Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Horror

"Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn't frighten me at all
Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn't frighten me at all
Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don't frighten me at all
Dragons breathing flame
On my counterpane
That doesn't frighten me at all."


            The thing I remember the most isn't all the manure that covered me from head to toe. It wasn't the smell of rotting garbage that permeated from me. The toads in my pants even tickled a little. The most horrific event from my childhood was a result of falling into the compost pile my maternal Grandfather kept out in the field, just feet from where my family eventually built their home. The following year was a testament to this event as seemingly endless warts and cold sores covered my head and body. Up until the time at the age of 12 when that steam radiator fell on me, this was my greatest aversion. Falling into the mound, however, was not the lingering horror from that day. When I sprang from the mud of that festering cesspool, hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of spiders in every shape and form crawled all over me like I was a food source tossed into their mound for feeding. The terror even stopped me dead in my tracks. For awhile, I was frozen. I just could not move. It took forever to get me to stop screaming.  
            Having immeasurable spiders crawl all over you is bad enough, but when they slink  into your orifices, you  are literally invaded. They were in my ears, my nose and I choked on the ones that were swallowed during my scream fest. I was covered and it took some time to get everything off me. It was like a living nightmare, one I have tried not to remember. One can only imagine the psychological after-effects of such a horrific encounter. Not even 10 years old, I did not know the sheer misery Mother Nature had to offer. As I sat in the bathtub, rubbed clean but rather raw by my Grandmother, I noticed several little tiny mite-like arachnids swimming in my stew.  I left that water as if it was boiling. Methodically, I watched them go down the drain, crushing the last one, which clung to the porcelain, just for good measure.
            My descent and resurrection defined fear for me. I do not enjoy our eight-legged friends. I do not watch them in movies. I do not appreciate their natural beauty. They have the right to exist, that is until they cross my path. I go out of my way to crush them all. Each one is a demon, a mini-monster, and my mission is their destruction. I wouldn't have the slightest problem eradicating every one of them, regardless of the effect this may have on the planet. Ask me, I am the guy who is glad to squish the spider for you. They may be tiny, they may be useful, they may even be necessary, but I will stop at nothing to keep them away. Not even Spiderman could change my thinking. I do not dream of them. I don't even think of them until one ugly, crawly eight-legged freak comes across my path. It's a good thing I'm not a Buddhist. I don't hunt them out, but I will kill them all dead before I let them get back on me.
            A few years before my Mother's death, I was sent out in the backyard to kill a spider for her. She always had a way of making each visit a special event. On occasion, I had tortured wolf spiders in the sandy soil of the back hill, sometimes burning rather than merely killing them. I was a vengeful teenager. I half expected, from her overzealous description, to find one about that size clinging to life in the flower bed to which she had directed me. It hung like a bat would and it was about that size. My Father had told me, on a previous occasion, of the Orb spider that bit him on the arm, leaving a huge welt and swollen appendage. This may not have been the exact same creature, but it was most certainly a relative. I shuddered  a little, like when you take a pee. I almost panicked, but I refused to let my fear take control of me. I was in charge of my dread, not this thing. I turned around, went back into the garage and grabbed a couple of old encyclopedias. I walked straight into the garden, held them both out to each side, and I slapped them together in one loud thud. The guts of that vile beast shot out the sides of volumes A and L, like a Jell-O pudding cup in a microwave oven. I left the cleanup for someone else.

 "I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won't cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild
Life doesn't frighten me at all."

