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Visionary Threads of a Life in Progress
by Eddie Ensley[Note: This is a version of the first chapter of a book in preparation by Eddie Ensley. In it he tells his story of how visions transformed his life, and he leads the readers in exploring their own visions, which are rooted in ancient wisdom. Ensley is a member of Contemplative Brothers, a Catholic lay ministry recognized by his diocese. He is a candidate for ordination into holy orders as a permanent deacon (one of the three types of Catholic clergy). He has written three books. Sounds of Wonder (Paulist Press), (coauthor of) Charismatic Renewal and Contemplation (Paulist Press), and Prayer That Heals Our Emotions (Harper & Row).
This version of the first chapter will not be used in his new book as he felt there was too much about his own experiences and not enough about his subject matter. Ensley and I are e-mail pals, and when he first e-mailed me this chapter, I was enthralled. In effect it was an EHE autobiography and provides the nucleus for an EHE portrait (of which I have written several in the format of trifold flyers). I asked Ensley’s permission to write a portrait based on the chapter, and he gave it. However, I was unable to fit it all into what amounts to a page and a half. I then decided to write an EHE biography of Ensley as an article for this Journal. Once more, it proved to be a frustrating exercise because I wanted to quote extensive passages. His own words were much more moving than my paraphrases of his writing. So once again, I appealed to him, this time asking for permission to publish a lightly edited version of the chapter he had sent me in EHE.. He graciously agreed. So here it is. It is by no means his complete EHE autobiography, but even this fragment is both edifying and inspiring. A full account of Eddie Ensley’s story will be found in Visions—The Soul’s Path to the Sacred, now published by Loyola Press in 2000. It is being followed by a workbook on visions and EHEs in 2001 titled Visions—A Journal Workbook of Healing, also to be published by Loyola.]
EHE AutobiographyFor the first time in thirty-five years I return to the key spot of my childhood, the lot where my Cherokee grandparents’ shack once stood, on a bluff high above the Chattahoochee. I hear the ancient chants reverberating around me. I hear the heavenly singing of the above beings. With my eyes wide open, I behold an image of Christ, with the most Indian of faces, arising from the water. I knew now I would finally have to let go of my secrets and tell the story of the visions that had woven their threads throughout the story of my lifetime.
As an Indian I Grew up Comfortable With Visions
Like most people of ancient memory, my grandfather lived easily with visions. I grew up comfortable with wonder and with the Immortals, the little angel people that lived below my grandparents’ house. This was simply natural, just a part of ordinary life, like the booming cotton mill whistle that told everybody when it was time to quit work and go home to their families. Here I learned the rhythms of sacred experiencing. Visions are trips to the horizon. We do not seek or need information; we stand before an unknown that fascinates us, beckons us, and makes us friend. But we do not cross the horizon. We do not have hotlines to heaven. Loving makes us special, not visions; but visions, if we follow their sacred wisdom, can help us love. This is what I intuitively learned as a child at my grandparents’ feet. Visions were the ability of our hearts to form glimpses, pictures of the whole. God was a part of it all, because God was part of the whole. But visions weren’t a radio hook-up with heaven.
The Warm Light Makes a Promise to a Brain-Damaged Little Boy.
Birth trauma and an early head injury left me brain damaged with severe visual-spatial learning disabilities. During junior high, just after my grandfather’s death in the days before ADA, I suffered the ridicule of my classmates and the shaming of my teachers, who didn’t understand my disability. A warm healing light, which I see as Christ, came to me saying, "I am the one who dries the tears of children and helps them fulfill their dreams." Despite my difficulty in school, the light assured me I would be a writer, which was my dream. For the following few days I thought magic had come to me. I believed I could play sports and do other normal things my disability prevented me from doing. I messed up badly when I tried to play football, thinking the light had cured me. I endured everyone’s laughter. I learned that visions aren’t magic wands that fix everything, but sacred touches that bring hope in the midst of struggle.
