Chronicles in Ordinary Time 13: the predicament of nuclear man

Today is my 39th Re-Birthday.

The first part of Henri Nouwen’s “The Wounded Healer” [The Search of Nuclear Man] describes my theological quest for meaning in life: “When we look around us we see man paralyzed by dislocation and fragmentation, caught in the prison of his own mortality. However, we also see exhilarating experiments of living by which he tries to free himself of the chains of his own predicament, transcend his mortal condition, reach beyond himself, and experience the source of a new creativity.”
Using Nouwen’s categories, I was a Mystic in a time of theRevolutionaries during the first half ‘the seventies’. Too bound by my upbringing to truly become a Revolutionary–I considered emigrating to Canada to avoid the Draft, but didn’t have the nerve. I was ‘saved’ by a very high draft number. Had I been born 4-6 hours earlier in my 10-month gestation, I would have probably become a 2nd Lieutenant in Vietnam, with a 20-minute life expectancy. I had no religious beliefs nor upbringing, so I could not become a conscientious objector; even though that was an appropriate definition.

I came to life in college.
I really have very few memories from childhood. Memories from our family cabin on the Sandy River, near Brightwood, Oregon. Some hormonal experiences/dreams. Some boring trips to my grandmother’s house in Condon, Oregon. Memories of my Grandparents’ house. Helping my ‘Grandfather’ [great uncle] build their last house. Riding my bicycle/jumping off of my bicycle onto our lawn. Playing in the back yard of my across-the-street neighbor/best friend, Bobby. There are more memories from high school, although not a lot. Memories of my best friend, Pete; and my other best friend, Mark. Pete remains on the periphery of my life; Bobby and Mark are absent.
For many years, I felt as though I could clearly remember every day of my two years at Oregon State. Discovery. The beginnings of an understanding of who I am. Chronic despondency. Hours and hours in my darkened room, listening to the dreary music of Rod McKuen and other folksingers who saw the problems of life, but had few suggestions for improving the situation.
“In the absence of clear boundaries between himself and his milieu, between fantasy and reality, between what to do and what to avoid, it seems that [he] has become a prisoner of the now, caught in the present without meaningful connections with his past or future. When he goes home he feels that he enters a world which has become alien to him. The words his parents use, their questions and concerns, their aspirations and worries, seem to belong to another world, with another language and another mood. When he looks into his future everything becomes one big blur, an impenetrable cloud. He finds no answers to questions about why he lives and where he is heading. [He] is not working hard to reach a goal, he does not look forward to the fulfillment of a great desire, nor does he expect that something great or important is going to happen. He looks into empty space and is sure of only one thing: If there is anything worthwhile in life it must be here and now.”

At University of Oregon I encountered The Eternal. I lived across the hall from two of those ‘annoying Christians,’ who in time, became close friends; Brad remains my spiritual ‘father/big brother’. After months of asking, I finally agreed to go with them to their Sunday night meal and Bible study at the pastor’s house. One gathering sticks in my mind; the group was kneeling in a circle at the end of the evening, praying; and I realized that these people were not delusional, they actually were in contact with someone I did not know, nor had ever heard about.
“For the mystic as well as for the revolutionary, life means breaking through the veil covering our human existence and following the vision that has become manifest to us. Whatever we call this vision-“The Holy,” “The Numinon,” “The Spirit,” or “Father”-we still believe that conversion and revolution alike derive their power from a source beyond the limitations of our own createdness.”

While I consider today to be the anniversary of my rebirth, it really didn’t happen on an individual day. It probably started in my second year at Oregon State, when I told my good friend, Jeff, to quit bugging me about his newly-found belief in Jesus: the story of the druggie that had an overnight conversion and became a street preacher. Our 2am sessions in the dorm hallway, Jeff singing Crosby, Stills and Nash in a voice like Neil Young; and then singing strange Christian songs in the same voice. He moved his ministry to University of Oregon after I wrote  a lonely letter describing my living among strangers. The conversion process continued actively for my next three years at U of O and my first couple years after college. By the time I was 28 I was indelibly altered.

After nearly 50 years of an artist’s life, I really can’t find a single image that represents my coming to faith. Which is probably why I consider myself an illustrator rather than an artist. I don’t do well with creating abstract images; and the conversion to faith is an abstract process. The Apostle Paul’s description of life as a battle may have something to do with my fascination with Asian martial arts movies, even though I’m a pacifist. One of the reasons I could not honestly become a member of the Society of Friends [Quakers]; even though their beliefs are probably more along the lines of my own than the conventional Protestant church.

“…and the monstrous creatures of whales” [below] probably represents my faith most adequately, although I really don’t know why.  The Eternal cannot be described in an image; the wonder of Creation can perhaps best be described by the ocean of the South Pacific [I’m not familiar with the South Atlantic]. Warm, teaming with life, teaming with Wonder. I invested two years of my life creating the full-size image from which the image below is derived; in the *interesting* nature of my life, I can’t justify the expense of printing the image in its glory…

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