British singer/songwriter HELEN ROWE has experienced both angels and demons in her life. Helen told her amazing tale to Tony Cummings.
Norwich-based singer/songwriter Helen Rowe is an artist with a new album out. Yet, as any listener examining the songs and themes permeating Helen's 'Light Shot Through' debut, the singer/guitarist has gone deeper, much deeper, than what normally passes for Christian music on an average release. 'Light Shot Through' is nothing less than Helen's testimony set to music and records how a bruised and battered soul has breathtaking encounters with both the angels and demons which, for many believers, remain remote beings encountered only on the pages of Scripture but for a few are very much part of the fabric of personal experience. Helen's spiritual journey began in Manchester where she was brought up in a home which she describes as "a bit dysfunctional." Catching measles as a child she was treated with medicine that had not been fully tested. It took the enamel off her teeth! As she says, "So I was growing up as a very tall, black-toothed child in a very difficult family life."
At the age of 10 Helen was invited to go on holiday with her uncle to Holy Island in Wales. That holiday was to produce an extraordinary experience. Helen remembers the time quite vividly. "My uncle would go off fishing and doing various other things all day and I was left there alone. I didn't move from the caravan because I was scared. Then one day I woke up and my uncle was out of the caravan and I really felt that I was told to take one of his fisherman's jumpers, pack myself some warm clothes and go on this walk. I knew absolutely I had to do it. I felt a real sense of peace. I walked out of the caravan and just took these directions; every turn I knew where to go. I found myself looking eventually at a rock that was on the sea edge. I could see that although the tide was out just then, if I climbed onto this rock I would be completely cut off when the tide came in. But I felt I just had to do it. I felt compelled to do it. Also, despite it being really, really hot, I had to put this jumper on. So I put this jumper on and sat on the rock.
"I looked out to sea and I could see this cloud coming towards me. It came very, very quickly. The nearer it got the more I realised it was not just a cloud, it was a circle of cloud, like a tube. I was not frightened, I was just absolutely fascinated by it. It came to stop right in front of my face and I knew I had a choice. I could put my face into the cloud or I could just sit there. I chose to put my face into the cloud and as I did so my mind started to work at a speed that isn't humanly possible. I could think at the speed of light, I could understand things at the speed of light and I knew that I could ask any question I wanted and I could have the answer instantly. All I remember I was being taught things about time and that time was just a linear thing and that it was only in one dimension and that actually it didn't exist in other dimensions. I was taught about history and about wisdom and knowledge and how human beings can tap into the same wisdom throughout all the ages but the wisdom stays the same. I knew that I was asking questions about pain and I was asking questions about why did God allow pain and he was explaining these things to me. I don't know all the details of what happened in that cloud but it felt like I was in there for about 10 minutes but I had actually been in there for 10 hours. It was very dark and cold and I was very glad I had the fisherman's jumper on!" Stumbling through the dark the young Helen arrived back at the caravan five minutes before her uncle returned, who had been unexpectedly delayed for several hours. So he was never to learn of his niece's extraordinary experience. Not that 10 year old Helen had any way of explaining the mysterious occurrence on the rock.
At the age of 11 the dentist found a way of putting a false enamel on Helen's black teeth. "All of a sudden I became this attractive young girl. I started to go out with boys." But then bad, very bad, things happened to Helen. At the age of 12 she was raped by her 16 year old boyfriend. Her friends refused to believe the rape had occurred. Her parents broke up (though they subsequently got back together). Then, on a holiday in France where she stayed with a French pen pal and her father, a friend of the father tried to abuse her. Emotionally the teenager was devastated. Intellectually though she was flourishing and teachers were already predicting a brilliant career for her. After visiting The Upper Room, a Christian group who went to St Mary's in Cheadle (the church which was to spawn Andy Hawthorne of The Tribe and The Message fame), the 16 year old made a commitment to Christ.
