By now the reader knows that I cannot write all of this in strictly chronological format since there are always several threads weaving through a person’s life and for the sake of clarity, I’m separating those threads both thematically and chronologically. Most of what is in this chapter was running along at the same time as the events of the last chapter, though at a different level.
Larry had been brought up Baptist and I had been raised Methodist. Both of us were after a more intimate relationship with God. That was, after all, promoted as a producer of peace and happiness Above all, I needed peace. Or so I thought. I realize with hindsight that Larry’s motivations must have been completely different from mine.
I wanted to try again the “faith of my fathers” and enter into submission to this mode of life in a complete and dedicated way. Any critical reservations would produce a barrier. All doubts and fears and questions had to be left at the door I now proposed to enter. Perhaps the faith of my childhood hadn’t been mature enough to activate the results of living a full, Christian life in every aspect, every hour of every day?
Larry and I decided to find the “right” church, one where this intimacy with God was present and evident. The only problem was: how do you really determine this?
We visited churches in a search for this communion with God. In the charismatic churches, speaking in tongues, dancing in the spirit, miracles, prophecy and other manifestations of “gifts” delineated in the Bible were believed and practiced as the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith. The parishioners absolutely believed in the truthfulness and morality of the Bible. Principles derived strictly from the Bible were “rightly understood and interpreted in their intended sense”. It is necessary to maintain one’s faith unswervingly in all these things. Fundamentalism preached an absolute certainty in a solid rock all the way down.
Well, that sounded like the ticket to me! I saw they obviously had “something” that “filled them to overflowing,” and they believed it was the Holy Spirit. Who was I to question that judgment without having tried it myself?
Fundamentalist charismatics strive to obey the law, and a very high value is placed on the experience of being “born again,” engendered by a person’s obedience and evidenced by receiving the gift of tongues.
Now, naturally, I was not deaf, dumb and blind. I realized, early on, there seemed to be an inverse ratio of intellectual achievement and fundamentalism. But to receive the peace I sought, I had to acknowledge there might be truth to the idea that the hearts of intellectuals are hardened. This prevents them from perceiving the “foolishness of the Cross of Christ” which is “wisdom unto salvation”. You had to become “as little children” to have your heart melted. This was the way to peace. (Not much different from the New Age schtick about “heart knowledge vs head knowledge”.)
Larry and I finally joined a congregation of the Church of God denomination, where we were impressed by the happy enthusiasm of the members, the seeming erudition of the pastor, and the observable dedication of his talented family in providing angelic music for every service. Surely, such devotion within a single family was evidence of God’s grace upon them. That grace would naturally benefit their parishioners, including us, right?
In the early days of this experience, I remember sitting in the pew at the back of the church feeling my separation from joy with painful acuity. I watched as the congregation sang so joyously and with such obvious sincerity. I observed the depth of the prayers, the devoted and intense supplications to God, and the resultant “descent of the spirit” as the members, one by one, were overtaken with such “joy unspeakable” that it seemed as if their bodies simply could not contain the effects. They felt the need to dance and babble in tongues to express this Divine proximity.
As a trained hypnotist, a part of my mind, of course, also observed the hypnotic procedures that were in place prior to these activities, but I simply dismissed it because, even if it was hypnosis, it was being done for the “right” reason.
How I longed for that joy! How I wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to experience the “peace that passes understanding”.
I made an appointment to talk to the pastor about it and was told that it would come, that if I sincerely prayed, as soon as I was in a right relationship with God, I would receive the gift. Of course, he added, it would have to happen through the laying on of hands of others who already had the gift, so I needed to submit myself at the altar next Sunday for them to pray for me.
The following Sunday, I overcame my shyness and went forward at the altar call. All the deacons of the church gathered around me and placed their hands on my head, shoulders, back and arms. A mighty outpouring of prayer began on all sides from a dozen or more voices, all calling on the spirit of God to come upon this “dear sister” who so desperately needed God’s grace.
The praying intensified, and I heard members of the congregation breaking out into tongues as they gathered around to add their voices to the uproar. A general melee of dancing was going on all around and the emotion was building like a volcano.
