THE NARROW GATE
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. - Mt. 7:13-14
Every river begins in high and secret places. Since the course of my whole life was dramatically changed one June evening in 1958, and since all my seekings – indeed, the very cascading layout of this website – flow from that one irrepressible geyser, I must take you first, in the format of fiction (which, except for the names, will nevertheless be a point-by-point rendering of fact) to that crucial summer evening on Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco, California, when I was 18 years old.
The following "short-story" version of that evening was written at age 23 while studying at Vanderbilt University in the southern U.S. The title, Chance Meeting, reflects my woefully inadequate notion at the time of writing that the utterly actual encounter it attempts to render had been a happy conjunction of circumstance; that is, that my idealistic youthful strivings for self-improvement had somehow "earned" or perhaps "allowed me to ascend to some rarified vibratory plane" that merited notice (what a laugh) by, shall we say, "a particularly lofty Individual." (In my present perspective, of course, I see only the gracious exercise of an inscrutable sovereignty on the part of that "other party" whose Name I now know.)
First, before Chance Meeting, a quick thumbnail of my life up to that evening.
I was born James Robert Haun, Jr. on March 16, 1940 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Haun is Dutch.) My father was a self-taught aviator with only a high school education who by skill and charisma rose to the rank of bird Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. My mother was a kind and attractive Scotch-Irish southern belle who preferred dancing to reading. I was an only child until age 13, when a brother, David, was born. Being a military family, we moved at least every three years. (For example, I went to three high schools, two of them in Japan.) Until age five, while Daddy was trying to stay alive in Spitfires and Thunderbolts over Europe, Mama and I were being nurtured in the fragrant cultural bosom of white middle-class Memphis at my grandparent’s home on Netherwood Street. The extended family of seven living there during the war years raised chickens in the back yard, had a black housekeeper on Saturdays, and ate home-made waffles every Sunday morning before attending (everyone without exception) St. Paul’s Methodist Church.
I was a "well spoiled," embarrassingly happy child in those early years. My first real trauma (after the brief Oedipal shock of my father’s re-entry into our lives) was being taken out of the familiar womb of my first grade class in Memphis and being dropped into a large urban school in West Palm Beach, Florida. By the second grade our family had been transferred to Mobile, Alabama. By the sixth to Falls Church, Virginia.
Even before school age I was, I guess, "philosophically precocious." Voraciously curious about origins, as soon as I could read I was hiding books on the solar system or prehistoric trilobites behind whatever lesson was before the class. When at age five I asked my mother, "What is life?" her slightly amazed response was, "Good question." But really, Ma, where did all this particular stuff come from? How could such a peculiar world of objects and personalities simply "pop up"? I knew the commonplace hid a huge mystery.
Then, in spite of having "gone forward" with sincere emotion at a Billy Graham Crusade at age ten, by my teen years I had imbibed enough of the spirit of the age – as in staying up till 1:00 in the morning devouring science fiction – so as to reject pat Bible explanations. I suspected the future lay somewhere between Phillip Wylie’s The Disappearance and Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
During my last two years of high school I fell deeply in love with a gorgeous and hopelessly sexy brunette. But she was always on the honor roll, played the clarinet, and went to church three times a week. We were "going steady" all through my senior year. We even got to climb Mt. Fuji together on a base-chapel outing, easily managing to become separated from the other climbers to spend the night in a smoky stone hut two-thirds of the way up. (That was the only time she let me touch her breast – but only through her blouse; our "intercourse" was strictly tongue-in-cheek, so to speak.) As a gangly self-conscious straight-A nerd with thick glasses, some artistic talent, and a flat-top haircut, I was still trying to conform to the clean-cut Boy Scout ideal of the model "Christian," even though the Bible had long since lost whatever sense of authority it once held for me.
That all changed radically after I got to college and began exploring thinkers like Carl Jung – not to mention psychedelic revolutionaries like Timothy Leary. But I’m getting ahead of the story, since the ultimate mystical confrontation – without "benefit" of drugs or any such notion as the "collective unconscious" – happened the summer between high school and college.
So that is where we turn now, to a certain June evening fifty-nine years ago in the dry forever-hastening atmosphere of Travis Air Force Base, California – to a "younger," much more "innocent" me.
Full of the melancholy sweetness of isolation James Younger paused on the narrow concrete sidewalk which led across the broad space between the Officer’s Club and the well-kept, pleasantly arranged transient quarters. It was just sunset, a youthful Western sunset, and he turned to meet the unmistakable challenge it hurled at his eyes in clean penetrating rays. The brown sun-baked distances seemed almost to sparkle and flow toward him out of their haze, to come alive at that moment. Wishing to encompass the whole great scope of the scene he looked far up and saw how very high and delicate the sky was, lifted utterly away and out of sight. Loud about his ears and caressingly on the fine hairs of his forearms the dry air was full of the eternally rushing wind. Four or five young and slender trees that never drank from that infinitely rarified sky but from well-ordered sprinklers in the ground were stretching their perpetual nodding deference toward the east, all their branches madly aflutter, dimly flickering the whites of their leaves.
Suddenly at this moment that keenly agitated rustling had such a far-off closeness, such a detached, separate, crystal sharpness that was distinct, solitary yet contained, possessing somehow an exquisitely sad and lovely satisfaction – a restless peace, a faint astonishing joy. The whole world and life itself seemed stretched out there solid, beautiful, big before him across the melancholy flatness of land toward the harshly gorgeous circle of fiery orange splashing amid the smoky dust of the California horizon. He met the wind in his face, felt youth’s electric strength in his browned arms and swelling chest, embraced with his soul the beckoning orb that seemed so clearly to lead him, ask him, dare him on and always on and into itself – it like him brilliantly fresh and young, cleanly hard and alive.
So he stood for a time strangely moved by the intensely pleasurable pain and beauty of his loneliness, and was filled to his depths with determination to have and know this kind of life, life at its needle-etched best, at its conscious fullest and deepest and purest.