The Light Takes a Human Voice
My life continued in the same agony as before. Still, in my unguarded moments, a hope from beyond myself sprang up in me. The visitation of the Light had altered something inside. Only summer school enabled me to continue into high school. The principal of the high school I entered spent most of his time involved in administrative work and left the day-to-day running of the school to the dean, Margaret Cox, a Columbia University-trained teacher and published author who was at the forefront of new methods of education.
For my first assignment in high school English, I gave an oral report on the similarities between Alan Paton, the South African reformer and writer, and Eudora Welty, the American novelist from Mississippi. I stated that the guilt and pain of living in racially troubled societies and acquaintance with an oral tradition produced a literature in both societies that enchanted the soul. I expected the usual D for stuttering and turning in an illegible written version. Instead, the English teacher, Mrs. Hayes, gave me a stunned, welcoming smile and used a word that I had never heard used about my work: "Astounding."
Two days later the announcement came over the intercom that I was to report to the dean’s office immediately. I met Margaret Cox, a feisty firebrand of a woman. She invited me to join a special experimental "creativity" class for unusually talented students. She sent word to my teachers that they could no longer count off my grade for illegible handwriting; they would just have to spend the time required to decode it. She gave me hours a week of special attention. Though they didn’t understand learning disabilities in those days, she suspected something, and took the unheard-of step of making sure my teachers accommodated my difficulties. She then concentrated on my strengths. I won academic honors. I overcame my nervous speech impediment and won a state oratorical contest. Once, when students were laughing at me my first year, she stopped them and told them when I grew up I would write books that they would not understand.
I dedicated my first book, Sounds of Wonder, to her, shortly before her death. She was a bit of a mystic. When she had almost drowned as a teenager, she had felt the Light’s touch. A devout Baptist, she read Catholic and Jewish spiritual writings. In the presence of one whom I knew understood, I told her visions. When I finished, we remained in silence a long while. Nothing more needed to be said; she knew the same experience. The Light had met her too . . .
I decided to study to be a Presbyterian minister at Belhaven College. To my surprise, there I was loved, celebrated, and accepted by my fellow students. They gave me copies of their notes and helped type my papers. Even without diagnosis, my professors accommodated me. They looked at content, not form. But I still anguished, knowing the outside world would not be so understanding.
The visions continued. I yearned for a guide to help bring together the different threads of my life, to help me understand those moments of spiritual brightness. Out of curiosity, I stopped in an historic Catholic Church in Selma, Alabama. The same heartlight that filled my room as a child filled this Church. I rested thirty or forty minutes in unspeakable peace. As I left the Church I turned my head and was greeted by the face of a relaxed young priest with his collar undone. As I was sure I was alone this startled me. A clear soft voice said, "Here is the helper of a lifetime." Startled, I swallowed and blinked my eyes. When they opened, the figure was gone. My heart was racing; I headed on back to Belhaven.
Two weeks later I attended a meeting at Fondern Presbyterian Church in which a young priest spoke about the burning of churches throughout Mississippi. When I stepped into the room, I saw the man in the collar I had seen in the image in Selma. The name of the priest was Fr. Bernard Law, now Cardinal Law of Boston. He became my mentor, friend, and lifelong guide.
The Light Can Be Very Frightening
A few months after I arrived at Belhaven, I got a surprise. A group of the most popular young men on campus, the "wheels" socially, so to speak, banged on my door. They issued me an invitation to join the most prestigious men’s social club. That night as I fell asleep, memories of the boys who ridiculed me contrasted with memories of the young men who had just handed me their highest token of acceptance. The Light that had come to me years ago and promised me I would have a life returned in gentleness and warmth. Tears of gratitude slipped out of my eyes. My ego began to flow into this blessed moment, as I find it often does. The visions changed to all the beautiful coeds I would be able to date, now that I was "in." Who knows, I might even become one of the two or three best "catches" on campus. Images of newfound popularity surrounded me. I could float through the rest of my life. The Light "smiled" and communicated without words, "Don’t get so comfortable yet."
