Monthly Archives: April 2016

Rapture and the Indomitable Spirit

So many people I care about have died this year, which is not yet four months old, I have wondered if the rapture may have arrived.

For those lacking knowledge (or opinions) of the rapture, here’s a Bible passage:

1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Okay, I saw the twinkling of an eye part, but I’m as sure as can be that our perception of time is simply an illusion. And even if time is flat out real, in God’s perspective, how long would the twinkling of an eye take?

Pleased don’t misunderstand . I am no fan of the Tim LeHaye-Jerry Jenkins bestselling Left Behind series.

Pam, Zoê’s mom attended a high school connected with a church LeHaye had pastored. And long before those books came out, LeHaye issued videos based upon the premise that soon God would take the best folks out of the world and leave the rest of us rascals and ingrates to duke it out with Satan and his minions.

Pam is the source of Zoê’s diligent-student gene. She missed one day of school K-12, which was day two of these early Left Behind videos, because on day one she learned that pastors didn’t necessarily get the green light, and her dad was a Methodist minister. The next morning, she faked an illness and skipped school.

Fast forward. Pam and I taught at a college of which Tim LeHaye was one of the founders. He came and gave a speech at the invocation of a new president. His topic was basically there is us and there is them. And we’re the good guys.

Afterward, between the ceremony and the reception, we adjourned to our office to ditch our cap and gown outfits. The instant the door closed behind us, we turned to each other and said in unison, “That guy is scary.”

I only read a few pages of the LeHaye-Jenkins books. No comment. And until this year, I didn’t give the rapture much thought. But now …

The recent deaths that have most troubled me, even the ones readers of this post aren’t likely to know, I will list because doing so will help keep them in my memory.

First was Carol Galante, a wonderful friend in the mystery community, mother of authors Lisa Brackman and Dana Fredsti. Then Alan Rickman, Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, of which I am quite a fan. Then came David Bowie, and very soon Glen Frey of the Eagles, with whom I hung out one long afternoon when we were young. Incidentally, Rickman, Bowie, Frey, and I were all born within about a year of each other. Next I got news of the death of Amy Radovic, a young, vital and vivacious colleague from our time at San Diego State University. And a day or so later, writer Jim Harrison died. Then came of Merle Haggard. And last week, Prince.

Every one of these people was exceptional. They all, I believe, had big hearts. Not a jerk amongst them. Which has led to my weird thoughts about the rapture. Weird thoughts have long been one of my specialties. This one may be weirder than most. I ran it by Pam. She thinks I’m loony. We are no longer married.

Yesterday, my Zoe wanted to watch The Karate Kid, so I watched with her, as I’m a big fan of Mister Miyagi. And while watching, I hearkened back to my years practicing Tae Kwon Do and recalled that the main point of the art was to develop an indomitable spirit.

I earned a black belt, which indicates that my spirit at least ought to be reasonably indomitable, and reminding myself of that lifted me out of some fairly severe melancholy. So today, I called my friend Mark, another black belt, and suggested we get together once a week for a Tae Kwon Do workout, even though it’s been some years since I have practiced the art.

I mean, to live in this world, especially if we’ve been left behind, a fellow can certainly use an indomitable spirit.

Become Perfect

Somebody asked a master painter how to paint a perfect painting. He answered, “To paint a perfect painting, first become perfect, then paint.”

So, I translated, to write a perfect story, become perfect then write.

I labored over this advice, judging how far from perfect I was, and wondering how far from perfect one could be and still create a masterpiece. And I considered that what I know about certain writers of masterpieces makes me believe they were not much more perfect in a human or spiritual sense than I am.

I decided the advice made no sense unless we interpret it this way: It’s not essential to our writing that we be perfect, or even close, all the time, only when we’re writing.

When we sit down (or stand up, or pace around) to write, we need to cast off imperfections such as our tendency to rush to judgment, our impatience, our preconceptions, our worries about whether we’re going to succeed.