One of the deacons grabbed my jaw and hissed into my ear that I should just “let it go, Sister!” and he began to work my jaw spasmodically as if to force the utterance of tongues. Several more of the deacons chimed in with their demands that I just “let it come; give in to God,” and so forth.
I really felt like maybe I ought to just fake it to make them feel as though they had accomplished their mission, but I couldn’t do anything to contaminate my experiment.
Eventually, the excitement of the congregation peaked and all were babbling in tongues or dancing in the spirit or interpreting the pronouncements of the tongues. Except me. Meanwhile, the preacher’s wife kept on playing the piano in the background. When the people reached a certain point of near exhaustion, she launched into a stirring hymn and all joined in singing with the rich baritone of the pastor leading from the pulpit.
I returned to my seat, chastened and disappointed. Why was God giving these experiences to all these people and not to me? What was wrong with me?
I became a bit obsessed with this matter of receiving the gift of tongues as evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. I began to study it in my usual way. I also began to ask questions. I wanted to know how it felt, what signs showed it was about to manifest, and so on. I guess that once a seeker and questioner, always a seeker and questioner.
I was told that once it happened to you, it happened and there was no other experience that could compare. One day, we visited fellow parishioners. While Larry conducted business with the husband, I decided to ask the wife my questions. She was one of the more prominent members who had the gift of tongues and interpretation for years.
“How does it feel physically?” I asked.
I’ll never forget what she said: “Well, you know, some people would say it’s sort of carnal. But they don’t understand.”
“What do you mean by ‘carnal?’” I asked.
“You know…” she said, obviously embarrassed. “It’s like… well, carnal.”
“I don’t understand, ” I said. I was truly puzzled.
“Well… you know, when you are with your husband… that sort of thing. Carnal.” She said. And she was evidently not going to say any more.
Did she mean that it produced an orgasm? I didn’t dare ask that, but I believe that this was the event to which she was alluding.
The whole thing troubled me greatly. In reading the passages on which this doctrine was based, it was clear that the intent was never to suggest that tongues was the only gift of the spirit, nor was it the definitive one. The apostle Paul wrote: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. …Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire this love. Make it your aim, your great quest; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments, especially that you may prophesy: that is, interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching. For one who speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understands or catches his meaning …He who speaks in a tongue edifies and improves himself …Now I wish that you might all speak in tongues, but more especially to prophesy… He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues. …Thus tongues are meant for a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers… So, earnestly desire and set your hearts on prophesying and do not hinder speaking in tongues. But all things should be done with regard to decency and propriety and in an orderly fashion.”
Reading these two chapters in I Corinthians (13 and 14), put a whole different light on the matter.
The issue of tongues might not be the “proof” that a person was “born again” or had been filled with the Holy Spirit as the doctrine of the church proposed. This proof was right there in the Bible. I naturally made an appointment to discuss this with the pastor.
The answer to the question I was raising was that the original interpretation had come from the infilling of the Holy Spirit in certain leaders of the original denominational movement. They got it straight from God, so to say.
Also, the very fact that I was questioning those in authority was evidence that Satan was working on my mind!
It was very troubling to me when I realized it was merely a denominational interpretation that the initial infilling of the Holy Spirit was signified by the gift of tongues. I really needed to understand this issue, so it was back to the books. Of course, these books were strictly Christian books, written by Christian writers.
As I read, I discovered to my dismay that the vast realm of disagreement among theologians on how to interpret difficult passages was, in many respects, a linguistic problem. When one read the King James Version of the Bible, one is reading something translated from Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek into old Latin, and from the Latin of the Vulgate, translated into the English of the 1600′s read by an English speaker in modern times.
I remember a particular incident that really drove this point home. A rather famous radio minister of the Church of God denomination was preaching a sermon based on Acts 28:13 where the KJV says, starting with verse 11, “And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux. (12) And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days. (13)And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli…”
Well, this particular pastor decided to use this verse as a metaphor for the Christian needing to have the “compass of God” in order to find one’s way when the winds of life threaten to buffet the faithful. He kept driving home the point about how the apostle did not rely on his own direction, but bought a compass, and the reason for this story to be in the Bible was to set just this example.
