Understanding the Divine Is Always Personal

Life has been a little hectic lately, over the holidays and with family and friends; so I have fallen behind the schedule I was following of posting blogs on here. Also, being a technological klutz, even more so than my being 73 would explain, I managed to delete a lot of recent files. Just as after I lose a flash drive yet again, I’ve decided to regard that loss as being a message from the Muse that I need to rewrite; I have an opportunity to do better. Yeah, well, that’s one coping mechanism I devised after a lifetime of being a chronic depressive. I once asked a Jungian therapist I was seeing, Lloyd Linford, “Isn’t it normal to get depressed after something really negative happens?”

He replied, “No, some people get angry and start fighting.”

What a novel concept, I thought. Maybe I can get some use out of that. Lately I’ve been applying it to dealing with utility companies.

Posting blogs only when I feel like it works well. I do not need to feel any pressure about doing so. It’s not like I’m ever going to have a massive following or earn any money directly from blogging. What I write is clearly too cerebral for many people; I do not write to entertain. Back in the 60s, at San Francisco State, my friend Floyd Salas said to me, “Aidan, you’re a poet’s poet—but you’ll never be popular.” He was right. I thought then, and I think now, that the idea of writing poetry in order to be popular was just bizarre.

For me, poetry is one form of experimental epistemology, like mathematics and theology. I am continuing to carry out the mandate I acquired at age 14 to find out as much as I can about truth in all matters, especially ones having to do with religion. One major advantage of blogging is that I can share what I  think I have learned with others, instead off having typewritten manuscripts moldering in the bottom of a closet because no corporate publisher could see any way to make money from them, Remember, you young whippersnappers, that was the glum reality just 20 years ago.

Blogging focuses me on producing bite-size chunks of writing that are manageable in a day—but these accumulate. Even discounting the poems, episodes of my novel, extracts from my history of the Craft in America—and I am going to make the first volume of that available soon—I have accumulated about 150,000 words’ worth of new writing, enough for a big book, or three smaller ones. Thinking about what the latter might be, I arrived at a conclusion that I think should have been obvious much sooner.

Of the three books, one could be the autobiography I’ve been working on now and then for some years. Another could be philosophical, dealing with epistemology and ontology, the third theological, dealing with, among other things, my fascination with Gnosticism, my exploration of how Christianity actually began, and my speculations about the Gnostic myth of Jesus and Sophia/Mary Magdalene. Then, thinking about how I might sort out the interwoven subject matter of the latter two possible books into two piles, it dawned on me that I could not sort the whole of the writing into even three piles. It is all too interwoven, I do not want to sort it, and, in fact, I shouldn’t.

The unexamined assumption I identified was Newtonian. Wouldn’t an autobiography be personal, whereas philosophy and theology be impersonal and objective? No, that is the false dichotomy I have not believed in since I was fourteen. Any even moderately well-educated person these days knows that we humans do not passively acquire information about a universe that is absolutely separate from us. Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Wheeler, and others have proven that we are part of the fabric of reality, that our act of perceiving changes reality, that the universe we perceive might not exist, or would certainly be very different, if we did not exist in order to be aware of it. This concept is not fundamentally different from the Hindu Tat tvam asi, Thou Art That, the Atman is the Brahman, or other statements of the “mystical” insight that “All Is One,” but it does lend some precision to the latter stance and enable some degree of experimental verification.

So, no, what I need to write is an integrated account of how the philosophical and theological issues were part of how I dealt with crises in my real life, without prettying them up or, on the other hand, without making myself out to be even worse than I actually am. It cannot be a linear, one-dimensional narrative. The more dimensions there are to it, the better it might be as an analog to the infinite reality we are part of, even though the accuracy of any analog, as a percentage of infinity, must approach asymptotically to zero. And, as seems to be true for all persons who are teachable, I grew and learned the most from the events that were the most embarrassing or frightening or politically incorrect. The process of writing an honest autobiography began when I realized that the events chronicled in my “Turning Point,” posted as a blog, needed to be not hidden, but highlighted as its first chapter.