He felt dimly what a rare time of his life it was. It was as though he were allowed this little while to stand alone in this so spacious land, a region of the spirit made exciting and significant by a vague sense of dense impending thickets ahead. For the past several weeks particularly, his awakened self had been full of such a clear sweet sadness and aspiration. His mother and brother away, his father staying at work, he himself with a solitary job five hours five nights a week – these chance elements had combined to leave his long summer days entirely free, his own to fill as he pleased; and he spent them entirely alone. He knew no one here – nor did he care to really, having long since learned he could expect to find painfully little in common with the majority of other teen-age military dependants. But even as this thought crossed his mind he was aware that the real secret was that his immediate past had been simply too delicious to forsake, so that now he was spending all his days living in a lost time and pinning all his hopes on the conquest of a similar future.
This was Sunday evening and again the urge to walk was upon him. There was something thrilling and vast about these frequent lonely walks with himself, especially at night under the wide lucidity of sky when he dreamed in fantasy of the man he would someday be.
He had just come from a fine leisurely meal in the quiet atmosphere of the Officer’s Club, where he had sat at a small corner table, his elbows on the clean linen, letting his eyes wander among the handsome subdued couples, the one or two young families or the single, able-looking uniformed men. Absorbing the scene, a sweet flood of memories almost too much to bear of himself and Catherine in essentially identical surroundings had made him float detached through his meal, wishing he could have it all back and stubbornly refusing to believe it could really be gone forever.
Now she was three thousand miles away in Florida, making new friends, perhaps falling in love with other boys. He knew helplessly that would happen. More than simply beautiful, she possessed a certain innocent appeal which in rare unforgettable cases inhabits the magical border between girl and full-blown woman – a fresh, unconscious, almost holy light which men covet above all else, which they will do anything for. Inevitably, naturally, her bonds to him would soon dissolve.
Face it: she didn’t need him as he did her; she never had. Beside him she was sinless as a little child. How he had had to fight himself to win her! Capturing that pure heart had been an ordeal which had purged his young soul. He had done it as his one and only hope for life – blindly, blunderingly, bullishly accomplished it in spite of his unattractive boyish face and gawky adolescent frame, -- in spite of what yet seemed a terribly warped and self-centered splinter of consciousness trapped by this hugely looming monster called sex. That awesome nocturnal beast still stalked his tracks relentlessly. But he could nevertheless look back on his two years with Catherine as a major revelation of himself for all time; she had called out the best in him, had insisted on his most-ideal self, always, and he wondered to what subterranean circus his strangely supercharged emotions would have driven him without her.
He allowed himself to be drawn toward the transient billets, another location excruciatingly potent with memories – a potency he cultivated by not coming here often, by avoiding these particular pale walks and twilit rustling trees. But somehow tonight, even before he started to supper, he had known without thinking that he would come. They had returned together from Japan to this very spot. Here he had seen her last. Their families had flown home together on the C-54 allotted for his father’s personal-official use. There had been two soft, fantastic nights in Hawaii among rattling fronds; then here to be put up in one of these long block-shaped buildings – almost next door to each other. She had stayed three days while her parents waited for their car to come on the boat. Three days and then that numb incredible emptiness like a single note on a gong sickeningly filling all space – like perverse sunlight; bland shimmering nothingness. He could not even remember her actual departure, just as one does not remember what immediately precedes a stunning blow on the head – though dimly he recalled carrying suitcases.
He stopped by a small tree with a larger stump at its base standing on a little mound in the grass. He had almost passed it by, but something tugged coyly at his attention until slowly, with a pitiful chill, he remembered that he and Catherine had lounged next to it in the midday sun on a quilt while the wind threw her brown hair wildly about her smiling eyes and rosy cheeks, sometimes even whipping it across her sunburnt nose when she turned her head. This same dark ceaseless wind that now made his slender body shiver a little in its summer slacks had then blown her shirt, made it flap with a constant popping noise as they sat talking here, just as they always had, as though separation would never come.
Yet how else could they have talked? He remembered nearly everything they had said. Instead of a mutual swearing of eternal fidelity, he had tried to explain to her the principle of the airplane propeller. That was what she wanted to talk about, not the imminent problem of their future life together. Depression rose through the chambers of his soul like a sinister cloud. With a sadness no longer sweet drumming oppressively in his ears, he moved on and passed between the darkening buildings.
He wasn’t sure because the porches were all alike, but he thought that he found the one – up there on those shadowy concrete stairs – where they had said good-bye for the last time. But there were no lights here now, and the sound of the wind in the leaves overhead made him realize he was utterly alone and no one knew nor cared. For a moment he almost hated himself for coming here like this to squeeze his brain of all these lost and fading details, to let them drip like bitter acid onto his so isolated heart. The mocking leaves had overplayed their hand. He should never come here, it was perverse; he ought to be far away somewhere striding under the stars and dreaming of how he was going to get her back. He must push mightily on toward that dream…
* * *
Younger felt as though he were reeling, stumbling, plunging, as though he might throw his arms up, forward, gracefully forward like a dancer and tumble off right here into limitless space. How strange to be moving along in a crowd of human beings, to be able to rest one's eyes on the neatly-dressed boy ahead of him with a pale oval scar on the side of his smooth-clipped head where the hair didn’t grow, to be able to look aside and see between the lean and scrubbed slow-stepping wordless young men the multicolored candy display behind its clean slanted glass and the sophisticated gumchewing fourteen-year-old female selling it. How unrelated every impression of every sense to the feeling Younger protectively sheltered and carried inside: the shockingly self-evident consciousness that he was large as the world – that’s how it felt! – somehow vastly spread out, at least including everything out to maybe a mile… Nor quite that either – perhaps it was he engulfed everything he heard or looked upon – yes and more – he possessed all he knew or had ever thought about – lovingly – as though something of the ultimate secret of the world were at last laid bare to his eyes. It was as though he were moving along with one hand resting – almost casually – on a door handle to a door to all knowledge.
His heart blinked in humble unbelief as the awesome privilege of the glory that was melting and opening him struck deeper. What was this? Why such an invading greatness being vouchsafed to him? How was it these others were being excluded from this ultimately important vision? That one there inhaling a cigarette with narrowed eyes and blowing the match with the motion of his wrist, or that rough-cheeked pair with greasy curls laughing in such extravagance of unknowing – How could it be? He glanced down at his little brother David whose hand he held, small and bony but warm inside his own hard one. How was it the dumb and the articulate, the totally blind and the miraculously seeing, the vulgar and the transfigured were allowed to walk hand in hand, side by side on this same synthetic-tile floor? How could people possibly remain so out of touch with all this truth too instantly broad and beautiful for laughter and lighting cigarettes?