             It is strange to me that great heights seem to be of no bother, at least not after the initial vertigo has passed and I have grown accustomed to the view. For almost five years, I have lived sixteen stories above the ground below. I have mastered the CN Tower in Toronto and the Sears Tower in Chicago. I have flown with little or no issue. I have stood on an outcropping at Beaver Falls in Algonquin Park, Ontario and walked the edge of Dundas Peak near Hamilton. I had moments of trepidation, like anyone would, but I carried on just the same. I must admit that while I am not prone to this type of adventure, I partake because I can and I rather enjoy the scenery.  If I encounter that impending sense of doom, I stand my ground and I conquer it. Even the occasional roller coaster was never much of a challenge, not the second time round at any rate. Apparently, I grow habituated to the high. I have imagined that should be the end of it.
            Every time I approach one, my stomach meets my throat. The closer I get, the more I begin to shake with fear. This is not something I have been able to control. Sidewalk metal grates, especially the ones over clearly visible underground areas, paralyze me.  Most times I see what's coming and avoid them altogether. It must look so silly to have a grown man frozen at the edge of some dug out testament to urban sprawl. I do not know what it is about them that affects me so. The only thing I do know is how crippling they can be to me. The average depth, I would assume, is only 8-10 feet down, but they might as well be an endless pit like Gandalf fell into at the beginning of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. If I do meet the challenge and walk over one, the vertigo is overwhelming. My heart races, my pulse speeds up and I am hopelessly lost in the physical chaos that this experience brings. I do not even have to look down, the mere idea is enough to send me into shock and holy terror. I often feel like I might pee my pants.
            I can remember sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon in Arizona back in the early 1990s. It took me awhile to adjust to the setting. The vertigo faded as the sun rose to greet the day. I took in the steep as I climbed about cliffs and hillsides along the Big Sur shoreline in California. It only took a few minutes for me to adjust.  It was nothing like crossing my metal foes.  On my balcony, I can open a window and peer out over the city unencumbered by smears on the glass. Looking down has no power over me, although if I stay sticking out for too long, I begin to imagine how my first partner felt and what he experienced as he plummeted from a height only a few metres less. Still, I am not overcome. I am not sure if any lack of response is due to the security the window well grants me. It doesn't matter much anyhow, it is one hell of a long way down. 
            As a child, I was not afflicted with this phobia. Going higher was all part of the fun. As an adult, each time it happens, I feel silly and melodramatic. I must admit I am tired of being laughed at because of my limitation.  It is one thing to be mocked for screaming like a girl when I see a spider, but it is an entirely different matter to have something so inanimate take so much control of me. I absolutely hate that I am a victim to this irrational behaviour. Throughout the last year, I have been consciously trying to free myself of this obstacle. As I approach each grate, I stop and close my eyes. As calmly as possible, eyes shut tight, I venture out onto my doom. Each try, I always attempt to open my eyes and look down. Lately, I don't need to close them much at all. I have been conditioning myself against this condition.
            I often wonder if these episodes have more to do with gravitational pull than they do with anything acrophobic (the fear of heights). I have come to the conclusion that I am not afraid of heights, but rather I have a morbid "fear of falling" (FOF). I keep forgetting to ask my Dad if anyone dropped me on my head when I was a baby. This would explain a lot. Perhaps my journey, at age 12, down 22 stairs with a stream radiator, has something to do with it? I have even considered that an incident involving my brother-in-law may hold the key to understanding why. None of these patterns began to develop until after the day I fell 5 feet down into a frozen trout pond. Breaking through the ice was one very cold experience and until now I have not revealed how truly frightened I was. Had my Father and Uncle Claire not reached down and grabbed my hands, who knows what might have happened. I can recall falling, then sliding and suddenly breaking through the ice. The water bit me, over and over, with sharp stings and a bitter crush. When I was pulled out of the small but dangerous pond, all I could yell was what I felt most of all. In front of children, my parents, even a few strangers, I cried out, "My dick is frozen!" I assure you that it most certainly was. 

"Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn't frighten me at all.
Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don't frighten me at all.
That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls with their hair in curls)
They don't frighten me at all."
            I am a pretty tough cookie. Little can make me crumble. I do not have issues with anything phobic but these two adversaries. It has been suggested, during therapy, the root causes of these fears. The incident with the spiders speaks for itself. Considering this horror movie moment, it is no wonder I hold such a harsh place for these creatures. Learning to adapt to the fear allowed me to survive it. Rather than curling up into a ball and crying, I have compensated for the experience with murder and revenge. Killing each "bug" was the only way my psyche was able to cope. I have spent a lifetime (40 years) trying to vanquish them off me. I do not dream of them because each one is a living testament to this nightmare. It has also been suggested to me that I will never rid the world of them and squishing each and every one is simply a cruel measure.    
            All the incidents involving a minor fall (compared to jumping from 200 feet), have manifested as an irrational fear of gravity. Barophobia, versus acrophobia,  is the fear of falling because of the gravitational pull involved, which is separate from the fear of heights. The fear of falling (FOF) "is a natural fear and is typical of most humans and mammals, in varying degrees of extremity." My encounters with dangerous falls only managed to heighten the anxieties I have when approaching a possible danger. I physically react to the change in gravitational pull and any physiological response to it has been conditioned from years of this process. It never made sense to me that I could overcome vertigo when at a great height, yet flounder whenever I crossed a measly iron grate. I always assumed I suffered from some form of acrophobia, versus barophobia, but I have come to understand "the two fears are closely related and sometimes indistinguishable."

"Don't show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I'm afraid at all
It's only in my dreams.
I've got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe."

