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A fellow I knew used to spout the theory that, based on a kind of friends-of-co-workers-of-friends network, you were always just three phone calls away from the president of the United States.
As of last weekend, I can do that one better. I was one phone call away from God.
Every day, as a matter of fact. Ryden takes dictation from God/Jesus (who, she says, are one and the same), writing page after page of messages that He wishes her to pass on, His "love letter to humanity." She does this in small red notebooks, using a fluid script that does not resemble her own.
Ryden has published nine volumes of her handwritten transcriptions titled True Life in God that have been translated into 30 languages. There are shelves full of videotapes of her talks for sale. Priests, bishops, theologians and religious scholars have vouched for the authenticity of her "messages." She travels around the world giving lectures, providing healing services, drawing crowds that range from a few hundred to tens of thousands; Ryden is about to leave on a multiple-city tour that will bring her to Phoenix, her first visit here in five years.
Is she nuts?
Is she psychotic?
Is she a scam artist?
Or is she one of the great mystics of our time, a direct link to Frances of Rome, Anne Marie Taigi, Maria Conception de Armida, other laywomen over the past few centuries who have lived "in spiritual intimacy in the presence of Christ?" Or is she just a normal person who God likes to talk to?
I can tell you this much for sure: Ryden is 54, was born in Egypt to Greek parents of the Greek Orthodox faith, though she says she cared little for religion. She is married to an international development expert contracted to the United Nations, they have two adult sons, and have lived in many Third World countries before settling in Switzerland. She has modeled, painted and played tennis professionally.
Then, one day 11 years ago while living in Bangladesh, she was making out a shopping list when her life took a rather dramatic turn.
"Well, I felt it interiorly, the presence of the angel very powerfully," she says in an accent that's a combination of Greek, French, Swedish and Arabic (all tongues she speaks) and sounds, well, foreign. "Everything comes from interior--interior visions, interior voice, all is interior. Yet it is happening. So I had this interior vision of the angel, and his presence was very powerfully felt in my soul. And my hand was taken as if by an invisible hand, and I let it go because I felt he wanted to write me something, and he wanted to tell me that his name was Daniel and he was my guardian angel. And that's how everything started."
She did not finish the shopping list.
"I was surprised this was happening, but I knew I was not losing my mind. When something like this happens to you, and it is real, and you don't find the answers how it's happening and why it's happening, you just accept it. But still I used to ask all the time, why is this happening, you know? Why do you have to send me messages--you have the Bible?"
And Ryden wasn't even religious.
"Not at all," she admits. "I was just one of these people, you know, baptized but never really caring or going to church or anything. And to top it, I've never had catechism lessons, I had no clue what was going on in the church, and I never knew that there were special gifts given by God, that He can speak inside your heart."
It turned out that Daniel the angel was an advance man for Jesus Himself, and, according to Ryden, His selection of her--instead of a Falwell or a Swaggart or even a Clinton--as a kind of Holy Secretary was all part of the plan. He is known, of course, for favoring the meek.
"I asked Him, I said to Jesus, 'I thought you would go to the religious who love you and speak to them in this way. Why did you come to a person who never even looked at you twice, who never even prayed?' I said, 'Why don't you go to someone who has more authority than I have? I am nobody.'
"My English is not perfect, I have no language which I can say is a perfect language. And yet He said, 'Yes, I want you in your ignorance and your incapacity. I always chose wretchedness to transmit my messages so that I can show, first of all, that I am full of mercy, and this is not from you, and it is through my power that you receive all this, and my authority.'"
So. You are a UN development expert. You've had a tough day at the office. You arrive home to find that your wife has been talking to Jesus all day.