Yes, he stood here true enough at the top of broad concrete steps at the base movietheatre with people thick about – but no! He Did Not! He Stood Somewhere Else Alone. By chance he had drifted and swum, dog-paddled and drifted and finally drove forward with all his might and all at once without looking here he was at the real sure-enough-center – the honest hot glowing core of life and all. For this moment the universe had inexplicably arranged itself about Jim Younger like the wooden puzzle-elephant with the key piece that locked it all that his father had brought from India when he was six.
What he felt was incontrovertible. And there was no one here with him; he knew it! Somehow everybody but him had missed finding the key – which had been so hard to find he never knew himself what it was or how it worked. Apparently it had always been two-tenths blood-sweating conquest and eight-tenths fantastic luck. And now he alone of all these white shirts, one red shirt, two yellow, had come up with the whole hundred per cent entitling the bearer to existence total and free – in a really indescribable way – to any existence at all. He, the only one, the one alone who had being – who knew he secreted the genuine incredible substance! Without further warning his heart began swelling up, to accommodate, to pump, for an Ocean. An upwelling like a fountain starting low lodged a great painful lump in his throat. As he stepped down the stairs – looked up at the clear seven-thirty sky – he felt riven, top to bottom, with LOVE. His breath went out with a quivering gasp that was nearly a sob. A crack seemed starting in lightningswift jerks around the ancient eroded circumference of his inmost secret being. With a clean iron-muscled might some divine-seeming hand was thrusting down-deep and twisting its fingers midst entrails to jerk Out his very self – where it could gulp for a moment this strange cool air of the world, that he might behold his nature – start wanting to fall on his knees… The real-unreal dream all about, the many feet shuffling deceptively down these ridiculous concrete white stairs, the typewriter-keyboard of squared-off heads with different pale fattish necks, golden-tan skinny necks – blond hair and brown and bleached – all sticking out of different loose collars, and real cars twenty times further removed from the reality he was knowing starting two or three at a time, and all these absurd feet in shoes – in actual shoes with soft colors of gray and blue with honest-to-God-laces – brushing off through thick matted crabgrass…all these fearsomely wonderful unconscious adorable quizzical things seemed holding him somehow just back, seemed preventing and keeping him still but back here on the verge of a frightening Something, some truly wild Touch-Me-Not radically outside what he always had taken for obvious, given "reality."
If before in his life he had dealt in consuming fire, as in those lost dreamlike weeks when he first kissed Catherine, he had now the empty-stomached minute-creature feeling he had wandered right up to a critical mass of fissionable stuff needing barely a nudge – the touch of a hair – to set loose on himself. He felt near something Huge, VAST beyond all previous imagining, of a whole different ORDER of THINGS, incomparable to any known quality, as though he had wakened to find himself under a balanced gigantic boulder which – steaming, popping, thundering – was starting to fall.
Wordlessly he struck off across the parched ground toward home, torn open inside, too starkly alive, wanting to stride hard, having to check himself for his brother and Billy Bigelow who were following.
Billy must surely have been touched by the picture. His visiting one-time friend was slouching self-effacingly along, hands in pockets, his thin nondescript eyes pointed sightlessly toward the ground from that strangely wobbling head with its bulbous skull and almost kinky hair like a miniature surf of tight brown breakers. At this moment Younger knew emphatically that this was not the real world – this inconsequential, insubstantial meaningless dream – and he held the dream away at arm’s length, refusing to enter it; he contained the real world this moment inside himself.
Never had he been so deeply moved by a motion picture. For the past two hours his life had thrived and gloried among the dull red halls of the Sorbonne, in spring-touched French villages, in a quiet hotel on the Riviera. An adapted Francois Sagan love story, the movie’s starring actress could not have been more like Catherine had she been Catherine herself. Everything was there, everything had driven home to him his own hopes and dreams in a tottering stack of stunning recognitions. It was absolutely she who walked alone along the Seine; it was only and exactly Catherine who would raise her head just so to a first tentative kiss – and most assuredly Catherine who smiled with just that certain guileless smile. The words of the theme nearly brought tears to his eyes because they were written for him; their simple truth encompassed his truth and had somehow thrust him toward the inmost center of his life and being:
A certain smile, a certain face, can lead an unsuspecting heart on a merry chase… You love awhile and then love goes: You try to hide the tears inside with a cheerful pose, But in the hush of night, exactly like a bittersweet refrain, Comes that certain smile to haunt your heart again.
All, all; the way her clothes hung demurely soft on her full eagerness – but above and higher than that the intolerably moving intimations of what she was inside that came so clearly through the subtle changes on her face; the unutterable soul-melting quality of a perfect human face, a beauty shocking, profoundly affecting because it was at once mortal and real – yet eternal and ideal; a smile that said, "I am bursting with a high noble joy and perhaps so are you; let us share our selves and lives each with each."
Billy kicked a large stone accidentally and almost fell but caught himself with a humorless idiotic laugh without looking up. Younger realized that the great unexpected tide of emotion had withdrawn somewhat, as if holding itself in abeyance, as though ready in an instant to spring back upon him. But this new essential grasp on exterior facts – this gift of easy godlike unthinking confidence and knowledge beyond all previous conception or capacity remained. Feeling a warmly affirmative answer inevitable, he only half suppressed his more than lyrical feelings:
"Wasn’t that the greatest thing you’ve ever seen?"
Billy still didn’t look up; he hesitated slightly before replying. "Well, no, I can’t say it was. Really thought it was pretty dull. Not too much happened if you ask me."
Younger felt as though somebody had pulled a big prickly rope through his chest, but his head stayed clear as ice-water. He was shocked, unbelieving. Was the disparity between persons so great? He was swept up with a strangely magnificent combination of pity and pride. Alright. So be it. Then he really was alone. He welcomed the fact with all the vital sweeping dignity of his new-found genius. He turned his head deliberately and looked at this queer lost being whom he had befriended as a sophomore in Japan before moving to Tokyo where he met Catherine.
Apparently poor Billy had a blanket policy of watching the ground. "You liked that, huh?"