I wondered about this passage, so I did some research. I discovered that the real meaning of “from thence we fetched a compass,” was “from there we made a circuit” or sailed in a circle, following the coastline. This was an Elizabethan nautical term which had absolutely nothing to do with the little gadget that points north which today we call a “compass!”
It upset me greatly that this preacher had, in my mind, made a mockery of God to those outside the church by formulating this interpretation of the passage. This, of course, created a new problem in my mind. If the Bible was the Holy Word of God, ought we not, as faithful believers, discover precisely what those words meant, in the deepest way, according to the author of the words, so that we would not fall into errors of understanding? This seemed pretty simple and logical to me.
I brought the issue up with the Pastor and was set down in a pretty firm manner. I was told that, in the first place, the Holy Spirit “reveals” the truth to the faithful if they will only pray for guidance, and in this particular case, the guidance was given to use this passage in this way. Further, I was told, it was not necessary to be “informed as to the vagaries of translation,” for this very reason. And if a person begins to question their pastor or teachers of the “faith,” that’s tantamount to questioning the Bible. This is clear evidence these questions were being stimulated by Satan and, consequently, I was in “grave danger” and needed to do a LOT of praying to save myself from falling into this pit!
I searched my conscience and carefully monitored and examined every thought and feeling, searching for the inroads made by Satan. I prayed diligently and fervently. I read the Bible feverishly, looking for clues, and the more I read, the more I realized that somebody was having a lot of trouble understanding the difference between subjects and verbs, and other parts of speech. I heard sermons preached using text from the Bible in a manner exactly opposite to the way the passage actually read. To be absolutely certain, I obtained a Greek lexicon and the Amplified translation of the Bible and diligently compared the texts in question to discover any possibility that my understanding of the grammatical structure of the sentences was in error. After all, if the worlds come into being by the Word of God, those words must be pretty darn important!
This process only led to more amazing discoveries about the translations of the Bible. I was convinced that the true believer ought to search out these things to come to a better understanding of what God intended us to know.
But nothing could be allowed to challenge the system, so fragile that it could not withstand questions and challenges. Was I suffering from a “blind spot” preventing me from seeing satanic influences in my studies?
I plunged into a veritable frenzy of prayer and fasting intended to extirpate these questions from my mind if they were in error. I was told a mind that sought knowledge was a curse, and doubt was the wide road to Hell. At the same time, I was discovering richness in the text to which other members of the congregation, including the pastor, were oblivious.
I had become very comfortable with this congregation and, little by little, I was losing my shyness and feeling more at home with the other ladies, active in the many social events and fund raising activities. To be branded a heretic and suffer exclusion from the congregation was a frightening thought.
It is at this point that I realized that the business enterprise we were involved in with my mother was failing miserably. Even if we were making a lot of money, we were spending a lot more than we ought to on maintenance and other overhead costs. And we were dealing with weather variables that often proved to be mini-disasters. If God was in favor of our enterprise, and we were acting as good stewards, it seemed only reasonable to think that the weather, which was directly under God’s control, would be mitigated for us. Right? After all, this was what we were supposed to believe.
I was doing the work of a man, side by side with my husband, going through three pregnancies and keeping up all the housework. My heart had been damaged in the bout with Dengue Fever. The physical labor to manage a home and three children, caring for my aged grandmother, and a now failing business, put so much strain on my heart that I was near collapse.
Of course, being committed to the path of Fundamentalism meant that the only interpretation for this challenge in my life was a “test of my faith”. Not being a quitter by any stretch of the imagination, I wasn’t going to let such things stand in the way of my faith! Things like deteriorating physical health, or financial disaster after financial disaster were not going to stop me! No sir! I fasted, prayed, and assiduously schooled my thoughts and emotions. My sole direction was “going for compassion and purity of passion and will …aiming towards a feeling of fullness and unification of all …following of the love in the present moment, of opening the heart to that present moment and the love in it.”
The more things came against me, the more I suffered, the more I was attacked from within and without, the more my resolve strengthened. For a long time I even refused to even ask the obvious question: “why?” I read the book of Job to comfort myself that, at least, I was not alone in my suffering. I used the opportunity to “experience vicariously the sufferings of Christ on the cross”. By comparison, nothing I experienced could possibly be considered suffering! I took no offense at offense, whether intended or not; I forgave and loved and comforted my hurts by transforming them in the crucible of my suffering to pure and passionate love for God, for Jesus and all mankind.
