“I went all the way around the world to find God; little did I know He was just three minutes down the road from my house.” — Michael Arbuckle
by David E. Sumner
Michael and Audrey Arbuckle married each other three times—first by an Amazonian shaman in Peru in 2012; second in a civil ceremony to make it legal in the United States; and finally, in 2018 at St. George Orthodox Church in Indiana to seek God’s blessing on their marriage. How they got from there to here is a long story, beginning with Audrey’s Orthodox chrismation in 2010, meeting and dating Michael in 2011, and a five-year journey that took them to Peru and Michael to India to study Yoga and eastern mystical religion.
Michael Arbuckle, 46, is a self-employed entrepreneur and insurance professional in Fishers, Indiana. Until he met Audrey in 2011, he described himself as
“very much of the world, a materialist, and atheist-agnostic.”
Although not raised in any church, he says he attended chapel services in the Navy to get out of boot camp.
“It was either go to church or stay on the base and clean and do other things. So, everybody went to church.”
Audrey is a massage therapist who owns her own business. Michael first came to her office in March 2011 for a discounted massage after he obtained a “Groupon” coupon. She says, “I could tell he was completely materialistic, agnostic, and anti-Christianity. So that made me nervous to be around him, and I kept my distance. We were always very professional, but I could tell he had a good heart, wasn’t happy in his life, and was missing God.”
Michael and Audrey knew each other four months before they began dating. “During that time, we never talked about dating or showed any interest in each other. It just kind of happened,” he says. Michael was 38 at the time and divorced, and Audrey, 32, had never married.
They started dating in July 2011.
“Later she took me to her best friend’s wedding in Chicago on September 3, which happened to be an Orthodox wedding. So, it was my first experience in a church that was totally foreign to me.”
During the trip, she convinced him to listen to an audiobook titled The Secret. While not a Christian book, its teachings have a spiritual message.
“Although I was chrismated into an Orthodox church in 2010, I was not very strong in my faith at the time. I wasn’t very well-versed in Scripture and was a baby Christian. I got into Orthodoxy through a former boyfriend who is an Orthodox Christian. He invited me to church and knew I had never been baptized. So, I was baptized into Orthodoxy at his church on August 15, 2010. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a good role model because his faith was more of a tradition than a personal reality.”
“I was opposed to listening to this audiobook because I considered it to be religious, and I wanted NOTHING to do with religion.”
While listening on the way up, it was describing a higher power through a “new age” and scientific way that he was never exposed to. It caught his attention. After a couple hours of listening on the way home, he says,
“Something came over me; I cannot describe the feeling and experience with words, but tears just started flowing, and all I could say was “it’s so beautiful; it’s so beautiful. I felt this overwhelming, enveloping love and warmth, and it totally changed everything about me. I identified it as God, but no “specific” God. I went from being an atheist-agnostic to believing there was a higher presence and that He loved me. I didn’t have any foundation for this, whatsoever.. This was a Godly presence that I’ve never experienced in my life. I remember waking up the next morning with tears flowing from my eyes; staring up at the ceiling with my palms up, just repeating out loud how beautiful “it” was.
“I was wanting this experience to happen more often, so I set out on a path of seeking God. I spent a lot of time meditating; I took up hiking and did things that I felt could connect me to God. It eventually led me to seek out a shaman in Peru. We had heard about these places in South America where one could go and work with these shamans; also known as medicine men.”
So, they took a month-long vacation to South America and spent two-weeks of it at the “SpiritQuest Shamanic Sanctuary” in Iquitos, Peru. Michael describes it as
“a spiritual sanctuary that uses plant medicines from the jungle to help individuals with things dealing from depression, trauma, and addictions through shamanic ceremonies.”
The website describes its mission as “dedicated to the healing of the Earth and all humanity by helping those who seek to attain deep personal cleansing, holistic healing, rebirth of the spirit, and higher consciousness. We’re serious about it and would expect you to be also.”
They decided to get married there by the shaman on July 2, 2012.