"I confess it. I did for a fact. How ‘bout you, Dave ol’ boy -- was it too much loving for you?"
His bashful brother raised eyebrows and shoulders together, smiling. "Oh, I dunno. It was O.K."
* * *
A few minutes later they were crossing a street that shot straight and smooth through the wide June evening. Younger looked about at the dusk-softened single-story officers’ quarters, the very archetype of a subdivision, stretching away in hundreds to the top of a distant low rise. He smelled the wet grass – with its roots in the still-warm earth – receiving the first cool spray of the nightly soaking under the sprinklers. The orderliness and willing cooperation of these service families in complying with the necessities of the water shortage, slight though they were, appealed strongly to him and made him feel almost at home and glad to be simply where he was. He heard the pleasant high-pitched cries of children at play, gathered far down here underneath that pale lavender, world-encircling sky. Looking far over to the west he knew that an un-twinkling Venus had already followed the sun below the dark, rounded bosoms of the land – a willful spark seeking its source. But as though heralding a new act in a very long-running play a dozen faint stars were springing momentarily brighter overhead, just beyond where a high and lonely light aircraft puttered through the delicious dimness of the unseasonable calm, as slow and unobtrusive as a chip in a pool. It all at once came clear to Younger that this place – this earth, even these people – was a proper home! He watched the legs of a little boy in short pants running around a pink stucco house where a washed and heavily chromed Buick rested coolly in the drive. It was strange how naturally these things seemed capable of calling up emotion now, for no apparent reason. He saw two little girls about five with a lot of flouncy blond hair peeking around another corner of the house – only to scream with glee and run the other way when they saw the runty jokester chasing them. The unaccustomed lump forced its way again into Younger’s throat in the midst of a thrilling new sense of belonging to this and to life.
He was remembering things – things about his boyhood – which seemed to have been forgotten altogether for an eternity. More than just chasing little girls: most especially the myriad forgotten generosities that his parents – even his father – had showered him with, so freely. This lump in his throat brought back how sometimes he had sat alone in the huge heaped-up attic of his grandmother’s house, with its dark depths radiating out from him, gazing about at dusty boxes and piles of worn-out toys accumulated in his five or six years of – somehow more absolute – life; how he had squatted more than once on his heels and helplessly cried with tears rolling down his cheeks because he, because nobody deserved to be given so much when most little boys had nothing at all… He remembered that crying now with such a strangely sweet, melting shock, for he was aware that he was feeling, or that he was starting to feel, something of exactly the same sort of thing – now after – how many? – after Good God thirteen whole years completely devoid of anything with any meaning quite like this. Not even what he had known with Catherine could quite touch this old-new infinitely tender sweetness. It belonged somehow to a far bigger, more precious order of things to which the word sacred must surely apply, and it seemed to tell him so much more starkly and directly than words:
"You must be good or you destroy everything. You have to be good or all is lost." But who could be good enough for this?
Billy’s voice broke in on his thoughts. "She was a good looking girl alright."
As usual Billy seemed to feel the necessity of not being too much in disagreement with his long-worshipped friend. Younger grunted noncommittally with a brief nod. Still staring approximately nowhere Billy shifted his head into a more pronounced wobble and moved up close to Younger’s side, squeezing one arm unexpectedly about his shoulders with distasteful intimacy.
"What would you do if you had a girl like that, Jimmy-boy?"
Politeness and a certain hopeless empathy nullified Younger’s violent impulse to give Billy a sharp warning blow in the ribs off the backside of his arm. He continued walking as though it were nothing. But Billy was already moving away, bending over, snickering with pointless intensity through his nose while he pointed a finger accusingly as though Younger were bubbling over, drowning, in obscenity.
There but for the grace of God, thought Younger – there but for my good fortune in having found a Catherine; there but for an infinitude of things: He can’t even recognize salvation when it starts chewing on his leg – and him so full of Sunday School and dogmatic theology and you must try to be a "good Christian."
Oh my poor lost Billy-San, I know I’ve had a lot of fine things that you must have missed since your mother’s egg made that first momentous change when the surface flows dark around and seals up your lonely separate self from all this great Rest in which we lie so long like foreign objects – but if you lay your arm on me again I’ll ask you nicely and sincerely and out loud to keep your hands to yourself!
Knowing minutely the precise way in which Billy’s mind resembled a dog chasing its own tail, Younger suddenly thought it strange how much one must give up in order to possess everything in the way he did now. And how powerfully this gift of a higher life bore out the principles he seemed to have been discovering in his loneliness. Then the realization struck him how these last few days especially he had been striving even more passionately than usual to live up to these principles, passing again in effortless review through his mind: "Something is not got for nothing, ever." "If a man has done his best, he has done everything; if less than his best, nothing." "Not what you do but how you do it!" "Life is what you make it; you set your own limit on rewards because life itself has no upper limit…"
With a hellishly impure strength of tortured will he had made himself do zealously the little things like cleaning house in preparation for his mother’s return, taking care of the yard, the flowers along the front of the house, and then the bigger things like going to the weight-room at the base gym every day at two and making himself give his uttermost with flesh bulging into deep redness and veins nearly bursting in the hard sweating meat – vision going black in the tough unyielding center of suffering. And like his two hours practice every morning of chords on the piano, reading notes from an old hymnbook without looking at the keys. Then later on, stopping at the library and being transported clear out of this harsh dream of the senses for hours at a time in the incredibly wise and difficult pages of Emerson. And now this movie and the actress who is Catherine that seemed to give his insatiable wish to become such magnificent confirmation in terms of the love of a beautiful woman for a man who actually deserves it! For the first time in his life he felt successful.
When they reached Younger’s house it was almost dark night and supper was on the table. Colonel Younger called from the dining room as they came through the door, "Here they are, Mama. Come on in here and have at it. We’ve been waitin’ on you."
A pleasant feminine voice came from the kitchen, "Just a second, Papa-San, the rolls aren’t quite done yet. Why don’t you boys sit down and start on your salad?" Then the sound of the oven door closing. "Billy, would you rather have tea or milk?"
