Looking back, I now know that I had come to one of the crossroads in my life. I chose to go to the West Bank instead of to my high school's senior party. How different my entire life may have been had I gone to the party with my other friends.
My spiritual life had actually begun when I was quite young. For a long time it had little to do with organized religion.
When I was about four or five years old, I remember standing in the back yard with my grandmother. She was doing her gardening and I was looking up at the bright blue summer sky.
"Grandma," I suddenly asked, "who was I before I was me?"
She looked at me rather strangely, then replied, "You were a piece of the sky."
"No, Grandma," I said, rather agitated at her reply. "I was somebody else. Who was I before I was me?"
Grandma didn't know how to answer me, but it didn't matter. I was me now, and I put the other out of my mind for a decade.
When I was a child, I was often lonely. I remember lying in bed next to my grandmother and cruing, "Nobody loves me."
"Oh, shut up and go to sleep," she said. Then I would silently cry myself to sleep. I always did have issues about being loved. To be loved, or not to be loved, that was the question in my young mind. Or more accurately, was I loved, or was I not loved. Too often I determined that I was not loved. This went on until finally, at the ripe old age of about 49 or 50, I finally said to myself, "Fuck it," and after that everything seemed much better. After that one declaration of my new motto, nothing much ever bothered me anymore. Until I hit the age of 59, when I was back to picking petals off daisies and chanting, "He loves me, he loves me not."
As a child, when I felt lonely in the daytime, I would find solace in nature. Often I would sit on the ground between the barn and the henhouse and gaze down the hill, across the little swamp, and toward Lake Vadnais. I imagined that I saw angels in the sky and that they were comforting me. Then I would feel peaceful, get up, and skip happily off to play.
My grandmother always took me to Sunday school and church every Sunday at North Heights Lutheran Church on Rice Street. I would spend an hour in the Sunday school class singing Christian children's songs such as Jesus Love Me, The B-I-B-L-E, Onward Christian Soldiers and This Little Light of Mine. Then the large group of children would split into separate classrooms according to ages. There we learned about God and Jesus. We also got to color and learn Bible verses. After that, we would again join the adults upstairs for the church service. When I got bored, my grandmother would make me a rag doll out of her big white handkerchief.
Sometimes, when Grandma couldn't go to church, the Sunday school bus would pick me up and afterwards take me home again. Once I remember crying and sobbing for some reason. The bus driver picked me up, ruffled little dress and all, and carried me to a Sunday School teacher who tried to comfort me, but to no avail. Isn't it strange what stands out in our memories? I don't remember what I was crying about or what happened afterwards. Only the memory of crying and of being carried stands out in my mind. That and the perception that no one knew or could figure out what I was crying about.
I must have cried a lot when I was a child, for my report cards also carried the comment that I cried easily. Aunt Bernadine always said that I was too sensitive.
One of my Sunday school teachers at North Heights was Irene Hockemeyer. She always commented on how beautiful my hair was. She thought it looked just perfect, with not a strand out of place. I often wondered if she knew what I had to go through to get those perfect little Shirley Temple curls. Every night I had to sit on a stool while Grandma wound my hair in rubber curlers. Then I had to sleep on those awful things. In the morning Grandma would take them out and form my hair into curls and ringlets.
When Irene Hockemeyer later showed up at the next church I attended, she never let me forget how my grandmother made me have such beautiful hair.
In the fifth grade, I joined a group called Pioneer Girls. This was held at a little church by our farm called Lake Vadnais Evangelical Free Church. Pioneer Girls is like Girl Scouts, but with a strong Christian emphasis. I had also belonged to Brownie Scouts and later, Girl Scouts. I've always enjoyed being involved in a multitude of activities.
In Pioneer Girls, we learned more about the Christian view of God and Jesus. We also memorized more Bible verses. I was very good at memorizing them, but was never told at any time what all these verses meant. Of course, in those years, everything was from the King James version of the Bible, with its old-fashioned, yet poetic, language. Unfortunately, it's one of the most inaccurate translations of the Bible.
