Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 for all original literary content by author(s)

26 June 2010

Late Dualism -- Welcome to the Party! (Sorry about the Trouble at the Door!)

I have at least two good friends who are invited to this party.  I commented to one of them, that it is a party inside-- the only trouble is that you have to get your tail kicked at the door before you come inside.

From one of my favorite books....

Although the difficulties of late dualism appear across the population in isolated and apparently unrelated ways, these difficulties can be fitted together in a developmentally coherent sequential pattern.  This pattern has been recognized in spiritual literature as reflecting the process by which the self is gradually stripped of worldly attachments and identifications in preparation for spiritual awakening. Spiritual literature describes this process of being "weaned" from the world in many different ways; for example, as "dying to the world," "the spiritual desert," "death of self," and "sickness unto death." In this chapter I shall examine the account of the process as presented by the great sixteenth-century mystic St. John of the Cross in his masterpiece The Dark Night.

That is from Michael Washburn's Transpersonal Psychology in Pschoanalytic Perspective (State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 217).  -- emphasis by me.

I love that book.  Like St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul, Spiritual Canticle and Ascent of Mount Carmel, it is one of the few books I pick up and read again.

I wonder how long it would have taken me to become comfortable enough to trust Washburn had he not used St. John of the Cross as an example, beginning in Chapter 8.  Let me tell you why.  Doing so, will provide a perspective to this blog...

When I was in my mid-twenties, I read the complete works of St. John of the Cross.  I distinctly remember finishing the last page, closing the book and sitting there, stirred, and saying to myself, There is a lot there, and it is going to mean more to me one day, than it does even now.

I was right.

I read it again in seminary.  Reading time in grad-school was at a premium-- there was more assigned than could be digested.  As one classmate put it to me in our senior year, "One of the best things about seminary is this wonderful library of great books I now have-- and I can't wait to read them after I graduate!"  But I re-read St. John of the Cross because I knew it was time and therefore, that it would become even more important to me.

Before Michael-the-Bell, circa 1993, (The Blessed) Father Charles Caldwell, seated; the author at far right.

A side-story comes to mind:  That classmate who did not read any of the assigned texts in seminary made straight A's, I think.  That semester, some of my classmates (including that one man), had ramped up the continuing political antagonism against the Dean and faculty of the institution and the the rest of us were paying a price against an angry faculty. 

One angry faculty member gave us an exam which included a question that went like this, "On page 267 of his text, the author uses a word which is central to this concept, explain how this word is relevant to the discussion."  It was a closed book exam and since I had read the assignment, I could say with certainty that the author would not have been able to answer the question!  What a jerk.  Adding insult to injury, my classmate -- the primary instigator of the political attacks who never opened a book-- aced that exam without getting a single question answered correctly.  Politics.


Each time I have read St. John of the Cross, I doubled my spiritual understanding which he desires the reader to gain.  It is very dense, and because it is mystical, more of that density unfolds into one's understanding the further the soul is into the spiritual realm of reality.  Therefore, after a significant spiritual progression, it is always time for me to take up those works again.

Sometime around, perhaps, my second or third reading, it occurred to me that the "Dark Night" is not intended by the contemplative writer to be understood as a darkness which prevents perception-- there is nothing sad or despairing about the darkness of the night.  Rather, it is likened to the time when lovers can steal away with one another, unseen into the woods.  For me, that image connotes "parking" on Firman Road when I was sixteen years old with my first love.

When another tells me that they are entering a "Dark Night of the Soul" time in their life, and speak only of it as meaning a time of aridity of the soul, I feel that the person is a reading or two away from getting to the fun part!  Such a person is still at the door to the party-- getting the Hell beat out of them.

Mystically speaking, I eventually stepped through that door and the torment and beating stopped.  My soul's Lover romanced me, sang love songs to me, cherished me body and soul, promised to be true, and promised to return again and again until we were wed-- when our passion could be satisfied for ever.

Before reading Washburn's book, the aspects of the stages of the process of late dualism had only been expressed to me in terms connoting Eastern Mysticism.  My problem with that is that Eastern Mysticism does not provide to me the purposefulness I require.

Father Caldwell did say, "It is imperative to answer, concerning your self, 'from Whence and to Whom.'  Of course, I state the questions, just now, with the answer already implicit, because I have answered the question for myself.  Where I am from, is God.  Where, or what (or Who) I am to, is God.  Father Charles Caldwell did not lead the question as I have.  Instead, he asked us to consider where we are from and where we are going, carefully opening the question with variations-- "Are you to anywhere, or any purpose?" and so on.

God created me so that He could court me, romance me, stir my heart to Him. 

God as "Him," the masculine pronoun:  The gender issue is awkward to discuss, but it is not confusing in the mystical reality.  St. Paul and Christ Jesus both refer to the faithful as the Bride, the feminine.  I recently read Paulo Coelho's Witch of Portobello.  He explains that the devout Catholic heroine has been forced from the Church largely due to the Church's failure to offer the feminine.  Not true.  The Church is the Bride of Christ, the betrothed of God the Son.  Mary, the Blessed Virgin is, mystically, the Church (consider any classic prayer or devotion to Mary and substitute the word, "Church" and you will see that the meaning is the same-- that the meaning has doubled!).  The Church has always known this; but the culture within which the Church exists cannot see it-- cannot comprehend it--and so it is a substantially mature faith which can shake the culture and enter the truth of the spiritual reality. 

That shaking off of the culture is a very important part of getting beat up at the door.  You get mugged-- you get brutalized-- when you try to enter the party, and I think part of that is rummaging through what you try to take with you inside.  No part of the culture is allowed-- no part which will interfere or mislead. and most of our culture does both.  What you hold from the culture is going to be pilfered or you are not getting inside.

So, one Dark Night, my soul saw the most beautiful of women-- an image very close to a woman I knew.  We were alone.  She was tantalizingly covered in white lace and I drew near to embrace and explore this beautiful and alluring lover.  Just as I did, the meaning of the vision dream was instilled in me:  I was the one covered in white lace, and my Lord was the one drawing near to me-- I witness His love for me in images specifically given to me so that I could understand that He saw me as the perfect lover (as He sees all of us).

But inside, in the party, the mystic reality is not all the nearness of the warm embrace of mature lovers, nor is it always stealing away with your first and true teenage love to be alone and explore your new and shared passion.  It is also adventure, purpose, creativity, and recreation.  These are things I also associate with Heaven.

14 June 2010

Songs: Sacrifice and Wondering Aloud

I knew this old hippie, Pat.  When I was in sixth grade,  my parents and some smart people met and someone speculated that I might have dyslexia.  After some testing, I spent a summer training my eyes to scan pages of text, rapidly.  It worked. Cool.  Then, playing catch-up, my parents hired this tutor-- a professional college student, and hippie.

Pat was very kind, and getting to know him as I did over the next year or so I realized that Pat was very afraid of getting old.  He was in his mid thirties, then, and wore his hair longer than most-- just as I did then and I as I do now.  He often spoke of how he was going to shave his head bald and keep it shaved when he reached his fortieth birthday.  I hoped he wouldn't, and I saw him many years later, and was glad that he had reneged on his self-promise.

My mother drove me to the neat old house where he rented a room just across the street from SMU for my tutoring session.  Pat had a full lifetime scholarship to SMU.  He had several degrees when SMU realized he wasn't planning on stopping.  So they told him he could get one more degree, and that would be the end of it.  Pat agreed, took some cash in compensation and ever since then had been one course short of meeting the work for each degree he has pursued!  Cool!

That one afternoon, I rang the bell but he didn't answer.  My mother had driven off, so I sat down on the porch and waited for him to drive up.  After a few minutes, I went inside and climbed the stairs.  The door was ajar and music, Crosby Still & Nash, was playing on his stereo.  I knocked as I carefully pushed the door open and there he was.

He was so embarrassed-- had lost track of not just the hour, but my guess was he didn't know which day it was-- the incense was not quite masking the other smoke.  A pretty woman was by his side on the bed and woke him, acting as if she felt she was in trouble, or perhaps as if he was.  I told her I would wait on the porch and give them time to gather themselves. I finally had an idea of who it was that lovingly embroidered the little fish on the bluejeans he wore.