We need to clear our minds of anything that keeps us thinking or feeling out of accord with the fruits of the Spirit as described by Saint Paul, and try to approach our stories from an attitude of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Then we can treat our creations with deep respect and compassion. Even if we don’t approach perfection for a nanosecond (most of us probably won’t) the closer we come, the closer our creations may come to realizing their possibilities.

And the process of writing (or gardening, or fiddling) will be a spiritual exercise that draws us closer to what God would have us become.

Find more wisdom in Writing and the Spirit

Emotional Growth = Spiritual Growth

I was a mess. Some months after the end of a seventeen- year marriage, my kids were in San Diego and my job was in Chico, northern CA. I had arranged to take my mother on a cruise on the Mississippi where my great-grandfather used to pilot a sternwheeler, but then she got too ill to make the trip. At eighty-two, she wasn’t about to recover. So I was in San Diego, taking care of her and deciding to give up my job as a tenured prof, which also meant leaving behind a new romance.

At nights, if I managed to fall asleep, I would awake in about two hours with no chance of sleeping again. Pills didn’t work. All day long, my stomach felt as if I had been gobbling large portions of lead, though I had lost about thirty pounds.

A letter came from Charlie Morgan, a grad school friend. Charlie had gone to NYC, written ad copy, saved money and was now studying psychology in Boston. The letter expressed his excitement about a book he’d discovered, The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. I scanned the letter and returned to the darkness.

Several weeks later, I went to a bookstore for no other purpose than to find something on the topic of relaxation as a sleep aid. While browsing, I happened upon a title that seemed to link psychological health with spiritual growth. I bought it and began reading some pages every day. A few days in, one of the book’s themes cured me.

The theme was: anyone seeking emotional or spiritual health must face the absolute truth, no matter how bitter, brutal, dangerous or threatening to the ego.

That prescription worked like magic. It gave me hope, the antidote to despair. The weight in my stomach floated away. Beginning that very night, I slept. Every day, I spent some minutes reviewing my past and present with a keener, bolder, more objective eye.

One day, having remembered I hadn’t responded to Charlie’s letter, I reread it and found that the book he recommended was the very same book that had turned me around.

Some months later, the author lectured at a church not two miles from my home. My cousin was a member the church and had confessed she’d prayed that God would lure me there. Though in those days I avoided churches, I attended the lecture. Once again, Dr. Peck cured me, this time of a severe church-phobia.

His topic was the stages of emotional/spiritual development. As I recall, he laid out our spiritual growth as follows:

1. We begin as infants with pure narcissism. All we care about is fulfilling our needs.

2. Then experience teaches us that to get what we want, we need to fulfill certain expectations, act in certain ways, so we enter a stage of more or less enlightened narcissism.

3. The third stage involves an awareness of our utter selfishness (our sin nature, in Christian lingo). We recognize (either vaguely or acutely) that even what we think of as love is mostly based upon selfish motives. We begin to suspect that selfish people (like us) are a danger to themselves and others. Now conscience or something may lead us to seek out a creed or an authority, a dogma that will hold our base natures in check.

4. Some of us reach stage four when we begin to develop a portion of faith in our ability to rise above our selfish natures. We may become willing to strike out on our own without external restraint.

5. And some blessed folks enter the fifth stage. Though they have conquered the fear of their selfishness, they still feel a call to reach for a greater awareness and gratitude, to live in beauty, in a light the mundane world can’t provide.

As you may have conjectured, church congregations are largely composed of folks in stage 3 and stage 5.

Dr. Peck maintained that his motive as a psychologist was to help his patients move from whatever stage they find themselves in to the next stage. He didn’t believe he could save people or change them from beasts to angels. But he could help them take the next step upward.

I suspect that a precious few adults live squarely and consistently at one or another of those levels. Still, I’ll suggest that as writers we ought to join Dr. Peck in the effort to help our readers grow a little; if not a whole step, at least a shuffle in the right direction.