It was at this point that I had what I call my “Boat ride to Damascus”.
We had suffered so much bad weather that half a dozen working trips in a row had cost more than double what we made. We had also experienced more than usual mechanical breakdowns, and the repair costs had eaten up all our reserves. I knew we were dancing close to the edge of disaster, but we really had no options. Mother was demanding money, our creditors were demanding money, we needed to pay the tuition on my daughter’s private Christian pre-school, and, at the most basic level, we needed to keep food in the house. I prayed long and hard over the matter, we consulted with our pastor, and the consensus was that God was just testing our faith. So, faith it was. We used our credit to cover our expenses and made arrangements for the next working trip.
As a rule, when we took the boat out, we would be gone for up to a week at a time. We worked at night and slept during the day. It was a rough schedule to keep, since even when you sleep on a boat, you can’t really relax because there are all kinds of electronics that have to be regularly checked to make sure everything is running right.
This trip was the disaster of all disasters.
On the first day out, I was just sitting there steering the boat when I noted a strange “wallow” feeling when I moved the wheel even slightly. I called Larry and asked him to check the bilge pump, and nearly died when he shouted at me to throw the engine into neutral and help him bail. The water was halfway over the engine which, thankfully, continued to run. The bilge pump wires had been corroded by the salt water and we had been running for God only knows how long with no pump. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a problem, except that a fitting on the propeller shaft had vibrated loose. The shaft had begun to slide out, taking the fitting (called a packing gland) with it, unsealing a hole about three or four inches in diameter at the bottom of the boat. The wobbling of the shaft was what I had felt as a “wallowing” feeling when adjusting the wheel.
We bailed with five gallon buckets like crazy until we were no longer in danger of sinking. Larry had to make the repairs while I kept bailing on my own. I was rapidly exhausted but, under such circumstances, exhaustion doesn’t even bear consideration. You perform or you die.
It was not an auspicious beginning to the trip, to say the least. Well, my point of view was that we had managed to overcome this difficulty, so we had experienced all the bad luck for the trip in one fell swoop. Things could only get better, right?
The weather had been a bit iffy, which was normal for March in the Gulf of Mexico. “Iffy” was soon to change to downright dangerous.
After a night of modestly successful trawling, we anchored out. We had been in contact with a friend by radio during the night, and agreed to have breakfast together. They anchored a few hundred yards away from us in the darkness, and we all stowed our equipment and turned in for a few hours of sleep. It was a huge relief to shut down the eternally thrumming diesel engine and take a shower in the cabin and collapse in the bunk to be rocked and lulled to sleep by the gentle swells and waves lapping at the sides of the boat.
I woke up after being asleep only a short while and immediately felt that something was wrong. It took me a few minutes to figure out what the problem was: it was utterly silent outside. There were no lapping waves, there was no rhythmic rolling of the boat with the swells; just preternatural silence and semi-darkness at a very late hour.
I got up and looked outside: thick, pea-soup fog everywhere. It was even impossible to see our friends only a short distance away. I got on the radio to see if I could raise them, and soon they cranked their engines and began to move slowly toward us. When they emerged from the fog, Larry caught their lines and held the two boats close while they climbed onboard.
They were a younger couple who ran their own boat together the same as we were, trying to make the business work against the high expenses, the weather, and the newly imposed fishing restrictions mandated by the state and federal management agencies. The fellow took the lines from Larry as soon as he was onboard, and tied them off on a cleat at the stern. For some reason, the fact that he allowed a long section of the rope to dangle in the water caught my eye and bothered me, but since I was no expert on these matters, I said nothing. I went into the galley to fry the bacon and whip up some pancakes.
As I was cooking, I noticed we were beginning to roll in such a way that the fat in the pan moved slowly from one side to the other to the point of danger that it would spill over the side. I couldn’t really feel any waves or swells because they were so long and slow, so I didn’t think in terms of danger. I just finished cooking and we all sat in the main cabin to eat.
