With an unmistakable sense of mystery, a special kind of Knowing comes to me. This Knowing has come on dozens of occasions, sometimes touching me after prayerful intention and sometimes randomly, an act of pure grace. It seems very much like the “precognition” or “telepathy” that is studied by researchers into the paranormal. Interfaith minister Paul Hertel calls it “Knowing with a capital K.” (See Polly Campbell’s Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People, 2012.) I sometimes call it my “Guardian Angel.” Although I cannot explain this phenomenon, I have no doubt about its value. This Knowing enhances my relationship with the Inner Light.
One of my earliest experiences of this kind of Knowing occurred when I was seventeen. I had become aware that my face was slightly asymmetrical because I always slept with my right cheek buried in the pillow. One evening as I practiced my clarinet in the living room, my mother came toward me, and I had an odd feeling that she was going to mention the asymmetry of my face. In fact, I knew with certainty exactly what she was going to say. “John,” she asked, “do you sleep with your head to one side?”
At about that same age, I experienced a similar, uncanny feeling of Knowing when I caught sight of the woman I would eventually marry, Jeanne Prideaux, among a group of Junior Friends. My reaction to Jeanne was so profound that I immediately wrote to a friend, “I have just met a girl who I think you will hear more about some day.” However, I didn’t see her again for several months, the feeling faded, and I basically forgot about her.
Some time later, I began to wonder about the woman I might marry. I developed an image of my ideal partner: someone who liked classical music as much as I did, athletic, close to my height – basically a female version of me. Again this mysterious Knowing came to me and told me that I would marry someone I already knew. I began to make a list of the women I knew who fit my ideal, and Jeanne didn’t even occur to me. She didn’t conform to my preconceived image. A year passed, and then another strong message came to me, “John, forget what you think. Your future wife will not fit that image.” I knew to trust that feeling. I let the list go.
The following summer, Jeanne and I crossed paths again. Although we enjoyed each other’s company, I was careful to keep my emotional distance because I was still looking for my mirror image. She went off to Earlham College, and we corresponded. Then the light dawned: “Jeanne is the one you already know. She’s the one who doesn’t fit your ideal image.” After that, I had no doubts. We were married two years later, in 1964, and our marriage lasted until Jeanne’s death in 2005.
One Sunday in 1976, when I was clerk of the Eugene Meeting, this special Knowing again gave me a strong sense of precognition. As the hour for worship neared its end, there had been only silence during worship. It was my role to sense the right moment for Meeting to close. I wondered if anyone was going to speak. I stilled my mind and waited a few moments longer, and soon the name of an elderly Friend came to me. He was sitting in the corner. I looked over at him. Nothing set him apart from the others, except that the voice of my Guardian Angel had whispered his name. It was the familiar Knowing that I trusted, so I continued to wait. Finally the elderly Friend spoke, just as faith had said that he would. Following his ministry, I felt comfortable to close the Meeting.
There have also been practical applications of this Knowing, times when I’ve consciously invited my Guardian Angel to help me. One time, when my daughter Keri was nine, she lost one of her baby teeth on a school camping trip and couldn’t find it. She came home quite distressed and convinced me to take her back to the campground the next day to look for the tooth. Although I thought it unlikely that we would find it, we went back and thoroughly searched the corner of the Adirondack shelter where she was sure the tooth was hiding. As I expected, the search was futile. I decided to turn to my Guardian Angel for guidance. Keri and I stepped outside the shelter, and I quieted my mind and waited. Soon my eyes were drawn to the edge of the fire pit about fifteen feet from the shelter. There, barely visible in the dirt, was the tiny tooth. Keri was delighted and grateful to me for finding it. Needless to say, I was grateful to my Guardian Angel.
In 2007, I further explored this special kind of Knowing by visiting a spiritualist community in Lily Dale, New York. I had a session with a medium who – with no prior input from me – described more than a dozen aspects of my life with uncanny accuracy. For instance, she identified that I had been an architect (I was actually a landscape architect); that I had built “an unusual house” (the home I’d designed and built was a double yurt); that I had a daughter from a different culture (Jeanne and I had adopted a mixed-race baby); and she described many of Jeanne’s characteristics, interests, and activities. In fact, the medium got only one thing wrong out of all the things she told me: she thought that my father had already died, when actually he was still alive and well at the age of ninety-two.
I then attended a workshop at Lily Dale where I had the opportunity to try my own skills as a medium. I was paired with a woman I didn’t know. She told me the name, “Bill,” and I was asked to describe all I could about him. After centering myself to quiet my intellect, I said whatever came into my mind. What came to me was quite specific, and I went on for at least five minutes: A quiet man, two children, a recreational interest that involved mechanical things, etc. I sensed that Bill was the woman’s husband. When I was done, I learned that nearly everything I had said was correct or close to the mark. (For example, Bill’s mechanical interest was working on cars.)
Although I have my own theories, I cannot explain how I knew anything about Bill. For that matter, I can’t explain how I knew that my mother was going to ask about the asymmetry of my face; or that I would marry someone I had already met; or that the elderly Quaker was going to speak before the close of Meeting; or that my daughter’s tooth was by the fire pit; or the other information I’ve received from my Guardian Angel. I’ve simply learned to trust this special Knowing.
Perhaps one day, researchers will discover the scientific principles behind such “paranormal” experiences. And as Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine explains, observations of the paranormal can be testaments to the integrity of science: “If we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.” (Scientific American, October 2014.)
But I do not find it necessary to have an explanation. It is enough that this experience of Knowing touches my soul as powerfully as it does. My responsibility is simply to open myself to receive in good faith whatever my Guardian Angel reveals. ~~~
John Etter is a member of the Eugene Meeting (NPYM) who lives in Portland. A retired landscape architect, he stays active by serving on the Board of the Wellsprings Friends School and on other Friends committees, attending symphony concerts, and baking pies for his appreciative friends and family.