What it really means to be a Christian.

by Shirley Pope Waite

I come to the garden alone

While the dew is still on the roses . . .

I thrust my trembling fingers hard against my ears. As the strains of “In the Garden” waft from the choir loft, I squeeze tighter and tighter, trying to block out the hymn that, for sixty years, has brought back painful memories. Why should a song so uplifting to others cause me to shudder?

Troubling memory

My thoughts are transported to a séance, and I see myself as an adolescent sitting in a circle of family members in a semi-dark room. Granddad stands in the middle of the room, and I focus on his handlebar mustache. Several hymns are sung, but at every séance, one prevails. We sing all three verses:

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing . . .

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling . . .

Birthday séance

A family séance was part of our birthday celebrations held monthly to honor the birthday people. The year I received a complete set of Charles Dickens for my sixteenth birthday especially stands out in my mind.

I quivered with both excitement and fear as I followed the other family members into the séance room. I remembered my fifteen birthday, April 24 the previous year, and that of my aunt’s (April 18). She was eight years older than I. When Granddad brought a message “from the other side,” he foretold that a family member would marry within the year.

I now gazed lovingly at my aunt, holding her new husband’s hand. Maybe the spirit guides would have a “word” about my future mate.

Special message

As Granddad stood in the center of the crowded room, he turned slightly from one person to the next. Soon he came to me, cupped his hand over his eyes, and remained motionless for what seemed an eternity.

“Charles Dickens is your guide,” he said. I was surprised because most spirit guides were identified only as “he” or “she.”

I was disappointed too. Did Granddad know I’d received the set of Dickens that morning? Is that why he mentioned the English author’s name? What kind of revelation was that? But he added, “Charles Dickens will help you become a writer.”

I gasped. Nobody in the world knew how much I yearned to become a writer, to see my name in print, to make my mark in the publishing world. And Charles Dickens himself would be my guide!


With such an exciting message, why then did I fear this room?

Perhaps it stemmed from one day the previous summer when I took care of my crippled grandmother while her live-in helper was on vacation. Although Granddad had cautioned me not to go into the séance room, my curiosity was too great. So when Grandma was napping, I decided to take a peek.

It was the same ordinary room with the circle of chairs I had seen in April, with one difference. A corner table held objects that looked like cheerleaders’ megaphones. What were they doing here?

Trumpet circle

I was afraid to ask my parents but found out a few days later when I overheard them talking about a “trumpet” circle. Apparently these “trumpets” floated around the room, and voices of dead relatives and friends were magnified through them.

I shuddered as I heard my parents discussing an aunt who had died a few months before. My dad asked, “Why was Mary’s voice so weak?”

“She hasn’t been on the other side very long,” my mother replied.

Youth meeting

High school days sped by, and I soon found myself attending the university. A girl I met in a sociology class invited me to attend a church youth meeting. It was my first direct exposure to true Christianity, and I lapped it up, eventually becoming an officer in the group.

One of the young men took an interest in my background. “Any chance I could meet your grandfather?” he asked one day.

My hesitation prompted him to ask, “What do you consider yourself to be?”

That was easy. I gave my usual response: “I’m a Protestant.”

“Tell me how your religion is different then this one?” he asked, referring to the church that sponsored our youth group.

“Spiritualism simply continues where other religions leave off.” With that, I changed the subject.


God graciously brought a Christian man into my life. After we were married, we began going to church. I thought as long as I lived a good moral life and attended services regularly, I was a Christian too.

I didn’t tell my husband about my occult background, and he concluded that I’d come from an unchurched family. It never occurred to me to discuss any of this with my pastor.

Troubling discovery

Then a friend invited me to an interdenominational Bible study, and I embarked on a new spiritual journey.

One day the Bible unexpectedly jolted me. I was studying Deuteronomy when a verse in the eighteenth chapter caught my attention: “No one shall be found among you who . . . consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead” (vv. 10, 11).

The words summoned a picture of Granddad standing before me in the séance room. Verse 12 goes on to say, “For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord.” My grandfather — abhorrent?

Clearing confusion

Searching further with the help of a concordance, I found these words in Isaiah: “Now if people say to you, “Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits . . . should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?” (8:19, NRSV, NKJV).

I was confused. Hadn’t many of Granddad’s predictions been accurate? I decided to talk it over with my Bible study leader. She explained that God’s gifts, including prophecy, can be counterfeit. We read together 2 Corinthians 11:14: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”


When I got home, I had to face the fact that I was not a Christian at all. I had embraced false beliefs disguised as the truth.

I knelt and renounced every occult influence in my past and asked God to forgive me. Then I asked for His divine wisdom for the future. I went through the house destroying a Ouija board and other occult-related games and books.

Suddenly I thought of my parents who lived on the other side of the country.

Through a series of phone calls, I led my mother in the “sinner’s prayer,” and she accepted Christ. Years later my father said yes to Jesus on his deathbed.


I still react when I hear “In the Garden,” but now, despite the bad memories, God uses these words to assure me that He — not Charles Dickens — is my guide, turning my darkness into light:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Bible, except where noted.