Younger’s mother was a slender woman of forty-five, a little taller than average with a delicate rose-flushed face that always bore the airy froth of a smile when she was around just anyone at all. She came in from the kitchen with a glass and a carton of milk, setting them down beside David’s plate. His father’s massive sun-blasted frame in a loose black golf shirt was established in a chair at the head of the table, his elbows planted athletically on either side of his plate, his heavy hands clasped in somewhat dramatic masculine fashion around the bowl of his pipe, smoke-blue eyes probing forth from narrowed lids above a Clark Gable mustache.
Ordinarily Younger felt somewhat dwarfed by his father’s presence and was reticent about speaking around him or indeed about expressing his true feelings to either of his parents, but tonight he was so absolutely, unprecedentedly sure of himself – so full of an internal treasure that for once he felt like letting go. He looked over at Billy, who was concentrating his whole blank attention on the salad, at which he poked desultorily, and Younger condemned and forsook all such cowardice to exist as a painless form of insanity. He did not intend to make the easy retreat toward death this night.
"I’m telling you that is the best picture I have seen since I can remember. No fooling – it was great! Man alive what a girl was in it! Boy, you have never seen anything like this girl."
His father looked at him a little surprised; he turned his head to one side slightly away from the pipe stem and said, a little cautiously, "Now what picture is this?"
His mother answered, "Oh I read about it. It’s a story written by some little French girl in high school, and it’s really shocked everybody because all the people that knew her thought she was much too young to know so much about what-it’s-about."
His father smiled roughly good-natured and friendly. "Oh so those are the kind of stories you like, huh?" He looked up at his wife with proud mock discovery. "Mama, I’m afraid you’re losing your little boy."
Younger’s mother came around with a plate of rolls in one hand and stood beside her older son, caressing his opposite shoulder lovingly, smiling broadly across at her husband with a quick duck of her head and glistening eyes: "Oh now I am not either."
This was a rare kind of moment for his family; at least it was rare when Younger felt like participating. Tonight he wanted urgently to try to communicate something to his father of how much he really did love and admire him and always had, even a little when he first came back from the war a larger-than-life fighter-pilot and stranger in the son’s and mother’s home. Father and son had never been close and had always transmitted their positive feelings indirectly by way of his mother. From age five when his daddy came back from Europe it had been an ordeal, to which his mother had finally persuaded him, to merely go to the living-room door every night and tell the silent figure engrossed in a paperback novel goodnight. That had been the pinnacle of their communication for years, quick almost to brusqueness but fraught with awesome meaning. ("Good night, Daddy." " – Good night, Boy.") And now so intent on expressing something, anything, quickly in a friendly way to try to maintain this unusual openness, Younger grinned at his father and said:
"Yeah, Daddy, what do you know about little boys?"
His father’s smile relaxed slowly, his brows coming together a notch in an expression of hurt surprise, too caught off guard to conceal. Younger realized at once he had taken it wrong, being totally unused to hearing such banter from his son. Jimmy had certainly meant nothing by it, but when he saw his father hurt he was too shocked by the sudden turn to do anything but sit while his mother’s fingers gave his shoulders a quick worried squeeze. After an instant his father managed to pretend to pass it off, looking down at his plate with a wry smile and saying "Ah so" in a wise but strictly Americanized inflection that always sounded like a stoical acceptance of defeat at the hands of fate.
But as they continued the meal even this mishap could not quell Younger’s high conversational style. He was too full of himself to balk in defeat before a single misunderstanding, and he was aware of his father smiling strangely at him with mild wonder. The amazing part was that Younger didn’t care. He was really himself for once and if the world didn’t like it that was the world’s misfortune. He even got Billy’s keen sense of humor – his friend’s great redeeming characteristic – enticed into the light spirit so that their guest’s loud guffaws were soon reverberating among the table crystal and conspicuous sterling trays and pitchers. Younger had the thrilling certainty he was exercising genuine power over the high spirit of enjoyment. But after Colonel Younger had finished eating he quietly excused himself and strolled through the front room and out the door into the night-shrouded yard.
They began clearing the table. Younger was carrying plates toward the sink when his mother whispered to him that she thought he had hurt Daddy’s feelings and that maybe he should go out and tell him he hadn’t meant anything by his remark. Her statement came as a wrenching shock to Younger because he had nearly forgotten the incident. He felt ashamed, but more he felt a new, almost frightening sense of compassion for his father. Could what he said have made Dad feel badly enough to leave the house? With mounting urgency yet dread at the difficulty of the thing he must do, he walked through the front room with its black and brass Korean chest and folding screens of Fujiyama in woven silk and out through the door under the moonlit blackness of the sky.
His father was sitting on the edge of a lawnchair, bent over, feet firmly planted, looking down at the sod through the intermittently rising smoke of his pipe. A good man, but always inaccessible behind that seamless John Wayne persona. Younger was half-afraid of him, but at the same time loved him more this moment than he ever had and wanted to let him know. Approach and avoidance warred like furies, but there was no question what he had to do, so plunge he would. He walked over and stood wordlessly beside the man, wanting to say a lifetime’s worth – but instead pretending to look at the moonlit field across the street.
His father raised his head and glanced up at him through seriously cocked and narrowed eyes, cupping his pipe in both great hands before him.
Younger had never known this feeling of wanting to throw his arms about his father’s shoulders and start sobbing "I love you, I love you." But he knew somehow they could almost – but not quite – ever do that. He knelt awkwardly down on one knee and laid his hand on his father’s shoulder. They never touched each other except sometimes to shake hands and both of them must know to the depths the meaning coursing through this mild light touch. Younger felt a wonderful-fantastic force in him trying to make him cry. He had to fight it down with all his might.
"Dad, listen, I didn’t mean a damn thing by what I said when supper started. I was just feeling very good toward you."
His father’s face didn’t alter but he brought it down once in an understanding nod which caused the pipestem to incline a bit more steeply.
Younger took his hand away and stood up. "I think Mother’s about got the dessert ready. Don’t you want to come in and have some?"
His father said "Alright" in the drawn-out circuitous way he had when he was trying someway to give an indication of what he really felt. He stood up too and smiled, placing his hand briefly on Younger’s shoulder and motioning graciously with the other for his son to precede him into the house.
