and “oh, thank you Jesus, thank you!” Bethel staff called out a couple of other ailments, always resulting in someone standing up, walking the hall, and agreeing more or less enthusiastically that they were now better. While I have been to many charismatic and Pentecostal churches, this was a new experience for me. I am used to everyone having some time to shift into sacred space and establish a group connection before there was an expectation of healing and miracles. This felt forced and awkward and I didn’t want to stand out as the person who wasn’t joining in the excitement. Thankfully, I wasn’t finished with my form yet, so I buried myself in my clipboard. I was hoping we would soon move from the “hall of miracles” to the healing rooms, which I assumed would be a more contained space.
Autumn: From the hallway we moved into what looked very much like a largish conference or meeting room, except with no center table and chairs around the perimeter. As we entered we were given a handout, and I noticed a “now serving” sign in the corner with red digits — this was the group (assigned on our forms) in the healing room itself. I don’t recall what this room was called or if it had a name, but I remember it primarily as a “briefing room”. A woman introduced us to what we would be experiencing, including the upcoming healing rooms and the Encounter Room where we would commune with the Holy Spirit. In addition to these logistical notes, she quoted from several Bible verses about how healing through Jesus is possible. Annika mentioned many people come to Bethel when healing has seemed out of reach and these are people truly looking for miracles.
Annika: I thought we were going straight into the healing rooms, but I was mistaken and felt confused. A woman paced the middle of the oval room challenging more people to stand up and experience healing right now. She talked of how the Lord had brought her here from Sweden and ended every sentence with “yeah, thank you Jesus.” She spoke at length of how Bethel was a place of miracles and urged us to believe that Jesus wants to heal and that He will heal us, that today is theday of our healing, no matter how often we have prayed before. I had heard many similar sermons before and my stomach dropped as my mind wandered to a childhood memory.
My parents had taken me to experience a special healing service led by a preacher touring the country with promises of miracles in every city. I remember hearing the same message, God will heal you now because today is theday of your healing. People got up out of wheelchairs and the crowds clapped and cheered and I was amazed and caught up in the excitement, happy to have witnessed so many healings and to serve a God of miracles. I chattered about this happily in the car, but my parents didn’t join in. I sensed that something was wrong. My dad had tears in his eyes and was shaking with emotion. He told us that he had walked up to one of the side exits. There he saw several disabled individuals who had put all of their hope in this ministry and had believed with their whole hearts. They had been prayed for, they had believed, but now the left through the side doors not only with their disabilities, but also with a broken heart and spirit.
“What about them?” my dad wanted to know? “Why didn’t God heal them? How can this be their fault for not believing harder? How can a loving God do that do them?”
Autumn: It was another paradox: we were being asked to will ourselves to not use our will and have God do all of the work, and it seemed like failure was not an option. Not the usual way I participate in energy healing work. Some of the first words my teacher in Reiki healing said about it was a caution in getting too attached to results. This kind of results-focused approach was alien and a bit mechanistic to my eyes. How can someone let the Divine do their work if the state of mind everyone is in is that they must be healed immediately, right this very moment?
After this briefing session, we moved on to the Encounter Room. This was the same gymnasium that we had been in the day before, but it was laid out with a center area where artists were painting and concentric circles of chairs facing both inward and outward. Keeping my awareness of the “now serving” number displayed both on the screens and in the familiar red LEDs, I sat down and settled in to feel the energy and await our turn in the healing room.
Annika: I had been so caught up in my memory that was thoroughly confused when we were moved from the oval room back into the large gymnasium. The band was playing background music; there were people in the middle of the room painting on canvasses; women and children were dancing their the room waving flags and scarves. Where was I supposed to go and what was I expected to do to receive the healing prayers? I thought we would arrive at Bethel, go into a healing room, have people pray for us, and that would be that. To my surprise Autumn wasn’t confused at all and explained to me that the gymnasium was the Encounter Room and that we would be hanging out here “soaking in the Holy Spirit” until our group number came up on the “now serving” sign. I had never been to a church that functioned like this and couldn’t understand why all of this made sense to Autumn.
