For the most part, my history of visions has been, as labeled recently, Thomistic.
That is, I wait until I come across in reality what I “see” in my vision and start from there. I call this, proof (or accuracy). So if I have a vision of eating chocolate cake, I do not go out and buy a cake, neither do I bake one and proceed to consume it. If I walk into a situation wherein chocolate cake is present, I say, ah, ha, I’m where I’m supposed to be. And I study what I see around me to learn what I can about what I am doing there.
But, then, there are the other kind of visions. If they can even be called visions. They began during my study of obedience, naturally enough. I was given a task to complete and I would set out to complete the task.
I call these periods, flights.
They started in my early twenties. They started off lightly. Lightly in the sense that they weren’t too complicated, my encounters with others during them were nonconfrontational (in that no one ended up shrugging their shoulders at me and wondering about my relative sanity), and there was no major shake-up to my life as a result of the flight.
Quite early on in my experience of flights I learned two things. The first was that during a flight, the normal rules of life were turned off. Money that didn’t exist one minute, existed in the next. Men who knew what they were doing showed up minutes after a tire went flat, and demanded no reward for their service. And my body became malleable. I remember one flight that went on for over a year during which my eyes no longer needed glasses to see what I was reading clearly.
But even clearer than my eyesight was the growing knowledge that I was going where I was sent to go. No matter what. I even came up with the catch phrase to describe my experiences:
When God tells you to do something, you always have a choice. You can say, yes, and do it; or you can say, no, and do it.
The second thing that I learned about flights was that they were for me, at least in some way. That dogged reference to the peeling of layers off an onion applied here, except the skins being stripped away were the layers of my soul, the barriers that I kept between God and me.
For me, it is always about shame. About embarrassment about who I am. About wanting to hide, and to make sure that I was never, ever exposed to comment, humiliated, or disgraced. For most of my life, this meant everything to me.
The other day, I was reminded of one of my first flights. The flights, by the way, always increase in complexity. The challenge of them always expanded exponentially (whatever that means), and I wonder if the challenge of completing one was a sort of carrot that God held out in front of me as I would work out the details of the treasure map provided.
At the time of this flight, I lived in Berkeley, California. So, one day, getting the whistle to be off, I packed a small bag and headed out of town. Unlike flights before this, there was no event towards which I drove. No scheduled meeting or happening that defined my destination.
Instead, I kept my road atlas on the passenger seat of the car, and followed the hum in my body.
I stopped my journey at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Not knowing what to do next, I took a room at the inn there, and at the prompting of the check-in clerk, signed up for a two-day mule ride down to the bottom.
Although still wet beneath my wings, so to speak, I still had managed to learn by this time not to guess at what lay ahead. What would happen. What I would learn. Or how large the cost would be for this lesson.
There were twenty people riding down the railroad-wide trail, following our hearty leader, a cheerful, encouraging middle-aged woman who acted as though this event would be as predictable and uneventful as a ride on a merry-go-round.
I rode third from the last. That was my place.
My mule disagreed with the leader’s complacency. Clearly in his mind, this was not a time for work, but instead for a nice day (or life) of blissful rest. I was not his load. No, instead, I was his enemy. And my goal was to torture him with my weight on his back.
His goal became the getting rid of me.
On one side of the trail was a wall of stone that went infinitely up. On the other side of the trail was a whoosh of air and went infinitely down. The trail was as wide as the mules themselves.
There was no room for error.
So my mule began by sucking in his gut until the fastenings came loose and my saddle would literally fall over until it hung on his side and I looked down into a gaspingly beautiful nothingness.
After he discovered my ability to stay in the saddle, an ability most likely brought on by complete terror, he changed his tactic and started to smash me up against the rocks. The very, very hard and sharp rocks.
It was a long, long ride down to the bottom.
But eventually, after a full day’s riding, we made it.
I was so awed by the sensations that I couldn’t speak. And although we had had little to eat on the way down and they cooked up these amazing steaks and potatoes for us, I could barely eat. I spent as much time as I could outside looking up.
There was at the same time absolutely no sound, and faint echoes of life from another world. The evidence of life other than the people huddled in what felt like the bottom of the world was more a vibration than a sound. And even in the complete blackness I knew that there were stars above me.
I felt cradled in the arms of God. It was probably the deepest I had ever slept.
In the morning, our chirpy leader checked me over to see how angry I was. I couldn’t remember what she was referring to. So she started a little chat with me. It seems my donkey was afraid of the color blue.
Imagine that. A donkey afraid of a color.
So up we got onto our mules and away we went. Going up was a much pleasanter experience. For one thing, the trail was wider and there was land, not cliffs, next to us most of the time. The sun shone down on us and it felt like God smiling.
We had just come through a double switchback (two big S turns) and wound our way into something of a clearing. Now even though this was a clearing, a flattening out of the land, a cliff was never that far away.
Up over the cliff climbed a few people. They hadn’t bothered to hike the trail. They went up the side of a wall of stone instead. The head of the first man appeared, and then his shoulders. On which rested a backpack.
A bright blue backpack.
My mule reared, turned, and raced back from whence we had emerged: to the edge of the land. He didn’t stay on the trail. He didn’t bother with the S curves. He just ran straight ahead.
He even managed to drive the two mules behind us before him. But because of his intense feelings, we easily outran them.
Somehow, some way, I managed to pull him back and we stopped once again with me gazing down into oblivion.
I was running out of my ability to breathe through this experience.
The seventeen mules before me had been taking a bit of a rest while I got to relive the perils of Pauline. And here’s a little known (if known at all) fact: when mules relieve themselves, they do it in the same place. That is, one mule urinates and moves up a bit, then the next mule steps into the marked “place,” empties himself, moves up, and so it goes.
I was third to the last. That was my place.
By the time my mule stepped up to do his business, we were standing in a pond of urine. With all the commotion and the smoothing out of it, I hadn’t noticed that our over-the-wall climbers were still hanging about and talking with the other riders.
But my mule noticed. He especially noticed the dear adventurer with the bright blue backpack.
And up my mule went again.
Thinking we were on a break and having let my defenses and muscles relax, when the mule went up this time, I went down.
Right into the pond of piss.
And all I ever wanted in life was to never stand out in a crowd, be shamed or humiliated, and to seem as normal as, well, every one else in our group.
And there I was, with most of the day ahead of me, drenched in mule fluid and having no alternative than to get back on the mule and finish the ride.
I still choke up at the thought of it.
Amazingly, for the rest of the trip my mule was serene.
Of course my place had changed. Now I was number one. That was my place.
Number one, not for good reasons, but so that my fearless leader could keep an eye on my mount.
I wonder what his name was.
Perhaps this had been a preface to my study of spiritual warfare. The key learned: hang on and do your best to keep breathing. No matter what.