Wales is a country – an independent jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. The Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea wash its Western border, with England as it’s neighbor to the East. No. 4 Cefn, Gethynog, Talybont on Usk, Brecon, Powys, Wales. This was the address of friends I had come to visit. Having driven from London that morning and crossed the wide channel at Bristol, I followed signs for the town of Brecon. With each mile I was weaving my way deeper into the heart of an ancient land. “Ancient,” is a flexible word. Some places were the location of significant historical events – ancient history. Wales has a history so ancient that it has outstripped our ability to remember. The roads I drove and towns I passed through were rooted in this prehistory. In spite of mankind’s inability to preserve a record, there is a memory in the land that still speaks – still influences the land and Welshmen of today.
Turning off of the main highway I crossed the Usk River when signs for tiny hamlet of Talybont appeared and I soon found the road I was looking for. I had walked game trails wider than this road. Cefn Gethinog was just wide enough for one small car but paved and bounded by hedges averaging eight feet or more high on each side. Driving that narrow little lane I began to feel something – a growing awareness of a familiar feeling. I’d never been here before but somehow already knew this place. It had been many years since the books rocketed to popular fiction fame, but time was irrelevant, as I had the clearest impressions that this was the place J.R R.Tolkien had made familiar to his readers. The way things looked. More than that, the way it felt. There was nothing subtle about it. This was Hobbit country. Thatched roof cottages tucked behind hedge rows. Even an actual hedge hog – one of those tiny, spiky little creatures, darted in front of me. Had I stopped and the hedgehog spoken some tart remark, I don’t think I would have been surprised. Tolkien did not imagine the world readers enter through his books – he described it as it exists. Only the characters were imaginary – at least I think they were. The world they inhabited was real and I had just driven right into the middle of it.
Elaine and her family lived in a more modern row-house complex. There were no more than five or six units and all of them hidden away at the edge of a forested hill. An arrangement that would have gone unnoticed in town but here was this little condominium community out in the country side. A Welch convention, I guess. An affordable way for people to enjoy the quiet countryside minus the expense of a separate acreage.
I had been in Nepal with Elaine six months earlier as she finished up twenty years of mission work. One of her final tasks was to secure an agreement with a friend. Ever cautious, Elaine felt that she needed a contract that would spell out and guarantee her rights to print and publish a series of illustrations – paintings she had commissioned from this Sherpa artist – a man named Gurmi Lama. The paintings were amazing. To say that they were inspired would be not be an exaggeration. They were a series of twenty six biblical stories rendered in a style that is unique to Tibet. This made them more interesting to Western eyes and increased their impact – rendering the stories they told just that much more understandable to Tibetans and Nepalese. While the last of the paint dried, I wrote up a simple agreement and Gurmi was happy to sign it in return for the final payment of several hundred US dollars. Mission accomplished and exotic Kathmandu now just a memory, the paintings were safely in Wales with Elaine and her husband Michael.
Part two of the story was me flying over to meet up with the Robson’s in the UK. I had come to write a narrative, explaining each painting and weaving the whole into a book to be published at some future date. At least that’s why I thought I’d come. Each day the two of us would spend a couple of hours in the morning and a couple more in the afternoon outlining a story section as it related to a particular painting – attempting to stitch individual segments into a comprehensive whole – an abbreviated version of the Bible illustrated with twenty six extraordinary paintings – making the artwork conform to the message rather than rewriting the Biblical narrative to suit the art – an honest flow rather than convenient contrivance.
We’d worked this way for several days when it became necessary for Elaine and Michael to take an afternoon off. A doctor’s appointment… the dentist, I don’t recall and it makes no difference other than it meant that I had an afternoon to myself. I’d already driven into the small town of Brecon a couple of times so that day I decided to take a walk up the mountain behind their home.
It took no more than a half hour or forty minutes to top out and I was disappointed to find that near the top of the hill, though hidden from view down at the level of the houses, the forest had been clear cut. Not my land. Not my decision. But not the nature walk in Tolkien land that I’d expected. So, having reached the hill top, with nothing more of interest to see I turned back toward the house. Just as I did, an RAF fighter jet swooped up out of a valley and cresting the ridge. Low enough that I could see the single pilots face and traveling near the speed of light… It’s a common experience in the UK as they don’t own Nevada or anyplace similar to our wide open deserted scrub lands. With no place but your backyard to fly over, citizens of the UK and their sheep are regularly subjected to sonic stun as these craft appear overhead with no warning.
Between the deafening roar of a low flying jet and a forest turned to a weedy, stump strewn bramble – the magic of the shire had been driven down a mole hole and I decided to head into town for a pint of something to repair nerve damage. Besides, rain had begun to fall and I was already wet. Cold and disenchanted – I just wanted to sit with a beer, somewhere warm and dry.
Reaching the row of houses, I’d turned to look at what was apparently the equipment shed of whoever farmed the surrounding land. It housed what you’d expect, a tractor and a hay rake. From this angle I could see back up the way I had just come – the end of the trail I’d hiked.