“It was a Shamanic ceremony,” Audrey says. “You may wonder how in the world does an Orthodox Christian backslide and get pulled back into the New Age? I failed in the beginning because I was more worried about losing Michael because of my faith. I was more worried about scaring him away because of my Christian faith. I didn’t preach the Gospel to him when I had the opportunity. But If he wasn’t going to be a Christian, at least I didn’t want him to be an atheist. So, I ended up losing my own identity in Christ. I deceived myself and allowed the enemy to deceive me, and the world to pull me back into it.”
Soon after they returned, they were married in a civil ceremony on August 7, 2012.
“When we got back, many other things happened, but then in October 2012, I was sitting at a coffee shop with Audrey and reading a magazine. I saw an ad for this Eastern mystic who was coming to town to give a talk. I told her I wanted to go and hear this guy speak. So, we went to hear this Indian mystic speak for three hours at a Unitarian church in Indianapolis. I loved it because he talked about things I understood.”
Hearing this talk resulted in a two-week trip to the Isha Institute of Inner Sciences in McMinnville, Tennessee.
“Here we were initiated into a certain Yogic practice called ‘Shambhavi Mahamundra.’ Not long after that I got an email from this same ashram inviting me to India. I got this offer to go for five months and study to become a Yoga teacher. When I saw the outline of the program, it was exactly what I was looking for. It would talk about creating the proper environment within oneself to reach higher states of consciousness to obtain the bliss that I experienced for those four days. It was an intensive program with seven hours of yoga, seven days a week for twenty-one weeks. We hadn’t been married a year, and she gave me permission to go to India for five months. I told my business partners and my colleagues about it. Most of them thought I was not coming back and if I did, that I would no longer work in my industry.”
Michael did about 2,000 hours of training in five months at the Isha Hatha Yoga Center in Coimbatore, India. While he was here, he was persuaded to participate in a promotional video for the program, which is still accessible on Youtube. He says in the video,
“I am grateful for the time here. It’s so peaceful. What it brings to your life is hard to explain without actually doing the practices. I look forward to doing it for the rest of my life and sharing it with so many others. The fact that we get to spend time here, it’s something you have to really appreciate and immerse yourself in as much as possible.”
He came back and started teaching classes in their basement.
“We remodeled the whole basement and set it up as a space for Yoga practice, which I taught classes from 2014 to 2017. I didn’t see Yoga as a religion, but I was doing it to get closer to God. Yes, it was a spiritual practice, but I did not see it as Hinduism or anything like that.
“It brought about a lot of peace and physical well-being, So, I had a lot of ‘benefits’ that I was experiencing. It helped me with other people, and my relationships, and it helped me to have more compassion. For all the flaws I could explain regarding Yoga, I must say that having the experience has helped me in finding a spiritual perspective; and now it has helped me to be a better follower of Christ,” Michael says.
By this time, Audrey felt uneasy about the direction they were going away from the Orthodox faith where she had been chrismated.
“I prayed on it and asked the Lord where I should go. For me, the Lord had called me back to him in January 30, 2017. He told me I was on the wrong spiritual path and needed to come back. So, I re-dedicated my life to Him.
“Prior to this experience, a lot of spiritual warfare was going on in our home. As soon as I had made the decision to re-dedicate my life to Christ, Satan began his attacks. I was being tormented in my sleep, waking up drenched in sweat; being choked and completely enveloped with fear. I begged for the Lord to show me he was real. I was just so far gone into the New Age and Eastern mysticism and was having a hard time surrendering and letting go of the belief system I was in. I prayed for God to reveal himself to me, but the enemy wasn’t going to let me go without a fight. And there was literally a battle in our home for mine and Michael’s salvation. I read scripture and had fasted and prayed for him. It was hell. The enemy was not going to let go.”
“When she came back to Christ, I was still a Yogi, and we had a lot of strife and disagreements in our house. We had a lot of tension. From January to November we were not getting along very well. We got into some heated arguments and had finally agreed to a divorce. We decided that on November 9, 2017, Audrey was going to move out of the house, and we were going to get divorced.
“I thought she had joined a cult; I thought she was brainwashed; I thought she was weak-minded. As a Yogi, you’re responsible and accountable for life to fix things through your thoughts and meditation. You become your own god in many ways. Two days later, we got into another disagreement before I left for work and I told her, ‘If my whole world comes crashing down around me, it’s my responsibility. I’m not looking for a Savior, I don’t want a Savior, I don’t need a Savior. You need to go and find yourself a good Christian man because I will never be one,’ and I walked out the door.”
