Three Interventions of the Christ Mind
The following is a footnote to a companion post, Be the Light of the World—No Batteries Required! As mentioned there, I couldn’t connect with the concepts I’d prepared to present in the Spiritual Happy Hour service I was going to lead. Relief came the night before with the decision to let experience speak for what cannot be adequately described. These three different moments of redemption came to mind: prayers answered and received.
The first is the best known. Elisabeth Gilbert’s bathroom floor salvation moment in Eat, Pray, Love . I found this excerpt on the Web of her describing how she had:
…reached a state of hopeless and life-threatening despair, and it occurred to me that sometimes people in this state will approach God for help. I think I’d read that in a book somewhere.
What I said to God through my gasping sobs was something like this: “Hello, God. How are you? I’m Liz. It’s nice to meet you.”
That’s right—I was speaking to the creator of the universe as though we’d just been introduced at a cocktail party. But we work with what we know in this life, and these are the words I always use at the beginning of a relationship. In fact, it was all I could do to stop myself from saying, “I’ve always been a big fan of your work …”
“I’m sorry to bother you so late at night,” I continued. “But I’m in serious trouble. And I’m sorry I haven’t ever spoken directly to you before, but I do hope I have always expressed ample gratitude for all the blessings that you’ve given me in my life.”
This thought caused me to sob even harder. God waited me out. I pulled myself together enough to go on: “I am not an expert at praying, as you know. But can you please help me? I am in desperate need of help. I don’t know what to do. I need an answer. Please tell me what to do. Please tell me what to do. Please tell me what to do …”
And so the prayer narrowed itself down to that simple entreaty—Please tell me what to do—repeated again and again. I don’t know how many times I begged. I only know that I begged like someone who was pleading for her life. And the crying went on forever.
Until—quite abruptly—it stopped.
Quite abruptly, I found that I was not crying anymore. I’d stopped crying, in fact, in mid-sob. My misery had been completely vacuumed out of me. I lifted my forehead off the floor and sat up in surprise, wondering if I would see now some Great Being who had taken my weeping away. But nobody was there. I was just alone. But not really alone, either. I was surrounded by something I can only describe as a little pocket of silence—a silence so rare that I didn’t want to exhale, for fear of scaring it off. I was seamlessly still. I don’t know when I’d ever felt such stillness.
Then I heard a voice. Please don’t be alarmed—it was not an Old Testament Hollywood Charlton Heston voice, nor was it a voice telling me I must build a baseball field in my backyard. It was merely my own voice, speaking from within my own self. But this was my voice as I had never heard it before. This was my voice, but perfectly wise, calm and compassionate. This was what my voice would sound like if I’d only ever experienced love and certainty in my life. How can I describe the warmth of affection in that voice, as it gave me the answer that would forever seal my faith in the divine?
The voice said: Go back to bed, Liz.
It was so immediately clear that this was the only thing to do. I would not have accepted any other answer. I would not have trusted a great booming voice that said either: You Must Divorce Your Husband! or You Must Not Divorce Your Husband! Because that’s not true wisdom. True wisdom gives the only possible answer at any given moment, and that night, going back to bed was the only possible answer. Go back to bed, said this omniscient interior voice, because you don’t need to know the final answer right now, at three o’clock in the morning on a Thursday in November. Go back to bed, because I love you. Go back to bed, because the only thing you need to do for now is get some rest and take good care of yourself until you do know the answer. Go back to bed so that, when the tempest comes, you’ll be strong enough to deal with it. And the tempest is coming, dear one. Very soon. But not tonight. Therefore:
Go back to bed, Liz.
The second is an account from the memoir The World’s Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne. As a Mormon just emerging from highschool, he, too, has come to a befuddled crossroads and a crisis of faith. He has literally driven in a deluge to the end of a road in a neighboring state and stopped, sobbing:
I cried embarrassingly hard. There was a set of Scriptures under my seat…. I opened the books at random, settling on Section 6 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a series of “revelations” to the prophet Joseph Smith and others. Section 6 was a revelation given to Oliver Cowdery, [Smith’s scribe]. Verse 22 is allegedly Christ speaking to doubting Oliver:
“If you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.”
I ‘d said hundreds, if not thousands of prayers, simply going through the motions. I knew the words. I knew the actions, and the reverent posture. I knew how it was supposed to work and how it was supposed to feel. But I didn’t know what it meant to really cry out in my heart.
…. I started talking. “I need to know. I don’t know what to do. I have no idea what’s going to happen to me and I have no idea how strong I’m supposed to be before I deserve help from you. I don’t even know if you’re there. I hope you are, but I don’t want to believe things because they make me feel better. I want to believe them because they’re true. Is it possible to know that? Is it?”
