From the foundation of the world?

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel.)

Come ye blessed of my father. (Michelangelo,
Sistine Chapel.)

In a little more than two weeks I will be in Jerusalem. I will spend ten nights in Palestine and Israel―in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and religiously important places in the Galilee, as well as Jerusalem. I have been to all of these places before. The first time I was in Palestine, I also had the remarkable experience of spending two days and a night in Gaza.

In the late ‘80s-early ‘90s I was in therapy with a Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Cambridge, MA. He is about my age (we were both very young at that time). My neurologist referred me to him because he had experience working with persons with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, the condition with which the neurologists at Harvard Medical School had recently diagnosed me after I had lived with it for 40 years.

One of the presentations of TLE is a propensity for heightened religious experiences. Out-of-body experiences, strange feelings of transcendence, seeing visions. All manner of mystical experience.

I have had quite a few of those experiences, but I have never exactly attributed them to being in touch with God or the gods or the meaning of the universe as some TLEptics do. From childhood I have had what might be called a “mystical” bent―having deep experiences of connectedness to reality of some kind. I have tried to explain those experiences many times.

In a folder on my computer desk top I have a miscellaneous assortment of documents with stuff I want to be able to find if I ever need it. Somewhat like my last year’s tax return―it’s here somewhere. One of those documents is a quotation from Fyodor Dostoyevsky describing his seizures (I have no record of the article that quotes Strakhov).

Nikolay Strakhov, a philosopher and literary critic, and a friend of Dostoyevsky relates Dostoevsky’s description of the aura: ‘…Often told me that before the onset of an attack there were minutes in which he was in rapture.’ “For several moments,” he said, “I would experience such joy as would be inconceivable in ordinary life―such joy that no one else could have any notion of. I would feel complete harmony in myself and in the whole world and this feeling was so strong and sweet that for few seconds of such bliss I would give ten or more years of my life, even my whole life perhaps.” Frank J. Goldstein. Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoevsky. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press (1987).

I don’t know if the experience on the Oregon coast I linked to above was a seizure, a mystical experience, or simply the way anyone who hadn’t a care in the world for the moment would experience the ocean and the cold air and the solitude. My guess is that many (most?) people have these experiences, but they don’t feel compelled to write about them. And they don’t think of them as “religious.”

I should note here that the times I know for sure I am having a seizure are not wonderful. A month ago, for example, I was walking at the fitness center and suddenly had no idea where I was or why I was there (which is a much more frequent experience than being at one with the ocean). It’s more difficult for me to explain that kind of experience than the mystical ones (or whatever they are). Fortunately at the fitness center I was able to get to a bench and sit before I checked out completely. I came to (after probably 2 or 3 seconds) and knew someone named Chris was nearby and that I should see him.

But I had no idea where or who he was or why I needed to find him. It took me a few minutes to remember he is my trainer, and I had an appointment with him in a few minutes.

So that’s the sum total of my mystical experience.

For the most part.

Since I find it almost impossible to say I believe in God these days, it’s just as well that I don’t have experiences where I think I’ve run into her.

When I was working with the Jewish Jungian psychiatrist in Massachusetts, he told me he hoped I would someday have the experience of standing at the Western Wall (the “Wailing Wall”) in Jerusalem. He thought anyone who had had so many “mystical” (I’ll call them that for want of a better description) experiences needed to be in that place where so much of the Western religious tradition had been centered, supposedly, for 2,500 years.

When I finally touched the Wall in 2003, I had nothing like a religious experience. Perhaps that was because on my way down into the courtyard I was greeted by a teenage girl and boy (Israeli soldiers carrying assault rifles) obviously looking everyone over with suspicion, and it was difficult to feel anything other than wariness. I was not wearing a yarmulke as the other men in our group were.

I am fairly certain that when I am in Jerusalem in a couple of weeks, I will have religious experiences. I don’t think William James would have classified them as religious, however. But it’s the only way I have of participating in or knowing or experiencing anything “transcendent” or of “God.”

The purpose of my trip is to join, as best I know how or can figure out, the cause of justice for all people. If God exists, I have only one way of knowing God. That is by doing my level best (which is pathetically inadequate and probably misinformed) to be of service to other human beings, especially in the cause of justice and mercy. It is only then―not by belief or prayer or meditation or good works―that I expect to have anything like the experience of hearing, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”―in this life or any other.

(Some of my reasons for going to Palestine/Jerusalem.)

The new

The new “Wailing Wall.” (Photo, Harold Knight, 2008.)


“No one else is around to drink with you from the watery fog. . .” (Edward Hirsch)

"Now you’re walking down to the shore. . ."

“Now you’re walking down to the shore. . .”

These days there’s a lot of prattle by the talking heads on TV from FOX to MSNBC about President Obama’s “legacy.” Usually the topic is what the President is doing to shape (or reshape or create or change or . . .) his legacy.

The other day Diane Rehm’s guest on her NPR interview show was the British actor David Thomson. I didn’t hear the entire program, but I heard a few moments of his speaking to the idea that all of us are to a certain extent acting—acting out the role in which we want others to see us.