Just as life was finally getting comfortable, the friendly Light came to shake my life again. For a while in high school, the racism that had swept the South as a result of the Supreme Court School decision and the ever-spreading Civil Rights Movement pulled me in, even with all my love of South African dissident writers. Teachers, everybody it seemed, wanted to stop the encroachment on our "Southern way of Life." While those boys who drove through Black neighborhoods shooting up houses with buckshot repulsed me, I picked a genteel way of holding onto "our values." I became a proponent of States’ rights against the "Federal encroachment." I even used the "n" word with the other boys, always feeling a bit of nausea in the corner of my heart every time I uttered it. "States rights" was a euphemism for segregation. What better way for a young man of questionable racial ancestry to feel at home than to join the bandwagon? I couldn’t play athletics with the other boys, but I could articulate Southern nostalgia with my word skills. For a while I looked on this as a ticket to belonging.
By the time I turned nineteen I had left most of that behind. I switched labels. Now I was an "integrationist." I had finally begun to embrace the attitude of my favorite novel by Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country. But it was in words only. On the bus back to school from my first Spring break in Columbus, I noticed a middle-aged Black woman sobbing in horrible emotional pain all the way from Montgomery to Meridian. The bus driver walked to the back at least three times to brusquely calm her down. Fear ran through my heart. In my adolescent mind I knew why she was crying. She was crying because she had to sit in the back of the bus. In the way that young people can quickly blame themselves, I thought it was my attitudes, my stances that did this to her. I wanted to go to the back of the bus with her. Maybe I could say something, do something, just be with her in her loneliness. In those days, even crossing from the "privileged" end of the bus backward could have its dangers. Would people think I was a freedom rider? Would the driver order me off, leaving me stranded on the roadside? Would the young white country types beat me up like they beat up the Freedom riders? I just didn’t have the courage to take those steps and cross that invisible barrier to her end of the bus.
Back at school I told one of my friends, Helen, the story. "She was crying because of the segregation," I said. Helen gave the more likely explanation that the woman had just had a death or tragedy in the family. That night I had a vision as I lay awake in the early morning of my dorm room in Wells Hall, sweat drowning my body from the heat radiating from the brick walls. Suddenly . . . I was back in the bus. I pressed the imitation leather seat with my hands to be sure I wasn’t dreaming, and I felt its solidity. No dream could be this vivid, I thought. I looked in the back of the bus for the woman, but she wasn’t there. In her seat I saw a stern Christ, his eyes fiercely glowing like the Son of Man in Revelation. He looked right at me, and with a voice that vibrated disappointment, he said, "I have come to you in your tears, but you didn’t come to me. Find me on this end of the bus or you won’t find me at all." At that moment, thunder like the end of the world crashed through the bus, and I awakened in my bed to one of those booming, earth-shaking Mississippi thunderstorms. I put the pillow on my head so my roommate Frank wouldn’t hear me and sobbed. I sobbed because I had not gone to the woman. And only after sobbing for thirty minutes did some sweetness and relief come. I knew then, if I were going to meet Christ, I would have to do more than read theology and pray. I’d have to move to the back of the bus.
After this I involved myself in the Civil Rights movement. A center for this was the Jewish synagogue I visited frequently. Rabbi Nussbaum introduced me to Jewish mystical literature. This story takes on drama when, with the acquiescence of the Jackson Police Department, locals tried to assassinate the Rabbi, blowing up the synagogue that was a refuge to so many of us in the Movement. Cardinal Law (then Fr. Law) was placed under FBI protection. All our lives were in danger. I had my own encounter with what I felt sure were nightriders.
Once More Darkness Follows the Light
My time at Belhaven had been extraordinary. Without consciously realizing they were doing it, my friends pitched in like a team to accommodate my disability and help me function despite it. I now know how rare such supportive help can be, especially in those days before a full diagnosis.
After graduation we all scattered in different directions. During my subsequent time in theology graduate school, without the web of help for my disability my friends had intuitively given me, the world caved in again as in Junior High. This time I had no parents or friends to cue me during hazy bewildering tasks like dressing and getting things together for class. I spent a year at Union in Richmond and two years at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. By my last year in Austin, my clothes were rarely clean. It took hours to get passably dressed enough to make it to class, and usually I didn’t make it. Some of the neurological symptoms, such as going into dazes in which I would get stuck in chairs till someone verbally cued me, became terrifying. I had little dignity left. I sought medical help, but no one ran the right tests. I presented as a bright, highly articulate, coherent, pleasant young man with excellent social skills, and the doctors dismissed my dire symptoms with catchall diagnoses, such as "stress" or "busy student syndrome." No one referred me to a neurologist.
