On May 15, Rick Levy stood before Lisa Tatum and promised to worship her forever. “For I know that you are God,” he said, “thinly disguised as my wife.”
He was not speaking in hyperbole.
Levy, a clinical psychologist, has spent his career investigating the connection between mind, body and spirit. Over more than four decades of work and daily meditation, he says he has learned to see energies and understand the private thoughts of others before they are spoken.
He followed a spiritual path laid out in the teachings of guru Paramahansa Yogananda, and “gradually over time it took me into enlightenment and made me one with the Divine,” Levy says.
The first time Tatum met Levy, in the early 1990s, she was at her wits end. She was in her early 30s and had recently become the guardian of a troubled teenage nephew. At the time, Tatum was working in the Department of Health and Human Services’ substance abuse and mental health division, but her own health had been frail ever since a degenerating disc in her neck slipped out of place and cut into her spinal cord. Even after months of intense physical therapy, the injury continued to cause her severe pain.
Her nephew’s principal suggested Tatum take the teen to see Levy. Once there, she recalls, “my nephew was trying to be evasive — going off in this direction, that tangent. Rick was just herding him in like an expert sheep dog — something you could only do if you understood how the other person’s mind was working.”
At the end of the session, though Tatum wore no brace, he turned to her and asked, “How long have you had that terrible pain in your neck?”
He told her he could ease her discomfort by moving energy with his mind. “And in the span of five minutes in his office, he cut the pain in half,” she says. “So then I was just wildly curious.”
Tatum began studying with Levy and joined a group of people who meditated together in his office before work. She, too, learned to see and move energy, and began to feel that God was calling her toward a new professional path.
In 1994 she quit her government job and became a Methodist minister, moving first to Chicago and then San Francisco. Along the way, Tatum, who’d been divorced, met a new man, remarried and had a son.
Levy, who’d been married since 1970 and had two daughters of his own, stayed in touch with Tatum and became her son’s godfather, even flying out to be with them when the little boy, who was born with special needs, had open heart surgery.
In April 2001, they met up at a retreat center in Southern California. Both were privately struggling with their marriages. As they sat meditating in a garden near the Pacific Ocean, Levy felt his guru, who died in 1952, speak to him. Yogananda, Levy says, told him he understood his agony. “He said to me, ‘Go back and try to save your marriage. See if you can fix it. But if you cannot fix it, you cannot let it kill you, like you’re planning on letting it do. Because I have important work for you to do with the person sitting next to you.. . . I want the two of you to come together to do a holy work.’”
Startled, Levy opened his eyes to tell Tatum what he’d heard. Before he could start, she repeated the message word-for-word. Yogananda, she said, had told her the same thing.
Tatum returned to San Francisco, but when she could not save her marriage, she retired from the ministry and moved back to Washington to join Levy as a pastoral counselor in his Gaithersburg practice, the Levy Center for the Healing Arts.
When Levy and his wife separated two years later, he stayed with Tatum, who had an extra room at her house. By then their lives were fully intertwined, and devoted to a mission they see as helping others come into full communion with God.
After his divorce was finalized, the two were standing on the deck of Tatum’s home when they were overcome by a jolt of energy. “I didn’t have a mirror handy, but I think my hair stood on end,” Tatum says. “It was really just overwhelming.”
That, she says, was the force that turned their relationship into romance. “Only in the experience of it do you realize how lonely you’ve been,” says Tatum, now 54. “In some religions this is like a blasephemy — the idea that there could be such a perfect unity between persons that they have this perfect harmony. Spiritual, mental physical — and that at all those levels, the joy is ecstatic.”
And the energy they felt that day on the porch has never receded. “I experience her as God,” Levy says. “And I should know, because I know God. I look at her and I’m not talking to a woman. I’m talking to God.. . . So it is a feeling of worship.”
Both say the relationship has imbued their work with new verve and purpose. “There is something almost enchanted in the presence that we feel with each other that makes everything kind of alive and meaningful and deeply spiritual at the same time,” says Levy, 62. “And it propels us out into a larger role in the world.”
They were visiting an ashram in Northern India in 2007 when they found an emerald ring at a bazaar. That night, during a crowded religious celebration along the Ganges River, they dipped the ring in the water and decided to marry.
After a four-year engagement the pair invited almost 90 friends and family members to gather at the Lodge at Little Seneca Creek in Boyds, Md., to watch them wed before an altar that included photos of both Jesus and Yogananda.
Tatum’s pledge echoed that of her new husband. “You and I stand on the shoulders of the giants,” she said. “Because of God and the great ones, we see eternity in this moment. It is in their spirit I vow always to love you as God, always to forgive you when you’re human and always to show up for the next whirlwind adventure.”