We also did crafts in Pioneer Girls and participated in various activities. I remember making a plaque of the Twenty-Third Psalm - or was it the Ten Commandments - out of alphabet macaroni. We also went door-to-door with a group of adults and learned how to evangelize. We knocked on many, many doors and invited people to our church. We told them all about Jesus and how to get saved. At that age, I did not understand much of the theology of the born-again religions, but I did enjoy being part of a group.
The lady who led Pioneer Girls was the pastor's wife. She was very kind and gentle. She had helpers, but I don't remember who they were or what they looked like. Only this kind, gentle, soft-spoken, helpful woman stands out in my mind. I used to admire that type of woman, but could never stop myself from being very opinionated, headstrong and stubborn. That was because I did not like anyone telling me what to do. I guess I learned at an early age that adults could not be trusted, for no one had ever stopped my abuse or came to my rescue. It was very important to me to march to the beat of my own drummer.
I remember once during my grade school years I was in the bedroom reading a book of children's stories. There was one I never forgot. It was about a kitten named Tom. Tom was a very naughty kitten. He pulled his sisters' hair, bit his little brother's ear, and loved to scare the goldfish in the little goldfish bowl. His mother scolded him and tried to make him behave, but to no avail. After his spankings, he would always say, "Pooh, I don't care. I'll do just what I want to, and I'm always going to, too."
That statement by Tom Cat had a profound effect on my young life. I took that to be my own personal motto. I kept it and lived by it for a good many years, except that I was never mean to other children the way that Tom was mean to other cats. I was more of a peacemaker as a child and did not like to see others fight.
Never mind the rest of the story. I read it, but that part never sunk in. In the story, Tom's mother finally sent him off to stay with his grandmother for a week. There were some very large tomcats there who pulled his hair and bit his ear. They even pushed him in the outside goldfish pond where poor Tom was almost gobbled up by a very large goldfish. By the time the week was up, Tom was the best little kitten you ever did see. He went home and patted his sisters on their heads, was kind to his little brother, and was never again rude to his mother. You would hardly know it was the same Tom.
Although I did not realize it yet, this was my first exposure to the concept of karma, or the idea that "what goes around, comes around." Tom had to experience the pain he had inflicted on others. After he had that experience and knew what it felt like, he became a changed kitty cat. It's too bad humans can't learn that easily. Often we have to have a certain experience many, many times, in various lifetimes, before we can learn our lessons.
Meanwhile, I stuck to my motto of doing exactly what I wanted to do, as far as I was able. At least I liked to think so.
The summer after sixth grade, I attended Vacation Bible School, better known as VBS. I had attended a Vacation Bible School a few times at the Lutheran church, but this one was held at the grade school I attended, Lake Vadnais Elementary, and was sponsored by the Evangelical Free Church where I attended Pioneer Girls. I rode my bicycle the two miles to the school every day, and then home again. It was a very nice ride around reforested Lake Vadnais, but my bike only had one speed, and sometimes it was an effort to get up the hills.
Those two weeks of VBS were what got me hooked on Lake Vadnais Evangelical Free Church for the next six or seven years. I had discovered boys. The boys who went to that church were a lot cuter than the ones who went to the Lutheran church! So that was the end of my Lutheran days. I told Grandma that from then on I would be going to the Free Church. I guess that was okay by her, for she had grown up in the Baptist Church, which is very similar to the Evangelical Free Church. My grandfather, of course, was an athiest with only a second grade education. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a high school graduate and very well read. When she was about seventy years old, she bought the Encyclopaedia Britannica and read it cover to cover.
By the time I graduated from high school, I was well-versed in the Bible and in born-again theology. I learned to pray to someone named God and I learned that he had a Son named Jesus, and that if we accept Jesus into our hearts and ask Him to forgive our sins, He will do it, and then we will live in heaven for all eternity. If we don't ask Jesus into our hearts, we will burn in hell for all eternity because we did not accept the Son of God as our personal Savior. Even if a person had never heard of Jesus, he or she would still go to hell forever. Whether I actually believed all of this is another story, but I did go along with it at the time in order to fit in with the other kids and so they would like me. What if we were all going along with that theology for that reason?
When I was in junior high school, I went to Bible camp at Lake Shamineau in northern Minnesota. Just prior to this I had been sick and the doctor had given me penicillin. He gave me shots and he gave me pills. He gave me too much, for I broke out in hives on my bakside. The hives were still there when I went to summer camp. Remember, this was junior high school. Some kids can be very cruel at that age. My cabinmates, whom I had not met before that summer at camp, made fun of me for having what they called "diaper rash." Then they shunned me, so I did not have a very good time at camp.
