02 February 2010
Mission City - IV - Ebenezers
A friend reminded me about the often useful task of defining something, not just by what it is, but also by what it is not. Likewise, I have found it useful, when looking for the meaning of an event, it is often useful to consider what would be different if the event had not taken place. So...
Everything about the Mission City experiences has been gentle, and never imposing. They are protective, consoling, inspiring and alluring, but never tempting, never frightening, never threatening and never overwhelming.
There is also, and very importantly I think, never the slightest hint that I need do ANYTHING about them: no immediacy, no imperative, no sense of urgency. Rather, always a sense of, "this will help you when you are in need, you will understand when the time is right for you."
I think of these very much like an ebenezer. From the Hebrew the term is translated as "stone of help" but in practice, it is a stone (or pile of stones) built upright to serve as a reminder, or even memorial, of God's activity.
For me, I can look back on these as The One True God's present activity in my life-- not just then, but again and again.
An example of this is another spiritual experience, unrelated in the vision dreams, but at least as profound.
I had just crossed from the sidewalk construction tunnel seen at the far right of the image above, crossing 2nd Street in downtown Austin, headed south on Congress a few minutes before the experience I am going to describe here.
With a few hours to kill downtown and in need of coffee, I was making my way to the Radison Hotel at Congress & Cesar Chavez where there is a Starbuck's Coffee House. As usual, I was armed with the day's New York Times crossword puzzle, a Sudoku puzzle book, my journal, and a really good book. I become bored quite easily, and my job at that time was horrifyingly lacking in challenge. I also had a really nice cigar.
A few minutes later, I sat down on the patio, pulled out my journal and the book, lit my cigar, dated the journal, and sipped my coffee. What did I feel like writing about? I thought for a moment about that. The answer in my mind, I feel like I am cursed, was cut off from a voice coming behind me saying, "You believe you are cursed, don't you?"
I was aware that I was sitting on the patio in front of the Radison Hotel, that I took a draw on the cigar, set it down, took a sip of my coffee and that I was holding my pen; but at the same time, something inside knew that I was also just crossing the 2nd Street, as I walked southward along Congress. I did not have to close my eyes, the images were just... there. I was in no trance, and I was fully aware of what was going on around me, but very interested in the images and sound of that voice behind me yet two blocks away from where I sat.
This was a new experience for me. The best way I can describe it is that it is like just as I started trying to imagine something, instead of imagining it, someone else suddenly took over, and instead of imagining, I was suddenly watching it play out in full form, as a participant, rather than the one imagining it. It was too vivid and too real for my imagination, and I only participated in my own part, while the other "character" was wholly responsible for that portion.
Here is what happened, spiritually, exactly I recall it.
I am standing at 2nd Street, waiting for the crosswalk light to change into the little white man walking signal. Several other people come up chatting, some speaking with one another and some, like me, walking by themselves. I don't turn to look, but sense, as we all do, that there are perhaps six or seven behind me by the time the light changes.
As I start across, I hear those words behind, not the question I had asked my self, but someone else asking the question, "You believe you are cursed, don't you?"
I'm tempted to turn and answer that it is exactly what I was thinking, but convince myself that no one could possibly know what I was thinking, and it is an interesting coincidence that a man behind me is asking that question of someone he is walking with. It is an embarrassing question to have someone ask of a person in public, so I am not suprised that I hear no reply. The question hits so close to home, that I wanted to eavesdrop on the conversation. I'm reaching the far side of the street, and step up on the sidewalk, when I hear the man's voice ask again. I slow down, and decide to cross Congress at this point, but mostly so I can see who the two people talking about being cursed are. Four or five people walk by, and then I turn my head, and there is a man behind me, looking right at me, waiting for an answer.
"You are asking me. Yes, I do."
"You believe God has abandoned you?"
"You are afraid that your son has given up on you because you sense that he believes you have given up on him."