We noticed that the wind was picking up rather quickly, and the swells were no longer so long and gentle, but were becoming higher and shorter. Larry commented that we had better finish up and batten down the hatches. It looked like it was going to blow.
We didn’t have time to finish eating.
A terrific gust of wind hit us almost like a tornado. In almost no time at all, the swells had become huge, crashing waves. A window in the main cabin suddenly blew open so violently that it was nearly torn off its hinges. At the same instant, our boat lifted on the crest of a huge wave. The other boat tied up at our rear dropped its bow underneath our stern, and the dangling rope caught around our propeller.
I grabbed all the plates and stowed them, syrup and all, in a pan in a locker. Every unsecured item in the cabin went flying through the air as we pitched and tossed. Larry rushed out with our friends to take care of the disaster in progress.
The wind was actually roaring by now. In the next moment, another massive wave rolled under us. This time, it lifted our friend’s boat up, straining the rope wrapped around our propeller to the max. The bow came crashing down on our stern, knocking a hole in their boat about the size of a dinner plate.
Something had to be done quickly to separate the two boats. I clung to the side rail and watched in horror as Larry barked instructions. Our guests scrambled onto the bow of their boat, barely missing being dumped in the water. Larry stripped off his pants and shoes and, clenching a knife in his teeth, went over the side, holding onto the rope that yoked the two boats together. I was certain that in the next moment he would be crushed between them.
The next wave crashed under us, lifting the other boat high on its crest. Larry, still holding on the rope, was lifted up with it. When the bow of the other boat dropped, Larry was plunged back into the water.
I could barely breathe, and my heart was pounding from the adrenaline flowing.
Nothing I could do but watch helplessly, sure that I was about to become a widow.
Somehow he did it. Larry cut the rope and the other boat was free. By this time, our friends had their engine running and, when they saw that the rope was cut, they slammed it in reverse and backed away rapidly. I tried to get to the back of the boat to help Larry get back in, but another crashing wave made it more of an airborne maneuver than actual walking. We managed to get him in, and both of us set about tying all the equipment down to ride out the storm.
The wind kept building in force. We were anchored in sandy bottom, being blown backwards toward the coastal rock piles and islands.
Larry put the boat in gear and we kept accelerating the engine with our bow in the wind. Soon it was clear that even that was not going to work. We were still being blown backward, dragging our anchor. We kept hoping the anchor would catch in rocks.
A quick check of the charts didn’t give us hope for a rocky bottom between us and disaster.
I decided to try to find out what I could about this freak storm on the radio. It seemed that it had struck at a very bad time when there was a sort of regatta a few miles up the coast and many boats were being swamped and the Coast Guard was out in force hauling people out of the water. This news came from another friend who happened to be out at the same time, and he was getting it from the television he had in his cabin. I explained our situation and he suggested that we ought to come over to his anchorage and tie up behind him. His boat was so big that he anchored with a big ship anchor on a chain and he was sure he could hold both of us to the big rock pile he had found for the purpose.
It was a tricky maneuver in that storm to find him, then approach with our bow in the wind in exactly the right way. Then I could step from our boat onto the bigger one in a sort of “eye” of stability. Somehow, I managed, and Larry and our friend got the lines fixed so our boat was securely tied.
Actually, at that point, I wouldn’t have cared if it had broken free and disappeared in the crashing waves!
On this truly huge boat, it was almost a different world. With its broad beam construction, the bow in the wind, anchored to a rock pile, we hardly noticed the storm raging outside. We sat in the lounge and watched television and wondered how there could be so drastic a difference between the weather a few miles offshore, and what was being experienced on land as depicted by a smiling, perky weather girl.
It gave me a deep insight to the differences between what is real and what is on the news. Yes, there was coverage of the disaster of a regatta to the north. But no one seemed to be really talking about the storm as we were experiencing it at that very moment.
While we looked at the full color weather maps on television, a Coast guard rescue helicopter hovered directly overhead in the wailing wind, illuminating our decks with their searchlights. The radio crackled to life with an inquiry from the crew over our head as to whether we were secure. Larry and the captain waved them off to rescue somebody who needed it.