I saw only one person to blame—myself.
The agony of the bizarre symptoms was tripled by the mystery of their origin and my self-blame. The Light that had come to me as a little boy continued to come to me and comfort me in beautiful simple-hearted communications as in my teenage years. I continued my dialogue with Cardinal Law (then Msgr. Law) through letters, visits, and phone calls. With my permission, on his visits to Rome, he shared with Vatican officials, including members of the Curia, some of my letters detailing my spiritual experiences, my questing, and my belief we would soon be moving into a time of an outpouring of spirituality, and he then passed on their insights to me.
Yet, as when I was thirteen, the struggles of daily living with my disability were heightened by the contrast. The Light offered me comfort, but the impossibilities of daily living confronted me at all other times. Shame weighed on me like a mountain, and neither heavenly or human comfort could make it go away. After years of a solid academic background despite impossible odds, I failed two of my classes my senior year in graduate school because the hours it took to dress myself and ready my things meant I missed most of my classes.
Had I had the clear medical diagnosis I now have, it would have meant a medical leave or accommodation and assistance, not failure. But I did not have that diagnosis at the time. I was twenty-three and in my mind certain of no future. I remember collapsing on my knees in fear and frustration in my dorm room. "God, if you are there, send me a sign, any sign." An hour later, the phone rang. It was Fr. Law. He and Cardinal Willebrands, the primate of Holland, the head of all ecumenical dialogue for Rome, were in Texas, and they wanted to see me the next day. Cardinal Willebrands, well versed already in my spiritual journey, prayed with me and Fr. Law. On finishing, he smiled a knowing smile and said in his crisp Netherlands accent, "If Mohammed will not come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mohammed," then left me struggling to understand that little parable.
It seemed that some of the top religious people in the world thought there was a beautiful gift in me that would touch many, but hardly anyone else did. Mysteries do more than intrigue and fascinate. They perplex and bewilder, too. As usual after such times of comfort and mysterious sacred intervention, all the problems returned and the seeming hopelessness settled in again. Neither the Light nor the human message-givers, who spoke with the same comfort as the Light, brought a wand that magically made things okay.
In the months after leaving graduate school, I worked in a campus ministry at the University of Texas for room and board. The people around me naturally could not understand my difficulties. There was misunderstanding, and for me, much distress. The cryptic puzzling words of the Cardinal stirred in my mind.
Months later I began to have the firm conviction I would be encountering a totally different reality that would forever change my world. Would this be the magic elixir that would make everything in my life right? Fear gripped me too, numinous, mysterious, holy fear: the fear of letting go into an awe-filled abyss that seemed to be gathering about me.
One day I stopped a moment to rest my hand on the top of a sofa in the lounge area of the Campus ministry. I closed my eyes a moment. Everything around me receded. I viewed in one split second a land of golden light and endless sky blue and innumerable angels radiating a whiteness that stunned. Terrible, holy, fearful wonder gripped me. I trembled and heard the words that came like thunder: "The time of the snatching up and returning is near." I knew this to be a spiritual experience that would make clear the direction of my life. Most of my other times of encounter had been times of gentle touch. A fear accompanied this sense of coming spiritual eruption. I raced toward the losing of the world I knew, which I feared doing, if even for a moment. I felt like a child about to be squeezed through the birth canal in the rush toward birth and an only hinted-at unknown. The old would be severed; the new was known only through muffled sound. Dimmed light and shadow would burst forth suddenly . . .
All day on Saturday, my heart beat quickly. My body, every part of it, tingled. I slept on the couch near the door that evening in order to be able to answer the door for all hour counseling emergencies. I propped myself up in bed, repeating the fear-banishing prayer of childhood, "The Lord is my Shepherd," touching my thumb to my forefinger each time I said the prayer, to ease my fear.