Shed, tractor, trail – everything normal except now… He was standing there – right were the trail ended. He stood looking down at me. His head was the tree tops and his arms were the limbs. Somehow the dense forest growth was a torso and the finer extensions of the tree limbs were hands and fingers. Bushes were feet and tree trunks, legs. The life of all this natural growth was His life – He was Life itself.
Arrow straight, I saw the message as it traveled – His thoughts to my mind. Momentary – less than a moment. Was this the inspiration of Grecian Eros and Roman cupid? I had been shot through with love. Its purity, it’s un-reserved intensity was such that it actually hurt. Riding the same arrow was divine knowing. I remember the thought; “I am known by heart.” Complete in every detail – simultaneous with perfect knowing of me as a unique soul, Coupled this way, in an instant, but tolerable for no more than an instant –I knew complete satisfaction.
You could live a lifetime – the life of the happy amnesiac, not caring about what you did not know. Then, just for just that moment, what everyone wants – the desire of the ages was mine. How wonderful. I almost wish it had not happened.
Life. From that moment on, to say or hear it spoken would be to know the difference between empty and full – nothing and all. To write this is to re-experience that moment – to be simultaneously deflated with longing and encouraged to know that someday…
Life and language requires that we use the word regularly. But the contrast between the word and the real thing could not be more complete. Just as Zen teachers are known for reminding students not to mistake the finger pointing at the moon, for the moon itself.
I’ve spent so much of my life looking for ways to embrace the moon then to pass it to others – to find ways to retrieve that experience and give it away. Talking, pointing. It all falls short. But if you are a finger and you know about the moon you do what fingers do. So here I am, pointing again.
Spiritual ethnologists say that people from Eastern cultures who have similar experiences see Eastern deities. But the love is the same, it’s perfect, maddeningly, irresistibly perfect. As an American, I was looking at Jesus but I was seeing Life. Some say that the name of Jesus is everything. But everything is only a totality – infinite, yes. But there are larger and smaller infinities. I may have lost a few of you on that one – I used it as both an explanation and a defense. Let’s just stick with the central message of that moment when all that mattered were the facts of Life.
Far more intense than the fighter jet – Life roared at me, displaying the rarest of celestial energies – all the harps and chimes. At the same time I could see the union of purity with degrees of eroticism that were shocking, far beyond what it took to turn my face red with embarrassment. It all fit together perfectly – a seamless whole. From one end to the other – top to bottom, from purity to shameless eroticism.
There really was no top, bottom, middle or ends. The only thing that ended was my ability to look. The power of loves glance overwhelmed me – I was badly frightened. Not frightened in any bad sense. Just the reverse, it was too good. The truth of Life is so good that it was more than I had the nerve to look at. Though clothed in natures foliage, Love stood before me naked and utterly Holy. It was too good – so good that it scared me. I had to turn away.
How strange – but its an old story. Prophets and mystics, or people like myself who should have gotten themselves down to the pub a little quicker, all tell of encountering the Living God and being so shocked that they fall to the ground or run screaming in terror. Life, unfiltered is just too much for a human to plug into. For those that do, it’s a great ride but very short and it ruins the rest of the circus.
So now, the last part – I was known. I WAS known, as, I AM. For just a split second I knew that I had been seen – known to be a unique entity – an eternal soul. This could have been a problem but seen correctly, the combination of love and unique knowing brings us safely through. Let’s look at the parts.
One of the primary reasons people are unhappy is because we feel separate – We say we want to be individuals but to the extent that we are separate – that we feel separate – we can feel alone. If we are alone we are vulnerable – we can run out of the things we need to sustain life – food shelter and clothing. And, we can feel lonely.
Without going too far into this because its too big a subject – to keep it manageable let’s just look at the surface of what was delivered in that overwhelming download.
1.) I was, we are Loved, completely. I knew Love and Love knew me to such a degree that all aspects of being were over flowing with satisfaction.
2.) I was, we are each known as unique souls. I was and am an individual and apparently this will not change at death – this is a bit of a leap – but it’s the perception that was imparted.
Put these two together. We are unique expressions of spirit – individual souls. Our uniqueness is never extinguished. Without each unique expression of soul the musical instrument that is the universe would be full of missing strings and broken keys
And we are loved. This love is not tastelessly, non specific. It’s not as though God loves everybody so he must love everybody. Instead, we are each loved with a red hot specificity! Loved as we are and for who we are!
To be separate and unknown is a problem. To be unique but joined to Life by an unqualified Love quiets the fearful heart. Not separate but unique. Special, but One with all that is.
I hope this raises questions and sparks remarks because I’m leaving out more than I have included. It’s just too big to say it all, in this, already too long – short article.
For now, think in terms of the continuity of life and relationships and the value of our presence as much as our efforts in this life. Know, as best you can that you are an eternal, unique, living soul. Know that you are Loved so completely that nothing and no one is left wanting.
And everybody said…. Amen!
Well, some said it. Others were quicker than I, and had slipped into the pub before the rain began to fall.