Monday, September 17, 2018

40 Years Later: Love Carried Me

“I’ve been carrying you on my back from the day you were born, and I’ll keep on carrying you when you’re old. I’ll be there, bearing you when you’re old and gray. I’ve done it and will keep on doing it, carrying you on my back, saving you.” ~Isaiah 46:3-4 Message Bible

On the morning of September 17, 1978 (40 years ago today!), I had a vision and it changed my life completely. I awakened to find myself alone at 100 Union Ave, Apartment #36 in Campbell, California where I lived with my father and brother. Many hours later, my brother would come home to find me on the living room floor where I had apparently been since early that day. I proceeded to tell him everything that had just happened to me, so he is as close to being an eyewitness as one can get. I asked him not too long ago to remember as much as he could about that day and his words match what I wrote down in detail at the time. I told him that I heard a voice say three times, “Wayne, remember what you promised me?” before a blinding light appeared and knocked me to the ground, and flat on my face. I then heard these four, short sentences: “I love you. I forgive you. Love your family. Go to school.” I don’t know how long the light remained. For the last several years, I have spoken of that day by saying that Love lifted me.

So, why bring attention to one random day or a subjective experience now forty years hence? Because I feel there will be some value for the reader in hearing my story. For the record, I really cannot adequately explain what happened to me that morning. How can I understand the mysteries of the unconscious, the ramblings of the mind, divine whispers, or the call of the soul? If you were there at that moment with a video camera, would you have captured the image of light that I saw, and the calming voice that I heard? Is this what happened to St. Paul and other mystics through the centuries, up through and including these modern times? Was it all in my mind, some psychotic break from reality, a combustible combination of relational failures and soothing parental voices of assurance and acceptance all converging in a kind of nervous breakdown in order to challenge me to stop behaving badly and start living up to my higher, better self? This was no flashback or drug-induced hallucination. Outside of a biblically similar, Damascus Road conversion narrative, what happened remains largely inexplicable, at least to me.

Although finding answers to this transformative moment may be beyond reach, I have since become confident of a few things. Almost immediately, I was able to throw off most of the weights I had collected throughout my childhood and adolescence. This fresh start allowed me to develop healthy disciplines that have served me well over these many decades. In 1984, I was overjoyed to marry the woman who had captured my heart. (Her ‘yes I do,’ is the single best news I have ever received!) Being the father to five children continues to be my greatest role and now I get to add to this the enjoyment of grandchildren! Not long after my conversion, I felt what I described back then as a calling to become a minister. I have not regretted this vocation, although if there were a possible do over, I would have added to this the job of psychologist, for encouraging the tenderhearted and giving hope to the brokenhearted have always been my twin passions. In this long and winding wilderness, I have carried with me only one, real regret (something that was/is within my power to change, that is) -a mistake of all mistakes- the unfortunate failure to gain perspective about the seriousness and importance of the impact of money in one’s choices. I fully own the shame, proved many times over these 480 months by real world consequences that sometimes reek of maggot rot and quail vomit. I sincerely wish there was a way to live into a Jubilee for today! (No wonder my favorite song is, “If I Were a Rich Man…”)

In the Hebrew Bible, Passover is the cornerstone of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. In fact, it is the one, essential and formative narrative of an entire religious tradition. After crossing the Red Sea, Moses led a large group of followers in the wilderness for the next 40 years. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the people who left Egypt would eventually die in the desert due to unbelief, disloyalty to God, criticism of God’s anointed, and/or an abundance of complaining (including Moses).  Over my many weary and wonderful days in this journey called life, the pungent odor of so many leeks and onions has sometimes called to me, whispered to me, of former times, of longings to return to seasons of perceived lesser troubles. I have resisted these siren voices long enough so that these earlier temptations, former distractions and youthful follies are now fewer, and most have gratefully returned to the status of a forgotten mirage dream. Some current trials remain, of course, and they are recognizable and constant, but I have learned to be (mostly) unafraid of what these serpent messengers might bring.

I have also found that, along the way there is bound to be the occasional oasis in the desert and, knowing what I know of middle-eastern hospitality, a table is sure to be set there. Presently, there will be an invitation to sit awhile and feast until the fasting begins again and the cycle repeats itself (until that final fast, after which we will understand the saying that we do not live by bread alone). Someone once asked a wise pastor, “Pastor, is it better to give or to receive?” The pastor smiled and answered, “Yes, it is better.” I may never have aspired to be one of God’s captains, but I have longed to be one of Love’s philanthropists. In all these things, through all these years, an interior wilderness has continued to speak to me:

Can you hoard sand and shell, or daily bread, bitter water or burning bush?
Love’s embrace is a note that sounds of an eternal beauty,
Stuck out of time for the sake of the beloved and their quieted dazzle of sky and stars.
Share that enfolding, in the wild and beyond,
Knowing on lightless days and nightmare nights,
Within sight of an escape or outsight of it,
That life keeps dreaming of light
For Love is the womb from which springs the embrace of the universe itself.
O, what a memory is this sweet and lit love, for it does not end!

40 years ago today, I had a vision which changed my life for the better. Although I have unnecessarily wandered and squandered much since then, I am forever grateful for the Light that remembered me on that memorable Sunday, September 17, 1978 at 9:00AM. Such a Love has carried me to many a pleasant place and has never left my side.

p.s. As I write this, it is just past 9:00AM PST on 9/17/2018. I wonder if this means that all my troubles have ended. After all, since I have just made it through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, I must be entering into the Land of Promise, right? Now, off to find some fabled milk and honeyed cookies…

The Place of Meeting:
100 Union Ave. #36 Campbell, CA (top floor corner, far right)

"Love Carries Me."