"I was a bit like CS Lewis who said he was the most dejected and reluctant person who ever came to Jesus. It was like admitting defeat! I actually went for months and months and all these Christians would be trying to encourage me to make a commitment. But it was like, no, no, no, I am not going to do it! And then the Holy Spirit really hit me one day and I just knew I had to. I privately went off into a little room with a girl and prayed my prayer. Life changed tremendously. I remember setting God some sort of prayer challenges at the time, in my arrogance you know, 'Lord, I want you to answer my prayers every day,' and I would go off and pray for all these things and these amazing things would happen, miracles, healings, all sorts. I remember at the time that literally every step of mine felt ordered by God. I would get up and pray and remember thinking I didn't have enough time in the day to pray, which was weird, and I remember thinking that there were too many things to pray about. It was exciting and it was really rich and raw. I remember one day waking up and saying, 'Lord what do you want me to do today?' and him saying, 'Go down to a bus stop.' I walked down to this particular bus stop, standing there thinking, 'Right, okay Lord, what do you want?' This woman walked up and stood there and God said, 'Just say hello.' I said, 'Hello,' and it ended up with this woman breaking down, falling on her knees and praying and giving her life in this bus stop and then it was like, 'Bye, see you later!', move on. It was just all day, every day. I saw amazing things."
Helen went off to university to study psychology but, as many students have found before her, university did nothing to sustain her Christian faith. Helen remembers, "I shared a room with a Christian girl but she had a very nominal faith. She befriended somebody who was a part of the local spiritualist church and she was getting a bit freaked out by some of the things her friend was saying. I was drafted in to go and talk to her. The next minute this girl is showing an intense interest in my faith but the local spiritualist church were not very happy about it because this girl, she saw visions, weird things above people's heads, colours, everything and she was not only getting interested in my faith but people around her were then getting interested in what she was saying about Christianity. Some of the people who were involved in that church had one foot deeply in the occult and they got very angry and started to turn up and were really threatening my life."
Weird, freaky things began to occur to the young student. "At one point I had one woman who came down the corridor at this particular hall I was living in and she just literally crumpled on the floor and started barking like a dog and shouting out at me, 'You call yourself a Christian,' and things. We had a lot of attack I think just generally in the hall. One day we got together with some friends of ours who were Christians and we really felt that we had to pray. We started to pray that God would protect the hall and I had a vision for the first time. I saw this big blob, with a little line to a little, tiny blob, I could not blink it away and at the same time as I had it somebody else had this word that there was a connection to a local coven. We were living in Birmingham and that the little blob was the hall and the connection was to this big blob which was the coven in Birmingham where all sorts of things happened.
"We then prayed that angels would come and help us and I thought angels were like little cheruby things - and I was very wrong! I started praying that angels would come and I saw this again. I saw a picture of the room I shared with my friend. I saw the door open and all kinds of things go on, certain people coming in who I found out afterwards had indeed come into the room. Then as they left I saw something come into the room and I knew it was a good thing. I didn't know what it was, a few good things, just presences walked into that room. Anyway, when we had finished this prayer session we walked back to the room. When I walked in my roommate had gone to sleep and it was pitch black. I felt a real presence of God. I thought, 'Wow! I feel so peaceful.' Then I started to blink and I could see these outlines and I am sort of thinking what are those things like twinkles. Slowly as my eyes grew accustomed I could see it was like the outlines of very tall people as if somebody had shone a golden light behind them and you could just see the outlines. They were not men or women, they were somewhere in the middle and they had this kind of flowing quality to them. There were seven of them. One was looking out of the window, one knelt at my friend's bed, one stood over her head pouring something onto her head; one was pacing up and down and I thought that one was praying or doing something. They turned and looked and smiled at me and I was thinking, 'Oh! These are angels!' At that point in time when I thought I had really lost the plot, my friend, who is this very nominal Christian, sits bolt upright in bed and goes, 'There are angels in this room!' I was sitting there going, 'Ahh, hmm!' and she instantly got filled with the Holy Spirit and goes off in tongues. "
Yet despite such extraordinary experiences, the staid local church she approached with accounts of her encounters with demons and angels were unable to believe them. Then back at home a church asked her to leave the fellowship, insisting that her gift of tongues was demonic. As Helen admits, she then made some seriously bad choices. "I started going out with a boy who was a Christian and for three years we did not have sex. I was listening to friends who were Christians who were saying, 'Your problem is you are not having sex.' So I started sleeping with him and then that broke up and then I started sleeping with a few other blokes and you know, I had one foot in the door of Christianity. I started smoking and I felt, you know, I am going to be accepted here because I am doing what everybody else does and that careered me into what became my first marriage."