The tingling turned to flame, within and without. The whole room, every particle of my being within and without, were engulfed in invisible flame. Then imperceptibly, the invisible flame turned to visible flame. A molten fire of love filled my very bones.... I was carried up and speeded through a vortex, a whirlwind of all-compassionate fire. The tenderness of that heat is beyond the telling. I could experience with new senses. I was like a man who could not hear who now could hear, a man who could not taste who now could taste. Language again fails...Everything became more vivid than normal experience. Immense pain co-existed with the joy of a rampaging fire of love. The joy and the pain were one. The pain was the purifying, cleansing side of love. The pain was the pain of healing, as the wounded, closed-off parts of my being opened to love and let go the darkness into light. I could "see," "experience," "taste" many times and many places and many people at once. I tasted eternity, timelessness, place, and time in one instant.
I was shown a room and told that this was the room of my soul. I could view the wounds of my life in visible form. I could see the parts that had closed off to love—both God’s love and others’ love. The wounded parts shone the brightest of all the parts of my soul, for here healing light gathered in splendor to make whole. The flame, the intensity of light, spoke to me the beloved Creator’s love speaking to beloved creation: "Taste the love with which I love you. Swim in the bright sea that knows no bounds. I am fire and I will cleanse you. I am love and I will mend. Lose yourself in my lasting cherishing. Lose yourself and you will be found for I am the jealous Eternal Lover and I love without bound.
Eternal Love showed me scenes of pain from all my life. Each time I viewed each hurtful scene, the Creator’s love surrounded me. The Creator had felt each hurt more keenly than I, and had suffered with each pain. Here was a love more intimate to me than I was to myself. I looked at the wounds again, and they shone like jewels. And I heard the words, "In your wounds your beauty lies. From them flows the salve to soothe many torn hearts." More poetic visionary words followed. Many more metaphors and "healing words" and "showings" described how the flame heals my wounds and the wounds of all people. I was shown the "soul rooms" and wounds of countless others. I saw vivid scenes of hurt and pain in their lives recreated. I experienced the Creator’s all-suffering compassionate devotion for each. I was told to reach into the soul rooms of others and touch the ghastly wounds that lie open with my open palms. The nearest thing, I suppose, to this sensation would be touching an open beating heart. My being shook with the awfulness of their hurt. Then I felt the Creator’s tender love for each. Then I heard the words, "This is how I train you and all my people to love." For moments the whole experience would change from intense rapture and anguish surrounded by fire to a subdued and wondrous light of eternal stillness. There is rest from cleansing. The message came to me: "I will show you the future of Creation.... First I will show you the devastation." There followed scenes of the pain of war, discrimination, and abuse. Vivid metaphors and short little anecdotes of hurt gave me a sense of the world’s pain: "This is the future that is now... This is the coming darkness that has come."
"What is the way out of the horror?" I asked. The answer came: "My love, that feels and takes on each pain, bears each hatred." I am then shown a beautiful, eternal meadow. Flowers, light, water, trees, shade, speak of new life. The Light says: "This is also the future and this is also now. If there is horror, there is also springtime. Springtime is coming, if my people will but let it. Your time can become a time of wonder." I had a sense that this meant an unprecedented return to spirituality and restoration of what has been lost.
"How does the time of wonder come?" I asked. Then I hear: "Through mysteries." The first is this: "That which is absolutely free costs everything. The mystery is my love, which anyone may touch without cost. But when you touch it you become different. It carries you into the crucible of transformation until you give away all that you are to love in the manner I love. Open your being daily to that wonderful, frightening, risky love in daily sacred practice and prayer. My love is the one intoxication from which one should never return to sobriety."
The second mystery is this mystery of the tying together: "That which is apart is tied together; that which is truly free is truly bound." At that moment I could feel the compassion that had been building go out through unseen cords to countless others. The cords knitted us together. We were each unique, each a world of individuality, yet we were also as one. Each pain of the other was my pain, each joy my joy. The invisible cords connected us as intimately as an umbilical cord united mother and unborn child. I heard the message, "You are not saved alone, you are not healed alone, you are healed together. It is not a solitary questing, but a questing with one another. As you pray for others, you are healed. As you touch the open torn hearts of others, your wounds are healed. As you forget yourself in love of the other, you find yourself."