This was morning of November 11 on Veterans Day 2017.
“I got served up some humble pie later that morning at my office. Now, a priority in my business is the well-being of my clients. I got hit with some news that I had no control over and affected every one of my clients and colleagues. Late that morning, we received some very bad news regarding my business and clients that was completely out of my control. It was absolutely earth-shattering and had shaken and crumbled my foundation, which I thought was strong until that moment. The only thing I could do was call on Christ for help.
“When I got home, I was a mess. I was in tears; I was bawling. Audrey was the stabilizing force in my life. She told me, ‘We need to pray, we need to ask for Jesus to help us.’ That night we started talking about it, and I stopped with my antagonistic beliefs against Jesus and Christianity. I started embracing Jesus very quickly. We prayed that night and into the next day. The next evening, I wanted to go talk with a friend and client of mine who I respected and appreciated. He has a strong relationship with Christ and for some reason; I knew he could help me with his words and understanding. He helped me to see God in a different way than I had known Him. After meeting with him, I told Audrey that I had never owned a Bible in my life, so she took me to Half-Price Books that day, and we bought my first Bible.”
“After Michael came to the Lord, I knew we had to get in a church. I asked the Lord, ‘Where shall we go?’ And He said, ‘Audrey, just go back to my Church. It hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. You’ll be safe there.’ I said, ‘You mean the Orthodox Church?’ And He said, ‘Yes, my Church.’ That day, which was a Sunday, I told Michael, ‘Let’s go check out St. George Orthodox Church. They might be done with liturgy now, and we could just see the inside of the church. Let’s try there first, and if you don’t like it, we can go somewhere else.’”
“She wanted me to see the iconography at St. George. So, we walked in and Patrick, the head usher, says, ‘I think the service is about over, but you can go in and sit down.’ After I walked in, I felt like a fish out of water because it was so foreign to me; I couldn’t wait to leave. I’m just trying to get out as fast as I could. But right then, a parishioner comes over and says, ‘Hey, Michael, don’t I know you?’ I knew him because I was good friends with one of his friends, who was a doctor. We had seen each other a couple times in the past. So, the parishioner begins showing us around the church and explaining the iconography; telling us how they bought the property and built the church in 2013. Then he says, ‘Do you want to go up and get a blessing from Father Nabil Hanna?’”
“Without hesitation Audrey goes, ‘Yes, we would love to.’ So, we head up there and she introduces me to Father Nabil, and he asks, ‘Would you like to stay and join us for Thanksgiving dinner?’ Again, she goes, ‘Yes, we’d love to.’ And so, we went downstairs to the parish hall. It truly felt like we were the prodigal son and daughter. Everyone was feasting and celebrating and welcoming us home. The kindness of the people, the warmth, they kept coming up and talking to us. They were genuine, and they seemed to be genuinely interested in me and us. Everybody kept asking, ‘Are you going to come back?’ At this point I’m an emotional wreck and almost in tears. By about the third or fourth person who asked that, we just looked at each other and said, ‘Yes, we’ll be back.’ Ever since then, it’s been beautiful and life changing.”
“I think that God led me on the right path. I had to be on the path of working with a shaman and being a Yogi because, as silly as it may sound now, those things opened me up spiritually. When I first started reading the Bible, I read it and knew it was all true. I started reading what Jesus was teaching, and I said to myself, ‘This is what I’ve been looking for!’ I went all the way around the world to find God and little did I know He was just three minutes down the road from my house. After going through Father Nabil’s classes, I was chrismated on November 10, 2018, one day short of one year from when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
“Christ told both of us we married badly by having a shamanic wedding ceremony. It wasn’t in God’s house because it was a pagan wedding. The Lord told us that we needed him to bless our union. We got married in an Orthodox ceremony at St. George on November 11, 2018. That was exactly a year from when Michael accepted Christ. We had married on the day that Michael gave his life to Christ, which was our one-year anniversary of being at St. George. The wedding fell on a Sunday and happened to be our parish Thanksgiving feast that year. Sadly, it was two days before Michael’s dad passed away on November 13, 2018. I asked the Lord to wait two days until after our wedding before taking my father-in-law.”