Autumn: The Encounter Room was interesting, and I was starting to realize I was way more comfortable with what was going on than Annika was, which kind of blew my mind. After all, she was the expert on how Christians typically do this! As I wondered about that, I explored the room and felt into the energy, which was largely calm and peaceful — if a bit rehearsed. Given that this happens every week, though, I suppose that’s to be expected. There’s a routine, and those holding the space here are moving to it. A pattern… Yes. There was something there oddly familiar but I hadn’t quite grasped why yet.
After circling around the room a couple times, passing the simple altar to Jesus in the corner of the room and examining the really quite good artwork by the artists in the center, I sat down to reground and center myself. After I did so, a group of children led by a couple of young women asked if they could “prophesy” over me through dance. Sounded neat, so I centered myself and watched as they danced around me, with silk scarves of blue and green and gold. Most of them seemed to have that sort of not-quite-random movement style I saw before — except for the youngest one. She was maybe 4 or 5, and waving her little scarf up and down very very intently — without the artful, practiced movements of the others. I could tell that she really was feeling into it.
Afterwards, the adults asked the children if they had any Words for me (which is their way of doing divination, as I understand it). The older ones seemed as though they were in their heads, eventually coming up with generic words that they knew would not get them looked at strangely. But when it came to the youngest, she blushed, and whispered into the ear of one of the adults. “She felt peace, she said.” I smiled at the young one and thanked her, which for some reason threw everyone off.
Annika: When the children waved their scarves in front of us, I thought about how I was just like them when I was their age, completely involved in whatever ministry was happening at our church, dancing, performing pantomime, praying, worshipping. Suddently the woman sat next to me, placed her hand on my knee, and said she “had a Word” for me. I was excited to hear it. Just a few months ago I had met a couple of women from Bethel and they gave me an amazing prophecy, astonishingly accurate and full of things they couldn’t have known about me.
I smiled and nodded, and said “I know”. Then she looked into my eyes, repeated how important it was for me to know that God approved of how I lived, and implored me to keep doing what I was doing. When she stood up and the girls wrapped up their scarves, I sat there speechless. This was essentially the same prophecy I had received from the two women several few months back.
Autumn: The counter on the wall clicked upwards gradually, and at last it was time for our group to go in. We were among the last of the day, and so as our number came up, they announced that if anyone in the encounter room still would like to receive healing, now was the time. Our coven moved to the healing rooms, clipboards and forms in hand. Now this was totally familiar, but from nothing in my spiritual experience.
The room had a modern industrial design, with exposed beams and ductwork, and energetic music playing. A few tables on the right had church members with laptops ready to take down our healing testimonies, and we were ushered into the front of the row seating to wait for our prayer team to come and pick us up. Church members with clipboards were moving papers around, and suddenly I realized why I found this familiar. I’ve worked a large part of my life in the tech industry, and this resembled an in-house product demo with bloggers and members of the press. The upbeat music, the decor of the room, and the efficiency in which we were moved from stage to stage reminded me strongly of a tech demo session.
Annika: Once we entered the healing room, it was my turn to look perplexed, not unlike the way Autumn responded on our first day upon seeing the “Sacred Starbucks”. This was the part I had been looking forward to the most, because I expected the healing rooms to be intimate spaces where we could really open up to the flow of energy without the corporate style big gymnasium and being herded from room to room. I thought there would be people praying in little groups, some sitting on the floor, some standing, laying on of hands, a comfortable warm place without interruptions.
Instead there was crowd control tape, people with laptops and clipboards everywhere, a big screen, neat rows of chairs for those waiting, and a prayer area that people were brought into, prayed over, and then taken to the line of volunteers with their open laptops, like some kind of prayer assembly line. Organizers with earpieces were rushing around and official looking Bethel staff constantly entered and exited the room. I was completely taken aback and slumped into one of the waiting rows, watching those all around me get picked up for prayer until there was almost no one left.
