WHAT MADE SPEAKER AND COMEDIAN MARY STEWARD consult a psychic about the unfunny parts of her life? And what happened when she did? Here Mary, born and bred in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and now living in the Western Cape, tells BRONWEN BOWMER about her spiritual search…
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN STRUCK by the significance of the games you play as a child. I played a lot of show show and circus circus. (I don’t think it’s a game if you don’t say it twice.) I wanted to transport an audience to another world, uplifted and transformed. My bold announcements and attempts to emulate sequinned trapeze artists were sadly just me rolling around on the carpet in my Barbie costume. But in my head the magic was all happening.
My big break came in Grade 4 when I landed the lead role in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. With short hair, a big voice and boys who weren’t quite up for it, the lead was mine! ‘Grandpa Joe, I found the golden ticket!’ I was totally at home. I had found my lane.
I’d long been a seeker of truth. As young as 10, I sensed there had to be more than what we saw around us. One of our teachers taught us about Jesus and at boarding school when the lights went out I’d speak to him. I also attended church with my granny but once I became a teenager there were too many parties to attend, outfits to plan and boys to meet.
The gnawing feeling that there was more to life kicked in again at age 20 when I went travelling. I began reading books like The Celestine Prophecy. This was the start of a journey into ‘alternative’ spirituality. The key message I absorbed from it was that all religion was dogma, designed to dumb down and control people. It supported what my mom had experienced in a legalistic branch of the church early in her life. Deciding that she wanted freedom in her search for meaning, she had visited psychics. This produced powerful results initially, leading me to follow suit.
My first visit to a clairvoyant came because I was battling over whether to stay in a relationship, but that got left behind as I discovered a whole new spiritual dimension, from crystals and past lives to meditation and Buddhist retreats. I had my numbers, astrological charts, palms, feet and even my tea-leaves read.
Initially this spiritual path delivered exciting experiences where I felt uplifted by the expansive sense of a higher dimension. Interested in psychology and human behaviour, I felt alive with this search into alternative philosophies and healing. I was like a kid in a candy store and everywhere I turned, there was another path to take.
When my Dad died and I moved to Cape Town, my spiritual walk intensified. I set up a creative communications business in Cape Town, bought a flat and, before long, the work was rolling in. All this had been predicted by another psychic. I had great friends and my social life was active.
Mary: ‘I never felt at home’ | Photo: Tonya Hester
However, I needed a regular spiritual fix and I started sessions with a lady I called my spiritual life coach. She was psychic and had trained as a sangoma. Her voice carried the greatest authority in my life. When I was down, our sessions together helped keep me on track and gave me perspective.
We delved into childhood, past lives, wounds that led to patterns of behaviour. Some of it was helpful, especially in the beginning. However, it started to become too fluid. I felt I was at a buffet that was actually a mirage – I’d be eating roast beef, then doughnuts, but then I’d see the cake… I felt insatiable and never at home. Ultimately, peace eluded me.
I had started to perform my one woman shows by this time, feeling that I had something to say and fuelled by that God-given desire to engage and uplift and create an adult version of show show. I wanted to plant seeds of truth… but what was that, and how could I point to a peace I didn’t have?
I was beyond devastated when the man I was sure was the one broke up with me. That was the start of a rather rapid internal spiral downwards. Now what? Which book? Which crystal? Which guru?
I moved into the house we had started to renovate. It had no roof and I had no money. It felt symbolic of me. Then my car just stopped, work dried up and it was as if someone was pulling life-force plugs out of me one by one. Like a Duracell bunny without a battery, I was done. Meditating did little to bring hope.
Empty, I went to my Mom and told her I didn’t have the will to take another breath, let alone wake up for tomorrow. Scared, she suggested I speak to my life coach, the psychic teacher who had offered direction. I agreed to give her a call. She heard my tearful cry for help and promised to ‘tune in’ and call me back. I sat waiting for hope.
That evening, she called back. ‘Look, Mary, I can see that it feels dark and you’ve no idea what to do. It’s quite simple and I don’t know how you are going to take this… Jesus is calling you.’ Shocked, I asked, ‘Do you mean the ascended masters?’ ‘No’ she said, ‘Jesus Christ. He’s waiting at the foot of the cross.’
I never saw that coming! I’d been expecting issues that ‘spirits’ were directing me to, which was how our phone calls usually played out. Not this time. Now, at the end of the line, I believe God broke through. I was literally on my knees, and I believe He used the only voice to which I would listen. I prayed. I had nothing to lose. Moving between folded hands and a meditation pose, I felt awkward. How does one pray, anyway? Eventually, I collapsed on the bed and said, ‘Ok, Jesus, I’ll make you the Lord of my life… but I need to know you’re real.’
Seeking more to life: Mary on a gap year in Oxford, aged 22 | Photo © Mary Steward
And so began the best relationship I’ve ever had. Every day little prayers were answered. My car started. An old client called. A number of things were restored in my world and we spoke a lot, Jesus and me. (Well, I spoke! But I felt him.)
That evening on the bed I had also prayed, ‘Please can this just be between you and me, don’t send me any Christians!’ Jesus answered that prayer until I was ready, about six months later, for the most surprisingly beautiful friendships with Christians. People of integrity, who were vulnerable, funny and honest about their life with God. People who were accessible and plugged into a source of love and truth I simply couldn’t deny.
I sussed church out from the back for a while. The singing always made me cry. Over time, I started to realise I had ‘come home’. I was still dealing with life and real challenges, renovating a cottage without much money and needing to secure more work. The difference was, I was not alone. I felt safe. I surrendered more and more to God’s plan and will for my life. When praying, I would hear a whisper of ‘Trust me’ right into my heart. Those little answered prayers meant much, but it was the peace within that was more real than anything else.
The past seven years have been a beautiful deepening of my intimacy with Jesus. I have treasured Christian friends and belong to a forum of women. We support each other and hold each other accountable to God’s way. I attend Common Ground Church and am amazed at how God has started using my gifts there. I get invited to talk to businesses, schools and gatherings I would never have imagined attending, including overseas.
My cottage is now renovated. It has a roof, exquisite views, and a rose garden. I love my job and have the most enriching and special relationship with my brother and his children, a wonderful relationship with my mother who lives close by, and great friends. I am blessed in so many ways. But most importantly, my insatiable search for meaning and that all-elusive truth has ended. I feel I’ve found it in Jesus Christ.
So much has changed, and yet other circumstances have stayed the same. My life still has its challenges. Working for myself means managing times when I’ve said yes to everything and feel overloaded, and then having quiet patches that leave me quite vulnerable. Sometimes faith wobbles but as the book of John says, ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ I do take heart. I believe this is the truth I always sought, and Christ is very present and real to me. I now feel a sense of purpose and try to share this great hope whenever I can.
So what happened to the psychic?
Mary adds: ‘If I thought my conversion was surprising, there was an even bigger surprise in store for me and my psychic. At the time that she passed on the message that Jesus was waiting for me at the foot of the cross, she felt herself to be under attack from something dark. Then, as she described it, ‘Suddenly Christians started popping up all over the place.’ For a New Age person that can be very irritating! They offered to pray for her and although she felt offended by their prayers, she began to sense a spiritual authority she had not yet experienced. She is now a devoted Christian!’