Perhaps not the usual thirteen year old response, but down on the porch, I thought about one day being his age, wondering what it would be like to be afraid of getting older, but also marveling at how wonderful it must be to have a life where on a lazy, warm afternoon, one can put on a good album, make love to a pretty woman, and then lay there together in each other's arms and sleep a bit.

The Jethro Tull, Wondering Aloud, song has always evoked that memory-- my own self in some future day,
Then she comes, spilling crumbs on the bed,
(and I shake my head!),
and it is only the giving... that makes you,
what you are.
The giving.

A new friend, but dear to me, posted a link to the song, Sacrifice.  She's looking back just now, I suppose..

But you know-- it probably usually is a sacrifice.

I never got to live that warm lazy dream with 4 Way Street playing quietly and a cloud of incense on a sunny afternoon in the arms of a pretty woman, but I have lived the other.

Every now and then, someone will introduce me saying that I am a "pastor" or "preacher."  If I had to be defined by what I do, I would prefer to be introduced as a "teacher," that is, as long as we are avoiding mentioning what I am.  I am a priest, and there is a distinction.

Priests are about sacrifice.  The ordination rite states that the bishops, laying his hands on me was to make me a "pastor, priest and teacher."  But it is the priest which stands out-- the mystical and invisible part of what is done.

If there is no sacrifice, if there is no blood, then what a man does is not priest-craft.  All religions which have priests, therefore, have sacrifice.  Christian, catholic, priests speak of the "unbloodied sacrifice of the Altar" referring to the consecrated Bread and Wine which is the mystical Body and Blood of Christ.  But that is but a small part.  It is about love-- the sacrifice of love.

The first time I met the (Blessed) Father Charles Caldwell, he told me about sobbing quietly at the back of a church when he happened in on a wedding:  "The innocence!  They do not know!  They believe, like all believe, that their love will be different-- theirs will be the 'happily ever after!'"

It never is.  It cannot be.  The kind of love that only a few dare to live is painful, it is costly and the mystical blood of it gets all over everything. 

In this cynical, anti-religious society we have, I know that at least some acquaintances have referred to my being "a dinosaur" a relic of an age now past.  No.  If anyone ever dared speak up, it would go like this...

"So, like, you give up a lot of stuff because you believe in God?
"No.  I live my life because God is."
"But what if you're wrong, man?  What if there is no God?  Then you give up all of this stuff and have nothing to show for it."
"No.  You just defined love.  Because I believe in God, what I have to show for it just isn't visible."

You see, Ian Anderson, for all his anger at the "bloody Church of England" still got it-- "it is only the giving that makes you what you are."

08 June 2010

Belt Line Road

The problem with the theory that this vivid image I have was actually a memory is that I distinctly remember that the image came to me as a man was telling me of the horrible events.

I only found the vividness of the images note-worthy because it had all of the “feel” of a vision-dream— the empathy I felt for the man so powerful as to nearly overwhelm, my images mirroring what he described but as a non-participating observer above and to the side of the events.

Yet, just like with vision-dreams, I was able to continue doing the mundane tasks of the temporal world (in this case, driving down Belt Line Road) while being acutely aware of, and able to focus upon, the details of what I was seeing in the images.

Odd that what I saw in the images seemed to have no emotional content, although I very much wanted to stop seeing them— at least not so close. I was very afraid (yes, that is the correct word although it doesn’t seem to fit) that the slightest detail beyond what I was seeing in my mind’s eye would break the barrier between the empathy I was feeling upon hearing the man’s story and the images I was watching play out before me.

It was like watching a television— in that I could not make the camera angle change, even though I would rather look somewhere else. It was not like a television in that I could see the dark stretch of Belt Line Road before me, the traffic lights, the other cars, and the street signs I was passing. I knew I was driving toward my old neighborhood.

What a coincidence that this man who I had agreed to give a ride would ask me for a ride home, and that his home would be in my old neighborhood. How odd that he hadn’t bothered to tell me that, even though it was thirty miles from the Diocesan conference where I had been, and meant a ninety mile drive home for me instead of less than ten.

I remember thinking that I didn’t care where he was going because it meant I did not have to go home. I do not remember exactly what had been happening at home, but (I think) this was before either of my children had been born but well after my wife (as I write, my ex-wife for almost six years, now) had become something of a Mrs. Hyde on a frighteningly regular basis. Odd that I was trying to avoid trauma (drama which harms to soul) only to find myself trapped in my own car for and hour or so as I hear someone else describe their own trauma in such painful and heart-breaking detail.

I don’t think the stranger ever actually told me that these events happened to him, but only a person who had been there could tell it in such detail. I wanted it to stop.

Odd, too, that he had directed me to where he wanted to go, but, while a direct route, it was not the much quicker highway route. I was mildly annoyed, but said nothing because I knew he needed to tell me the story. I think I have always been that way, but I was also cognizant of my training as a Priest: “Listen, with caring concern” (Thank you, Father Caldwell).

But my caring was beginning to get uncomfortable. It was almost as if it were happening to me, and that person there, one of those near the center of the horrors being described, that person I did not want to see. Please don’t make me see him!

And the more detail the man described, the more I was certain that the images would continue until I did look at that person. The horrors were bad enough without adding a face to whomever that poor soul might have been.

How I had agreed to give this man a ride home is not really clear to me. After the conference was over, he either approached me or was introduced to me by another priest. I remember thinking at the time that I had a history of this. There was that one time, after the Christmas Eve service (the “midnight Mass”) and I was a teenager, that the man with the thick African accent and new to Texas, had asked me if I could give him a ride home. I remember asking my parents (rather putting them on the spot) and our amusement afterward, that we drove from St. Michael’s almost all the way to Lake Dallas to take him home.

Miss D

Just a few years ago, I knew a beautiful young woman. I fell in love with her but kept it to myself— or tried to, anyway. She was, like me, broken. As I got to know her, and our friendship developed, she hinted at some terrible trauma that had occurred to her. One of the manifestations of my brokenness, was that I had lost my ability to fear anything. Along with that inability came a regret for those things I had once feared in the past, but which I would now have liked to have known if I might have made a difference by acting upon them. Actions which I had not taken because of the fear.

Dread still has power over me, but not fear.

I do not miss having fear, even though I suspect the lacking will get me killed. I also do not fear death. At all. I m not brave, but I am faithful and there is nothing I can do about what I feel and do not feel. I don’t feel fear, and it has been so long, I have reason to doubt I ever will again. I am broken.

Very much like that long drive fifteen years ago, my pretty friend told me enough of the horrors to her that I could begin to “see” what she was speaking to me about, the images providing more detail than the words. She stopped well short of the detail of the man in my car, but the situation was very reminiscent of that night.

Later, as my heart worried about my new friend, more detail came and a place, not anywhere near where her incomplete story was assumed by me to have taken place, came to me and it was inextricably linked to that dark road near Lake Dallas which I had been on with the strange African man on Christmas Eve. I also saw and understood more of the woman’s horrors, and they seemed too real for my imagination.

Telling me of a tragedy, once, a friend of mine stopped and focused upon my eyes and said, “There is no way that you could possibly understand, but I believe you do.” I was afraid that I did. I only answered, “Go on.”

While a part of what I am trying to explain, or chronicle (or merely give voice to) is in the preceding paragraphs, I needed to break away from reliving that strange night driving down Belt Line Road as the memory of it flows through to my keyboard. It is too fresh to relive en total. I was hoping to finish this in time to go to Church, but I don’t think I am going to make it although I am still going to try. The story is very insistent.

Just Before Belt Line Road

Then, fifteen years or so ago that is, I believe it was the night that I had first seen a Priest whose humanity had been exposed and found that humanity was not something to be tolerated by his own parishioners or brother clergy. I had always admired that man, and still did even though the story was well known. In fact, he made a public confession because the scandal had been made public.

Just because we are ordained does not mean we do not notice a pretty woman. I was married, that made it easier for me to deal with. He had a vow to celibacy, and broke it. Very human. Yet, he was shunned by the clergy I was accustomed to seeing accompanying him— men I had believed were his friends. I imagine he had believed them to be his friends as well.