            I believe that our fears are as important to our makeup as any other experiences from our life might be. These too can shape us. Fear does not have to be an unproductive response. Sometimes fear is a very good thing. It protects us, warns us of our impending doom. It can help you grow stronger and have more resolve than you might have had if not for the physiological response. Fear can toughen you up. As with all things, it is the lesson they may offer that validates their manifestation. We can be held hostage by these fears, living our lives under their control, or we can strive to rise above them and find some purpose in our exposure. After all, you only get one short trip to try and fix yourself so it might be a good idea to start dealing with them before you actually die.
            Sometimes, I find a spider crawling around the balcony, or hiding in the en suite bath. I am no longer compelled to crush and smash. I take a Kleenex, wrap it around the critter, then toss it out the window. How it survives the 16-story drop is not my problem. Of course, should one weave its way down from the ceiling onto me, or crawl up my leg, all bets are off. Even consideration has its limitations. While I am not making friends with them, they no longer constitute a call for mass genocide.
            I live about a block away from the heart of downtown Kitchener. City Hall is my next door neighbour. Running from Duke Street to King Street, there are endless iron grates along its parameters. You cannot walk that way without having to face a bloody drop zone. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid them. I have learned to shuffle over these little horrors. Sometimes when I have nowhere to go and no place to be, I cross one, back and forth, over and over, consciously willing the worst of them away. I have grown accustomed to this act of defiance. I may still freeze up as I approach. Quite often, the vertigo comes just as it has before. It is irrational to me now to give such a thing so great a power. Given time, I imagine I shall most certainly be free.
            There are very few horrors that warrant our fear. They are stories that we tell to ourselves. More often than not, our fear is irrational. That is not to say there aren't things which we should fear, but that's another tale for another time. Fear makes us aware. It reveals our limitations and our humanity. If we apply ourselves, it can build us strong. Understanding it can breed character. Instead of running away from it, or trying to suppress it, we can learn from it. Conquering one fear can lead us to place where we do not need to escape another. Rather than allowing fear to stifle our thoughts, and control our actions, it can teach us how to trust. It can teach us how to risk. It can build our confidence. All tools we can use to survive.

"Life doesn't frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.
Life doesn't frighten me at all."
(Life Doesn't Frighten Me, Maya Angelou 1993)









Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Lowest Common Denominator

"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it."
(Salvador Dali, Spanish surrealist)

            She must have been freaking out of her mind. All I wanted was for her to shift her big ass slightly to the right and take the shopping cart she had angled sideways with her. You couldn't get past them without climbing on a stack of Coca-Cola cases or over her mammoth form. I had approached from behind and politely awarded her an "excuse me." When she failed to respond, I raised my voice and bid, "Excuse me please!" She spun around like a bull from Pamplona. Her eyes were angry and her face seethed with resentment. She started to babble incoherently, all I could pick out was some cursing as saliva dripped off her lower lip. She was rabid. She was scary. As if she had seen red, she tore off down the soft drink aisle, away from myself and another gentlemen. We both noted to each other that someone was having a bad day.
            All I wanted was a 12-pack of Pepsi Next. It wasn't my fault that she blocked my way with her grocery cart and pseudo-feminine mystique. Her response to my politeness was inane, but the strangest thing was how she kept taking all the cases of Diet Coke from her cart and was placing them back on the shelves. I must have interfered with her ability to count backwards. She roared to the end, stopped in her tracks, then whipped around and headed back up the aisle towards me. I had grabbed a few cases of pop and placed them in my shopping cart, about to turn around myself and find the checkout line. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her advancing. Her empty cart reared itself in my direction. The closer she got, the faster she seemed to travel. She thundered directly at me. She spewed bile from her cakehole like a choking cow. Unfortunately for her, there would be no running from this bull. I stood tall and firm, unmoved by the almost comical threat before me.  As her approach quickened,  I suggested, quite loudly, that I was not above defending myself, especially if someone tried to assault me. She stopped dead in her tracks, she didn't say a thing. Slowly, almost methodically, she passed me and disappeared into the front of the store. As she passed, I advised her that she should not have skipped her morning medications. I had never heard cattle cry before. Some people can dish it out but they sure can't take it.
            I watched for her throughout the procession of paying for my goods. In the parking lot, as I unloaded my purchase into the trunk of my car, there was no sign of her, anywhere. It was as if she had disappeared into nothing. I was thankful for her rapture. I was glad I would not need to call the police. Just from her actions, you could tell that she had issues. Still, I always feel guilty when I revert to type. All the years of defending myself against Christians and homophobes built great resolve within me. I am not only a smart ass but I tend to be the perfect catty bitch when I am confronted with stupidity or threatened with violence. Unfortunately, I almost always feel remorse after I tell someone off, especially if I bring them to tears. I didn't go into the store looking for a fight. I was in a grand mood until she shit all over my shoes. Knowing what to say, and the meanest way to say it, has always come naturally for me. It seems like instinct, some knee-jerk reaction. Despite her getting everything that I felt at the time she deserved, I hate it when I hurt another person. The aftermath always haunts me, if only for a little while. I despise sinking to the lowest common denominator. I greatly disappoint myself when I act this way. I have to remind myself that I am not perfect.

