I was watching the movie Thunderheart while traveling by plane from Chicago to Seattle for a visit with my daughter. This was the umpteenth time I watched the movie since it first captivated my imagination on the big screen in 1992. The movie was at the point when the protagonist, Ray Levoy, experienced another supernatural vision. The vision experience shook him up inciting him to immediately visit the place in South Dakota depicted in his vision. That place was the Wounded Knee Memorial.
At the memorial, he brushed away some long prairie grasses whence he saw the name of his ancient Sioux ancestor, Thunderheart, carved near the base of a granite memorial – it rocked him. In the vision, Thunderheart was shot in the back by the US Calvary while running away from the calvary during one of the many massacres the aboriginal Americans were subjected to by the US government. It was when he saw the name on the memorial that my own sense of spiritually tingled through my body. I am of the belief that the spilling of the innocents blood consecrated the location making it holy ground.
Coincidently, I was about 1/2 way thru my trip while watching this scene which very well could have been while the plane was cruising over the very same memorial. Did I say coincidence? I don’t put much stock in coincidence or happenstance or serendipity. I believe everything happens for a reason, a reason that can only be understood when filtered through our spiritual being. Frequently, it’s only in hindsight that understanding reveals itself as one must wait for a flower to blossom from the seed. In the moment, it’s something we must accept and must wait for the reason to reveal itself…if it ever does. I believe this ‘coincidence’ occurred because I was captive on an airplane and needed to further understand my spiritual dilemma. I need the understanding to unify myself as a human.
I am a spiritual person. It is a fundamental part of my makeup. I believe man is universally a spiritual being. My spiritual sensitivity is a dichotomy that at once gives me great joy while simultaneously terrifying me to my core. The need for my personal spiritual understanding has sent me on many tangents during my life. Or, perhaps, it was my life that was tangential to the path of personal spirituality.
Personal reminders of my connection to the Great Mystery are never far away. I consciously keep them close. I don’t view these as amulets that protect me from harm nor are they talismans with magic powers to bring me luck. I don’t accept that these items have any inherent power giving me special access to God. For me, they are simply physical reminders of the spiritual, my personal spiritual walk. I don’t fear other belief systems. I find that many of their teachings complement my Christian faith.
On my arm, I am wearing bracelets reflecting four distinct faith sources. One is the Christian Cross, the faith in which I was raised and in which I identify myself and unto which I will hand over myself at death. The second is an Aum from the Hindu faith. It is on a thin red string which reminds me of the thread, the white thread, the Hindu Brahmins wear. It connects me to my time living in India and the many Indian people I count as brothers and sisters. The third symbol is a Buddha head on a beaded, wooden bracelet. The wood is from a Bodhi tree. I hold great reverence for the teachings of Buddha and was moved to tears the two times I visited Bodh Gaya. They came while I sat in the shade of the Bodhi tree, a direct descendent of the same Bodhi tree beneath which Buddha found enlightenment. The spiritual vibe of that sacred place coursed through my body.
I am wearing a fourth bracelet, a bracelet of silver and leather, elements of Earth. And I am wearing a necklace adorned with an Ichthys, the Christian Cross, and an ox bone carved in the Tibetan script with the characters representing the Buddhist chant; Om, Mani, Padme, Hum. In my home, there are a variety of religious statues gathered during my travels as well as a number of sets of Buddhist prayer beads.
As I visit other countries, I grow my collection. They connect me with the people of the lands to which I have traveled. I wear them to honor those people, as a sign of respect for the diversity of humanity. The bracelets remind me that deep down, at our core, all peoples are connected by the great mysteries of faith. It is true that not all outward expressions of faith are the same, some we may consider abhorrent, but they all spring from the same fundamental human need to understand God, to immerse in the Spiritual, to walk the Path.
Most often, I sense the spiritual when I am alone particularly when in a state of extended solitude. I believe I thrived during my 18 months living in India because of the extended solitude. I missed loved ones during that trip but, surprisingly, never really felt lonely. It was also a time of my greatest creative outpouring. Creativity is God expressing through humans. Creativity and Spirituality are siblings.
When I allow myself to dwell in a spiritual moment, I feel connected, at one with all creation, with the Creator. I say allow because it typically means that I have consciously put myself in a place that oozes spirituality. It means I have gone to church to bask in the presence of God. It means I have chosen to reverently explore an ancient temple knowing full well the temple was created on that specific spot because the ancients felt the spiritual well up as they walked barefoot on holy ground. It means I purposely chose to hike in the red rocks of Utah until I sensed Mother Earth reaching out to me, telling me to stop, sit, and experience her magnificence. It means I am not running away from connection to God. Sometimes I stumble into the spiritual plane as happened on the airplane ride to Seattle.
In those moments of Spiritual connectedness, I feel a vulnerability, a nakedness, a raw exposure to the deep mystery that has guided man since we emerged from the womb of Mother. Whether this emergence was through Creationism or Evolution or one of the myriad first human stories man has told to explain our presence in the universe is irrelevant to me. What is important to me is the that we are here not the how we came to be here.
I crave the connectedness, seek to dwell within the Great Mystery while simultaneously being frightened by the raw exposure of my being. It’s that dichotomy, the joy of being known with the vulnerability of being naked before the Almighty, the pull of the Sacred, the pushing away by my fear that squeezes tears from my soul, tears that leak from my eyes.
I find it troubling that the connectedness I need to feel fully human also exposes my most human soul and that vulnerability induces me to flee. I hope I am able to bridge this internal schism over the remaining decades of my life.