They sat down at the table where Billy was making some highly predictable comment about how good the dessert looked. Younger stared down at his own but his chest was in such a turmoil of emotion that to take the least bite seemed like the most corrupt sacrilege. He took a small half-spoonful for the sake of form and hated the good taste he was scarcely aware was invading his mouth.
Suddenly he seemed hit in the back with a great hammer of sheerest heavenly light and glory. He did not swallow the odious morsel but quickly rose from the table with a garbled "Excuse me" and headed for the front door.
At last, at last. Relief was coming. He knew it. He could feel it coming on and over him. He got outside and spat banana pudding, wiping his mouth roughly on his arm. That incredible, unimaginable THING was taking hold of him again, only this time surer, more solid, more certain in intent to sweep him up and blast him into a billion shivered splinters of love. He was so scarcely conscious of the ground or his legs or anything else, all so irrelevant, so entirely incidental to this thing impossibly happening to him. The night was become a black glory ripping, sundering, boiling about him.
He knew he was stumbling, veritably reeling but it mattered not at all in the face of this on-gripping, escalating Power shining through him, piercing him like soundless thunderbolts. He was so distantly aware that he was out in the gray fluid under the black sky and blinding moon but the only thing he was truly knowing was the wondrous fact he was stumbling here crying, crying his soul out as helplessly as if he were not himself, but some Entirely Other One.
He heard himself sobbing so loudly, his voice breaking at the bottoms of sobs like a tiny child’s, felt the streaming floods of wetness on his cheeks, tried to stop himself, keep it quiet because he knew people must be hearing, but it was no use. After the barest moment he would break inexorably out again despite every effort to stop. Never had he conceived that anything remotely like the glory streaming through and through him actually existed.
He knew at once, had known for some minutes without needing to be taught, strangely beyond any possibility of doubt, that what he was experiencing was, could be, nothing other than the literal presence and being and life of God. At any previous time in his life he would have called the notion preposterous. His Methodist upbringing so ignorant of this! But now he was left no choice but submit before it, accept helplessly the ultimate blatancy of The Real that renders all else shadow and vapor.
He raised his streaming face and felt himself thudding down on his knees and clutching the front of his shirt with both hands and repeating over and over again, only, "I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry; I didn’t know, I just didn’t know it was like this."
He saw nothing but the bright shining circle of moon with stars placed about in scores but he felt with a far greater certainty than vision that the flooding presence was actually concentrated in the large space of sky one or two dozen yards from his face. He couldn’t grasp its extent but he had the strong impression of a certain concentration, like an ocean-liner balloon of some unthinkably dense stone, that was this glorious Intelligence above him. (Intelligence, blasphemously inadequate word!) It was the most natural and obvious fact of his entire life that he was speaking to this presence and "it" heard him and was streaming back at him with "speech," without words, infinitely stronger and more direct than words, so he was knowing what "it" knew, irresistibly pulled onto a mind bridge of potentially fatal intensity.
In the midst of the spreading infinity somehow shot all through his soul he understood everything, was being told everything at what seemed a thousand libraries per second. Beyond any question he was sure in that moment – for that one single space of no-time cutting razor-like through the spread-out time of his life – he was connected to all knowledge in a way that he himself seemed to know all things.
And all he could do in the face of it was cry! Because the mind bridge was equally, indistinguishably, a heart bridge! The gap between this holy reality and the smallness of ordinary human life was more than devastating. His eighteen years had given him no clue the world could possibly be transfixed with so overwhelming a Love, as if a life lived at quarter-inch altitude could relate to a sudden snatch 1000 feet in the air! He choked again as this utterly personal love curdled and splattered through his chest like heavily plunging bullets of sheerest fire. His deepest core was being machine-gunned with these discretely impacting hunks of living fire until last hour’s self-esteem was a cinder in a puddle of wax.
"I’m too bad. I’m too bad. I don’t deserve." People lived so terribly because their ignorance of THIS, this holy Source, was so utterly dark! Our blindness so complete that the strongest hints we ordinarily get that such a pure BEING might really reside at the close base and root of all tells such microscopic nothing of Its – HIS – unutterable Grandeur. How absurd to try to coin – let alone speak – a name for this TRUTH, so inadequate are words to FACT. To gain the sunshine of this LIFE would be worth sacrifice of anything. – Anything without question. Let self joyously be taken, killed in the face of this – that the very least one might do.
* * *
After about half an hour his feelings settled down enough to allow him to return to the house, although every time either of his parents looked at him for the rest of the evening he almost burst into uncontrollable crying. His knowledge of how much he really loved them would allow no less violent response. He somehow finally went to sleep that night, and in the morning things began settling back down to normal.
"All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." - Mt. 11: 27
"What is man that Thou art mindful of him?" - Ps. 8:4a
So ends Chance Meeting. Having been thus "touched," not just in the head but in the deepest "heart" (whatever that shorthand actually references) you may be sure that in the years following I dug through hundreds of books, more or less arcane, trying to discover whether my worldview-demolishing encounter was common or unique. (Today I believe it is neither: rare but hardly unprecedented.)
Early on I devoured both Evelyn Underhill’s classic Mysticism and William James’ landmark secular examination, The Varieties of Religious Experience. In these and similar works I inevitably struck upon the term "cosmic consciousness," which of course in my naively optimistic ignorance excited me tremendously as sure evidence of my having picked up the scent of the proper trail that must lead "back up the mountain." How excited and how naïve is evidenced by the fact that as a sophomore at the University of Tennessee in 1960 I was dissuaded only by strong negative input from my father from dropping out of school to board the proverbial "tramp steamer" for the Himalayas.
Unfortunately, this pursuit of eastern spirituality, which in fact led me from the jungles of psychdelia to the eerily arid plateaus of yogic meditation, consumed an additional 18 years of my life. To summarize what I deal with in detail elsewhere [reality] on this site, I was being led aside during these searchings by the double delusion that "All Is One" and that "union with the Absolute" is achievable through self effort. These ideas and their alternative are amplified on the Worldview and Collision webpages.
The "alternative," where I have been firmly established for the past 41 years, is, as you may already have guessed, the biblical world-view of evangelical Christianity. But here a new set of profound issues arises concerning a heated 20th Century debate among evangelicals themselves, a controversy which my encounter with God, if faithfully rendered – while it may heighten or complicate the debate in some quarters – can hopefully offer a point of balance between extremes, as I hope to explain.