"This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections."
(Augustine of Hippo, early Church Father)

            I half expected to be tarred and feathered. It was as if in his entire life no one had told him what he should go do to himself. After what he had said to me, it must have only been through God's grace that I didn't find an object and show him just how my suggestion worked. After all the years of sitting in the audience, waiting for Jesus to come, I came under attack. It wasn't my secret sinning that produced such fervour. As far as anyone could have known, I hadn't really disobeyed any law. No scripture they used would condemn me. All I did, one lovely Sunday summer day, was show up for service at the Calvary Pentecostal Church in a pair of jeans with rips in the knees. From the reaction I got, one would have imagined I had copulated in the baptismal fount or sacrificed a baby as Satan watched, smiling. I was flabbergasted when he stopped me from leaving after his production. Ironically, his message that day was how we should love one another in spite of our shortcomings. Jesus demanded it.
            Reverend Hickey was a wee bit of a dink. He never failed to amuse me with his hypocrisy. I never understood why he acted the way that he did. I could never imagine thinking his way. What was good for those who were saved was not good for the rest of us. Of course, nothing but the blood of Jesus could take away our culpability. God's favour towards the Elect pretty much freed his congregation from any responsibility, and most certainly, any sense of condemnation. After more than 2 years spent observing, it was clear to me from his lectures that if one is born again, the act of sinning was irrelevant. It was not that he granted anyone permission to sin, it was complete absolution from those actions, instantaneously, that often left me shaking my head. Once you are saved, you cannot lose your salvation. Even backsliders like myself could have the weight of our convictions lifted if only we would repent and rest ourselves in the arms of the Saviour.  I was about to come face to face with his conflicting truth. It really wasn't about what God wanted, it was about what the Pastor found acceptable.
            In his office, I felt like a cornered beast. A few Elders, several of my "sin-free" contemporaries, plus the Minster and his wife, gathered around me to free my soul of this heavy burden. I am still not sure exactly what burden they meant. No one knew of my homosexual inclinations. I had smoked a joint alone one night, but there was no way they could have known. All they could accuse me of, my greatest sin in their eyes that day, was disrespecting the Church and Reverend Hickey. The act of wearing sexualized clothing to a Sunday service was beyond what they would allow. When asked what I had to say regarding my infraction, I answered, "I thought God cared about my Fruit of the Spirit, not my Fruit of the Loom." You would have thought I had pissed on Mrs. Hickey's leg. He boomed at me. I could tell he wanted to hit me. He went on and on about respecting his authority and minding my place in his Church. He accused me of constantly patronizing him and neglecting my salvation. Out then came the Bible.    
            It was never my intention to offend anyone with my choice in attire. At the gathering a week before, a girl had worn only a sundress when she should have started with a bra. The entire time I was a member of this congregation, the requirements regarding appearance were quite casual. Granted, the late 1980s may have been a fashion faux pas for most, but to claim knees as sexual provocation is something a Muslim would do. The more I refused to recognize I had done something wrong, the more I felt like I was part of the Spanish Inquisition. When I asked him what Jesus would say about his persecution, he blew a gasket. The last thing I remember before the bomb went off was him reminding me that not everyone belongs in heaven. My instruction was precise and rather hostile. I popped my cork and it smashed into everything. Not only did I tell him what to go do to himself, I rebuked him. I was asked to leave and I never returned. Some people can dish it out but they sure can't take it.

 "Original sin is that thing about man which makes him capable of conceiving of his own perfection and incapable of achieving it." (Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian)