Don’t jump to conclusions. He was not saying we’re all phonies. Far from it. His point was that we all decide (maybe several times in our lives) how we want the world to see us—what our role is in the drama of our lives. I think that’s a powerful idea.

I’ve been thinking lately about that concept. My legacy. That, of course, is a luxury. For anyone who is simply and constantly trying to keep warm or figure where the next meal is coming from, a legacy is the last thing they have to worry about. And that’s—what?—90% of the world’s population. That I have the time, the awareness that anyone might think of me when I am gone—the luxury of knowing who the “leader” of my nation is—places me in the tiniest minority of the people now living or who have ever lived.

I heard only a few minutes of David Thomson’s discussion with Diane Rehm, and I have not read his book. I can hardly claim to understand his ideas. No matter. My legacy. My acting. My acting as if.

We’re all “method actors,” I’d say. We feel the feelings, we immerse ourselves in our experience, in our real and perceived worlds, and then “act” accordingly. Somewhere along the line my experience, both real and perceived, took me down several conflicting paths. I suppose that’s universally true. I don’t need to rehearse mine—it’s pretty much in evidence throughout this blog.

Yesterday I saw my new talk-therapist for the second time, and I began revealing as best I could why I was there. First, I was having a minor version of what I have heard described as a “panic attack.” It’s just the way I live—and my guess is everyone else does, too. I didn’t want to be there. I suddenly was aware of my heart (I don’t know if it was racing or pounding or what—I was simply aware of it). I could not sit still. I seldom can except when I’m at my computer keyboard or working a Sudoku puzzle. I was acutely aware that I did not want to be there.

". . .but the sea and the sky were also yours. . ."

“. . .but the sea and the sky were also yours. . .”

So we talked. I talked a little about me. He talked a lot about anxiety. My skin crawled and I had to rub my head, and I wanted to scream. He sat calmly in his chair wearing his tie with his handsome gray beard immaculately trimmed and prattling on, and I slumped in the easy chair in my t-shirt with my hair and beard that have not been groomed for two weeks. At one point he was talking about the experience of the victims of the Holocaust (he’s not Jewish—his father was a famous Methodist theologian) and the numbers tattooed on their arms, “Not like the impressive ones you have.” I wore a long-sleeved shirt the first time we talked, so he hadn’t seen them before. At one point I saw the skinny young intern—did I say skinny?—(my therapist teaches at UTSouthwestern Medical School—I see six doctors there, lucky me) staring at my tattoos, and I knew they were both curious about them. Why does a retired church musician/college professor have all those tattoos? I think—although I may be projecting or hoping—that was the unasked question of the hour.

So then he asked me something—I forget what—that the answer was logically to tell him about tutoring college athletes. Specifically about the one last semester that I bonded with in a way the NCAA says we’re not supposed to, but which—I am pretty sure (because he told me so)—has helped keep him in school in the midst of a situation I would not have been able to handle when I was 19 years old. And then the one this week who told me the story of his (for me, literally, unbelievable) growing up, and his violent high school years, and his landing in college with almost no preparation and no skill for staying there. And the words of the director of the program as I left at the end of the day were, “Have you gotten through to another one of the boys?”

So President Obama and I are worried about our legacies. I wonder what the most important thing is that he’s ever done. Bet it has nothing to do with being President. I’ll bet it has to do with his making a connection somewhere sometime with someone—someONE—who could barely connect with anyone. And it makes the fact that he has not written the great American novel or been a concert organist or published books and books of poetry or any of those other things he MIGHT have done pretty much irrelevant.

And in those days in 2031 when he’s 70 and looking back on his life and alone—of course, he’ll never be alone, but he’ll be lonely—it’s that minute when some kid who’s had a rough, even violent, life said to him, “But I’m going to do this,” and admitted he could use his help along the way, that will make him weep in a way no actor on stage has ever done.

“What the Last Evening Will Be Like,” by Edward Hirsch (b. 1950)
You’re sitting at a small bay window
in an empty café by the sea.
It’s nightfall, and the owner is locking up,
though you’re still hunched over the radiator,
which is slowly losing warmth.

Now you’re walking down to the shore
to watch the last blues fading on the waves.
You’ve lived in small houses, tight spaces—
the walls around you kept closing in—
but the sea and the sky were also yours.

No one else is around to drink with you
from the watery fog, shadowy depths.
You’re alone with the whirling cosmos.
Goodbye, love, far away, in a warm place.
Night is endless here, silence infinite.

(About Edward Hirsch.)

"No one else is around to drink with you from the watery fog, shadowy depths."

“No one else is around to drink with you
from the watery fog, shadowy depths.”

sum link for other blog

“My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them.” (Aaron Belz)

Griff's in the foggy sunrise.

Griff’s in the foggy sunrise.

Griff’s on the Dock is the premier seafood restaurant in Port Orford, Oregon. When I spend a summer week or two in Port Orford, I stay at the Castaway Motel. When the weather is clear at sunrise looking east, I can watch a small spit of land reaching out to an Oregonian rock formation emerge from the dark, and beyond that, Mount Humbug.