What is this controversy? At bottom, it is a disagreement over what in classical philosophy is somewhat smugly called "epistemology" – how we know or apprehend truth. (Perhaps I should qualify that sub-discipline further as a now passé artifact of "merely modern" philosophy, but I refuse to waste energy on this site absurdly contending with postmodern nonsense that objective truth/reality does not exist. Nor will I bother to defend "Reason" as an important tool in establishing truth, since the dispute I wish to address is, after all, between Christians who by definition hold to the existence of an overarching objective reality that is true for all. Reason plays on that field. So let me emphasize again that we have narrowed our scope here to the remnant of actual Bible believers – not "Quakers" or New Age scripture-thieves, or even main-line denominational folk who in their broad-minded liberalism are long gone over the wall of apostasy, fast asleep.)
In the broadest terms, the debate is between those within evangelicalism who trust the authority of the biblical text to the exclusion of any subjectively derived "knowledge" of supernatural realities VERSUS those who insist that the God of the Bible is still making Himself known directly in our day, primarily through His Holy Spirit, in the same ways (if not necessarily to the same degree) as He did in the first century. The latter group, known most prominently as Pentecostals or Charismatics, usually insist that subjective experiences of "the divine" be evaluated against, and submit to, the truths revealed in the Christian scripture. I emphasize usually because there is a wide spectrum of belief on both ends of this controversy: from those most distrustful of any "inner light" (whom we can label – somewhat unfairly singling out one group to stand for several – as "The Reformed") to those on the other extreme willing to "play with" or even ignore the biblical text in order to justify almost any bizarre subjective manifestation – including involuntary barking – as being "of the Holy Spirit." (These we can safely label Hyper-charismatics.)
So the pendulum swings, with – I believe – the excesses at either end causing a yet further over-reaction at the other, to the hurt of the church and the delight of the fallen angels. I believe my own position is close to center on this spectrum. To put my sympathies in the one direction in a nutshell, as a much-loved non-denominational pastor – whom no one would think of labeling "a charismatic" – once said, "All true Christianity is Pentecostal." By this he was not voicing a sectarian preference but simply affirming that anyone claiming to have been "born again" into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, who at the same time has no "authoritative inward witness" of the Spirit, is undoubtedly deceived as to his true spiritual condition – a serious predicament indeed -- to which I fear the "Reformed" camp is liable.
But in spite of the subtlety of this Reformed trap of "total reliance on the letter," the dangers at the other extreme, are, if anything, greater still. Indeed, the further one divorces him/herself from the standard the Father of Light has laid down in His inspired "word," the Holy Bible, the more "Christianity" can become a label that blurs completely over into the decidedly non- and even anti-Christian. "Feelings," "impressions," "nudgings" are a coinage too easy for angelic criminals to imitate. My own 18 years of near-fatal stumbling down counterfeit paths promising "self-realization" proved to me the inadequacy of deriving one’s theology from experience without a trustworthy standard of measurement that rightly places the content of inner experience within the broader framework of historical, not to mention eternal, verities.
In other words, any experience, however powerful or seemingly authoritative, which contradicts or does not at least fall within the framework of Old and New Testament revelation, is to be rejected.
To one unfamiliar with the warnings in Matthew 24 and 2nd Thessalonians 2, this must seem an excessively harsh prohibition. But allow me to get specific by using my own "mystical revelation" as sketched in Chance Meeting for illustration.
My "fictionalized" portrayal leading up to being "irradiated" by the Creator seems, even to me, something of a puffy cumulus cloud of heaped-up feelings. (A rather embarrassing confession to have to make in the presence of fellow conservatives.) For example, from the vantage-point of 54 years since the writing, I am frankly astonished at how many times of the words feel, felt, and feeling crop up. (I have counted them, and in less than a dozen printed pages these words alone appear 33 times.) Of course, this emphasis on emotion is partially to be expected in an honest rendering of the psyche of most any teen-ager, even more-so for the idealistic, somewhat artistic youth I was.
But beyond these factors, this breakthrough event in my young life was a veritable orbital launch powered by – what I have come to conclude was – an induced emotion. I don’t mean to discount a no doubt built-in natural response of the human soul standing in the presence of its Maker, but in all honesty, I suspect that the "puppy-love" re-ignited by the Hollywood film provided a convenient "warm-up" stage for the real rocket-ignition of "Emotion" being "picked up" directly from a super-natural Personality. Human beings apparently have this more or less latent capacity to – if you’ll pardon the seeming irreverence – "feel" what spirit-beings are "feeling." (Just ask any Charismatic! Or on a lower level, even cats seem to have an acute perception of "invisible vibes.")
When the apostle John writes in the book of 1st John that "God is love," I doubt he was simply recording what for him was a cold propositional truth taken merely "on dictation." Even more to the point, the apostle Paul writing to believers in Ephesus, in the specific context of their receiving revelation knowledge of God, prays for them "that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened." (Eph. 1:16-18) (This language, incidentally, fits comfortably within the biblical "psychology" of a tri-partite nature – no need to speculate concerning "astral bodies" and the like, though the Bible is clear the body is merely the temporary "tent" the true person inhabits, enabling interaction with material creation.) Recall also that in John 7:38-39 Jesus spoke of the gift of the Holy Spirit as "rivers of living water" that would flow out of the believer’s "belly." To me, at least, this saying implies a strong emotional component.
But – as a caution to the charismatics – to be allowed for a few moments to "feel" or to "see" what God "Feels" or "Sees" is not to be ushered into instant theological clarity. Real mystical experience is in a profound sense "beyond reason." While the "content" of my experience was in its way irrefutably clear, it hardly came in abstract propositional form. (Indeed, "the honeybread" is still being digested fifty-nine years later, and does indeed produce a certain bitterness in the "gut" of "the old nature." – Rev.10: 9) And although in the truest sense my revelation was not "subject to interpretation," on another level it was dangerously susceptible to re-interpretation by the theological forms I naively encountered in my search for an over-arching system of truth into which this irrefutably-known God could comfortably fit. (One should remember here, Satan doesn’t waste his energy wrestling with atheists.)
