“When the pupil is ready, the Master appears”
Herald of the Star, Theosophical Society (1914)
“What you seek is seeking you.”
I spend a good bit of time these days trying to engage in contemplative prayer and meditation. I say trying because as an extravert, neither of these come naturally to me. Historically, my own mystical inclinations have played out in my engagement with nature. I regularly lose myself in the natural world, a rather Franciscan way of experiencing the divine.
But the goal of contemplative prayer is to let go of the dualism that most of us operate out of on a regular basis – the experience of an independent self encountering an existence that is separate from my own. I do experience that as I touch the good Earth in my garden and let my imagination run wild during my walks around the lake, swimming the shimmering depths with the fish and soaring through the sky with the many birds there. But I also recognize the need to sit quietly, become still and open myself to the divine within, a divine which is always present all the time but of which I am not frequently conscious.
My dream life has become very rich over the past few months before and after retirement. But fully formed dreams don’t always wait until I am unconscious to come to me. My participation in a Jungian projective dream group since last fall has prompted me to become much more aware of the flashes of visions that periodically come to me unbidden at times when I least expect them. When a particular dream or vision becomes persistent, I take it seriously.
What follows is a vision that has come to me several times in the past week, trying to break into consciousness in various venues and circumstances. Clearly this is something I need to consider and so I honor that vision by telling it here.
The Wise One came to me as I walked through the woods, shrouded in a brown habit. Perhaps this was a Franciscan but nothing outwardly identified the figure as such. I had to remind myself that not every brown robed figure is a Franciscan much as that beloved Order plays such a major role in my own life.
The face of the Wise One was not fully visible. It was not possible to know if this was a human figure or what sex it might have been. But the voice was soft, warm and strangely comforting.
“What do you seek, my Son?”
“I seek the Truth, Wise One.”
“THE Truth? Just one?”
“Yes. I want to know The Truth. Capital T. I want the answers,” I insisted.
“Come with me,” the Wise One said and we soon found ourselves in an aging city walking down a cobbled street.
“There are some places I can take you and people who can help you in your quest.”
After we had walked awhile, the Wise One stopped and pointed toward the entrance to a structure. It was a beautiful, elaborately decorated entryway and the lights inside suggested it was open.
“Go in,” the figure said. And so I entered.
It was a temple from one of the Hindu traditions. Inside, a celebration of one of the Hindu deities was occurring. There was incense, candles burning, many flowers and chanting. After the rite was completed there was food which the community readily shared with me. They allowed me to ask a number of questions which they were happy to answer.
The Wise One was waiting for me as I exited the Temple, hands full of books.
“Well, do you know The Truth now?”
“I certainly know what these folks have to say about it. And while it was very interesting, I have to think there has to be more than just these answers.”
“Ah, you are beginning to learn,” the Wise One replied as we continued walking down the street, silent but for the sounds of feet striking the cobblestones.
“Here is another place that can help you. Go in.”
This time we had stopped at the doorway to a mosque. It was intricately carved and decorated with geometrical shapes. I was fascinated.
Then suddenly, my western prejudices arose unbidden like curdled milk in my stomach. I froze in place, paralyzed with fear.
“Don’t be afraid,” the Wise One said. “Historically it has been your culture which is the greater danger to them than theirs to you. Go in. They have much to share with you.”
And so I entered. I was directed to remove my shoes, wash my face, hands and feet and sit on a mat on the floor in a large room filled only with other men. The women had their own space, I was told. A religious leader read from the Quran in Arabic and then began to expound upon it in English. Time sped by. I found it all intriguing and noted the number of parallels in Islamic thought to my own Christian tradition.
At the end of the service, I was invited to share a small meal with the community. And, once again, after asking questions, I emerged with another handful of reading materials to add to the first set I had collected from the Hindu temple. The Wise One produced a woven bag from under the robe and placed them all inside.
“So, do you know The Truth, now, my Son?
“No. I’m even further away than before. I have a whole set of possibilities but no definitive answers. I thought you said you were going to help me.”
“Come with me.”
Before the day was over, doorway after doorway would appear. We would stop, I would enter, spend some time inside with each new group of people.