            No one is perfect. This fact is the lowest common denominator among mankind. We stand incapable of doing the right thing, at all times, onto forever and ever. We are self-absorbed and selfish. Mass narcissism seems to be our natural course. We treat each other very badly and we treat ourselves as if always the victim. I don't care if you are the most adherent Christian or the most zealot Muslim, it is impossible to attain, for any length of time, any sense of perfection. It is the human condition to be flawed. Our mortal imperfections are the stuff of which we are made. Reaching for it has always been quite the nuisance. When you seek perfection in anything, you learn rather quickly that it is attainable in nothing. The very perfection of this life is that it is not perfect.
            Religious people who expect perfection, particularly certain Christians I have encountered, forget that without our faults and follies, Jesus would have had no reason to make His atonement for us to God. He didn't climb up on the Cross because we smell. He didn't do it because we tend to be stupid. The reason for the Crucifixion and the Resurrection was to demonstrate to us that God loves us despite our imperfections. It is only logical that the Christ came to save us from ourselves, not coyotes. Every day I recognize how limited I am in my humanity. I used to believe I could achieve perfection but I only thought this way under duress. Each error, each mistake I make, is simply a reflection of who I truly am as a person and as a child of God.  It doesn't make me unworthy. It doesn't mean that I should surrender and give in to my human nature. The best I can do is to keep trying, even when I have a rotten day. Each failure is merely a benchmark of my humanity.
            Just because I have a bad day doesn't mean that I am having a bad life. For most of my existence, I had been convinced that there was something intrinsically evil about me. I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders because I believed I had disappointed God. I was told I was not good enough. I had sufficient proof from the consequence of every action that I took. I believed I was punished because I was not perfect. I am no longer convinced that God condemns us for such menial things. When a sculptor creates his art in stone, he does not expect it to turn to gold. He works with the flaws in the marble, shaping it with patience and time. The imperfections must be chiseled away, they do not just disappear. Perfection can only be achieved when there is no longer anything left to take away, not when there is nothing more to be added. Every part of nature, every cloud, every raindrop, every person on this planet is part of both the perfection and the imperfection of creation.       

"You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing. You don't have to do anything to earn it. Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success - none of that matters. No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here."
(Ram Dass, American author)

            If the Kingdom of God is within us, it is no wonder human beings are so cracked and broken. There is no other way for the Love inside us to seep out. We are fallible not because God has deserted us, but because He has created us to be this way. Without our imperfections, we would have no way to measure Grace. The closest we can ever come to perfection is to admit that we are not.

"I never said I could walk on water
I never said I was perfect
In anyway
Trying to prove my Love for you
Doing my best
And ... that's the best I can do"
(Walk on Water, Amy Grant 1997)





Port Burwell
Ontario,  Canada
August 31st 2012



Monday, January 12, 2015

Theatre of the Mind


"He came looking for the answers to some questions on his mind.
Seeking truth and understanding in the hope that he would find a way
to better serve his brothers and his sisters in the sun,
sharing all that he was given,
giving all to everyone.
Come and listen to the story of a journey once begun,
of a people and their plenty and their season in the sun and how they
gave themselves to symbols and things that they could hold,
living lives in desperation,
in the fear of letting go."
(It Amazes Me, John Denver 1977)

             Studying the Bible was like scuba diving in a septic tank. Regardless of my formal training, I got mired down in all the defecation. I eventually realized that I could not find answers in the pages of just one book. I had to reach out and expand my thinking in order to save myself. I examined religion, comparatively noting both the differences and similarities within each tradition to my Faith structure. I went to spiritual counselling for over a year. I was consumed by all things metaphysical, but I focused on salvation and any divergent ideas from other spiritual disciplines.  The madness which had almost taken me just a few months before slowly turned into the recognition that quite often sanity is a relative state. I knew I had to separate myself, intellectually and spiritually, from the imposed reality that over thirty years of Christianity had ingrained in me. After all, I had been trained not to question. There was no other way to God. I was often stymied in my ability to think outside of a paper box. It was a struggle. Letting go of all I had believed to be true in the Christian Faith was more difficult than I ever could have imagined. It was much like a torture. The same world view that had once grounded me seemed to bury me. It was like I was swimming in shit.
            Religion says all the things we really want to hear. It twists words to control how we think and claims to reveal how we are supposed to be. We are expected to achieve, or at least try to achieve, the perfection of the god that we follow. We are to be more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christians believe that they "shall be like him" and anyone who has hope in Jesus should "purify themselves, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3, NIV). Tough words to follow, and quite inconvenient to the human state of desperation.  Having applied myself to what I believed were the prerequisites of my birth Faith, my imperfections only pushed me further away from it. It is impossible to adhere to and meet the scriptural criteria of salvation, at least when bound to our mortal form. The Bible, the Quran, and countless other holy instructions are contractual documents that you can never complete and cannot fulfill. They do not contain the answers. Through them, people claim to know the truth about God, but the truth is no one can truly know anything. There are no answers, only more questions. No one knows.   
            It has never been my intention to deny Jesus. I just don't see eye to eye with those literalists who claim to follow him. I like the Christ, just not the Christians. In the end, I had to let Christianity go, no matter how fond I was of its leader. While other religious traditions helped to open my eyes regarding the universalities found in almost all faith structures, they also confirmed the humanity, the anthropomorphic expression contained in the history of such manifestations. As my spirit awoke to a new reality, my mind followed suit. I discovered a freedom in my awakening. Something crossed over and I have not entertained going back. Through all the words, all the condemnation, I discovered a peace amidst the chaos.    