Autumn: Unfortunately for us, our coven must not have looked desperate enough for healing. The chairs were emptying gradually around us and I realized if we weren’t careful, we might get overlooked entirely. I shifted my energy from “I’m sitting here in my power observing and relaxed” to “I’m worried, is anyone going to pick me?” Seconds later, before I could explain to my coven mates that this was what was needed to get picked, a prayer team came to lead me into the center part of the room and begin the healing.
Annika: “If you’re still praying for someone, now is the time to start wrapping it up.” A man with a microphone made the announcement and motioned for others to take down the crowd control tape. A few volunteers were stacking chairs and closing up laptops. I saw Autumn and my other two friends being prayed over and realized that there was no one else left in the waiting rows. Even those who had come in after me were already done with their prayer teams and leaving the room. I had a sinking feeling that this would be just like PE in middle school where I was always the last one picked and the team that ended up with me would complain that they didn’t want the “Mongan-Mango”. No matter how much I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t in middle school anymore, I started to feel sad and sorry for myself.
But just as I felt myself slipping into depression, a man walked past me, then doubled back, and said: “you have been prayed for, haven’t you?” I shook my head. He looked surprised and then promised he would find me a prayer team. By the time an older man and a young woman came to pick me up, the person with the microphone was thanking all of the prayer ministers for their service and giving final breakdown instructions. The prayer area was no longer an option, so my two prayer ministers took me to the back of the waiting rows while clean up crews were milling all around us.
Autumn: The three people on my prayer team, to their credit, did not let the shifting energy around us affect either their focus or the time they would spend with me. I was encouraged to share more details of the problems I listed on the form, and I even felt heard in how I had suffered. It was a little strange being in the center of all three of them, making it hard for me to see all of them at once. For the most part, they were good with consent in terms of touching, which I was surprised by: Annika had warned me that Christians don’t practice the sort of consent culture to which I’m accustomed.
Annika: The man on my prayer team took my clipboard and read through the form, asking for details about the health concerns I had listed. He was specifically interested in current symptoms, but I told him I didn’t have any, most of my problems are more or less chronic in nature, and I wasn’t currently in any pain or discomfort. Both he and the young woman seemed very tired but they made an effort to stay present for me, even in spite of all the commotion around us.
The woman asked if she could lay hands on me, and I nodded. Then the man asked if it was OK to touch my back while praying for it, and if I wanted prayer for some of the other issues. I was positively surprised by how carefully and respectfully they asked for consent every step of the way. As they began praying for me, I got the sense that I was confusing to them, but I had no idea why. I was leaving myself wide open to the experience, not shielding or trying to manipulate the energy in any way. I just felt peaceful and grateful to sink into this experience, waiting to see what would happen.
Autumn: I think I was also a bit confusing to my prayer team; they didn’t recognize my pentacle necklace nor my energy in the moment. I guess the environment made it a bit hard for me to open up completely energetically, but I did set an intention for my shields: let the healing in, keep the expectations that were layered on me out. I was asked if I wanted to be born again, and my response, “no,” seemed to disappoint the one with the clipboard. I got a quick glance of it, and it became clear why there were so many people running around with clipboards. It was just like market research! They were literally measuring their miracles with 1 to 10 scales, presumably entering them into spreadsheets later to plot their miracle effectiveness. Any corporate marketing team would have been proud.
At the same time, I felt a little bad making that observation. Once Roman pagans were as integrated into Roman society as Christians are in American culture. Back then pagans had the fancy temples, the official recognition by heads of state. The line between government and religious thought was blurred for their benefit. It was Christians who were huddled in individual houses, practicing in secret, with few churches and little officially recognized legitimacy. As the prayer team laid hands on me, I thought about what Greer and Spengler call the Second Religiosity which emerges from the decline of our civilization. If a Pagan tradition comes to dominate, I hope we don’t turn the tables and wind up recreating the persecution of the past.