The wind stopped. The rain stopped. Despite the goose bumps that stood up on my arms, I was warm and calm inside, as still and peaceful as the weather outside. If you’ve ever lost control of your body to sobbing, you know it’s hard to calm down until you’re cried out. I’d been in the thick of that, nowhere close to drying up. And yet it happened. One moment you might have thought I was weeping at my mom’s coffin. The next…[his ellipses] everything was fine. Clarity and calm flooded through me. Part of me watched this happening from a distance and said, ‘Now hold on…is this really an answer?’
But it was a small part of me. The rest of me marveled at how different I suddenly felt. I wish I could describe it better. I would tell that to a bishop later and he would laugh as he said, “Why should you be able to use mortal words to accurately describe something divine? …
The last account is my own. I’d had infusions of the Christ Peace before, but this one stands somehow in the same way the above do.
I was trying to make the best of my one week in New Zealand, tacked onto two months in Australia—this despite a virus that my body was barely keeping from plowing me under. It had long since sapped my strength and any enthusiasm. But here I was in Rotorua, a geothermal hotspot, like our own Yellowstone. I had walked to Saint Faiths Anglican Church, a chapel on Lake Rotorua. It was a wonderful place, poignantly blending Maori craftsmanship and indigenous spirituality (in the hand-carved wooden pews detailing the local deities) with Christian lore and iconography, exemplified stunningly in a picture window to the right of the nave, on which was etched an image of Jesus, walking toward the beholder, wearing Maori garb and a fur mantle. From the viewing area, it appeared that He was walking on the Lake behind. It was brilliant in concept but also literally, as the sun poured in and illuminated the frosted glass image. Breathtaking.
But wonder was not a sensation available to me, and my breath was already hostage to the virus. There was none left for the physical experience of awe.
I was very cranky and depressed as I entered the church. Angry and pissy, I uncharacteristically snapped photos even though signs respectfully forbade it, because none of the affordable images for sale were doing the place justice in my judgment. And judgment was about all I could feel beyond the din of my symptoms, and then the added hiss of shame about my nasty mindset.
I absorbed all I could and then left, in order to spare the place of my toxic emissions (psychic more than physical). I walked the grounds and snapped more photos (permitted here). I was going to leave, head back toward the hostel, but as I passed the angel sentry overlooking the entrance, I was drawn back in through the exquisitely carved doorway.
I plopped down on a pew and gave up. If I spoke I don’t remember. But I probably seeped a few exasperated tears of self-pity and tried to meditate. I handed over my burden, and, in some way, silently (perhaps even wordlessly) pleaded to be freed from this angst, forgiven for my meanness, and maybe given strength to appreciate my time in this implausibly green and pleasant land.
Next thing I knew, everything felt different. Like the others, I am challenged to describe it. But all was well and all was forgiven, including “me.” …Although now “me” was bathing in an “I” with far more space, Grace and Wisdom and aware of a grateful, warm, beating heart.
Afterward, the body still trudged thickly up the hill through town, but colors were more vivid and I knew I was not alone.
I’m sure many readers will have had a comparable experience at some time. I hope so! What these accounts have in common is that each person had come to a crisis point and cried out with that desperation that makes for very focused and powerful prayers, and each of us had given up on “our own” resources.
This raises the question Can we live, walk our path, so that these moments don’t require the prerequisite nadirs of desperation? How do we live surrendered enough so we do not have to go through these spiritual crisis periods, with the obligatory charge of resistance and arrogance building to a crescendo of existential cramping and then collapse?
It may be that our nature as humans makes this necessary, and that in cultivating the surrendered life, we must go through the labors of shedding our habits of mind and the conditioning of a culture of competition and self-definition.
We as a species have been going through the growing pains of collective terrible twos and self-absorbed adolescence into maturity. And maybe many of the technological advances that now allow more refined evolution were made possible by those darker stages of myopic “forgetfulness.” Luckily, we have not lost our helmets* in the process—in the Jihad of the Inner Christ.
Awakening is a melting away of the dross, which employs both the invincible flame of light and will within, as well as the invisible support of that same invisible sun shining from everywhere in creation.
There is nothing like experience to show us that, each of us, and each of our lives, is a temple. And as we mature, we recognize that, in tending the temple, daily maintenance avoids the most explosive messes and the impossible cleaning jobs born of neglect. Some sort of daily prayer or focused intention keeps the boat on course in the sweet spot of the river.
That doesn’t mean the winds don’t come and the termites of doubt don’t gnaw at our hulls, but we drift less perilously toward the rocks, and we drown out the many siren songs with our own.