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.
At least if you believe what Vassula Ryden says. I spoke with her by phone in her home in Switzerland. And she speaks with 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.
"My husband, when he came home in the afternoon and I showed him all this, he knew there was something going on, that this is not just in my mind," stresses Ryden. "And eventually he started to read the messages every day because it gave him very much peace." If you're thinking that this sort of open-mindedness indicates a religious man, you're wrong.
"He's not at all," says Ryden. "He's a Lutheran. But he never went to church either."
Here is a typical day in the life of a woman who takes notes from God: "A typical day at home here would be that I would do the house quickly. If there's any shopping, I would rush to the shop, grab the things, run home, see what I'm going to do for dinner when my family comes home--when my husband comes home from work and my son from the university--I have everything ready for them. In the meantime, I'm not going out at all, even when friends in the beginning used to call and say, 'Come have a cup of coffee.' I said, 'I don't have time, you know, because I am usually called for writing.' So I sit home, pray, do the rosary, and then meditate, and then after the meditation, God is calling me. And I receive the Message."
I ask her if the conversation around the dinner table begins with, 'Well, honey, what did God have to say today?'
"Well, sometimes, sometimes not," she says. "It has become so normal in this house that sometimes they ask me, sometimes they don't ask."
According to Ryden, God has a lot to say. The dictation sessions can be quite lengthy.
"A very normal time would be like three hours' or four hours' dictation. If it is like yesterday, I think it was like nine hours, it was a lot. And this morning, also from 10 o'clock to 3:30 I was writing." Yet He is a merciful God. "Sometimes after two hours I have a break, I can't sit there nonstop. He gives me kind of like permission to get up and have some tea, have a break, because it's too much to sit there."
I ask Ryden if she can share a bit of that morning's message. She says yes, I hear the rustling of pages, and she begins.
"He speaks about His sacred heart. And He says, um, 'My sacred heart is not complicated. I am not a complicated god because I am like a lamb shining from within and from without and completely lucid, therefore you will never be misled for I would reassure you all the time that holiness will be rewarded in the end. . . .' and it goes on."
Well, you heard it here first.
Ryden's messages are tied to Catholicism; on her speaking engagements, she is accompanied by Father Michael O'Carroll, a Catholic theologian and her "personal spiritual director" (which seems superfluous when you've got God talking to you). Ryden's books are published by Trinitas, a nonprofit organization in Missouri, established in 1991 to spread her writings of His words. According to a Trinitas representative, neither Ryden nor O'Carroll receives compensation of any kind for their efforts. Her trips are financed by donations.
But what if you aren't Catholic? Is God sending all those Muslims and Buddhists, etc., straight to hell?
"Oh, no, not at all," she clarifies. "I think we understand this from one message He has given us. He says, 'In the end, in the Judgment Day, you will be judged according to the measure of the love you've had.' I think if they live Christlike, even if they are Muslims or Buddhists, if they have Christ in their heart without even realizing it, they could be better off at Judgment Day than a Christian that lives like a pagan. . . . He said you have to respect the people, your brothers, because we're all created by Him anyway."
And make no mistake about it, Ryden says hell is no joke. She has seen it, has seen the Devil throwing boiling lava into the eyes of lost souls.
"Yeah, I've seen the vision of hell, and He showed it to me on purpose so that I'd declare that there is hell, because many Christian people say hell doesn't exist; it's just symbolic, and it's not true. There is a place which is hell. It is awful, and when you think it's for eternity for those that are there, that's the thing. And Jesus is so upset and grieving saying, 'I'm losing so many . . .' Just imagine."
Satan is very aware of Ryden's work for his nemesis, she says, and has taken action.
"He tries to destroy me, and to this day he's trying to destroy me. First he was burning my fingers, and then small accidents that could have been fatal, and sometimes he puts people to attack me. For example, sometimes when I go to a place it's like all the demons of this place are very busy trying to destroy my coming. And he puts people at their weak points and they attack me. Not physically, but it could be by words, written, phone, newspapers, TV. And they can destroy you morally, and if you're not sustained by God, you can just crack down."
Just for the record, if Anyone out there is listening, I'm all for Vassula. Okay, God?
Here are a few intimate details about Jesus:
He has dimples.
"That's right," says Ryden. "The picture that I like very much, that He is very similar to, is the picture of the shroud with the open eyes. That's the way I see Him, only that the eyes are light blue. Very transparent."
What does His voice sound like?
"Well, I can't explain things like that. It's very touching."
Does He speak with an accent?
"No, He can speak with any language," Ryden states. "When He speaks English, He speaks English, you know? He speaks it to me because it is the language I know best to write, and now and then He gives me some words in Greek, which is my own language. And when He does that, I feel somehow He is more one of my family."
There is a lot of fire and brimstone in Ryden's messages, enough to make Jesus seem, to me, somewhat frightening.
"Oh, no," she assures me. "He's got a sense of humor. Perfect holy humor."
Does He tell jokes?
"No, but He says the words that you feel in your heart that is humor. Like for instance, He teases in a way that you like it very much. He winked at me once, and that made me really jump with happiness. Another time I was in the kitchen trying to eat something very quickly, I was preparing to go for writing, and I was talking to myself and I said, 'I'm starved!' And then I heard Him say, 'For my word?'"
What are His tastes in music?
"I never liked classical music, I thought it was boring and dull before my conversion," she says. "When I was converted, I was traveling from Denmark to Bangkok, and I had the earphones on. I took them off, and I heard my angel speak to me, and He said, 'I want you to listen to some classical music.'
"So I put it on classical, and He said, 'I am offering you this piece.' And it was Schubert, and while I heard it, I fell in love with it. And since then, my whole system changed from the pop music that I loved to classical, and I can't stand to hear any more pop music. I realized that this must be music from God, and I thought, 'Why not?' Angels are singing in heaven, and they aren't singing you pop music, they are singing classical. So I asked Jesus, and He said, 'Yes, people like Mozart or Schubert or people who compose good music, this is a gift from me."
But what about the Beatles?
"Well, I don't know . . ."
Ryden says that God has told her that He will continue to dictate to her until "the end of [her] life on Earth. What Christ wants me to do is to propagate His message, and bring the people to recognize God in an intimate way. Not just have Him in the distance. It is very important in our Christian life, to have communication with God from our heart."
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This is extremely important, Ryden claims, as the End of Times is near.
"The End of Times is the end of one epoch, and we are at the end of the apostasy that was predicted by Saint Paul. . . . It is really bad now with so many young people joining satanic sects. After the End Times, God promises us the new heavens and the new Earth, which will be the era when the Holy Spirit will be extremely powerful.
"The Devil is doing his best to create confusion in the church, to create havoc and upheaval. And I always tell people you should beware with friends, with groups that surround you. If you start realizing that there's some sort of confusion, be sure to stop everything, keep quiet and go home and forget about what's happening. Because after confusion will come disputes, and the disputes will lead you into division. That's what he wants to do. Divide, divide, divide. He wants to divide family, divide friends, divide the church, divide Christ's body."
And besides, who are you going to trust--someone who throws lava into your eyes, or a guy who has dimples and a sense of humor?