Chapter One of Francis Brown's book, My Love is Here — an evolution in spirituality, he entitled "Beginnings" but I think it might be more accurate to describe it as a fourteen paragraph set of stepping stones across his entire life. He lays out the five or so paradigmatic turning points of his journey which he'll be exploring in more detail as this series moves on.
On holy ground – a sense of oneness...
I wander, seemingly alone, in this quiet and lovely place in the apparently unending bush adjacent to where I live. Yet I know I am not in isolation. Around me, beneath me, above me, to my right and to my left and also deep within me I know a presence that somehow is not separate from the being that I know is me.
This place, so still, in spite of the bird that flitters and sings in the stately gum tree beside me, in spite of the lizard that frills out its neck so gloriously on the log nearby and in spite of the horseman who rides across the hill opposite in search for the cow and calf I'd seen a short time earlier. My thoughts are quiet, unwilling to disturb the tranquillity of knowing that I'm on holy ground, sharing in a oneness that transcends the seeming separateness unhealed minds tend to perceive. In this holy instant time does not exist and I have no desire to move from it. The seeming space my eyes perceive around me is not empty and no measurements prevail to hem it in. I am one with it all and not limited to what I see. By a vision unrelated to my eyes I see a world and myself in mutual and unquestionable embrace and I know that I love and am loved unconditionally. My holiness and innocence are clear to me and I yearn to know more fully the being that loves me so and with whom I am truly and surely one.
The horseman arrives with the cow and calf. He said. "Hey! Son! How old are you?"
I replied. "I'll be five next week."
"You had better be getting on home then. It's getting late." He muttered as he went on after the cow and calf.
Carrying my knowledge of oneness and the joy it gave me, I set out as instructed, trusting my guidance would be with me.
We are going to learn about God...
Another year, when I was due to turn six, I started school. My parents had often spoken of "God". I got the impression from them and from going to church that "God" was someone outside me and someone I prayed to and went to church for. Now I and my class had a nun who was to be our teacher. The learning to read and write was fun in spite of sister hitting me sometimes for "dreaming and not paying attention."
Then sister said, "We are going to learn about God." And she proceeded to tell us about the "Father" who created us out of nothing and about the "Son" who saved us. This was confusing to me who knew nothing but oneness and being embraced. I tried to say so but was told to get real and that she would tell me who God was and who I was. And so it was for weeks, months and years until I then saw me as created by God who is in Heaven where I could not be until I repented of my sins and was saved by Jesus. This sat uncomfortably on me for years to come.
Learning about separation...
At twelve years of age, I decided to begin reading the Bible, the New Testament at first, instead of having it read at church or reading it in my mum's missal. I got to know Jesus and respected him for I sensed he had a message beyond what I was being taught. I sensed that it had something to do with my childhood vision. I sensed that he was a good man, even a friend, who became a constant companion to me. He and I seemed to have something in common but I was confused by what I had been taught. The oneness of being that I knew as a young child was deeply submerged in a world of isolation from God because' of the concepts, sin and guilt I had not then known. The world I was being taught was different from my early experience. It became one of separation, indeed isolation, from my origins, from my fellows in this world and indeed somehow made my mind split within itself.
I got to know the New Testament well and could recite much of it from memory. I felt I had gained an understanding of Jesus and for me there was something behind and beyond the events and words ascribed to him. He embodied for me something beyond this world altogether. He made frequent use of the word "one" referring to the relationship between his and my fellows and with his "Father." He spoke of not judging and I felt this was important to him. My way of reading these words and others of sacred scripture, looking to a spiritual sense, gave me consolation and a sense of surety during a time that was full of conflicting thoughts and a terror of damnation.
Becoming a Franciscan...
I met a Franciscan friar, so full of joy and acceptance that I could see myself and the world in a better light. His way of life showed me an image of what was submerged within me and I, at the age of 15, decided to become a Franciscan. I was happy in that life, although a sense of guilt and unworthiness persisted. I was directed to study for the priesthood. I regard my studies in philosophy, metaphysics, cosmology and logic as significant for me in that I became better equipped to apply my spiritual way of thinking to the theological studies that followed. Even to the day of ordination I was still being bothered with feelings of guilt and unworthiness.
My assignment to missionary duties in Papua New Guinea was the beginning of my redemption from the experienced trauma of having teachings in my brain which did not jell with what my inner self was telling me of the Jesus message. The people, "pagans" and first generation Christians, were close to nature and soon embraced me as one of their own. I gained a sense of spiritual freedom which helped me apply myself, over an 18 year period to a fruitful, loving and satisfying ministry.
My return to Australia as a non-clerical married priest, now unemployed by the Church I loved, introduced a new and challenging phase in the growth of my spiritual orientation. Responsibilities that were new to me yet experienced by the vast majority of the population brought me into direct contact with the problems for which so many were seeking answers. The answers were not forthcoming.
Those claiming to have the answers were revealed as only quoting "authorities" and the answers were not really answering the questions which became fearfully hidden within me. "Who am I really?" "What am I here for?" What is this life all about?" "Why am I enmeshed in guilt?" "Why aren't the wonderful liturgies and faiths of the world succeeding better than their opposites?" And there are more that I can quote.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?