The wind blew for about 20 hours. A day and a night. To this day, I cannot explain that storm. At one point, the anemometer on our friend’s boat was buried at 80 knots. On the television weather report, another reality prevailed. “Marine warnings were in effect,” because of “rough weather” out in the Gulf.
They never reported how rough.
By afternoon the next day, the gale had calmed down considerably. I knew that we could not simply toss this trip and go back in. We still had our ice, we still had a partial catch, and we still needed the money. We needed a big catch to get out of the hole.
Larry had always wanted to try the fishing grounds up to the north where the regatta had met such a bad end the previous day. He conjectured that the storm would have stirred up the muddy bottom and the shrimp would have moved into those deeper waters to avoid being swept hither and thither. It sounded like a plan to me, even though I knew it would take the rest of the day to get there. We got out the charts, figured our position, calculated running time, and got underway.
We reached the designated fishing grounds not long after dark and dropped our nets. For several hours things went fine. Then the wind began to pick up again, now accompanied by rain falling in torrents that were actually sheets blowing sideways. Larry decided to anchor a couple miles up the ship channel that ran between a series of islands due east. If we could get on the lee side, at least the wind would be less violent even if we couldn’t do anything about the rain. So we pulled in the nets, tied down the equipment, and headed to safe anchorage.
While we were running, since things seemed to be under control, I decided to take a shower and be ready for sleep when we dropped the anchor. After my shower, I put on my nightgown and a sleeveless, quilted jacket liner over it. The liner had button holes all around the edges that were used to secure it in a larger, heavier garment. When we reached the anchorage point, Larry pointed the bow in the wind and I went up the ladder, through the hatchway, and out on the front deck to slide the anchor over the side.
Just as the last of the chain portion of the line was sliding through my hands to the right, a big gust of wind blew the lower left flap of the jacket liner forward to catch on the clevis pin at the end of the chain. In the same instant, a big wave washed the boat.
I was thrown face down on the deck, right on the edge, with the huge anchor dangling from my jacket, pulling it tight around my throat, choking me. The length of rope behind me wrapped around my leg. As the bow of the boat dipped down, I slid on the wet deck forward. My head was over the edge and I was looking down into that black, icy water. I knew from the charts it was very deep. The only thing that kept me from being pulled completely over the side was a rope cleat on the edge of the deck against which my pelvis was painfully jammed.
There was nothing but wet deck in reach of my left hand. I tried to catch the anchor chain with my right arm, dangling over the side. I was just barely able to slip the heavy anchor over the side with both hands under ordinary circumstances. So it was a certainty that if I tried to pull it back in with one hand, the effort would do nothing but launch me into the water for sure. If I was pulled over with the rope around my ankle, even if I could shuck myself out of the jacket, I would be pulled very rapidly straight to the bottom with the anchor. Would I have sufficient air in my lungs to be able to disentangle myself and make it back to the top? How would I manage it in the dark when I couldn’t see anything at all?
The odds were not good, to say the least.
My jaw was jammed against the deck by my resistance to the chokehold of the weight of the anchor pulling on that wonderfully made Army-issue jacket liner. Even if I could have made a sound, Larry wouldn’t have heard me shouting over the sound of the wind and the engine.
The boat lifted and plunged a couple more times, and each time, I braced myself against that life-saving cleat pressing so painfully into my hip. And each time I felt my body rolling right to the point with just a hair’s more force I would simply roll over the clevis and into the water, wrapped in the fatal spider’s web of 300 feet of anchor line.
Fortunately, by this time, Larry had figured out that I wasn’t just lying there on the deck to pass the time of day while gazing soulfully into the water. We were in a precarious position. Without forward motion into the wind, we had no stability, but with forward motion and no one there to hold the wheel, we could instantly swing broadside to the wind and roll over completely with the top heavy trawls tied to their metal frame bolted to the deck.
Larry put the engine in neutral, ran down the stairs from the steering cabin, through the main cabin to the ladder, up the ladder and out onto the deck where I was trapped by the anchor. He grabbed me, pulled me back enough that I was no longer dangling half over the side, and slipped the coils of rope from my leg. He then unhooked the anchor from my jacket, and let it go over the side. I slid myself backward to the hatch cover and backed down into it, waving my feet around to catch a rung of the ladder. Just as I did, another wave hit and I dropped through the hatch with my elbows spread out on either side like wings. I could almost hear the muscles tearing away from my shoulder blades. I nearly went unconscious from the pain.