The next mystery was the mystery of the treasure room. I look in a room filled with huge treasure chests. Golden light comes through the cracks in the chests. I walk into the light, open one of the chests, and expect to see bright golden coins. Instead I see ancient scrolls and manuscripts, each radiating a sacred light that filled my whole being with brightness. Like Jeremiah, I ate a piece of one of the scrolls and was overwhelmed by the sweetness. I had a sense that the key to the Springtime would be the finding and spiritual ingestion of the sacred scrolls, the hidden treasure. I heard the words, "You will be a finder of scrolls, and you will tell the world of their sweetness." I had a sense that those words would come literally true. I would be a finder of ancient scrolls and tell their sweetness to the world. The old scrolls were the pathways to Springtime. Images of me writing books and speaking to large audiences of people passed by the eyes of my heart.
When I awoke that morning, life was just as difficult as the day before. My as yet undiagnosed disability did not disappear. Nothing lessened the misunderstanding of those around me. Again, the visions had offered no magical solution to life. But the hope inside me deepened. The vision of healing, purifying fire that came to me continued from time to time in my dreams, and continues still.
Common sense wisdom would say that a young man who flunked religious history because he couldn’t remember how to get dressed to attend class could not write an earthshaking academic book on religious history. Yet gentle, bright visions began to greet me in the mornings, impelling me toward just such a goal. It is unheard of that someone without a doctorate, not teaching at a prestigious institution, should write and publish such a book. Professors at major theological schools would be delighted to be published on that level. I hunted the original primary source writings. I looked where few other scholars had looked: the personal letters, diaries, songbooks, the descriptions of everyday living, a whole strata of source material almost entirely ignored by researchers at that point. The material shocked me. People in everyday life, for 1800 years, experienced the same kinds of sacred touches that marked my life. Their experience was part of down-to-earth human living with all its tragedies, joys, and ambiguities. The beautiful Plainsong and Gregorian chant of the Church often came from individuals and whole groups who experienced angelic visitations with heavenly sound and joined their voices to the sound. I was no longer alone. I had their history to help me understand my experience. Many of the saints and rabbis whose personal material I studied greeted me in my dreams.
New Covenant, a national ecumenical magazine, heard of my research and asked me to write a series of articles on the history of wondrous experiences. Paulist Press, publisher of the Classics of Western Spirituality series and one of the most prestigious spiritual and academic publishers, asked me to do a book on the effect of this rich tradition of religious experiencing on worship. After having top level theologians check my research, they published my first book, Sounds of Wonder, in 1977.
Of course, I didn’t tell any one but my closest friends about the saintly and angelic guidance that helped me find the material. University libraries everywhere snapped it up. Dr. Bob Weber of Wheaton College, a premier expert on liturgy, says that my research changed the whole understanding of the development of spiritual song in the West. The ancient documents shed light on far more than angelic song and worship. They opened up whole new pathways of spiritual healing, sacred envisioning, and formation of spiritual community. Healing Ministry requests to speak on my research poured in from all over North America. A ministry of spiritual and emotional healing opened up. I blended this old uncovered wisdom with metaphors from my visionary experience. I saw thousands of hearts open up to the sacred dimensions of life. Still, except briefly with a few audiences I feel especially comfortable with, I do not mention my visions. I apply the insights but am shy about telling my own encounters. I give examples of how spiritual experience can help us with "soul healing." Using the vivid imagery of my spiritual experience, I wove together a book of guided healing journeys of meditations, which was published by Harper/Collins. I presented the picture scenes as meditations without letting the reader know they came from my own visions. The time had not yet arrived to tell.
Throughout this time I suffered the bizarre, frightening, and disabling effects of my brain injury. As I aged the symptoms worsened, affecting everything in my life. I didn’t have a diagnosis; I blamed myself. Thinking the cause must be emotional, I visited a clinical psychologist to help me get to the root of my "psychological problems." Dr. France explained in the first visit that from listening to me and watching me get confused and lost in the hall, the cause might be organic. He was experienced in working with head injury patients, and he gave me a preliminary screening test for brain damage that showed a strong positive. Months of radiological, neurological, and neuropsychological testing followed to assess the level of damage. Phrases such as "severely impaired" were written all over my files. The tests indicated dysfunction throughout the right hemisphere of the brain and the corpus collosum.
At Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute, one of the nation’s premier rehabilitation institutes for brain damage, they told me that they had never seen anyone as severely impaired as I was finish high school, much less write three books. A little after the testing was completed, Cardinal Law called and we talked for two hours. I poured out a lifetime of shame over my disability. His listening heart absorbed much of my pain. He gently reminded me of how abundantly grace had worked through me. He told me my life had been a miracle. I knew at that moment that I had been the recipient of astounding, tender mercies. The damage that had brought the disability opened the way for the nurturing touch of the spiritual world.
The pieces of the puzzle of my life began to come together. I did research on my own that indicated that at least several researchers believed some people with my kind of brain damage tended to have more religious experience, mystical visions. Whether or not this is true in my case, it is true that the spiritual part of my nature moved in to compensate for the parts of my brain that were not working. The brain damage made me more prone to sacred experiencing, if for no other reason than I needed it more. When I was about 30 years old, I began to connect again with my Indian ancestry. This was a slow, and at times excruciating, process. I finally had to grieve over the loss of my grandparents and all that was lost. My grandfather appeared in dreams, telling me to return to the ways of my childhood. I awoke in the mornings hearing him chant again and speak Cherokee. He told me I must return to the bluff, but I did not have the courage. The Native peoples of Ontario asked me to conduct a healing of emotions weekend for Natives throughout the province. Memories from my childhood flooded me.
When I returned home, I sobbed for three days. I knew that I must return to the bluff where my grandfather taught me and the spot he called the "remembering" spot. The dreams told me it was time. The sharp pangs of grieving would be nearly unbearable, I knew. My life would change.
After the trip to the top of the bluff I knew that I must finally tell the story of my visions. And with the visions, I must tell the story of my loss, my pain, my brain damage. I must give up my secrets. After my trip to the bluff, my memories flooded me. The cousin I met on the Qualla boundary reservation when my family was visiting the reservation at the same time her family was visiting, Dyhani Ywahoo, came back into my life. When we found each other as adults, we were shocked that we both write spiritual books and make tapes of healing meditations. We discovered that many of the meditations we use, visions we describe, and word pictures we write are the same. She used the old wisdom to guide me in understanding my visions.
I met Lama Tenzen, a Tibetan Buddhist Lama from Nepal, who was spending six months at my cousin’s farm. Our dialogue enriched the heritage I already hold. My father told me his visions. Just before his death he gave me the history of the family, thus confirming my memories as no one else could do. My native upbringing helped nurture the gift and put it in context.
Among several Plains Indian tribes, after the passing of the sacred Pipe, the words, "We are all related," are said. We are related to the world, to each other, to the animals, to the cosmos. The spiritual world is as real as the world of rocks and stones. In the older traditions, chants, movement, touch attuned children from the moment of birth to the spiritual world. Dancing song and sacred practice helped preserve this openness. For many Native Americans, even some two generations from reservations, visions come as easily as breathing. In my work on the reservations in Canada, almost everyone had visions. Christian visions, Native visions, both blended together. John Paul II apologized to the Native peoples for the early missionary attempts to disparage their culture. He urged them to continue what was whole and beautiful and good about the old ways. Native visions provide pathways for healing for the individual and the community. In the book I am writing, I recount stories of Native envisioning from my family and my work on reservations. I touch on the great Iroquois prophet of peace in the sixteenth century, Degandwidah, and his vision of a great, eternal tree of peace and his call to put aside weapons. Individuals often had pivotal life-changing visions that marked the course of the rest of their lives. In many respects my vision of the fire of love was that pivotal life vision for me. The pivotal life vision for my grandfather was the boatman from the world of light he saw when he had been electrocuted by a power line. But in the native world, our visions are never our visions alone. They are the visions of the gadugi, the township in Cherokee, the community. Visions, or what Rhea White calls exceptional human experiences, help us all to cast aside the illusion of our separateness.
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