Saturday, February 27, 2010

After the Waterfall--The First "Warrior Moment."

Okay, here goes.

Over the years since this event, i've tried in numerous ways to explain it, quantify it, somehow interpret it in a way that people who WEREN'T there would be able to at least gain some understanding of how important it was, of its significance. Most of these attempts were poetic in nature, because it seems that metaphor is the only tool that comes close.

In April, of my 14th year . . . shortly before i would turn 15, in fact . . . i had an experience at a waterfall that defies any normal description. It was misty, foggy, but not-quite-raining, and the hills and trees were clad in that almost spiritual light green. It had rained for several days, quite hard, and i was taking advantage of the break in the rain to walk to a spot i had been before, once when i was 13 with my father, and in the previous summer (after a long walk that took me to it in a roundabout way). The waterfall is hidden in a cleft of the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway, on a piece of land owned by a friend of my father's . . . it was known that i wandered all around that property (in later years), but since i was not hunting and not intending any harm to the property, i was allowed to come and go pretty much at will.

The waterfall often dries up during hot, dry weather, but the recent rains had given it a considerable flow. I walked until i stood at the base of the fall, near the small pool formed there. On the walk up, i passed numerous bloodroots, whose delicate white blossoms would wilt shortly after being picked, and whose nacarat hue stained the hand that plucked them. Responding to some impulse, i stripped my shirt off and leaned into the fall to drink. The water is very clean and cold. As i did this, my heart-rate seemed to triple, and the only other way i can describe the "event horizon" is that all my senses seemed to suddenly "jack up," and i even got the impression that i was using senses that had laid dormant; i was PERCEIVING something that was, by any of the usual parameters i'd used to measure such things, beyond my power to describe. I stood up, looked around, my heart beating a savage tempo in my chest; nothing had changed . . . but EVERYTHING had changed! Half-formed dreams and images seemed to suddenly demand my attention. I walked away from the waterfall that day in a daze, seeing the woods and trees and blossoms in a completely different way, as if there were something BEHIND them . . . the concept of a "veil" was doubly appropriate, given the misty and foggy conditions along the Parkway.

I was never considered "normal" by any of my peers, but this marked the beginning of a time during which i no longer CARED. "Fitting in" was impossible to me now. I had experienced something that catapulted me into a state that might have been called "satori," or "epiphany," or--as a poet friend of mine, Marty Evans, called them--a "warrior moment." (Marty was with me years later, in Georgia, when i experienced a similar moment, and though i didn't know how to describe it, he seemed to understand, and that was the first time i'd heard the term "warrior moment" described to me). I felt as if i'd been yanked halfway in to another world, a dream-world, a parallel dimension, or what-have-you. THE NEXT FEW YEARS OF MY LIFE, I WAS IN THAT STATE. My dreams became more vivid, my fantasies more intricate, and my beliefs marked with something that some people called "mysticism" (and my mother, God bless her, used the term "unrealistic," but in all fairness, it did seem kind of "unreal"). I could lay down, close my eyes, and see clear images of places i'd never been, and wrote many of them down in my notebooks of the time . . . over several years, i'd described worlds and places and creatures, drawing partly on my knowledge of mythology, that to me seemed all-too-likely.

I once discussed my mother's resistance to these things to our youth counsellor at the church, who told me that my mother might be afraid FOR me, because i believed these things. Years later, Pastor John Ault, a mentor and good friend, told me that--because i was an artist--i had the ability to experience on a creative level what Paul experienced in 2 Corinthians 12: Paul describes being "hijacked into paradise . . . whether in or out of the body, I don't know, God knows." He said there he heard "the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard." It's no coincidence that immediately thereafter, Paul describes his "thorn in the flesh," "a gift of a handicap, to keep me in constant touch with my limitations." He says it was BECAUSE of the "extravagance of these revelations" that he was limited by this (and he does not describe it specifically). I began to understand a lot about the creative gift i was given, and that the very extremes that i experienced through it were the "flip side" of the limitations i experienced. In latter years, it would be described (or, rather, categorized) as "anxiety-depressive disorder," "bipolar disorder," and so forth. I think those are just words that people use so they can gain some kind of "handle" on it. I don't really pay that much attention to the terms or diagnoses anymore. That moment . . . and some of the other moments that have come, rare but undeniable, almost frightening in intensity . . . were worth anything i suffered because of my inordinate imagination and fucked-up brain chemistry.

When people who are rigid or narrowminded in their outlook encounter things like these, their minds reject them. They run to a psychiatrist who prescribes some chemical concotion that allows them to "numb" the feelings. They focus on their jobs, on TV, on mundane things, and try to deny that they've been afforded a glimpse of wonder. It is what Michael Yaconelli would describe as "dangerous wonder." Wonder, and awe, are often uncomfortable feelings, partially because modern society lacks these qualities. They, along with imagination, are generally neglected by people whose focus on "rationalism" and "practicality" have actually stunted their growth. Sadly, too many of these people are Christians. I consider myself blessed, extravagantly blessed, by these few glimpses of an almost terrifying wonder, an eclipsing awe, that--despite my inability to fully describe them--have remained fixed in my head, indelibly written on my soul. My vain efforts through poetry to communicate the experience at the waterfall . . . or any of the other "warrior moments" in my life . . . are, at least in my mind, only reaffirmation of what happened. I was "let in" on a secret, was temporarily caught up in the Mystery that i pursued for so long, without knowing that perhaps that Mystery was pursuing me as well. I think Heaven will be much like those experiences, only heightened and endless . . . to live such a way, in the presence of the Almighty Creator who allowed such a flawed and fragile creature to glimpse them, is--in a way--almost terrifying. If it were not for God's love and mercy, the things i experienced would have undoubtedly broken my mind. Perhaps they have. I would consider nothing more honorable than to be broken for God. It may be that that first "warrior moment" was NOT the most powerful i will experience, though none that have happened since have neared that supernal level. I can only thank God that, somehow, those very things that limit me, cause me grief, and trouble my sleep, are also the essential flaw that He works through, His strength coming into its own through my weakness, and--in an outpouring of undeserved grace--allows me to experience moments like these.

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