Well, the rotator muscles in my shoulders had been torn. I was to be plagued for years with pain from this injury. We were sitting at anchor for two more days in the most miserable weather of my life. Nothing but wind and rain. Everything in the boat was damp and there was no way to get warm and dry. I was in pain, but I had to keep going because there was no way Larry could manage everything alone.
When the wind died down enough, Larry thought we might make it back to the docks. We headed out. Because we had used so much of our fuel just holding our position, and keeping the electronics charged up, we had to make the run as directly as possible. This meant that we had to run “quarter” with the waves, an iffy prospect at best. I can tell you there were waves that were so tall they were like big buildings. They would come up at an angle to us in the rear, looking for all the world like they were going to swallow us whole. It was always a miracle when, instead of being swamped, the boat would lift up onto the wave, roll and plunge down into the trough, slamming violently against the water.
But this was a hard way to run. Over time, it could tear the boat apart. We had several hours of running before us. Larry decided to drop the trawls just barely into the water to stabilize the boat, to prevent the “slam dunk” of every wave. When they were up and out of the water and locked onto steel frame, it made us too top-heavy. But to run this way, under these conditions, Larry had to stay on deck to see to it they didn’t slam against the side of the hull and smash a hole in the boat when we “hit bottom”. This meant that I had to steer the boat.
I was alone in the cabin with nothing but the red glow of the instrument panel and the low rumble of the diesel engine under the floor, and my terror. I knew that, after this trip, I would never set foot on a boat again. This was sort of an admission that all was going down the tubes. I was struggling with my hurt and anger and bewilderment, praying fervently for understanding and compassion and love to fill my heart in spite of the apparent hopelessness of the situation. I wanted to be filled with the Love of God. I wanted to subsume all of the experience into that single pointed devotion that brings the “peace that passes understanding”. Over and over again I was repeating “Help me oh Lord! help me!” The agony of the struggle was deeper than the mind can fathom or words can express.
The Apostle Paul describes it in Romans 8: “…for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.”[vs. 26]
What we were experiencing had brought me face to face with just exactly what it was we were risking following this venture of Mother’s so stubbornly and persistently. In the face of death, all I could think about was my babies and how much I wanted to be there for them, to see them, to hold them, and to look after them and watch them grow. And how foolish it was to go after money so assiduously that not only were we never home with them, when we were, we were too exhausted to enjoy them. And when we were away from them, it was always a serious question whether we would even return. Every time we went out in that boat, our children were in danger of being orphaned. Now we were in danger of losing everything we had worked so hard for.
If living by faith was not working as it was claimed to work, what, exactly, was I doing wrong?
Well, the beginning of the verse in the book of Romans says: “So too the Spirit come to our aid and bears us up in our weakness…”
What happened next was a sensation of growing heat in my solar plexus, accompanied by a buzzing sound in my ears that soon became a sort of inaudible roaring which terminated in a resounding inner explosion: BOOM! Like being stone deaf and standing between two huge Chinese gongs while they were being struck simultaneously. It was soul-deep and resonated to a long, slow and rhythmic internal oscillation that drew me in and enveloped me like a warm, comforting cloud.
Then there was the voice.
It was not audible, and not really in my head exactly, but it was a voice nevertheless. It emanated from some interior organ of spiritual hearing, rich and rapturously tender. This voice had the odd characteristic that it conveyed information more in the sense of concept than distinct words, though there seemed to be a process of translation going on in my mind simultaneous to receiving the “soul voice”.
“You KNOW that I LOVE you, my child,” the voice both said and conveyed in waves of ecstatic inner sound. “But until you remove the darkness from between us, I can do nothing.”
The words vibrated and penetrated every cell in my body from a depth of being that is impossible to describe. The transference of the impression, of the idea of “love” as expressed from this source, rocked me to my very core. I understood there was no way that I, in this human body, could plumb that Love. I was aware that to attempt to experience it in my flesh would result in instant death, because the human organism simply was not capable of carrying such energy. “Tasting” was all that humans could experience, and even that tasting carried risks of overwhelming the circuitry, like plugging a 110 volt appliance into a 220 volt outlet. In the same way, the term “darkness” was also unfathomable in its breadth and meaning.
