Looking for the Light
It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark,
Better far to light just one little candle all you need is a tiny spark
If we’d all say a prayer that the world would be free,
The beautiful dawn of a new day we’d see,
And if everyone lights just one little candle,
What a bright world this will be!
(Joseph Maloy Roach, 1952)
What you seek is seeking you. (Rumi)
Be grateful for whoever comes for each has been sent as a guide from beyond. (Rumi)
We are all led to the truth for which we are ready. (Neale Donald Walsch)
When the Student is ready the Teacher will appear. (Neale Donald Walsch)
Anna’s Reader opened the conversation rather tentatively a decade ago with a light tome, a well written novel by Barbara Kingsolver which he had just read. The Poisonwood Bible tells a story of a White, Southern American, Christian Evangelical minister who takes his family to Africa in 1959 to do missionary work. For the spiritually curious, here is a link to an excellent if long summary of the novel.
After the Kingsolver novel, it did not take long for Anna to see an opening to an area of her own interest. We might have kept going in the direction of fictional literature, classical or contemporary, but Anna the Seeker brought Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue to the reading and discussion agenda. (Note that Part 1 Conversations with Anna: An Uncommon Friendship, uses Walsch’s title and subtitle as a formula to acknowledge the real point of departure of the examination of spirituality.) Anna had been saving this set of 3 books, which she had bought some time before, until she found someone who was as curious as she was to engage in a discussion of the books.
The three books are cleverly presented with an off-white book cover and book jacket to borrow the gravitas of scholarly or ecclesiastic manuals. The books present a challenging, sometimes inspiring look at spirituality. The author uses an interesting technique to discuss the gamut of human interactions: a technique where God and the author are interlocutors in an extended discussion. For those who are no longer seekers in spiritual matters, Walsch frequently verges on the sacreligious. In other times and in other places, his ideas would be judged blasphemous, and the hungry fires of the inquisition or a condemnation by edict or by fatwa would be his fate.
Walsch would be the first serious obstacle to be confronted along the decade long path into the domain of spirituality. To stop or not to stop reading would be an early challenge and a continuing impulse in our conversations. There were many concepts advanced by Walsch which were initially hard to swallow. Some of his ideas could be considered outrageous by religious traditionalists; are we all possessors of some divine stuff?; are we parts of a God who is still evolving and using His observations of humanity as part of the development of His own potential?
Some of the introductory comments to Conversations with God, had an eerie, prophetic quality to them. “When the Student is ready the Teacher will appear.” “We are all led to the Truth for which we are ready.” Both the Reader and Anna were struck by the cleverness of Walsch to implicate the reading public into the process at the beginning of his uncommon dialogue with God. And initially, the Reader was flattered by the notion of the special role that Walsch assigned to him in the life of the Student Anna.
Despite some initial bumps in the road, we persevered and finished the 3 books while engaging in many a spirited discussion of Walsch’s ideas. But we left feeling that the spiritual quest was still incomplete. Walsch had not satisfied our spiritual curiosity. We would soon meet Karen Armstrong who would become our respected guide along the spiritual path for the better part of the decade.
Looking for the Light
Early in the conversations, Anna related an experience which still resonated in her memory from seventy five years prior. She describes the moment as follows:
Reader: Could you describe the unusual experience that you had in church as a child?
Anna: I don’t know whether I would have called it a light at the time. I was only a child of 11 or 12, the child of immigrants, recent immigrants. They were struggling and I guess I was struggling along with them. I was standing up and singing a hymn in the United Church, a new church for me. I felt as if my body was disappearing. I felt as if I was cocooned or encased in something white and light. And so as we think of it now, I was surrounded by the light and it left me feeling so warm and loved. I think the only thing that comes to mind was (that) I was being loved and I thought what a wonderful place to be. I don’t know how long it lasted, probably just maybe seconds. But as it started to disappear I thought, don’t go,don’t go, let me stay. And then the next thing I know I am still standing, singing a hymn and feeling quite bereft. But I am 92 years old now and I still remember the feeling of being loved. It is incredible that the word “love” can encompass you that way. It is still dear, near to me. It is still something that I remember.
The encompassing light that Anna experienced at an early age in the United Church could have been the beacon to start a career of service in the area of health care and to motivate her lifelong advocacy for social justice in British Columbia. Despite visual loss, her senior years continue to be fulfilling. In the decade of our conversations she was losing eyesight but gaining a compensation: greater spiritual insight.
Post Scriptum: The Blogger notes the similarity of the ideas of the 13th century Persian mystic Rumi, and Walsch the contemporary American in the 4 quotations that begin this post. Walsch seems to have drunk the waters in the same fountain from which Rumi drank 7 centuries before.