"Usually in the morning
I'm filled with sweet belonging
And everything is beautiful to see
Even when it's raining
The sound of heaven singing
Is simply joyful music to me.
But sometimes I feel like a sad song
Like I'm all alone
Without you"
(Like A Sad Song, John Denver 1976)

            It was just like the light from the tunnel. The brightness, the warmth gave me great comfort, but my senses did not find it. It was as if I had experienced them in my spirit, deep down in my soul. The moment I realized it, the moment I finally understood, was not random in occurrence. My state was conducive to its presence. All the struggle, all the confusion simply fell away and left me sitting, facing the sun. I had not known this firsthand knowledge since that flickering out when I was sent back, not since my return. I didn't think much of it until I was completely overwhelmed. In that tunnel, where I had dangled, there was nothing but a deluge of peace, compassion and love. I quickly realized I could tune into it, experience it whenever I chose to do so.
            Removing myself from Christianity brought great angst, not unlike grieving for a loved one. It was progressive in its nature. Eventually, I just got used to my new definition. I discovered much serenity. It was the act of letting go of Jesus that allowed me to truly find Him. I missed Him, I needed the consolation that was always brought to me when I thought of Him. I was all alone without Him. I did not fail to see this contradiction in terms. I could not have it both ways. My found sensitivity screamed at me to just move on. I left the safety of my cool abode and took myself outside for some time in contemplation. Sweat from a 90 degree Celsius summer afternoon was an instant obstacle to my comfort level. I took to the gazebo for some relief in the shade. I found little to be thrilled with. My peace was broken at the thought of it. I held one book, like so many books, just more opinion, more after the fact. I knew there could be no resolution. There would be no justice from the wisdom of men. I cried out for mercy instead.
            Up the hill, past flowers and bushes and ponds, I sought refuge among the gardens of my youth. Mere feet behind me, nearly covering the peak, dead animals cried out to me that there would be no Holy justice for them either. The way I had been taught to believe stood in stark contrast with all these confusing thoughts. I sat and rested on the railroad ties, all thick and brown and rotting. There was an absolute in the murky depth of my time in limbo. There was a constant recognition of acceptance without judgment. I had never found it in all the examinations I had made. No text or page stood as a witness to it. As a matter of fact, my experience was nothing like the one I had been brainwashed to expect. Each of these things was not like the other. I knew in that moment that the contrast was what I needed to see. It was a moment of enlightenment. Some kind of joy and awareness washed over me. After months of trying to resolve myself to damnation, I was overcome with salvation. I had been looking in all the wrong places. All I needed I already had. Although my soul had been struggling with a moral dilemma, in an instant I found harmony among all the discord. There was no jury. There was no judge. There was only the things I had come to see and understand.

"All alone in the universe, sometimes that's how it seems.
I get lost in the sadness and the screams.
Then I look in the center and suddenly everything's clear.
I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams
And I'm looking for space and to find out who I am,
And I'm looking to know and understand.
It's a sweet, sweet dream,
Sometimes I'm almost there.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
Sometimes I'm deep in despair.
(Looking for Space, John Denver, 1975)

            Some people find God on a pew during Sunday morning mass. Some find Him in a book or a text and they hold to it as the only truth. Others spend their entire life hunting down anything they can cling to for comfort. Others become convinced there is nothing to find. God speaks to me through the things I know. He doesn't really talk to me. He isn't really there. He plays like a theatre in my mind. I try to recognize Him in all the things around me. I have to meditate and discover Him still within. He is the morning and the evening. The sunshine and the rain. He is the love I receive from others and the pain this life surely brings. He is the grass and the trees and the summer and the breeze. God reveals Himself through creation, not only through the ways of mortal man. If you notice, He just may appear. God is here.
            This is not to say that books and ideas do not contain some revelations. A properly polished pew can bear the brunt of heavy convictions. You can find comfort in almost anything if you want to. Even in nothing can there be peace and resolve. Whether the most Holy of relics or the Atheist's assurance, they do not hold all the answers. To confine God is great folly. To deny Him is just sad. You cannot know, not really, never for sure. I cannot know, not really, not ever for sure. Nothing is concrete, including a lack of Faith, an institution or a manmade belief structure. God does not exist in what we think we know. We can only really know what we experience. No matter how we try, we cannot locate His form, even if we tell ourselves that we have. Our problems then are mostly caused by our thoughts, We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are.
            I have no proof, but I don't really need it. Most spiritual experiences are subjective and rarely are they shared. We are all confined by our limitations and limited in our understanding of such things. All I know is the experience. Sitting on a summer's day, warm and caressed in the hillside sun, I could not see Him but I could feel Him.  It was more powerful than the most painful event from my life. It was not what I expected but much more than I deserved. For the first time, I felt a oneness with God and with the universe. They hovered all around me and floated within me. I was instantly moved to tears. Up on that grassy knoll, I took a step forward. This was the beginning of any enlightenment I have achieved. The feeling was profound, but it was a revelation that proved fantastic for me. The source I therein knew was the same one from the tunnel several months before. It was with me all along, I supposed. I was frozen, humbled by the entire incident. I lingered in that spot for most of the afternoon.
            The experience of being aware can be either an opportunity to grow and learn or it can be an obstacle that confines you. You get to pick. Regardless, life is never a smooth  ride, whether you think you have God in the passenger seat or not. The best we can hope for are small moments of tranquility in the face of a constant storm. The journey is about enjoying the scenery even if you get sent off on some detour. Take a look all around you. It is there and you can feel it, if you focus and pay attention. The frequency is always accessible, always there whenever you choose to tune in.