Briefly, I want to say that by that time, my ex- had become a monster, broken as she was. I have meant every vow I have ever taken. I knew I was married to a monster, and had opportunity and even offers to break my marriage vows with beautiful women— women my heart, not just my body, desired. I never did, but when I saw that Priest who had failed to hold his vow, I knew the kind of human need for intimacy he had been denying himself, and I understood (but had not known) the humanity in failure to always observe ones vows before God. A quick review of the clergy who were now shunning the still honorable man and what respect for them I might have held evaporated. I was seething.

That priest was something of a hero to me before any scandal. He really was a holy man, and human—all at once. It has been my sad experience that few priests allow their humanity a voice, and the weight of taking on a persona of someone they are not drives them to a terrible life and terrible actions. This man had no false persona, just a very strong will to do what was right and occasionally failing his own self-expectations. As I said, he was very human and a very good human at that.

So, because he was a hero, and because I was seething on his behalf, I had a moral dilemma. On the one hand, no one is worthy to befriend their hero. On the other hand, no good man should be shunned. I chose to risk humiliation and sat down next to him at the start of the conference. There was plenty of room. Others chose to stand or squeeze in elsewhere. I remember who was who. What I remember more vividly, was his warm smile in greeting to me. I felt so very honored to have my hero greet me in such a way— as if I was worthy.

Afterward, after the speaker finished and when vocal greetings were appropriate, I said something like, “Father, it is always good to see you.” I believe he answered likewise and suggested we go find a cup of coffee. It was dark already because it was winter, but the conference had just begun. Outside, it was blustery and threatening to rain. Others were keeping their distance, and I felt compelled to break the awkward silence as I sensed his recurring anticipation of a former friend greeting him and the anxiety when the shunning manifested itself instead.

I spoke more directly than the small talk we had begun with. I grew up a bit on the upper side of “upper middle class.” But, my family had deep southern roots and I know, well, how to evoke a casual tone.  So, I drawled.
“You pretty much got hit by a truck, didn’t you?”
He laughed and relaxed, in an instant, to my drawl.
“That is exactly how I feel, Father.”
I am very sorry this happened to you. I want you to know, I am angry about how you have been treated. I need to say that for me as well as say it for you. I hope I am not alone in that.”
“Thank you for saying so.”
While those words were formally correct, his tone and facial expression communicated them with the same casual honesty as my Texism had.

We got the coffee from whatever building we had followed the crowd into and then went back outside where I was able to say more of what I believed needed to be said.
“Father? I have known you to be passionate about teaching reconciliation and the power of forgiveness. T___ and R____ both told me how that is a principle foundation of your work.”
“You went to seminary with them, right?”
“Yes, we were all in the same graduating class.”
“That’s right, you and R___ were ordained at the same time. I was there.”
“What upsets me so, Father, is that despite your teaching, it appears to me that none of your parishioners ever heard you—ever took it to heart. That they asked you to leave, frankly, infuriates me.”
“Oh, I know what you mean, and thank you; but it is not fair to expect them to meet our own standards for ourselves, as clergy.”
“It is fair for me to expect them to be human. It is fair for me to expect them to expect you to be human. They failed the test, and I am disillusioned.”

You see, I think that my expression of being disillusioned, just then, has much to do with what took place later that night. I think it was a trigger in the power of the heartfelt words. I think I was ready to stop exercising in delusions. Realty began thirty miles away, headed east on Belt Line Road.

So it was, that I seem to have the vague impression of it being that good Priest, shunned by friends and parishioners alike, unconcerned as they were with his pain— that it was he who introduced me to the man who needed a ride home.

Back on Belt Line Road

Well, as I have already written, I was near panic, desperate to not see the face of the person in the images, and desperate for my passenger to stop evoking these images with his descriptions when he did stop. It was merciful. I was trying so hard to “listen with caring concern,” and so terrified by what I feared was coming— what I would see (what I would know!), that I knew I was on the verge of interrupting this poor soul who needed so much to tell me of it, and ask him (beg him!) to stop.

I was approaching Meandering Way when he stopped himself from saying any more. He said, “Oh, this is good, right here. If you could just let me out here, this would be fine.” What an odd thing! This was the intersection of the start of the neighborhood I had grown up in. It was only a mile or so from the Church where I understood these events to have taken place. In retrospect, I seem to be confused on that matter.

Before the sickening details, he had begun with telling me of a parish church. He told me about how some laity and the priest of the church were involved. How it included teenagers in the youth group— who I had understood him (implicitly) to have been one— and youth group leaders and parents, as well as a few very young children. If it were not for the dreadful images, I would not have believed him. I think I might not have; thus the narration he provided may have been a necessity.

I told him that I had grown up in the neighborhood to the northeast of where we were, and knew it well, so would be glad to take him directly to his doorstep. But he, oddly, insisted on getting out there. I stopped at Meandering Way and he opened the door, thanked me and walked away. I drove home with the horror still with me.

As I drove, alone with my thoughts, this time taking the highway, I decided that no matter how much time had elapsed, I could not allow such unspeakable acts to go unpunished. He had told me that the truth, or part of it, had gotten out; and the bishop had removed the priest, broken up the parish, sold the building and sent the parishioners to various other parishes, as no one parish would be safe with that many perpetrators descending upon them at once. He said threats were made about future behaviors.

The next day, I asked the priest I worked under about this, telling him a very vague summary of what I had heard. He thought he knew something of it, and gave me the name of the parish church he thought it had been, saying that it was a mission and not at all near where the man had told me it had been. He suggested I ask at the Diocesan Office if I was still concerned— that perhaps something needed to be done to help the man since he needed to be talking about it.

I did. I got yet another Church name and location. I was told that the priest involved, although not the instigator or “ring leader” had been forced into psychiatric treatment under threat of criminal charges, and that the police and newspapers had all known about the incidents, and as was the way things were done by the church, the newspapers and the district attorney, in those days, the scandal had never become public.

A few years later, I received an email from a priest who I had heard had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and wondered if it was the same man. Because of the psychotic nature of the email, I forwarded it to the Diocesan Office without comment, as I recall, other than, “FYI.” I received a call asking if I had any other communication with the man, and if so, I should notify the Diocesan Office and the police. I have wondered if there was a connection, but never looked into it further, and never heard from that priest again.

Since that strange drive down Belt Line Road, and beginning with some intensity, I went through a period of time when I would be overcome with disturbing images, similar to those I “witnessed” that night in my car. They shared the detail, the empathy with the victims, the vivid reality and the perspective of an unseen observer that the events shared with me that night contained. Unlike the Belt Line Road images, there was no dread in seeing a face of a victim. Each of the many of these I endured over the next few years seemed haunting. I mean, by “haunting,” that the images came to me with a sense of desperation, and a sense that they came to me because I would understand.

I did not like them.

They reminded me of something a priest speaking as a guest lecturer at my seminary said in class one day. He told us about the danger of the modern view that there is no personified evil— no entity which was actually evil. He passionately admitted, and only for example, that when he was deepest in prayer, sometimes images of the most horrific sort would invade his thoughts. He expressed to us his rage at being invaded in such a way. He described it as a violation of evil upon him. The images I received for several years and with some frequency were like that, except that they somehow had the perspective of the victim. The vileness was not to be shut out, because it was shown me not by evil, but by the one who endured such evil. They were very real.

After a time, I came to suspect that they vile events were, indeed, real; and indeed haunted for the very purpose of some mystical necessity of being expressed as a means of exorcism— a purging by expression, giving voice to victims being a requirement for healing those victims.

You know, I hope, that words have real power.   It is, for example, why Moses demanded to know the Name of God.

I sometimes feared that I knew the victims, and once had a stranger tell me of events which had happened to her before I had been born but which were very similar to one of the experiences I had “received.” I, of course, said nothing of it.

And all of the above demanded I tell it after teaching, informally, a friend of mine about how the souls of all men at all times speak to and hear the souls of others, living and dead (The Communion of Saints) as well as God. I had also taught, that this is so because we are mystical beings with souls, but that it is rare that the mind hears or sees or senses the mystical reality, and those rare instances are called “mystical experiences.” These things I know, and have experienced.

