Attending and being a part of the 50th Anniversary Interfaith Service at the new Chrysalis in Symphony Woods on Sept 17th was truly a memorable spiritual experience. To witness people of diverse faiths and cultural backgrounds coming together to celebrate the best of what James Rouse had in mind when creating Columbia’s Interfaith Centers was truly inspiring. While I’ve had many deeply moving and spiritual moments in my lifetime, 2 events stand out for me in particular.

The first is what I would call my first (and only) “out of body” experience. It was in the early 1980’s, and was one of my early concerto performances with orchestra. I remember being quite nervous, especially about the memory in one section about 2/3 of the way thru the piece… believe me, you want to avoid a memory slip when performing with orchestra at all costs! As I began that particular section, my conscious spirit (soul, what have you) levitated out of me, and observed from behind as my physical body was still seated at the piano, playing. I was observing myself perform; it was truly surreal. After the noted section of music, my spirit rejoined my body for the finale of the concerto. It was a successful performance. I suppose one could explain the phenomenon scientifically, and I myself tend to be quite suspicious of these kinds of experiences. Still, I am QUITE sure that it happened; I have not had a similar experience since.

My other deep spiritual experience happened when I was about 13. I was attending a Youth Music Intensive week at a Baptist retreat in VA called Eagle Eyrie, a magical place in the mountains where I made a yearly trip with other church youth to participate in worship, music classes, choral singing, etc… I loved the place, and it was seminal in setting the stage for my life in music AND church worship. The mass choral singing (there were hundreds of us packed in the auditorium each morning for group anthem singing, culminating in a public concert at the end of the week) was especially moving to me, and as I sat there one afternoon, I felt something profound wash over me… it’s difficult to explain. It was very significant, but I couldn’t really define what it was. All I recall was that I was so profoundly affected that I began to weep, and had no control to stop it. There was no other issue or problem happening in my life at the time that would have resulted in that kind of emotion… and it wasn’t just the music – instead, I knew that it had everything to do with the setting and whatever spiritual event I was witnessing at the time while present. I suppose one could refer to it as an episode of the “divine” or perhaps even a “calling”. I’m not sure. Age 13 seems pretty young for something like that to happen, but I suppose that I knew at that moment that worship and church would probably be a big part of my life for a long time. For obvious reasons, I have rarely shared these personal experiences, but here they are – both as significant markers for me… markers both to the power of music AND strength and effect of communal worship. I will never forget these moments in my life.


  1. Phyllis Jovich

    Thanks for sharing that. I feel special that I’m on a list that you told those special events in your life. 🎶

  2. Norman Hazzard

    Thanks, Michael, for sharing your stories with us. What great experiences they must have been! I am especially impressed with out-of-body experiences, as to me they illustrate the likelihood that we humans have capabilities beyond the usual five senses–i.e., some of us seem to really have ESP.

  3. Gabi Parks

    Dear Michael, going through unread emails, I came across this wonderful post. Maybe you still remember me – I became a member of UUCC in 1996, and was ordained there in 2006. Then ministry took me all over the U.S.
    In 2013, I went back to seminary, and got my DMin at Wesley with a specialization in narrative theology. I’m telling you all these details because in the past week I have not once, but twice discussed – with different groups of people – how important it is to create safe spaces, to encourage and allow folks to tell their “special” stories. In narrative theology they are called “sacred stories.” As you pointed out, and as some of the comments affirmed, it is not easy for us to share such stories – we are embarrassed, or we simply don’t have the language to put our experiences into words. Maybe there are no words?
    It is one of the goals for the last decade of my ministry to experiment with ways to help us all share these very important parts of our lives. Every time we hear someone share a special experience, we can more easily accept/understand the concept of “spirituality.” Plus, we are affirmed in our experiences – after all, others’ stories mean that I’m not the only one who’s “weird…”
    I hope to return to UUCC for a visit one day, and chat with you!
    Gabi, now serving the UU Congregation of York, PA.

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