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02 June 2010

Spiritual Control

Before going to seminary, my Spiritual Director (a Priest who was the Curate or “Assistant Priest” at the Church I attended) shared with me a secret.  He explained that both he and the Rector (head Priest) were aware that they had a gift of healing. He brought it up as a means of a lesson in discipline.

Fr. H. explained that the gift of healing was something both he and the Rector had decided to keep a secret.  The difficult truth is that if a Priest has the ability to heal by prayer and touch, then it could too easily be taken to imply that they had control of the gift.

The lesson came home to me in this way, several years later:

Shortly after I was ordained a Priest, I was relaxing after the last of the three Sunday masses (Eucharists) in the Parish Hall.  I was sipping a cup of coffee and enjoying the light conversations around me.  In the midst of one conversation in which I was presently involved to my left, an elderly woman sitting to my right placed her hand on my arm.  I took that to me a signal that she had something to ask me when I had a moment.  A few seconds later I turned to her and patted her hand, still on my arm.

She asked me, “How did you do that?”
"Do what, dear?"

She explained that she was having a heart attack and reached out to grab my arm to get my help.  As soon as her hand took hold of my arm, she felt a warmth and relief run from her hand up her arm.  She said she “knew” I was doing it—that the healing warmth was coming from me. 

Perhaps it did come from me, but I can state, also, that it was not sent by me.  I, of course, know Who sent it.

Shaman’s, I read recently in a textbook, seem to have significant spiritual visions which preceded their healing powers.  Typically, a Shaman will enter a spiritual contemplative state and experience a vision of their own life and death struggle in the spiritual world.  The vision will have great detail and powerful images the person will recognize as having deep meaning.  In a way I think of as “sacramental” by own such preparation vision was actually a real life event, not a vision at all—but which was replete with all of the symbolic images and life and death struggle.  I have written of it in this blog, here: Mission City III – Redemption.

The text (I read concerning Shamans) explained that most cultures created equally meaningful rituals to follow these spiritual dramas played out in mystic visions and universally recognized in ancient and disparate cultures as a common “calling” to a spiritual leader and therefore, healer.

My culture, as comparatively modern as it is, included men dressed symbolically in purple robes surrounding me and laying their hands upon my head, imparting to me what they, themselves, had received in the same way after their mystic preparation.

I had a dear friend a few years ago who was dieing of cancer.  Her soul was beautiful to behold, and I hated that she was dieing—I was sometimes enraged that Bonnie Jean was dieing.  I sometimes despaired that she was dieing.  She once told me, sitting in Church office, that she had two priests.  I was one, and the other was a Shaman; he was Hopi, if I recall.  She felt as if she was cheating on me—like having an affair.  Indeed, such is sometimes the intimacy between two souls, that I can imagine how she may have felt as if I had a rival.  I had no rival, I had help, Thank God I had help.  Another soul who loved her as much as I did, and wanted with desperation, with rage against the unseen Enemy, to heal Bonnie Jean.

I had to move away from her parish Church, the Church, as an organ-ization, knows little about the intimate relations of its members.  The Church, as an organ-ism, knows it deeply.  I worked for an administrator-priest (and for no fault of his own he was not a deeply spiritual man) at the time, and so I was moving on.  Bonnie Jean died in the care of the Shaman, complete with “sun-catchers” and animal skins and animal heads in her room.  God is merciful, and I wish I had met that good man.

The day I moved away, Bonnie Jean and her fine husband came to see me off.  We both had a love of Jerry Jeff Walker Music and spoke about that often while listening to each other’s collections.  She asked about my route back to Texas, and then excused herself for a moment.  She came back and reached up to the cab of the truck I was in, and handed me two things.  The first was a box of Vanilla Wafers.  She said, “They are not moldy.”  She then handed me a cassette tape deck.  She told me I had to wait until I was on the freeway before I turned it on, but I already understood.