I do not know who I might have seen had I not so feared looking at the face of that one particular victim I felt as if I was being forced to look at while driving down Belt Line Road. I suspect that the solution to that mystery is the obvious one, but I do not know, and never will. Subsequent experiences give equal weight to the expression of the pain of others which has nothing to do with my own.

I do not know if there was ever a man sitting beside me in the car that night. Maybe an Angel? Maybe a ghost? At any rate, I now find his physical, temporal existence to be the most questionable part of the experience.

The mystical reality is more real than the temporal reality, because the mystical reality sees, hears and experiences all of the temporal and the spiritual, whereas the temporal reality is almost always blind to the spiritual one.

Only after I shared the story in its rawest form did I learn that such a description was, as she put it, “a classic description” of how a person who had been traumatized as a child begins to remember an experience later in life. That was just about a year ago, and only today did the story demand I write about it— that I felt a need to question if the man was ever actually in my car.

About five years ago, I went through one final, horrifying climatic end to an ongoing trauma— a long endurance of soul damaging events. The climax was tragic. But tragedies are the most human of all stories. It has been suggested that I endured those events because I could— I had already the skills to endure trauma before these news one had begun. My soul raged, but did not recoil.

The problem, of course, is that since most of our experiences are blind to the greater reality, the rage is mostly impotent against an unseen enemy.

I have an unseen Sword that was given me. It is very real but unseen, “invisible” if you prefer that term (and I do prefer it). I think I have long known why it was given me. Years ago, I buried its tip into the earth just below an ancient Cross, making its own cruciform image when I did so.

That was sixteen years ago that I received that gift and attempted, upon the direction of another, to return it or exchange it. If He had spoken to me from above as I knelt there (on one knee—as anyone who carries a sword would understand) beside that ancient wood, He might as well have said, “No take-backs.” No. It is still there for me to take up again, because it is my sword, a gift from the One who rages with and on behalf of the victims (and as one).

I have begged for something in prayer which I did not believe could ever be granted to a mere man. I have prayed to God and my soul has begged it of the Angels to whom it is allowed. I have asked that when I die, I do not “rest in peace.” Instead, I have begged of my Lord to allow me to take part in the just and righteous battle against the Enemy whose despicable work I have seen all of my life.

It was another contemplative, another mystic, who told me that I would receive an image which would come in the form of a gift. He was my formal Spiritual Director at the time, sixteen years ago. I trusted him, being my superior (in many ways), and I was not disappointed. As directed, in my contemplative prayer which he somehow knew was “my secret” (that is, he somehow knew I was a contemplative or as it is more frightening called, a “mystic.”) I received a gift, just as my Director had assured me I would.

I had no idea what to expect the gift to be, but a sword was not repugnant even if it was not quite as secure and comforting as I might have hoped. Then again, who would give to me, say, a lily? Ha! When I next met with my Director, his reaction did surprise me, and that reaction of disappointment and even fear of the image given me has befuddled me ever since.

Until now.

His soul's desire for me was peace, which I have not known. He wanted my soul to know peace. He wanted my soul healed, and he felt certain that the gift would be a healing one. He was right, but he misunderstood God’s love for me to be a call like his own— a gentle shepherd in a gentle land.

Gentle lands are rare, you know, don’t you?

I was not born into a gentle land. God bless Fr. S. for wanting me to live in such a land, but it is alien to me— I see, hear and experience the battle. Once powerless, I survived to know the battle. I no longer have fear because I am no longer powerless. When I first began to understand that I could and should wield a sword, I sought out an opportunity to do so in the temporal world— fighting the good fight. Once again, I did not believe I was worthy to fight amongst such good warriors as those I knew and lived among, but I was asked to consider trying.

Only because I considered my newborn daughter and my fine toddler son to be most in need of the loving presence and constant protection I believed I could offer them, that I did not try to join those men who made Camp Pendleton their home.

Then, I lost my children— brutally taken from me in a spiritual battle which I fought alone and lost alone. I mark that anniversary alone and in agony every year, as I do many such anniversaries. But there is one anniversary approaching which I have known would have great meaning. Sixteen years as a priest. I knew long before I was priested, before I went to seminary, that it would be a new beginning for me— a maturity and potency which I would not know until then. I knew this mystically but it had been repeated to me many times then and since.

“Rest and Heal.” and “Like a polished arrow, I have hidden you away.”

Those words were of some, but seemingly insufficient, comfort for the last seven years. Now, as my sixteenth anniversary of my priesting approaches, they offer a new hope. That sword, still, with its tip in the sand has been much on my mind.

“If you strike me down now, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Again, the mystical truth of the Communion of Saints, told as part of the “collective consciousness” of all persons. Luke and Leia helped even more by a spiritual than by a temporal father. I am ready to take up the sword, perhaps only now ready, and it has waited sixteen years for me to rest and heal. No matter how the spiritual reality may appear in temporal description, my prayer is and has been one for action instead of rest; my soul’s cry for justice and righteousness against the Enemy that so few see, has been answered.

“Yes. I gave you that sword. I gave you the gift before you asked it of me. To the Angels it is given to fight, but My justice demands that some men be allowed to fight along side them and Me.”**

** See: Buried Alive! in the entry entitled, The Mystic Alley

I Have an Agenda

I admit it.
Along the lines of the public speaking adage of “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” I’m going to try and state my agenda on this blog, Evocation.

Then, I want to try to say why.

It took several days of frustration trying to edit several items I have prepared for this blog, and then finding it took only three minutes and as many paragraphs to write it for a friend.

My agenda: To instigate conversation (or at least thought) on matters of the soul.

Why I have that agenda is because it is my vocation—I really cannot stay silent, it just is not in me to hide what I want to shout from a rooftop.

For many years, I carefully prepared teachings for formal and regularly scheduled settings, receiving a stipend for my work. An unstated “rule” was that all of what was taught was, by necessity, to the lowest common denominator. Apologetics are great fun for me, but only for the purpose of laying a foundation upon which to build. But the good stuff is in the building— something I only was able to do in the rare one-on-one.

The problem with the Church:
Somehow, the Church (by which I mean the gathering of persons of a shared faith) became aimed only at evangelism. Once a person became a part of that gathering, just being there was considered “good enough.”

It isn’t.

As a result of merely believing (or wanting to believe just enough to show up) being considered even by leaders as “good enough” there is no place to go to be challenged, led, and directed to more. There are few leaders, fewer teachers, and countless masses of persons who expected it to be otherwise but only found that the shallowest of spiritual living was all that was expected of them.

To many leaders, the solution was to hold fast to the shallowest of the faithful by directing them to then begin to act upon their faith—always outward—never inward.

This method (tending to the least common denominator) is widespread and runs across all denominations. It has produced a vocal and active mass of persons who have virtually no inward spiritual life— that being left to chance and (sometimes, worse) to popular culture. Witness the political intolerant factions among Christian denominations— some politically correct (hate men, hate discipline, hate dogma) and some politically incorrect (hate women, hate gays, hate rules).

Notice how nothing is inward— it is always something outside the self which must be tended to?

I do. I notice. I notice and I know it is wrong.

Perhaps the outward expressions of activity are a result of attempting to protect a very raw soul— a “fortress mentality.” I think so.

But why, then, do we not arm the souls to be ready, willing and able to go out bravely and do heroic things?  I fear it is that lowest common denominator. But if you are doomed to dwell only within the walls, then the siege will succeed— your soul will starve within those walls. Your soul may never be subjected to a fierce battle which threatens its existence, but it will also never know the unbounded life for which it was created.

In my life as a contemplative, I have had numerous “spiritual experiences.”

They are difficult to write about because the language of the souls is often a symbolic language. Some of the difficulties that I try to remain cognizant of as I write about them go like this:
If I say “mystic” many will connote “channeling.”
If I write “spiritual” many will connote “Ouija Board.”
If I write “out of body experience” many will connote “stoicism”
If I write of “memories of historical past” many will connote, “reincarnation.”
If I write “meditation” many will connote “eastern oneness.”
If I write “Christian” many will connote “Evangelical.”
If I write “Catholic” many will connote, “Dogmatic.”
If I write of a “Jungian common knowledge” many will connote a “ground of being.”
If I write of “the Bible” many will silently challenge with “missing (or suppressed) books of the Bible.”
If I write of “Creation” many will juxtapose that with “Darwin.”