"Love is everywhere, I see it.
You are all that you can be, go on and be it.
Life is perfect, I believe it.
Come and play the game with me.
Follow your heart like a flying stallion,
Race with the sun to the edge of the night.
Form your truth like a gold medallion,
Dance in the circle of the love and the light.
Love is everywhere, I see it.
You are all that you can be, go on and be it.
Life is perfect, I believe it.
Come and play the game with me."
(Love is Everywhere, John Denver 1975)






Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Inner Room

            There was madness. Thirty some years of misery was all it took. So I sat there, guilty and losing touch with my reality. How dare I question God up in heaven. How dare I doubt Jesus and all that He has done for me. Each pondering turned to heresy. Each heresy only convinced me more. Everything I had studied, all the words that I had met, danced around in my head like some clip from a HR Pufnstuff cartoon. On the red carpet in front of me little demons started to play. On the walls I could see the Christ, dangling on a necklace made from wet noodles. In my head, I could hear him calling out my name. No matter what I promised myself, I could not stop the insanity. Faces began to appear in the woodwork. Each mocked me, raged at me, silently screaming in the way only possessed men can discern. It was finally happening. After all the years of enduring, I was inconveniently going out of my mind. 
            When you realize you can never truly know the answers, you start to pay attention to the questions. I destabilized when I began asking my own. I had been raised not to inquire. It would only bring confusion. As a Christian, there was only one truth. Anything outside of the Bible was a lie of the devil. A great schism slowly formed within me when I started to ask myself whether they might be right. Eventually, the ground tore open. I knew it was blasphemy to think the way I had started thinking. Nothing was sacred when viewed in this different light. None of it made sense to me anymore. I realized that I had to let go. I had to give up all the notions I had regarding God if I was to survive the onslaught that awakening meant for me. I started questioning the questions. Perhaps the Christians were correct. What if in all my seeking I had been taken, captured by Satan and the ways of the world? It only made sense. I had been deceived and stolen from Jesus. When I couldn't handle the experience any longer, when my brain just about popped out of my head, I put on my coat and went for a walk in the winter's cold.
            At the end of the road, I met up with the railroad tracks. Almost a year before, I had followed these tracks deep into the night searching for Doug. I tried diligently to follow that path. All the voices, all the shadows I thought I had left behind to haunt another soul found me cold and weakened and lost to clear thinking. In the silence, I cried out for Jesus. I cried out but nobody answered. At first I imagined I was imagining it all, but I knew there was no doubt. It wasn't some demon who had made me think this way. All that I knew had been exposed to me. It wasn't some curse of enlightenment. It wasn't tinkering from the Lord. I thought I was crazy because I had started to see things differently than the Bible taught. It would seem when I decided to live again, I decided to learn again. The shrill, the echoes, the roar of the squalling, these would be the cost.
            All the way back home, I kept looking behind me for the Christ. He never showed. He never, ever showed up. I made it indoors, took off my coat, and I sat down quietly. I did not wish to stir the house. One last time I looked around myself, and then I knew. I realized that I shouldn't need to cry out for it. I shouldn't need to earn some time with it alone. I can't learn it. I don't need to look for it. It was already there. Deep down inside I had known it all along, but the confines of my religious brainwashing had stymied any freedom to see it. I know that I am not right about everything, but of this I am sure. I wasn't going crazy. This was not the handiwork of some fallen angel. This was the ranting of a beautiful mind, not tongues from some possession. If I was ever to really believe in God, I had to trust versus merely having Faith in a book, or a person or an idea. I had to surrender to where I was heading, then I had to follow.

"Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all
And I will stumble and fall
I'm still learning to love
Just starting to crawl
Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
Anywhere I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you"
(Say Something, A Great Big World 2013)

             When I get up in the morning and I look at myself in the mirror, I cannot help but notice a familiar stranger staring back at me. I don't look like I did back in the days of my grief. I don't think the way I did, as a spiritual person, from back when I bid adieu to Jesus. I have told myself a million times that it really is me, even though I am aware, for the most part, it is not. People from my past do not distinguish me, in any capacity, should they run into me on the street. Most walk by with no idea who they just passed. I am also quite aware that my late partner would not know me if he returned to the living. He would not know me, either who I am or who I used to be. Things are different. I have aged twenty years. The journey I began that cold winter's night changed me. It changed how I feel about the world and it has determined how I regard the idea of God in my life. Although it is time which has shaped and chiseled my fa├žade, it is the madness I once imagined that has been a catalyst for years of intense examination and any literal modification which has occurred.
            It does not surprise me that this one psychological event brought a great shift in both my understanding and my ability to cope when surviving god. When you substantiate that something is for you, regardless of what others may claim, you no longer fear it. When I realized I could no longer follow Christianity, I thought I was most certainly doomed. I floundered in chaos and it nearly cost me my sanity. As I studied, as I evolved in my thinking regarding God, I realized the spiritual quest is not about the outer expressions or conceived notions we have about the Holy. It's not about knowing. It is an internal dialogue we have with ourselves. We may hope to find truth in a book or a person, but truth is relative and we can only find it from within. In the recesses of my mind, I think I knew it all along. The verge of a mental breakdown only seemed to materialize all the things I had started to discover. The pain came from letting go of all I had previously been told. Reaching within it, saving myself, shook the very fibre of my being. In a sense, I really did lose my mind, at least the part of it that could not bear the thought of moving past Christianity and all the damage it had done to me.
            I still hold to most of the teachings of Jesus. I may not believe they were some Holy Edict, or Divine Proclamation, but they work for me. Every piece of art requires a muse. Any journey can always use a good guide. Sometimes you just have to get into your car, then drive. I have chosen to keep Jesus on my dashboard. Granted, He is more sage than incarnation and much more mentor than Master. There is now, for me, a clear distinction between teachings and dogma, doctrine and mass delusion. The things that I cannot possibly know don't matter or I could know them. It doesn't matter if there was a ministry or a judge and jury leading to resurrection. It doesn't matter who He was. All that matters to me now is following what He said. I am not a Christian, this much is for sure. No creed, no scripture can take away the peace I have found. I have tossed all the ideologies away only to rediscover them for their truest meaning. I knocked and the door was opened, but I had no idea what was on the other side.  
            The relationship I have with God is like an inner room. It is a private place where I can go and feel safe from the madness that surrounds one in this modern world. Jesus talked about this state. As with the majority of His teaching, he spoke not only in a literal sense but figuratively as well. He taught in parable, much of the time, so that we might remember the moral of the story through a relatable example.  

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:5-8, NIV)

            I don't really pray anymore. The experience I have is more of a monologue than a dialogue with what I believe to be God. I go within myself, to that inner room, and I let it all out. No matter my wishes, God has yet to show up, let alone talk to me. Perhaps this is a good thing. Over the years, I have been tempted to return to the formal Christian Faith of my family. Sometimes I even miss the incarnate Jesus. I suppose there was something to the idea of a personal god that held me warm through struggles and strife. Through the darkest night, I have managed to find something much better for me. Out there in the distance, past the blue, there is somewhere I can't see or touch. There is something I can't hear. At the end of it all, He still refuses to say something.

"God warned the people of an earthquake that would swallow up the waters of the land. The water that replaced them would make everyone insane. Only the prophet took God seriously. He saved up a supply of water in his mountain cave to last him till he died. Sure enough, the earthquake came, the water vanished and new water filled the streams and lakes and rivers. A few months later the prophet came down to the plains. Everyone had indeed gone mad, and attacked him, for they thought it was he who was insane. So the prophet went back to his mountain cave, glad for the water he had saved. But he could not bear his loneliness so he went down to the plains once more. Again he was rejected by the people for he was so unlike them. The prophet then succumbed. He threw away the water he had saved, drank the new water with the people and became one with them in their insanity."

The way to Truth is narrow. You always walk alone.
(The Narrow Path: The Song of the Bird, Anthony de Mello 1982)





The Song of the Bird:
The Narrow Path
Anthony de Mello
Image 1982