At Bible Camp, we had to go to church services twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. They always had an "altar call." This is the time at which you can go forward to the altar and accept Jesus into your heart. I went forward while the organ played Amazing Grace, mostly because a lot of the other kids went forward. After that I was considered a full-fledged born again Christian. The boys still didn't pay any attention to me whatsoever.
When I was in ninth or tenth grade, I had my first out of body experience that I can recall. I was sleeping upstairs in the farmhouse, in the smaller of the two bedrooms, when I suddenly found myself floating in the air outside the bedroom window. Imagine my surprise! I knew I wasn't dreaming, for when you are awake you know that you are awake. Also, you rarely remember dreams for over fifty years! This was an experience that I never forgot. It's a very important part of my spiritual journey. Whenever I have doubts about my beliefs, and about the ability to exist without the physical body, I remember that spontaneous out of body experience.
When I was a child and a teenager, I had many dreams in which I was flying. Later I knew that those were probably not dreams, but astral experiences. I also had many experiences in which I would get out of bed, get dressed, go into the kitchen and begin to eat my breakfast. Grandma had kept calling me to get up to get ready for school. The only problem was that after I had already climbed out of bed and dressed myself, I woke up to the voice of Grandma calling me again to get out of bed. I could have sworn I had already done it. This happened many, many times. Finally I decided that I must have done it in my astral body but not in my physical body.
When I was in eleventh grade, I discovered writings about a man named Edgar Cayce. He was one of the most famous spiritual men who ever lived. He died in 1945, but he left a legacy of thousands and thousands of his readings. They are preserved in Virginia Beach, Virginia, at the Association for Research and Enlightenment. I devoured everything I could find about this great man. In doing so, I discovered the concepts of reincarnation and karma. I knew in my heart, on a soul level, that these concepts were true. It rang a bell for me. It was like remembering a long-forgotten memory, but once remembered, it was astounding that I could have ever forgotten it. It has been the very core of my belief system ever since, although there were a few lapses when I put it to the back of my mind and backslid into the charismatic evangelical movement.
The reasons for my lapse were marriage, pregnancy and fear. I'll get into these issues later, but for now, suffice it to say that my path was set before me and my choices were in place.
I spent many, many years trying to reconcile Jesus, that wonderul Master whom uninformed individuals insist on turning into a religious icon and a god, and the Truths that I was quickly rediscovering in this lifetime. It wasn't until much later that i realized that the English version of the Bible is far removed from the original scriptures. We now know that many of the original manuscripts were written in Aramic, not Hebrew or Greek. Words take on a whole different meaning when translated from Aramic to English rather than from Hebrew to English. Imagine if those passages are translated from Aramic to Hebrew and finally to English.
One example of this is the verse in the Old Testament that says, "Suffer not a witch to live." This is more accurately translated, "Do not allow a poisoner to live." This takes on a whole different meaning. Think of all the so-called "witches" who would have been allowed to live rather than drowned or burned at the stake. Most of these were harmless women who by no means deserved their fate. Many were herbalists and midwives. The patriarchal soceity feared these women and so put them to death at any flimsy evidence brought forth by their enemies. This went on for hundreds and hundreds of years. Even today fear and ignorance cause some people to commit horrendous acts of cruelty to those with a different belief system or a different lifestyle than themselves.
There are many references to reincarnation and karma in the Bible, but most Christians tend to ignore these passages or give them different meanings than that which was intended. When a man asked Jesus what he must do to me saved, Jesus answered him by saying, "Unless you are born again of water and of the spirit, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God." The man then asked, "How can this be? Can a man enter into his mother's womb and be born again?" Then Jesus said, "With God all things are possible."
Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians take this to mean that we must be born again in the sense that when you accept Jesus into your heart, you are born again of the spirit. When you are baptized, you are born of water. Then, they believe, you are truly saved. Some sects believe that you must be born again of spirit, but even if you are not baptized by water, you can still enter into heaven. Others believe that there is no way you can get into heaven without being baptized by water. Certain Christian religions believe that you must be baptized as a baby. They think that if a child dies without being baptized, that baby will not go to heaven, but will hang around in Limbo forever.