Too bad I had not been sufficiently schooled to be able to apply the biblical paradigm first, because in the end it was the only template which perfectly matched the raw data. But I had become jaded by early religious inoculation against what the prevailing cultural climate sophomorically considered the obsolete answers of a closing age.
As a preface here to what follows, let me note that I embrace the (admittedly incomprehensible) idea of the Trinity because both the Bible and Jesus Himself teach it. In the statements that follow I cannot claim to know "which exactly" of the "Three Persons" visited me, nor am I even concerned that the question much matters. There were frankly elements of the experience that I might hazard as appropriate to each of "The Big Three," but at this point I can only plead the "smoked glass" defense of a child’s foolish attempt to interpret a stupendous solar event.
Also, one further caveat. While I don’t recall the "feeling-tone" of the One Who was revealed as being specifically either – pardon the expression – "male" or "female," if I had to choose on such a (probably absurd) issue, it would have to favor the masculine. Call it early childhood programming if you like, but if you are not convinced of the trustworthiness of the Bible, at least consider the possibility that a sovereign God made a sovereign choice to refer to "Oneself" in One’s written revelation as Father, Son, and (masculine) Holy Ghost. (Yes, I know, the feminists and seven-eighths of the professing church just bailed!)
Proceeding on then, here is the Raw Data:
I more or less assumed – probably in my deepest heart I knew – I had been "introduced to" the God of the Bible, but I was selfishly hoping He might also be the "God" of the other major religions as well. In a sense for the next eighteen years I ran screaming from the impossible standard this Mighty One had posed for me. Therefore, insofar as I was able, I focused on His Love and suppressed the implications of His Holiness with its concomitant Justice.
But as I pursued a study of eastern spiritual paths purporting to allow conscious re-union with "the One" in a perpetual ocean of bliss, I was continually puzzled by the impersonal terminology in their appellations for their "Absolute Ground of Being" – words like Energy, Void, No-Thing. For them, I finally began to realize, "God" or even the "Great Mother" was rather the highest frequency vibration in a universal glass onion where the illusory sphere or "emanation" of my life context was many octaves lower down a gigantic musical scale.
Being of a scientific bent this picture from Hinduism that "All is One" appealed to me, yet I had to admit that the God Who had allowed me one non-lethal glimpse of Himself seemed much more likely to be of such a Nature as to be totally transcendent beyond His admittedly multi-leveled creation, a creation which nevertheless – though vastly inferior in being – was really there and not merely an illusion as taught in the East. The God I now knew-beyond-all-doubting seemed self-evidently capable of "speaking" mere "matter" into existence. And above all I had been shown that He was a "Person," though not yet my Father.
Meanwhile He was allowing me to follow my own rebel way farther and farther from His glory to the point that, by the mid-70’s, demonic spirits were, with considerable justice, claiming legal rights to use my body as their exclusive vehicle. Three times while sleeping I narrowly fought off, by His mercy, total demonic possession. God used those events as a true wake-up call as to my desperate spiritual condition.
So in 1976 in Orlando, Florida I surrendered to Him through a mediator, His unique Lamb Jesus, whose holy life was credited to my account through a walk-altering faith in the Son’s resurrection and present exaltation. I found (and trusted to the point of action) that the price of satisfying God’s necessary justice had already been paid for me on a rocky hill called "the Skull" outside Jerusalem two millennia ago.
The following statement may seem to contradict my ruminations on the Trinity above, but in a sense more real than I can explain I am certain that the very Name of the One Who graciously came to me like a "Lead Zeppelin" in 1958 on Travis AFB is the Name above all names, the Name of God’s only begotten Son our Savior, YESHUA HA’MASHIACH, Jesus the Messiah. He is Himself that "narrow gate" that leads to life and not destruction. And I believe He is coming again, and – in at least an historical sense – "soon," not invisibly, but as the Man spoken of symbolically by Daniel the prophet as the "stone cut out of the mountain without hands." (Dan. 2: 45)
Concerning this "rock of my salvation" on Whom I am "building my house," I am convinced there is a mystery here far deeper than even most Bible-believers have guessed. Paul, the New Testament apostle most despised and maligned in our day, writing to the church at Corinth concerning the children of Israel during their wilderness wanderings, said that "they all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual Rock, which followed them; and the Rock was Christ." (1 Cor. 10:4) Moreover, there are at least eight statements in the Old Testament directly calling God a "Rock," not to mention many indirect comparisons throughout the Bible likening God to a rocklike foundation, fortress, or refuge. I would never argue that these are not apt and necessary figures of speech, yet my encounter has convinced me of a sense in which they run beyond metaphor in grappling with the challenge of communicating what cannot be comprehended in mere words. If, as Arthur C. Clarke pointed out in one of his books, a matchbox of packed neutrons such as are found in a black hole would weigh as much as a locomotive, how much more incomprehensible a "substance," more dense than that matchbox, which is yet an invisible "Spirit?" Christ is certainly not "a rock," but a Spirit-Person-Rock is about as close as words can get. Call it divine "baby-talk."
So began my study of the authoritative revelation-in-words He has given to humankind. And as I compared what I learned in scripture with the direct unveiling I had been allowed at age 18, I realized that the eye of the heart, the Eye of Emotion, supremely enlightening though it may be, can be woefully nearsighted without the corrective lens of Holy Writ. So I agree this much with the more conservative wing of evangelicalism: that the truths of the Bible must be allowed pre-eminence over experience, however powerful or seemingly authoritative. And to ride the supercharged roller-coaster of emotion without a sound theological grid is to invite supernatural deception. If one’s experience contradicts the plain sense of scripture, it is to be rejected and renounced. For there is a real, super-intelligent adversary of the truth, one of surpassing subtlety for all his mad-dog snarlings, whose primary occupation is the production of counterfeit-decoy "pathways to God" that are in fact highways to destruction.
To put forth "The Bible" as a serious answer to high-flown questions of "epistemology" must surely seem in our day – not just simplistic, but laughably anachronistic.
"Anachronistic" implies "ill-timed." To today’s academic and scientific mindset, no doubt these adjectives fit. But time itself seems accelerating like the water approaching the lip of Niagara, as the world is being swept toward that great temporal "showdown" about which the Bible has much to say. For a closer look at this topic, you are invited to the Finality page.
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
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