To the west, the town dock slowly lightens, and Griff’s restaurant comes into view.

I own several baseball caps. My favorite cap is from Griff’s. It’s off-white with blue printing and a curved bill, the kind I like because it keeps sun off my rosacea-marked face. I’ve been wearing that cap often for the past couple of years.

Another of my favorites is the black-with-white-writing cap I got in Washington, D.C.

photo(1)I don’t like my appearance wearing a baseball cap. My head is too big or too round or something. I don’t look cool. I look like a plump old man trying to be young and sporty in a baseball cap. But they are practical.

Last week I was in Baton Rouge visiting my brother and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving. I had the Griff’s hat in my duffle bag. However, when we went out for the day on Black Friday (to a mall?—on the day after Thanksgiving?), I forgot to wear the cap, and I needed sun protection. I can’t allow my almost-shaved, almost-bald head to get sunburned or my reddened cheeks to be exposed.

My brother knew of a cap shop in the mall called “Lids.” It’s mainly stocked in caps with the logos of professional sports teams I don’t want on my head. But—what fun!—they have a machine on which they can embroider any words the customer wants. I wanted a “Baton Rouge” cap, and I had it in about 10 minutes. Tan with red lettering.

On Saturday we went back to the almost-deserted mall. I don’t remember the main purpose, but my purpose was to get another lid—dark blue with bright blue lettering, “OG Harold.” That’s right, Original Gangsta—my name to some college young men I know. They produced my one-of-kind lid.

The next day we went to Laura Plantation a little south on the Mississippi. Once again I left my cap—I had three to choose from—at the house, so I had to buy a cap in the gift shop—light blue with gold lettering.

I arrived home in Dallas with 4 caps instead of one. The temperature was 37, and I needed my stocking cap, not the “OG Harold” - Copy-001

I have written a great deal about my time(s) at the Oregon coast. They are not simply times away, or R&R. My being on the beach at Port Orford—here comes the hyperbole—has been some of the most “spiritual” time of my adult life. I do not like the word “spiritual” because people toss it around to mean whatever they want it to mean. The fact is that my experiences that some might call “spiritual” are the farthest thing from other-worldly or spooky or religious or any of those things. My experiences are the closest to “reality” I ever feel.

I don’t want anyone to tell me that I’m being “spiritual.”

I have written about this heightened sense of reality many times. My personal favorite—the one that comes closest to saying what I think and feel—is about my experience at Paradise Beach near Port Orford in 2009. Not surprisingly, several of those writings have to do with sunrises and sunsets.

I don’t need to try to replicate that writing or expand on the experience here. When I walk(ed) on the Oregon beach, it is (was) necessary to wear a cap even though it may be cloudy, foggy, dreary. I learned the hard way once that the sun is not hidden in those conditions. I posted a picture of myself wearing a favorite cap on July 15, 2011.

DSC01639I don’t remember which pictures of myself at the beach I took with the “time-release” on my camera and which I commandeered one of the other two or three beach walkers to take for me.

A kindly surf-boarder headed down to the water took the heading photo of my Sumnonrabidus blog. My cap is, of course, the important focal point of the picture. It was a Port Orford cap, and it blew off my head and far away in a downtown Dallas wind a couple of years ago.

My memory doesn’t play tricks on me. It simply pulls strands of this experience and that experience together, experiences that have nothing to do with each other.

Caps and oceans. Caps and the Library of Congress. Caps and football, Nebraska or SMU. Caps and nicknames. Caps and family time that becomes more gracious and important every day.

I never wore caps until this century.

My brother wears floppy hats in the safari style. My friend wears baseball caps like mine. Most gay men don’t wear baseball caps. I don’t know why. Another friend always wears her new elegant hat on Easter. Everyone wears hats when it’s cold. Stocking is preferred. “The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial. You don’t necessarily even know the other person.”

I’m thinking about what my various hats say to other people about me. I’m thinking that hats as reminders of memories are lovely. Especially if the memory is shared with a loved one.

Like all other reminders—symbols—one must be careful when attaching meaning. A cap is a pretty trivial way into the heart of another person.

Like so many of the ways we judge each other.

“The Love-Hat Relationship,” by Aaron Belz (b. 1971)
I have been thinking about the love-hat relationship.
It is the relationship based on love of one another’s hats.
The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial.
You don’t necessarily even know the other person.
Also it is too dependent on whether the other person
is even wearing the favored hat. We all enjoy hats,
but they’re not something to build an entire relationship on.
My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them.
Try having like-hat relationships with one another.
See if you can find something interesting about
the personality of the person whose hat you like.

Aaron Belz is the author of The Bird Hoverer (2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (2010). He earned an MA in creative writing from New York University, and a PhD in English from Saint Louis University. He has taught English and Creative Writing at Fontbonne University, Saint Louis University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Providence Christian College.

A kindly surfboarder.

A kindly surfboarder.