Such it is that the language of western spirituality, be it Jewish or Christian, has lost control of its own meaning.

And since the Church no longer ventures to concern herself with the inner life of her members, there is little left to talk about— the language has been perverted and the culture no longer has any openness to the spiritual life.   Each soul is left to experience its meager existence alone, undirected and undisciplined. No wonder its chief activity involves being protected!

For example, when I write of “Heaven” and many connote, “Harps and Clouds;” I am writing of adventure, beauty, excitement, pleasure (beer and cigars!), intimacy, creativity—all of which Heaven shall be beyond anything I can imagine and as Han Solo said, “I can imagine a lot!”

So, here, in this blog, I write of some of my spiritual journey. Indeed, the word, “my” does suggest a narcissistic endeavor, but that is not my intent. My spiritual journey, I believe will include experiences close enough to those of my readers to prove a commonality and by that commonality, perhaps engage.

I will write (and in fact have written) in this blog about a “language of the soul.” I have learned, as I trust many readers have, some of that language— enough to speak it to some degree of conversational competence.  In fact, when I describe myself as a “contemplative” I mean that my spiritual life (i.e., “prayer”) is a conversational series of symbols and experiences. That is the language. St. John of the Cross taught St. Theresa and the both teach us. It is ancient, but it is also our language.

This blog, then, is written in that language.

“Mission City” posts are of what I am careful to refer to as “vision dreams” which I have experienced over the course of my life— some of my earliest memories of childhood include these. I have common dreams as we all do. I have common spiritual experiences like many recognize. “Vision dreams” are distinctly spiritual and from without. After fifty years of such experiences, I am convinced that they represent the spiritual reality which is more real than the physical reality because the soul is able to know both the physical (material and temporal) and the spiritual (which includes the invisible and eternal). These are the soul’s experiences of my temporal life—the challenges, adventures, and purposefulness which is sometimes hard to perceive when distracted by temporal concerns. “Mission City” is a subset of my spiritual writings because they are distinctly thematic.

A word about academics. I am often tempted to refer to academic sources (texts) which undergird or perhaps are presumed by what is written. I most often resist that temptation. I crave scholarship, but scholarship is not my intent; rather disciplined wisdom, I hope is what I strive to achieve here.

I much prefer a meaningful conversation with a friend over a beer, and that is how I get to write, here.

Let Us Start Here, With This

Let Us Start Here, With This

Image of word, Darwin, inside ix(th)ys

There are a lot of Christians who believe many things which are not required (or even recommended) to be believed within the Christian faith.

Don’t get me wrong, I make something of a hobby out of speculative theology— wondering about the “what ifs” of the Christian faith; but as intriguing as some speculation is, it remains speculation.

One example of speculative theology is symbolized by its opponents in the image above, the ancient symbol of the Church, a stylized fish, but footed (amphibious) and with the word, “Darwin” within it.

Before I speak to that image (which is a symbol for what I intend to discuss, here) I need to address an issue which is a foundation for what will follow.

The Church has known since the very beginning that some of Her* members are not given to teach on behalf of the other members of the Body of Christ. "Not be given to" speak on behalf of the Church usually translates as to “ought not” speak on Her behalf.

There are some obvious reasons we in the Church and of the Church can attach to why some are not called by God to teach matters pertaining to the faith. For example, becoming a member of the Church does not make one suddenly brilliant, kind, wise, or even likable. If someone enters the Church without an ability to reason out complex matters, that is not likely to change. Saint Paul writes about such things. He writes about that only some are called to certain abilities. He also writes of how some of our members are not the part of our body we would wish to be seen.  We can call them "armpits" to use one euphemism, or to refer to more intimate parts, the biblical standard euphemism is "feet."

To put it bluntly and in the vernacular, there are, in fact, stupid Christians. Some have not been taught, and are ignorant due to no fault of their own, but some are stupid. The Church may well be culpable in many such circumstances, but certainly it is not the error of the person for not knowing what they have not been taught. Some are simple-minded, and are helpless to do anymore than believe without any significant theological understanding. Ignorant and simple-minded believers need to be protected by the less challenged members. No one ought to need protecting, but the fact is that there are those who would take advantage of the ignorant and the simpleminded— inside and outside of the Church.

It is not my intent to debate the “creationism” verses “Darwinsim.” It is a silly debate to begin with, but I will set it up as something of a straw man so that I can push it over. Once pushed over, perhaps, then, I can point to something of value.

Here is more than you need to know as far as this article is concerned:

An Anglican (meaning, of the Church of England) Archbishop by the name of Uusher used the known dates of historical occurrences mentioned and the Bible and used them to come up with approximate dates for other events. So-and-so reigned for umpteen years, and so-and-so lived for such and such years when he begat a son who lived until the whatever year of the reign of whoever. It was tedious, but seemed like it may be a fruitful undertaking. Early English Language Bibles began printing his calculated dates in the margins. Archbishop Uusher was a scholar and did not believe that the Creation began in the year 4,004 BCE, but that is what the calculations suggested.

Rather than taking the dates at face value, Uusher was much more inclined to speculate, “I wonder if these numbers mean something?” He worked with other faithful scholars in that regard— trying to discover meaning. The more contemporary dates he calculated were helpful to historians, but the most ancient dates were held to have some mysterious (symbolic) meaning if they were to have any meaning at all.


Question: “How did it become a tenant of the faith-- a requirement for Christians-- to believe that God created the Heavens and the Earth in the year 4,004, BCE?--
Answer: It did not.

It has never been a teaching of the Church, much less a requirement of belief. That is not to say that there are not members who teach it without the authority to do so, or who teach it because they believe it is a requirement. It may very well be that for such persons to seek to find a mystical understanding of the dates is simply too much to ask of them. The Church seeks to protect, not reject, the innocent and simple among us. At the same time a gentle and private, “Hush!” is in order.

But that become difficult when some outside of the Church wish to exploit the ignorant and simple-minded for their own purposes. As an example of the sort of person who would exploit the simple-minded, I have in mind a person who has placed a Darwin amphibious fish made of a Christian symbol on his car.

I was working out this blog entry in my head while steering my German-built land yacht through  some of the narrower streets of Austin when I came up behind a man with one of those "Darwin" emblems on his vehicle.  When the left turn arrow turned green and I followed him into the intersection, I pressed down on the peddle more than usual to pass him on the outside of the turn.  He glanced over at me as I filled up the right and lane and he took the left.  Our windows were down and I shrugged and answered his curious look by saying, "Blame Darwin.  I'm fitter."
The fact is, I was teasing a village idiot and I knew it.  Yet, here I am writing about it being unfair tease the idiots who live in the village known as the Church.  Shame on me and mea culpa.

The Ever-Elusive Point:

Most theologians recognize that the Bible, the canon of Scripture is mystically true, but not necessarily usefully true in temporal terms. 

Starting with the premise which I believe:  "The spiritual world is more real than the temporal world," it is not the same as the trite phrasing goes, "The Bible is not a science textbook."  No, the Bible is scientifically accurate through spiritual eyes and ears.  The soul knows that the teaching of creation is true, but that the truth contained in it cannot be accurately stated in temporal terms.

For those persons (Christian, atheist, or anything else) who do not recognize that their own souls exists and moreover, that their own souls are capable of knowing things that the temporal self cannot know-- for such persons, the Bible is going to be of greatly limited value in terms of instructing the soul.

I am not an evengelist-- one who seeks to bring the faith to those who have never heard it.

I am not a practicing apologist-- one who seeks to defend the faith by reason.  (I am really good at that, but am sick to death of doing it because it is work always aimed at the lowest common denominator, and I haven't the patience to do that forever).

I am a Christian believer-- who happens to be a contemplative.  Defining contemplative is much more difficult and my next blog entry will speak to mystical terminology and why it is so difficult to find the right words. 

See:  I Have an Agenda!

* the Church is classically regarded as female (not merely, “feminine”), thus the gender of the pronoun.