It was at this point that I conceded to engage this whatever it was-- alternate reality, spiritual vision, both? I answered, but only in that image. I was still sitting at the patio table and puffing idly on the cigar and sipping the coffee. I suspected this was a vision, although there was something unusual about my feeling of being trusted to make a decision, either deciding to consent to letting it continue or not; and if not, than what I needed to hear would be imparted to me in a less bold and more gentle way at a later time.
The man stood very close to me, but not in a threatening way, but as in a private, intimate way-- so as not to be overheard, so as not to make me uncomfortable. That matter of no longer feeling afraid when circumstances suggest that I ought to be afraid crossed my mind, as did the consideration that this person might be an angel (or a demon) and encountering either usually is described as striking terror into the hearts of men. I think my decision was made based upon my desperation to hear what he had to say. I had no expectation that it would be beneficial, but there was only one way to find out, so I answered, "Exactly."
Then, the conversation started, and he said, "But the truth is, even if your son does not know it, that you cry over him every day, you worry about him all the time, and you have done everything that is within your character that there is to be done, to get him and your daughter back into your life, to rescue them, and help them. The truth is, whether he knows it or not, you love him and his sister more than anyone on the planet loves them."
"That is true," I answered but thought to myself that while difficult to believe anyone could love my children more than I do, that I did really believe God loved them so much more that I could never conceive of such love. It was the completion of that thought that the man nodded his head, but made no comment-- as if he agreed and acknowledged the unspoken thought and used it to form his next statement.
I am aware of the irony of having a vision in which I am speaking and thinking while I am seated, drinking coffee two blocks away, not speaking at all; yet noting the difference between what is spoken and what is thought and left unsaid. It bends the brain a bit. Bur I was not at all aware of the paradox of thought at the moment, because I had consented to the reality of the vision.
The man went on with his message. He said, "Your Father in Heaven is pleased that you have actions which are available to you but which you will not take because they are contrary to who you are and who you want to be. You dismiss those because you seek to please God."
I thought, I am not going to pretend not to know what he means, but I would like to ask him if he means, for example, that I will not lie, or cause bodily harm to me ex-wife or to anyone else even though I have the righteous anger and a frightening rage within me.
I could not think of anything to say, because to be told that one's choices "please God" is not anything anyone can really know. At best, one might seek to please God, and in seeking to do so please Him by the intent if not by word and deed. I did not think it through like that, but rather as an automatic response which I have to compliments which I have trouble believing as genuine. Besides, if I was talking to an Angel, what does one say, "Tell God that I said thanks for the compliment?"
The man went on, perhaps addressing my questioning thoughts about morals restraining actions. He said, "God has the ability to do anything, but is self-limited by Who He Is. He will not act contrary to Himself."
"Yes." I answered that affirmation sadly. Sadly, as the statement forced me to admit that I would have to live this rage, never to give it an outlet. The man kept speaking.
"Yet, God agonizes over you, he sees what you are enduring, and he cries for you. That you do not see it-- that you do not know it-- does not change the fact. God loves you. whether your children ever see it, or ever know it, the truth is that you love them."
The only thing for me to do was admit that what he said made sense, and then ask, "So, now what?" But I knew better, and did not speak at all. He was gone, I was no longer standing on the corner. Message received, over and out.
I was nearly finished with my coffee, and I had had enough of that cigar. Like the Mission City events, the incident lingered in a special way, as if settling into a special place inside of me, as if my mind constructed an ebenezer that would stand for as long as I did.
By-the-way, just two months ago I had another interesting spiritual experience just as I crossed that exact intersection. In a Jacob's Ladder sort of idea, I came home from work that night and started searching old maps of Austin to see what might have stood at that place. I expected to find some Holy Ground-- a Cemetery, a Church, something like that. Nothing of significance that I could discover existed there. However, it is kind of nice that the construction taking place there is for the tallest building in Austin-- a fitting ebenezer.
That one event was reaaly very simple. I crossed the street, feeling particularly vulnerable and harassed, smiled and glanced up Heaven and whispered, "So, Lord, You are in all of this with me, right?" A few steps and unspoken but received words came to me. "Something will happen that is bad, there is nothing you can do about it. Do not let it throw you off your foundation."
It did, so I didn't.