The beautifully decorated entryways of cathedrals and synagogues gave way as we left the city
to simpler homespun churches in the countryside with fascinating names like The Church of God in Christ with Holy Spirit Anointing.
Many of the groups gave me materials to read over food we shared though some had no printed materials available. But these readily offered me conversation over coffee, tea and fruit juices.
It had been a long day.
The daylight was waning and our travels had led us to an imposing university gleaming on a hill, aging buildings covered with manicured creeping vines, bright lights shining from the windows of classrooms and labs. Once again we stopped.
“Where should I go?” I asked.
“Anywhere you choose,” the Wise One replied.
Passing into a quadrangle under a doorway with VERITAS inscribed into its granite portal, I entered The University. I soon found fascinating seminars I was welcomed to sit in on where professors and students discussed the latest findings of the genome project (“All life is more related genetically than not? What does this tell us about the uniqueness of homo sapiens?”) while others held heated discussions about Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” (“Ah, NOW we’re getting somewhere…”)
But the discussions raised many more questions and provided no definitive answers. After a short stop at the cafeteria to conclude our discussions over coffee, I finally emerged from The University, weary, a bag on my back loaded with yet more books, these heavy and costly.
“Tired, my son?”
“Oh yes. Wise One. Exhausted. And I have way more reading than I can ever do.”
“Yes, I know,” the robed figure said, the woven bag containing the many sources of Truth I had collected now bulging as it lay at the feet of the Wise One.
“We only have one more place to go.”
“Do we have to?”
“Yes. It is important.”
The road we trod had become narrower and less well maintained. Soon we followed two tire ruts in the dirt and finally just a footpath through the woods. In the distance I could hear a small waterfall. As we reached the top of a hill I saw the source of the cataract, a small bubbling spring in a hollow. At the rear of the hollow was a manmade cave, an ancient post and lintel structure covered with earth, now overgrown with trees and vines. In the interior of the darkened space a small flame flickered.
All of my apprehensions about things that go bump in the night suddenly sprang to life.
“Do not be afraid,” the Wise One said, “They have been waiting for you for a long time.”
And so I entered the structure, leaving the safe and the familiar behind, entering into the darkness of this ancient site, taking my place in the circle of those sitting around the fire in the center of the room. Once I was seated, the rite began.
I emerged what seemed like days later. The Wise One stood by the doorway, patiently waiting.
“So do you have your answer now, my son?”
I shook my head.“No answer. I just have a lot more questions.”
“Ah, you have learned, indeed, my son. Now it is time for me to go so you can begin digesting all you have learned this day. But before I depart, is there anything else you wish to ask me?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m curious about something. In every single place I visited this day, there was a hallway off to the side of the main room in which I met the people who were present in each place. At the end of the hallway was a door. I did not think it was my place to ask any of them where the door led. But I am very curious.
How could that same hallway and door be at every single site? And what’s on the other side?“
“Why don’t you go find out,” the robed figure said.
And so I reentered the ancient structure out of which I had just emerged. I walked past the people sitting in the circle around the fire. In the dimly lit distance, I saw the door. I turned down the hallway lit by a single exposed electric light bulb, the modern technology at complete odds with the torch lit interior of this otherwise ancient structure. There at the end of the hallway was the plain wooden door.
I was hesitant to touch the door at first. What would I find? Where would it lead? Would I be too afraid to step through?
Finally, I summoned my courage, reached out, took the door knob, twisted it to the left, and the door opened easily.
Inside I saw…something….incredible......
When I finally emerged from that ancient structure in what seemed like years later, the Wise One stood patiently waiting.
“So, did you find your answer?”
“So, tell me, my son, what did you find?”
“All that is.”
There was a long pause. Then the Wise One said, “Ah, my son, now that is Truth.”
“But what does it mean? How can I ever explain to anyone what I have learned? What words will I use?” I asked.
I turned to see that I was alone. The Wise One was gone, the woven bag full of books left behind, the gurgling spring and the rush of the waterfall nearby the only sounds.
It would be a long journey home.
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. – Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Ages, Commentary on Micah 6:8