Helen's choice of a husband was disastrous. "It was not normal. It was I think heavily dysfunctional. A pastor once said to me that darkness and light don't mix and I became a casualty of that but I made choices in it. I believed that marriage was for life and I also believed that you cannot blame one person for what happens in a marriage and so I am not going to say that I was the only victim because I think he came out of it very damaged too, but I can honestly say I did everything I could."
Helen was smoking a huge amount of marijuana to help her through each tortured day, a habit which was later to have a devastating effect on her health. But even this couldn't address the pain she was feeling. "I completely broke down. I think I got completely dismantled basically. I came out of that marriage and I was actually diagnosed with the full nervous breakdown, emotional, physical breakdown. I was physically twitching. I got so bad by then I was stuttering all the time and I knew I had a problem. I went to see the doctor and he said, 'Right, that's it. You have got to have six months off work. You are in a state.' I knew that I was bad because one day I had got into a bath and could not see my legs! I just lost it really. Then I thought I was getting slightly better. I was living with a friend during this time as I was trying to recover and we had ended up having a huge row. Your sanity is like a fine thread - I didn't realise that up until that point and it literally snapped. I looked my sanity in the face that day. I think if you are a survivor, if you have learnt survival mechanisms, you always think you can keep going, you always think, 'Oh just push that away and carry on,' and because I was trained in psychology and teaching about psychology - it was like physician heal thyself sort of thing!" In the throws of an agonizing experience where she was actually dying, God spoke to Helen. "God asked me, 'Do you want to live?' and I replied, 'No, not if I have to go back to that as I can't live that life.' Again God asked, 'Do you want to live?' and I said, 'Only if you can give me a life worth living.'
"As soon as I said that I found myself suddenly standing in a crowd of people as real as I am here. I was looking at this woman and she was playing the guitar and as soon as I focused I thought, 'Who is that?' Then I saw it was me and as soon as I realised that I got transported to another venue where there were more people in the crowd and there were band members around me. At the back of my mind I thought, 'Wow! I am playing the guitar, I am singing.' Then I got transported to a bigger venue and then an even bigger venue with bigger and bigger audiences. Eventually I found myself land in my body and I was stood on a stage looking out across this absolutely vast audience. I could not see how many people were in this audience and at that point I came back to life on the cold bathroom floor. That began a very, very long journey, because I knew that was real, as real as the experience on the rock was, as real as the experiences I had when I first became a Christian, the miracles. It was like, 'That was real, that happened. In all the madness I know that is real.' I had been given a guitar when I was 12 and it had knocked about with me and actually I could play a really poor rendition of Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway To Heaven'! It was abysmal and I had been taught it very painstakingly by a friend. I had been told in my first marriage that I was not allowed to sing, I was banned from singing, even at the sink, because I had a voice like a banshee."
Gradually Helen found a musical gift developing. "I had overpowering feelings that I should pick up my guitar. As soon as I picked it up I got this tune in my head and literally, my fingers went there and I could do it. It felt like having a masterclass with God. It was like literally move two fingers up. Although it was slow it was there and it was as is. All the songs have come that way."
Now seemingly back on course with Christ, things at last seemed to be working out. Helen was going to church, her songs were coming more and more prolifically, she started a band called Zeo and she found herself falling in love with a musician in the band, Phillip. Helen and Phillip married then Helen had a little girl, Phoebe. But then more problems arose. Helen suffered from a very bad attack of post-natal depression while her husband, working 10- hour shifts, was also depressed. In her depression a "friend" came around and offered her a joint. Once again, Helen became more and more dependant on marijuana. My Christian faith was a central issue but I felt like I was literally torn in two with my eternal and physical life on the block. I knew what I was doing was wrong but the pain in my day to days was so severe I felt like I was toppling back to my breakdown days." If that wasn't enough, there was serious demonic activity in the house where she and her young family were living. Also, Helen's earlier excessive dope smoking had left her with chronic respiratory disorder.
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