It seemed like a good idea at the time. #1
Sometimes people ask me why I spent ten years as a celibate in a controversial religious movement. I’ll try to share a bit of what led up to that phase in my life. This is not meant to be about dogma, or any particular belief system, but rather a simple account of one person’s experience, and perhaps a look at social phenomenon. Any comments to this post urging me to accept Christ as my personal savior, or any other entity as messiah will not be approved for posting. I’ve given the concept of Messiah a lot of thought and a bit of study and will save that for another post.
As a child, I wished to be like Sister Whose Name I Can’t Remember, the pretty nun who taught art class in second grade. She had porcelain skin and a beatific smile and let us take home the hand colored classroom decorations at the end of each month with our names written on them in script. My sister and I would have pretend communion in the bedroom we shared, using little bits of wonder bread that we squished flat between our fingers to serve as the Eucharist – tiny quarter sized wafers representing the body of Christ – and washed them down with apple juice. We alternated between this, dressing our Barbie Dolls and playing at Mod Squad, which consisted of fashioning plastic expolosives from silly putty and rescuing each other from being held hostage in cast off packing boxes.
Getting back to the nuns. They were mysterious, dressed all in black, with rosaries at their waists and rings on their fingers announcing that they were the brides of Christ. He must be a satisfying husband, to have so many brides. I wanted to be one of them, too, until I was about twelve.
Fast forward to eighteen, when I fell into a kind of loveship with a boy who loved boys, a fact we both knew but wouldn’t speak of, eclipsed by mutual affection and a desire to be like John and Yoko. Remarkable how often young things want to be like something or someone else. It takes time to just be.
The atmosphere of the early eighties in the Village was intensely sexual, experimental, electric and just a bit frightening. If you were alive, young and ambulatory, you coudn’t help but feel like tender game during open season. If you were in art school, mutliply that by the number of people in your life drawing class. My heart was in a different place. I wanted true love. I wanted contemporary art to actually mean something. Something eternal, not just of the moment. I wanted world peace. I wanted justice. I wanted the end of suffering for all mankind, or at least for the unhappy people I passed daily in the streets and subways on my way to drawing class. Was that too much to ask for? I wanted my loverboy not to be gay. Oh, god, who was I kidding?
Anyway, in the midst of this conundrum, I got it in my head to read the words of Jesus. Maybe it was the nuns from my childhood. Maybe it was angels. I got myself a copy of the New Testament and highlighted only the words of Jesus. I skipped everything else in between. This was my naive do it yourself method of getting to the source. With my method you could skip the scholarly Aramaic studies. I’d walk to school every day, come home at night, and read. I’d sketch or paint and think. I’d read, I’d listen to Joni Mitchell’s Blue and be sad. We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…
Soon I started having vivid dreams at night. Each one opened in the same way, with bombs falling all around me in thick, chaotic darkness. People running into caves and screaming, the sounds of shouting and of heavy breathing and of fear. Then, without fail, every time, within the center of each night’s dream, there would emerge a pinpoint of brilliant white light. This light would get brighter, and bigger and spread outwards, pushing back the smoky darkness to the edges of my vision. And within the center of this light, there came a scene of the Garden of Eden, man and woman, animals, plants, completely healthy, peaceful and bathed in light and happiness. Each night the dark apocalyptic scenes that began my sleeping journey would become briefer and briefer as the idyllic center became greater and more dominant. As my kids would say, it was awesome.
One day I had what some folks would call a showdown prayer. I threw down an invisible gauntlet and prayed really hard. God, if you exist, there has to be an answer to all this suffering. If you will show me a way I can alleviate suffering in this world, I will do anything you ask of me. In fact, I am not going one step further in this stupid world until you do! PLEASE! Add hot tears and some gnashing of teeth.
Not long afterwards, I met a young man who invited me to dinner. The people I met there hailed from Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and all points in between. The dinner became a weekend workshop. And then a weeklong workshop. The talks were about world peace. True love. And a turning point in history. I wasn’t the only one thinking about a different kind of world in the middle of all the cynicism. They were saying the words, Ideal World, out loud. So I moved in.
Images by me, view of Bucky Ball at Madison Square Park from zero gravity bench,
Strawberry Fields, Central Park, NYC