The Mystic Alley

I have few memories that seem iconic for me.  I refer to them, often, in my mind as I think things through.  These historical events deal with odd happenings associated with a particular place.

All except the first story, but it will lead, thematically, into the “Alley Series.”  Much of my Mission City series comes very near to the location mentioned in the Alley recollections.  The structure of what I write is not intentional, but “evocative” letting the story tell itself, because I think each story wants to tell itself in relation to the next.  I know I lose chronological order, but what is evoked is what is evoked and that is more important.


One fourth of July, I was over at a parishioner’s house in Alvarado, Texas.  There was going to be a barbecue, but we never made it that far.  Outside, we heard people shouting “Fire!”  Our host went out the front door and then yelled back at me to come help.  Once out the door, I saw the smoke coming from the front bedroom window, closest to my friend’s house, of the house next door.

He and another were running the garden hose from the burning house to reach the window of the bedroom which was on fire.  I grabbed the hose from my friend’s house and did the same.  We met at the window and someone had already broken out the glass and so we began directing the water to the bed which was the primary source of the fire at the time.  Meanwhile, another neighbor was running around beating on all of the windows around the house to insure no one was asleep inside.

In fact, there was at least one person inside, and the woman came out the front door.  She was embarrassed at having no shirt on, and obviously groggy from a deep sleep.  I was still working hard to extinguish the bed and making progress, and was dousing the walls and ceiling as best I could to prevent the fire from burning through the sheet-rock which was still protecting the rest of the house.  She was asked if there was anyone else inside.  “The kids.  I think they are in the back bedroom.”

I dropped the hose and stepped in the front door.  All of the power was already off—I seem to recall that someone had pulled the main breaker so we would not get shocked using all of that water.  Anyway, the house was dark and filled with smoke except for about the lowest two feet.  I was breathing so hard from the adrenaline that I found I could not hold my breath long enough to attempt getting through the house.  Someone else observed, "There is no way any of us are going to make it from inside."

I took off in a sprint around the house to try to gain entry to the room she pointed at through the back window.

The house was on a slope and the back bedroom window was at least five feet from the ground.  I slammed the window with the side of my fist in an attempt to crack the glass.  I hit it several times, but although I hit it as hard as I could, I was pounding above my head and so not getting much leverage.  I took several steps back and ran at the house, leaping on the last bound, and punched with the side of my fist at the window when I was in the air.  I tried this several times, more than once managing to hit the glass in the center with my shoulder.  That damned window did not so much as crack.

I was awed that using all of my strength, I could not break the glass.  It flexed, but would not crack.  The smoke was thick against the glass when I first got there, but it was roiling against the glass by the time I had exhausted myself running, jumping and punching—again and again.  This went on for maybe two or three minutes and I yelled throughout for someone to find a ladder or something I could use to break the glass.  The last three attempts were utterly useless, I could no longer jump high enough, and my arm strength was gone.  I saw the orange of flame and it replaced the smoke.  For a few moments I thought my failure to break the glass had cost two children their lives.

I knelt where I landed after the last futile attempt and my breath caught with a sob.  As I tried to smooth my breathing and get my emotions under control, my ex-wife came around the corner of the house into the back yard where I was alone.  The only person who had joined me back there had run off to find a ladder almost as soon as I started trying to break out the window.  My ex-wfe looked at me kneeling in the grass, drenched from the water when I had been fighting the fire out front, and she laughed at me.
“What are you doing?”
“The kids.”  I gestured at the window.  “I couldn’t get the damned window to break.”
“They found the kids—they were next door.”
She laughed again at me.

I returned to the front of the house and my friend’s arms were giving out.  By this time he had been spraying the water, using his thumb over the hose opening to reach the back of the room, and his forearms, like mine, ached.  I took one of the hoses from him and went back to work fighting the fire.  He asked me, “What happened to you back there?  You look like hell.”
“I thought the kids were in that back room and I couldn’t get through the damned window.”
“They’re alright.  They were next door—the Mom just didn’t know where they were.  Someone should have come and told you.”
“Yes.  I thought they must have died while I tried with everything I had to break the glass.  It felt so… Evil.”
My friend understood and "accidentally" sprayed my face to wash away the tears so no one would notice I had been crying.

The fire truck had been stuck in a parade in the next town over.  They eventually showed up, but we had defeated the flames by then.  We kept the fire from spreading but the smoke damage ruined pretty much everything they owned.  I later learned that children had started the fire in the middle of the bedroom floor, and then shoved it under the bed before running away and hiding at the house next door.< It is, of course, the odd climax of that story—the interrupting climax which makes it most notable to me.  I think of it this way.  I have trodden far more paths into dangerous situations, life and death struggles and drama—even trauma-- than the vast majority of persons I know.  Fear doesn’t do to me what it should, and I suspect there is at least some connection between that and my being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I don’t like the “disorder” word, because what I do as a result of that, the behavior which diagnosis it, is not disordered, it is merely rare.  I am hyper-vigilant.  That means I am not only looking for anything going wrong, I am also constantly attempting to be ready to deal with whatever goes wrong.

But it is the juxtaposition of my experience of trauma in failing to save two children with being laughed at for doing so.

That scene is iconic for me, because it repeated, in spiritual parallel a few years later.  [But that story will be written later.  It is too intimate—too painful—to close, and its consequences too hurtful to share just yet, with more than a few.  I still write and tell that story and fall into the present tense—a sign that I am reliving the trauma, not merely remembering it—it is spiritually with me, happening, now; and it is because of that traumatic transcending of time—it will not become past for me, that my brokenness remains broken—I am not (yet?) scarred].  Yet, two children I desperately try to save and one laughing woman—the same woman, different children—and my failure to save despite my best efforts, serves here to foreshadow what will be.

Foreshadowing is a literary technique, but this is foreshadowing in real life—as if the Author wanted me to be prepared for the greater and more tragic event.  Perhaps, and I hope it is so, for me to keep in mind the tragedy I assumed had taken place with the knowledge that the two children I sought to save were safe none-the-less.  God, please let it be so.

Fire in the Alley!

I was in college and going to my parents' house after work at IBM where I worked that summer.  I smelled smoke as I drove in front of the house and began honking and yelling “Fire!” as I went around the corner and into the alley.  I saw the flames against the fence in our side yard, parked my car in the grass to leave room for fire trucks to come into the driveway, opened the garage door with the remote and continued to yell, “Fire!  Fire!  Fire!”

The next-door neighbors had a hose draped over the fence in seconds, and my father came out with one from our back yard moments after.  I was dragging the gasoline cans for the lawnmower out of the garage, and all chemical containers which happened to be on the other side of the wall from the fire.  The breaker box was in the garage and an outlet was near where the blaze was so I pulled the main breaker so I could use the water hose.  The side of the garage was shingled, and someone had stacked fire logs against it, and set the stack ablaze.

The fire department came very quickly, and I had the small fire out and was pulling the few burned shingles off the house and squirting water up inside the wall.  No other damage was done.  While I was busy doing all of these things, some kid had come up and was watching.  The fire department asked me what I knew and were very curious about the gas cans.  I explained that I had thought of those as soon as I saw where the fire was—knew they were just on the other side of the wall.  Meanwhile, that stranger kid was talking to one of the other firefighters.

A few minutes later, the head fireman came up and asked me if I knew that kid.  I had never seen him before.  He said, “He set the fire.  One of my men thought the boy was too interested, and too helpful.  The kid reached into the pile of wood, there, and found a book of matches.  He knew they were there even though they were under the wood.  We asked him a few questions and he even knew that the logs had been placed there from the larger stack against the fence.  He has admitted it and the chief is over at his house talking to his parents."

There was no doubt.  A few days later, I was informed that the kid had taken a book of matches from a jar of matches the parents had collected from their vacations.  One book was missing and the book used to start the fire was the one.  The family did not know mine—it was just a troubled, emotionally disturbed kid.  The parents indicated they knew he had issues.  The Fire Department pressed charges against him, and the judge was requiring him to go to the poorly named, “Arson School” for juvenile arsonists.  The parents paid for the damages—nothing more than a few shingles.