My mind raced through all the aspects of my life. Like the proverbial moment before death when all of a person’s deeds pass before their eyes, I reviewed my existence, enumerating all the ways I yearned to seek only to do the will of God. I couldn’t find a single breach in this contract where one could think that evil would enter the picture. I enumerated all the ways in which I was living a Christian life as explicated in the terms of Fundamental belief. I pointed out that we didn’t just go to church and tithe, we made dedicated efforts to live the life fully and completely every moment of every day. And, I added, we did it in the face of often tremendous opposition! What more was there than living the life, building the faith, and teaching it to our children? “Just what,” I demanded to know, “are we doing wrong?”
At this point, a response came, though not in words. It was like a holographic or experiential movie being run in my mind, soul, and awareness. I was shown my children in a series of vignettes that brought up the deep love and devotion I had for them. I was to understand that my love for my children, as great as it was, was merely a human love and could, in no way, equal the love of the Creator for his creation. I was being infused with this love in small, incremental amounts. It was consoling and warmly caressing to a level that is impossible to express with words. I was so lost in this feeling that I could have drifted in the waves of love washing over me forever. But the Voice had other plans.
The scene changed and I “experienced” myself admonishing my children to not play in ant beds. Fire ants were a big problem in our yard, and it was a common event that I pointed these places out to the children, warning them not to be tempted by the quiet and attractive exterior of the anthill. Inside, it was a boiling mass of stinging insects that could, under certain circumstances, kill a small child.
In the little “experiential movie” I was being shown, I saw that my children, as children will, did not listen to what I was saying. Their curiosity about the anthill led them to it, to observe and examine its perfect symmetry of structure, and peaceful aspect of industry. Their lack of direct knowledge of ants coupled with their foolhardy, naive bravery caused them try to “play with the ants,” to force open the hill and see what was inside, how it was constructed, and what went on beneath that fascinating exterior.
The result was that they suddenly were covered with ants, biting and stinging them, and they were running to me, screaming for relief from the ants. And there I was, soothing them and brushing away the ants, and explaining that I could get rid of the ants, and I could put salve on the bites to soothe the pain, but it would do no good if they hadn’t learned something from the experience about ants.
Sounds like a pretty simple little example, yes? I certainly didn’t see how my life related to children playing in an ant bed! “What are the ants?” I asked. “What is the evil in my life?” And the voice came again, this time with overtones of regret and sorrow:
The word “Learn!” reverberated away into inner silence as the sound of crashing waves and the diesel engine began to penetrate my awareness. I was floating on the sensation of the great infusion of love that had come with the first part of the “interaction”. I call it that, because it was hardly a vision in strict terms, though something happened of an internal visionary nature.
Even though the intensity of the experience could not be denied, I was uncertain as to its nature. Was this how God spoke to people? Is this what I had been hearing about all my life? If so, if God spoke to people in this way as regularly as they claimed, then they must be very powerful and lofty individuals to sustain such experiences on so regular a basis as their claims suggested.
I was very anxious to share this event with the pastor of our church. I was certain that God had given me a message that I should share, that we should study and learn to navigate through our lives. Things were not what they appeared to be on the surface. Deeper meanings must be sought. Things seeming attractive and symmetrical and safe from the outside may not be so at all.
The voice had not said “Have faith,” it had said: “Learn!”
Well, I should have been prepared for the reaction of the pastor. I was told that it was impossible for God to speak to me because I hadn’t received the Holy Ghost – I hadn’t spoken in Tongues. Besides, if I wanted to know about the Love of God, all I had to do was come down to the altar at church on Sunday. And yes, God wanted us to learn: that’s why they had Thursday night Bible class and preachers to tell us what we needed to know!
I was a bit nonplussed by this response. But it didn’t diminish the inner sensations of expanding, rhythmic waves of love flowing through me endlessly. For weeks I was sustained by this love, and I certainly was going to need it.
By the time we made it to the dock, I never wanted to set foot on that boat again.
And I never did.