Lately I have been thinking about an incident in my early childhood, wondering whether I should write about it, since the story might upset various people who seem to think I should be confined to their particular box. I have decided it must be told; it is a crucial element in who I am and what I know—and those people can go soak their heads.

In December 1947, just after I had turned seven, my family was in Pusan, Korea, in the dependent housing, waiting for the troop ship that would carry us across the seasick North Pacific back to Seattle. I was free to walk around the base, and one day I found my way into an empty, unused warehouse, where I wandered about, looking at the waist-high bins of rusty bolts and various metal objects. I came to the end of a corridor; there was a wooden wall about ten feet ahead of me, various bins on my right. As I glanced down at the floor, I saw a Miraculous Medal. As a good little Catholic boy, I knew instantly what it was. My mother had many of them. It was an oval shield, about the size of a dime, with an image of the Blessed Virgin, in a stance like that of Our Lady of the Angels or Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I was not merely guessing at what it might be. I did not imagine it. I saw it clearly.  And because so holy an abject should not be left lying on the floor, I immediately bent over to pick it up.

At that moment I heard a Bang behind me and a Thud on the wall above me, to my right. I stood up and looked at the wall, saw nothing, turned around to look at the opening in the other wall, saw nothing there, and wondered what the noises had been. I was not at all frightened, I bent down again to pick up the Medal and discovered what was there was only a bit of tin foil, as from a cigarette pack.

Later, of course, I could deduce what had happened. A young soldier, seeing someone in a building where no one was supposed to be, and perhaps under orders to watch out for Communist infiltrators, had fired at me, then, seeing he had almost killed a child, ran like hell.

So, that was an intervention. Does its use of the Miraculous Medal prove the truth of all Roman Catholic theology? No, of course not. The medal did not physically appear and disappear. What it proves is that my perception was altered from the inside, in order to save my life. The why is obvious. The who and how can be at best only secondary speculations. If I had been a Hindu child, I believe I would have seen a talisman of Ganesh orKrishnaor whatever deity would have inspired me to bend down instantly. But this incident also supplied a crucial fact I have to deal with in thinking about how our minds actually work.

I believe a primary agenda of the Divine is to protect our free will, our agency, by always leaving it ambiguous whether an intervention was a coincidence. But perhaps an even more primary agenda is to save our lives. Scott Peck pointed out that such interventions happen in people’s lives vastly more frequently than statistics would allow. I know of similar stories others have told me. One of our cultural problems is how reluctant people are to share such stories, except in confidence, when a large fraction of our population has had similar or equivalent experiences. Perhaps what I am supposed to be doing here is setting an example to encourage others to tell their stories. But it is only afterwards that one realizes what the true reasons for doing something were.

  • Roi de Guerre

    I would very much like to read that book!

    Your point about the frequency of divine intervention is spot on in my opinion. A few years ago I thought to see if that perception really held water. On project of some 400 people I began noting down the number and frequency of shared descriptions of such interventions. The frequency increased dramatically when I employed a simple query mechanism of sharing my interest in the topic. The vast majority of folks readily shared their own experiences. So, having taken one measurement totally devoid of the scientific method, I think it would be interesting to see a more rigourous and complete effort with a much larger sample size .

    Your statement that the divine wants/needs/wishes for us to maintain free will seems to me an act of love if and only if there exists the opportunity for personal development and evolution either within one lifetime, across many lifetimes, or both. Otherwise free will becomes a rather cruel torment.

    I’d rather believe the former, personally.

  • KateGladstone

    I think your subconscious (or something that’d ommunicates with the rest of you through your subconscious)had picked up some subtle cue that somebody was about to shoot, right there — since your subconscious (likely) has few or no words , the message was conveyed by “editing” your mind’s interoretaion of a sense-datum (the sight of the tinafoil) into something that would benevolently “trick” you into bending over for it.


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