Of interest is the timing— that I just happened to be driving up.  Then, that I thought of the gas cans and the electricity.  Also that my neighbors had two hoses over the fence almost before I had gotten out of my car.  It was all almost surreal.

I remember thinking that my actions might have the fire department suspecting me—too many coincidences.  I was just reading on Friday how just such concerns are typical for persons who have some experience with mystical intuition.  They seem too quick to know things about others—pick up on the slightest details, things no one else notices, and assembles an accurate picture of the details.

That then leads me into two other stories of that place, the back yard driveway of the house and the alley behind that house on Chattington where that fire was.

I At Your Cat Today!

The oddest is where I did get blamed for something I did not do and for exactly the reason I just explained.  I was in first grade.  There was this cute girl, about four years older than me, and I thought she was very pretty because, well, she was very pretty.  Moreover, she intrigued me.  Not really the point, but perhaps worth mentioning, is that she had recently had me come over and play in the big playroom they had in their house.

She had a brother my age, but I did not know him well even though they lived only a few doors down.  The boy was "not right," as they say.  I was too young to put it together, but I can make a pretty good guess now.  Anyway, her brother was probably autistic, but I do not have enough memories of him to have much certainty of exactly what was wrong.  His sister was damaged in some way, too.  She was smart, and bright and pretty as she could be.  I was honored to be asked to come over and play, especially because she was ten and I was six—I felt grown up, just like I saw my big brother to be.

They had a really neat playroom.  A lot of the house in my neighborhood had “playrooms” for the kids.  This one was special.  It was huge and it had a climbing structure complete with tunnels and monkey bars –all inside the house.  I remember hard linoleum floors, white with black specks, and the tunnels and climbing structure of bright colors.

The girl started by apologizing for her brother’s behavior when I had been over not long before.  Essentially, I think she was telling me he was retarded, but I think I took that to be nothing but a sibling insult.  Once in the playroom, she got very quiet, asked me to be very quiet, and began acting strangely— in the eyes of six year old.  She kept climbing up ahead of me, wearing a skirt and intentionally teasing me.  You get the idea.

When I was thirteen and adventurous, my father started driving me to the Junior High dances— and I never missed one.  It became a regular routine and when I was about fourteen going on fifteen, I remember his smiling and saying, as he drove me home from yet another, “Your dog loves to chase cars, you know.  I sometimes wonder if he would know what to do if he ever caught one.”  I laughed, and my Dad continued smiling and added, “I’m wondering the same about you.  You chase the girls.  I am wondering if you would know what to do if you caught one.”
“Nope.  Not yet, but I’m figuring it out.”
He nodded.  “I think that girl we just took home will know what to do with you.”
“I think so, too.”
“You’re a mess!”
“But I’m a fun mess.”

My Dad was cool.

But back to the girl down the street.  She knew what to do with boys she caught way too early.

I got my little naive self out of there.  She was disappointed, but stayed friendly to me.

One day, soon after all of that, I saw her in the alley, behind my house.  I said, “I ate your cat today.”
What a strange thing to say.  I have no idea why I said it—I know I wanted to tease her, but it made no sense to me.  It came from somewhere else.  I never made that mistake again-- giving voice to "somewhere else." I don't mean me-- as you will see...

This odd kid a year older than me, something of a bully, had been playing with one of my best friends earlier in the day, and said something to me about being down at her house and hating her cat, but that is only the connection between the words, but not behind the odd idea.  I had said those odd words while my heart desired some intended humor, and she seemed to take my heart's intent and not my words.

The words came to me as magic, as a relief being given to me in my timidity. I heard some brief tangential discussion about children believing in magic, and being right, but being taught otherwise.  Peter Pan.  Well, some magic is not to be trifled with.

That night my parents called me down from my room and ask me why I had said that.  I had no good answer; I did not know why I had said it.  The interrogation continued when there was a knock on the door.  The bully kid I had avoided earlier in the day had been “fingered” by other neighbors.  He had smothered the cat belonging to the girl.  He had killed several pets in the neighborhood that day.  Her parents were apologizing for suspecting me.

What was going on with me that I knew something about her cat?  I wondered of my strange statement and the coincidence of her cat being tortured to death by the psychopath bully kid.  There had to be a connection.

Buried Alive!  Odd, It Is Not That Bad.

Within fifty feet of the above two occurrences is yet a third mystical event from my youth.  This time I was about eleven.  Our next-door neighbors were putting in a pool.  Three brothers along with my best friend across the street and his brother and I were all playing in the full-dump-truck load of sand that had been left in their back yard a few days before.

The younger ones were driving Matchbox Cars around the sand mountain on roads they had created with tunnels and switchbacks. The oldest brother ran water down the little roads to help wet the sand for better cohesion.  More tunnels were built and then deeper into the sand mound they were dug.  One tunnel eventually went from one side to the other—about half way up—an impressive engineering feat.

One thing led to another and the oldest three of us began trying to tunnel all the way across at ground level.  We were using shovels at one point and had managed to touch fingertips in the center.  Being the thinnest, I wanted to try to crawl all the way through.  I made it half-way when the tons of sand collapsed on me.

The weight was incomprehensible.  The air was shoved out of my lungs and my arms, head, torso and legs above the knees were utterly immobilized.  My feet were exposed to the air, but that was all.  You cannot yell for help.  So unable to move at all, it was like being paralyzed.  Inhaling was out of the question—and I was suffocating.  It was oddly peaceful.  The futility of any attempt to do anything was so obvious to me that acceptance of my situation came quickly.  I simply lay there wondering what the few seconds ahead of me would be like as I died.

I had never been in a situation where I knew that I could do nothing—have no options no matter what the consequences.  This was the ultimate in overwhelming-ness.  I had no hope of surviving. I was eleven years old and  knew I was doomed to die in only seconds from the instant I realized my situation.  I didn’t spend those few seconds in wonder at the peacefulness in which I found myself in my doom.  Later, I would wonder about it and think that being paralyzed allowed no outward expression and it was that, perhaps, which had allowed such calm.  If you can’t behave frantically, you do not feel frantic?  I don’t know, but I was not frantic.

I could hear my friends yelling and I could hear the shovels slicing into the sand above me, but I felt no relief.  It was a race upon which my life depended and I was but a spectator, by hearing only.  No out-of-body experience, I just lay there wondering how much longer I would remain conscious and listening to my friends outrage at what was happening to me.

The act of my death has never frightened me since that time—when I go, I’m just fine with it—I was then, and I am now.  I wanted to live, but was certain that there was no hope of that—my friends were not going to dig me out before I was gone.

I would have been right about that except for the unforeseen—a miracle, and I was not praying for a miracle— I was not praying at all.

Large powerful hands grabbed my ankles and yanked with such force that my vertebrae made cracking noises like knuckles.  If those hands had pulled upward, by back would have broken, but they pulled mostly back but my chest and head did not move.  My hips must have moved at least an inch.  I was an inch taller, for a few seconds, than I had ever been.  The hands pulled again and the digging continued.  I heard one friend caution that the blade of the shovel would hit my head, and they argued while continuing to dig.  The hands yanked again and my arms stayed put but my torso and head moved a little.  At the same time, I felt the weight of the sand lessen.

A few more yanks, and I was suddenly out in the sunlight, and two rough “men” stood there looking at me -- with disgust.  They had been the ones to pull me out.  Yes, I had been stupid and thoughtless, but why disgust?  I had the feeling that as filthy as they appeared to have been before showing up, they really wanted to wash any part of me off of them, as if they had condescended to save my life.

I thanked them as my friends were checking me over.  They nodded, but said nothing, looked at each other and got in the early sixties, blue and  beat-up pick-up truck and drove off down the alley, turning the corner and driving out of sight as they did so.  They did not even look back.

Those two men showed no joy in what they had done.  They wanted no thanks.  They acted as if it were a job-- a regular, every-day occurrence with no special meaning.  I am pretty sure that is exactly what it was for them.  I am pretty sure that there was no truck, there were no men, and the did not merely disappear from our view when they went around the corner, but had become, again, invisible—their natural state.

I wonder, today, forty years later.  I wonder that the next time I see them, it will not be joyous either—not yet.  I want to believe that this event ties in with another, one that forty years ago had them view me with disdain, but maybe not so much now.  I want to believe that those two, more than I, have come to terms with what will be— perhaps with at least a little less disdain for the concept now, then back then.