Then there are the Calvinists, who believe that everything is preordained, including who will go to heaven and who will go to hell.
Eternal fire and brimstone, hell, purgatory, limbo...oh, what a horrible God they must think we have. This is the biggest lie that has ever been perpetuated in the history of the world. We have a wonderful Creator. It doesn't matter if you call it God, Jehovah, Yahweh, the Force, the Universal Energy, Allah, or Great Spirit. It is all the same by whatever name. A rose by any other name is still a rose, and the Creative Energy by any other name is still the cohesive force that holds the entire Universe together. It is Pure Love. It is Light. We are a part of it, not separate, as organized religion would have you believe. They tell us we must go to church, we must do this, we must do that. But Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within. It is not outside of ourselves. We must seek within ourselves to find this kingdom.
Religion and theology are here to make rules and to make people feel fear. If the organized churches can instill fear into the hearts of the people, it becomes easy to control the masses. Read the early history of the Catholic Church before the Reformation ever took place. Then study such historical events as the Inquisition, the Council of Necia that took place in 325 AD, which was when the Arian controversy took place, and the Great Schism of the Catholic Church. This latter was when the Church had not one, but two popes. They resided in different cities. Think. If the Church and the pope are truly infallible, then how could these things happen? If they are infallible, then how can one pope overturn the rulings of a previous pope? If they are infallible, then why were such people as Galileo excommunicated as heretics?
The Church hierarchy is no more in touch with God than anyone else is and often less so. Remember, the Kingdom of God is within. Also remember the Old Testament verse that says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Ignorance breeds contempt. Prejudice and fear stem from ignorance of Truth. We must educate ourselves, particularly in history and philosophy, as well as literature and science. We were created with brains and were intended to use them rather than blindly following the dictates of others,
Use your mind and use your common sense. If something doesn't seem right to you, it probably isn't, no matter what anyone else tells you. We should study everything that can increase our knowledge in regard to why we believe what we believe, whether we should change our belief system, and if so, why we should change it and what our new belief system should consist of. Be aware of various philosophies and theologies. Know whether you believe a certain thing because you've always believed it and because your parents and grandparents believed it, or becaues after careful consideration and study, and after gathering many facts, that is truly what you choose to believe.
When I was in grade school and early junior high school, I reiterated what I had learned in Sunday school and church. Me mother kept telling me that I only believed that way because that was what I had been taught. I didn't believe her until much later, after I had developed my own reasoning abilities. She had also told me that there is no hell that you go to when you die, but that hell is right here on earth. I believe that for my poor mother, it really was. She didn't have a very good life, yet she had an innate intelligence that her parents and siblings never noticed. Everyone around her kept telling her to shutup. They told her what to do and when to do it. No wonder she finally did keep quiet and began to smoke constantly instead of voicing her opinion. Her own family treated her with a tremendous amount of disrespect. It wasn't until I was fully grown with kids of my own, and my mother had died, that I fully appreciated her and all the things she had been through.
My mother also believed in reincarnation. Her belief was in the transmigration of souls rather than actual reincarnation. This belief says that people can come back as animals as well as people. My mother always said she was going to come back as a Collie dog. I think this was because she loved the Collie she had when she was living on the farm as well as the Collie I had, named Pal, when I was growing up.
I don't believe that people come back as animals, but only as another human being. Do animals get reincarnated, as well? Do they have souls? The consensus seems to be that they may not have individual souls, but that each animal in a certain species is part of a group soul. I personally think that higher mammals, such as dogs, cats, horses, etc., each have their own soul, for each one of them has a unique and individual personality. Some believe that when they reach a certain stage in their spiritual development, they can go on to become a human being. Other say that's not true. We might be rather egotistical to think tht a horse or a dog would even want to be a human being! In reading from many sources, it appears that people who have had near death experiences have seen beloved pets who had died.
Although a great deal of my spiritual path took place during my formative years of childhood and adolescence, I had a long way to go. The next rung of the ladder took place during my hippie years. This experience heightened my awareness and gave me memories and knowledge that I never forgot. I'll talk about that in Part Four.