Moldy box of vanilla wafers
Adios to all this concrete
Gonna get me some dirt road backstreet
If I can just get off of that L.A. Freeway
Without getting killed or caught
Down the road in a cloud of smoke
For some land, some land, that I ain't bought…


L. A. Freeway Lyrics


She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  There was a secret message on that mix tape of Jerry Jeff songs she sent me back to Texas with.  I listened to it several times on the long drive back to my home state.  I never heard the secret then.  I never heard it in the dozens of times I listened to that tape years afterward.  But one day…

One day, when the rug of life had been yanked out from under me, it was raining and I was driving and my sorrow was simply too much to bear.  I sat at a traffic life and would not remove my sunglasses despite the rain—my eyes were also wet.  I fumbled for that Jerry Jeff tape Bonnie Jean had given me six years before.  I needed something familiar, something which could touch me and comfort me in the newness of the alien and hostile world I had just been thrust into.  The light changed and I cranked the volume to drown out the hideousness which was so thickly present.

I made it two blocks, yodeling along with Mr. Walker, my own breaking voice and all, when, between the songs, I heard something.  My heart skipped a beat.  I rewound the tape a bit and listened again.  Yes!  There was something there between the songs.  I pulled into a parking lot at Burnet Road and Anderson Lane, stopped the car and shut off the engine.  I could only just make it out, and played it back several times to make sure I could really believe it.

It was Bonnie Jean’s voice.  She had wanted me to hear this when I was on the road home years before, but could not have known how desperately I needed it just at that moment.  Odd how it is such things happen—a message delayed so long, but arriving just when needed most.

She said, “Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.”

When I avow, “I believe in the communion of saints” this is, in part, what I mean. 
When Obi Wan Kenobi said, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” I heard an affirmation of what I believe of the communion of saints. 

Thank God for my Bonnie Jean!  How she loves!  She is still my friend and soul mate.  I hope the Shaman has heard from her, too.  I would say that I cannot wait to see her again.  I can wait, but I will see her again.  I hope I hear from her again before then.  She is a powerful ally.

My grandmother did that when she died, just when she died, hundreds of miles away.  She came to me and found me, walking across a campus parking lot.  At first, I thought someone may have been hiding between two of the parked cars—I sensed someone very near, as when someone “invades our personal space.”  I slowed my walk and scanned the parking lot around me.  I got to my car, wondering what it was that I was feeling, still.  As I drove out, I said to myself, “Oh!  Nanny!”

I pulled up in my parent’s driveway (pardon me if I have written of this here before, but it would have been in another context, if so) and my mother stepped out of the door from the house into the garage as I walked up.  She was in tears and I understood.  I said, “Nanny died.”  She nodded her head and we hugged.  I smiled through my own tears, knowing how I knew, and how wonderful that message was.

A few years after that, I had just graduated from college I think.  I had the same feeling I had experienced in the campus parking lot when my Nanny died.  But this time, as I was still and wondered what the feeling meant, I realized, “Ah!  Father Henning.”  It was late, so it was the next day that I called my mother and asked her if she had heard from our beloved and long retired Priest.  She called his house that afternoon and called me back.  Fr. Henning died two days before.

The holy dead are, you see, more powerful than we can possibly imagine.  My grandmother had suffered from Alzheimer’s since I was very young.  She had no idea who I was for most of my life.  But when she died, her mind was clear and her soul was able to not only seek me out, but to find me on a college campus nearly a thousand miles from where her body lay.  Years after my priest had last seen me and since he had any spiritual charge over me, when he died, he also sought me out and found me.

I see noting, feel nothing, hear nothing, but I know.  Like the moment before you are woken by a lover’s arm gently embracing you while you slept—that moment of awareness of their presence before you are aware of yourself.  It is a quiet and gentle feeling which is first articulated in words that say to your own self, “I am loved.”

As I said, I have no control; but the spiritual life-- the inner life of a person—is the delight of the heart.

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