I don’t want to “Rest in Peace” when I go.  I want to fight the Evil which has paralyzed me with such overwhelmingness so many times—my soul crushed under the weight.  More about that when I write about my Sword.

Threats From Above!

Also when I was about six and also right there beside the alley, I spent a summer terribly afraid of that place at night.  Phobicly afraid.  Monsters in the closet?  Never.  I had unseen entities in the alley which I knew were there, and which I knew I had not seen.  For some reason, UFO talk was big in those days, and I remember wondering of it was aliens that were above that alley.

Angels or Demons?  Hard to tell.  Humans encountering Holy Angels do so with fear and trembling, not peace and joy.  My father wanted me to take the trash out there one night after dark.  Doing it in the day was not a problem, but after dark forced me to go against my intuition that something terrifying was above the alley—not in it, but came down from above it.  He kept askimg me why I did not want to go out there.  I remember being unable to explain the sense that I had of something terrible out there.  I think it was my brother who said, teasingly, that perhaps I was afraid of aliens.  I offered that as a possible explanation.  I had to go read up on them later— wondering if perhaps my brother had unintentionally suggested the real threat.  He hadn’t.  My Dad went with me until I got over it, standing there looking up at the sky and helping me become familiar with the night stars and identify airplanes.

Now the connection is more interesting to me.  Many psychotherapist have written about the connection between spiritual trauma and persons who report encounters with UFO's and aliens.  The principle thrust of speculation seems to be that spiritual events sometimes get explained to the person by their own experience as being alien beings and alien craft-- something along the lines of an attempt to define the spiritual as none-the-less a physical albeit alien (in both definitions of the word) event.

The Alley's Touch

Before we even had the back yard fence put in, still unpacking from our move from Fort Worth, and I think when I was first beginning to suffer from a months long chronic streptococcus infection.  It was a Spring day and I was out in the back yard alone, playing with Tonka Trucks.  Something happened inside of me then.  Probably related to a high fever, but the whole world seemed to become very bright, very different, very new and very lonely.

Looking back on that day, having studied theology and read clinical research about such experiences addressed in this blog, I suspect (only suspect) that whatever I sensed above that alley and which came down from above it— that in the daylight, just that beautiful Spring Day, it entered our existed there into my world, touching me inside as it did.

I don’t know if that section of back yards and including the alley connecting them was a holy place, but it was (perhaps is) a spiritual place—a place where mystical occurrences take place.

But odd, the mystical things which took place in that small part of the alley behind Chattington.  One of those places—like the story of Jacob’s Ladder.  Congress & 2nd in downtown Austin appears to be another such place.  There seems to be no explanation for either.  No temporal reason for there to be anything special about those places.  Hmmm.

Panic at Spring Creek!

(I'm having fun with these section titles!)

And since I mentioned UFO’s, I will tell a story of which I remember nothing, but as a close friend of mine told me, apparently amazed that I did not remember any bit of what he told me.  This was at Spring Creek Elementary.

“That time when the teachers all made us come inside from recess—they were all scared.  At first they thought it was an airplane flying very low.  They thought it was going to crash, but then when it came over, it wasn’t an airplane and several little silver things came out of it and spread out over the playground.  The teachers were all scared and made us come in, and we just wanted to watch.  You got in trouble for refusing to come in.  How can you not remember that?”

Well, I don’t.  But I did suspect my friend as someone like me— someone who knew things that no one else seemed to recognize— seeing with another set of eyes and hearing with another set of ears.  He seemed less aware than I was that not everybody saw and heard.  He did not doubt himself, but found it frustrating that no one else had any recollection of what he remembered so vividly.  He added that I and some others went straight to the playground after school looking for the little silver things— that maybe we thought we had seen one crash into the ground— something like the size of a coin, he said.

Yet, I have this vivid memory of no great importance— the first entry written specifically for this blog.  It does have some similarity, but happened a few hundred yards south of where my friend told me it happened.  About sitting in the back yard beside the alley watching a crop duster and having little red pellets fall on me after it passed overhead. 

It dawns on me that every time I sit down to write about one such childhood event, at least half a dozen more come to mind.  With that dawning is the apparent truth that my life is filled, or at least heavily spotted, with encounters with the extra-temporal.  All of these that I am telling have stuck in my memory not altogether unlike when a song gets stuck in your head—a “brain worm.”  What I mean is that they are vivid memories that seem to have little purpose, and if it were not for their persistence over the years, I would dismiss them.  But I cannot seem to do that—my intuition, instinct and simply something about these stories call me to consider them— promising meaning and useful knowledge and understanding to come from contemplating them.

I do not believe in aliens from other planets and yet I have read quite a bit of material—more than most.  My gut tells me that UFO’s have nothing to do with the UFO stories.  My mind concurs with my gut— the more I read, the more easily that explanation is to reject.  To the contrary, I am in agreement with those who submit that, perhaps, alien abduction stories and the like are really spiritual events being described in familiar terms.  The Creation story is an excellent example of that to bring up for consideration, and I will write about it next in an entry entitled, “Let Us Start Here.”

Links: Mental, Spiritual and Internet

After reading this item, it reminded me of when I was taking a programming course in college. On relatively simply program assignments, a class of thirty-five would have nearly as many programs of about the same number of lines. The variations were the interest.

x = y/z where y = 3 and z = 12. That x = 4 is true both in the way my mind finds the solution and in the algebraic form—but my mind does not use the algebraic, nor does it rely on memorization (as it did when I was eight years old). My mind will hold “four” in an instant after some one tells me to get a third of the dozen eggs before me. In fact, my hand may well pick up four eggs from a carton without counting or thinking of the word, “four.”

I did not always do this, of course, but a third part of twelve is now intuitive.

Emotionally and spiritually, the intuitive answers begin to outweigh the thoughtful reasoning in interpersonal relationships just as grabbing four eggs when asked to obtain a “third of a dozen” no longer involves any math -- at all.  The same is true in spiritual matters.  I have learned from a life-long and disciplined experience with the spiritual, and my soul's intuition serves me well.

A long story would probably help connect that to what follows, but it is too long a story and I trust intuition will kick in for the reader, here:

Last night, I watched the “Mythbusters” proving that two objects of equal mass and traveling at equal speeds in opposite directions is the equivalent of either moving object hitting an immovable object at the same speed. Of course. The argument centered upon two similar cars at 50 mph having a head-on collision, and some, erroneously, assumed that the result was the same as a single car impacting an immovable object at 100 mph.

Before they began an experiment, my mind had formulated, “No! To get the impact of a 100 mph, the head on collision between two vehicles traveling, head on, at 50 miles per hour, would require that the other object would need to have an infinite mass."  Math was useless because infinity was one of the factors.

Then the logic kicked in:

To have infinite mass would mean that such an object would be stationary, by definition, and any measured speed would be relative to an arbitrary and moving point of reference. The result is that the only way to get a 100 mph collision from two moving objects when one is limited to half that speed is to have the other be traveling faster than 50 mph, and the amount of speed over 50 mph would be dependant upon the mass of the faster object. While true, that is not what the experimenters were out to show.

I changed the channel.

But then, I was also thinking of the concept of zero-point energy in a vacuum, and the statement “Only if the opposing team can prove that the material world of our perceptions is real, and not an hallucination, do they earn their right to have their arguments considered on their merits” (see “kritik”). Both were thoughts triggered by reading blogs (BoingBoing and Metafilter), and both had spiritual consequences for me—at an intuitive level.

My very first blog entry, here, still haunts me with the fact that it means something. I am referring to both first blog entries: The painting of the Missionary’s Report (which was originally an old myspace entry), and the entry first written for this blog—a memory of a crop duster when I was very young sitting in a place which would become known to me as a place where spiritual reality met material reality. 

I still have not expanded on that crop duster experience.  There is more to it, and I have an entry concerning that place next to be published here.

03 June 2010

This means nothing (but it makes me smile)

You must give this video 30 seconds for the drugs to take effect (and close the ad which blocks the sub-titles).

Now, settle in, and sing along!

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.