Annika: My prayer team didn’t know what to pray for. I realized that they were looking for something measurable but because none of my health concerns were, I wasn’t giving them any starting points. Since their hands were laid on me, I decided to use that bond to feel into their energy. I wished there was a way to communicate that it’s OK to finish early, that I wouldn’t be upset. I looked at the young woman, hoping she would read it in my face. We made eye contact, and she nodded and asked if she could share a Word with me and then both she and her prayer partner prophesied, saying that “God is so proud of you. The path you are on is so awesome and God really wants to affirm you in that. God is so proud of you. You are beautiful and a strong person. He wants to affirm you in your strength.”
When they were finished, the man looked at my form on his clipboard, clearly at a loss for what to write down, asked me if I still felt any pain. I reminded him that I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms when I came in but that I was grateful for the prophecy, as this was the third time I was given this message of God’s approval for my path. He nodded, scribbled something on the form, and I was dismissed, noticing that my friends were the only people left in the room who were not part of the clean up crew.
Autumn: As my prayer team wrapped up the laying on of hands, the woman offered a prophecy: “Expect breakthroughs. God wants you to know that, expect breakthroughs in your health, in your life in general, all of that. Expect breakthroughs.” I thanked them all and they again seemed shaken by the praise, immediately saying “Thank you, Jesus.” I found out later that the reason they were uncomfortable was because I was acknowledging their role in facilitating the healing — something that isn’t supposed to happen since it is Jesus doing all of the work.
Annika: We were among the last leaving Bethel that day and talked about it during the long hours of our drive home. We compared our views on Christianity and empowerment, the concept that all of the energy work is done by Jesus, how Christians don’t actively study the “how to” or energy work, the origins of Pentecostal theology and practice, and the influence of “overculture” and American capitalism on Evangelicalism. Even today, several months later, we keep revisiting our experiences at Bethel.
Autumn: This was a fascinating experience for me. And I transformed as a result — but not in the way Christians might expect or hope. I no longer fear that energy. I began to recognize the system of thought Christians engage in and why many Christians engage in oppressive behavior without recognizing it. And I’m amazed that despite all these alien and seemingly disconnected structures, they can reach to deeper truths. I have no doubt now that at least some of the miracles they claim are true, even if I don’t agree on how they came about. But perhaps most importantly, I see them as the imperfect, striving human beings they are rather than just as the scary Christian evangelicals who oppress me. That gives me hope for the future.
Annika: Our trip was not at all what I expected it to be. I was shocked and taken aback by how much more corporate the culture has become since I left. I feel so much more at home with the lack of expensive and corporate infrastructure at our Pagan rituals, the power of circling in a meadow, the simplicity of a dance around a fire, the intimacy of a ritual in someone’s living room.
I was saddened by seeing the worship experience I once loved in a different light. I really wanted to lose myself in this ecstatic experience again. But while I didn’t, I received a precious gift. I felt a quiet but lingering joy in knowing myself to be more whole and fulfilled than I ever thought possible.
To my disappointment, the healing rooms didn’t live up to my expectations. I thought there would be less hype and more actual healing and “miracles”. I have experienced faith healing in my own body and have seen other miraculous recoveries through the laying on of hands, usually in much more intimate settings. I had been looking forward to witnessing at least some of these at Bethel, but nothing I saw personally seemed to be authentic beyond the hype. The prophecies, however, were amazing.
Being back in an environment where everyone attributes everything to Jesus and Jesus alone reminded me of how hard I used to try the same. But willing yourself to let go of all agency and personal power simply doesn’t work. While the leaders at Bethel were preaching the message of letting go, it was clear that they were holding on to enough personal power to be in leadership. I, however, had always tried so hard to follow the teaching that I ended up dis-empowered and confused. Having the tools I learned in Witchcraft to feel the flow of energy and make sense out of the experience was redemptive and empowering.
And finally being sent off with a prophecy telling this Born Again Witch – for the second and third time! – that God knows she is on the right path? That made our adventure at Bethel worth every single minute.