In conclusion, Michael explains why he thinks Yoga is dangerous.
“First and foremost, Yoga is a spiritual practice. When I was there, I saw it as how it was taught to me and just that—a spiritual practice used to get you closer to God. What they don’t tell you is that it is Hinduism at its core. One of the things the guru always said is, ‘You can’t separate Yoga from spirituality, and you can’t separate spirituality from Yoga.’ One has to understand that it is a Hindu practice, first and foremost. When people are practicing Yoga, when they’re doing the asanas, they’re aligning their body to ‘prana’ life force energy and the ‘universe’. An ‘asana’ is a posture, and with certain yoga asanas, a person is opening themselves to outside entities which are not of Christ or the heavenly kingdom.
“Beyond that, the whole spiritual practice and path of Yoga is becoming your own god. You are essentially trying to reach enlightenment. By virtue of that, when you reach enlightenment, you are basically a human god. Now, according to what they teach, this can take many, many lifetimes. That’s because Hindus believe in reincarnation. They don’t believe in resurrection. They don’t believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God who died for our sins.
“It takes you off the path of following Jesus. The purpose of eastern meditation is to empty the mind as much as possible and become a blank slate so that you can become an observer. You disassociate yourself from the world. If I see someone suffering, it’s the person’s ‘karma’ they need to work on. You don’t want to get involved because you don’t want to interrupt their karma. It can interfere with having compassion for your fellow man; ultimately causing harm to humanity. When taking an honest look at the fruit that this spiritual practice bares; it becomes obvious that for centuries its people have been enslaved by superstitions and a caste system that has continued to keep them in spiritual bondage.
“Yoga is about a progression of detachment away from yourself, your family, your friends, life. It’s about detaching from these things so that you don’t get wrapped up in them. Getting attached to all these things will create additional karma for you. You try to cut these cords of attachment to whatever it is—people, beliefs, worldly things, whatever it is–you’re trying to cut those cords of attachment so you can free yourself. The more you free yourself, the closer you come to enlightenment and free yourself from the wheel of reincarnation. But it’s a deception. It’s the lie the serpent told Eve in the garden of Eden. ‘Eat of this tree and ye shall be like gods, knowing the knowledge of good and evil.’”
Michael says that his initial “come to Jesus” moment in November of 2017 was the starting point for him to learn about faith and God’s grace.
“God has worked with me to help me understand what it means to have faith and trust in the Lord. Since giving my life to Christ, Satan has attacked me on many fronts and in many ways. However, all the attacks have done is strengthen my faith. Orthodox Christianity and St. George, in particular, have saved our marriage and possibly my life.”
“The last two years have been a dream come true and an answered prayer. I always wanted my husband to know and have a personal relationship with God. Even more so, I’ve always wanted him to know and be like Christ. And I see so much of Christ in him now. Michael is the spiritual leader in our marriage. Yes, there have been hard times; yes, there have been trials and tribulations. Yes, I have been tested by the Lord. But our marriage is built on a rock and not sand. Even with the setbacks and tribulations, God has shown me time and time again that we are not alone. The best part is that we made it together—Satan lost the battle, and Christ won the victory.”
What an incredible story!! I relate to this so much especially Audrey’s story. I converted to Orthodoxy in college because of a boyfriend and my faith didnt become real until much later when my marriage fell apart (I married that boyfriend) and it ended in divorce. I completely lost any kind of faith and for 3 or 4 years was agnostic. At one point my therapist encouraged and influenced me to get involved in some new age beliefs. I read The Secret, and some buddhist books, started doing yoga, etc. And while things were better (I mean at least I believed in something) there was a lot of self delusion and self-focus. God brought many trials into my life to help me see the truth and wake up to the reality of Christ. It’s amazing truly and so beautiful to see how we each have our own unique stories but also how Christ is the same, the Thread, through it all.
Fr Raphael says
This is a powerful account of the dangers of the new age movement and the subtle practices of the Hindu religion that creeps into so many areas of modern Western life. This includes Shamanic practices, all under the cover of healthy living. Younger people think it is “cool” to do some of the Eastern things that soon envelop them and take control of their lives.
The book ”The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” highlights this as well.