My mother was a bit spooky. She dreamt several times of events before they happened, had an out-of-body experience where she watched herself work in her shop from a corner of the ceiling, and after going outside one night, told us the next morning that she had sensed a “web of light” connecting everything–the fireflies, the trees, the ground, the house and us in it. I believe my mother saw the world’s aura that night. I’ve since read another description of a “web of light” connecting all living things in a book called Always Karen by Jeanne Walker.
This amazing little book changed my spirituality. I was a heathen as a child (my dear father had a vendetta against the Lutheran minister where we lived and hence, we never went to church.) I had a vague idea who God and Jesus were from the manger scene my mom put out at Christmas and reading Bible stories, but if you’d asked me, I would have said I believed in the Borrowers and Aslan and fairies and the Easter Bunny, not God. I had plenty of faith in unseen things as children often do, but God didn’t figure into that.
Then as a teenager, I converted to Catholicism. This happened because my mother, thinking my spiritual development was being compromised by reading too much Edgar Cayce, asked which church I would go to if I had to go to church. I answered that I didn’t care what church we went to so long as it was beautiful, and the most beautiful church I knew of was the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville. So we went, and I found that I loved the ritual and rich symbolism of the Catholic rites, and I was a devout Catholic for several years. We had a wonderful priest at the Basilica at the time–Fr. Carl Kaltreider–I could devote a whole post to him. He’s quite a priest. When the diocese transferred him from the Basilica, things were never quite the same.
Then in my early 20s, I drifted away from the Church. It was about the time the sexual abuse scandal first came out in the news, and I feel now, given my personal history, that this impacted me more than I realized. I just don’t feel the same in a Catholic church anymore, not just because of a few wicked priests’ behavior (tragically, an authority figure in any setting–school, church, what have you, can be an abuser, not just in a Catholic church) but because the church hierarchy, however misguided, abetted the wicked priests in their crimes against children. I could also devote a whole post to this, but perhaps another time . . .
So, there I was, spiritually adrift, in a gray area where I was neither spiritual nor non-spiritual. I just didn’t think that much about it. Then various disasters befell my family, such as my mother developing lymphoma after a long battle with rheumatoid arthritis, and my subconscious realized it could respond in one of two ways: either not believe and be an atheist or believe and simply be. In either case, I would at least find some harbor, some purpose that would help me make sense of what had happened in my family–being adrift was no longer an option, not if I expected to grow into the shoes I was now required by circumstance to fill.
So I went back and forth, at some points not believing in God, because how could a just God allow so much evil in the world, and at some points believing in God because amidst all the pain, there is great beauty, and because there had to be some purpose for all the suffering, some ultimate redemption. All this moody vacillating, while far preferable to the spiritual numbness that came before it, was exhausting. My temperament is prone to ambivalence, and ambivalence constantly paces to and fro between heaven and hell, which is a long, trying walk for those of you who have experienced it. Then my mother, my spooky mother, sensed the angel, and that was when my spirituality shifted again.
The angel came in the summer of 2004, to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem of all places. A gray, cold rain fell that morning when I woke up in the hotel room where my mother and I stayed. She was already at the hospital–all that week, she spent mornings at the hospital having her stem cells harvested in the first step of a bone marrow procedure to treat her lymphoma. Usually I went with her, but she had let me sleep that morning, telling me to follow her on the shuttle between the hotel and the hospital.
When I got on the shuttle bus, a lady was the only other passenger. She was going to visit a friend with terminal cancer at Baptist–we talked for a little bit, her friend’s dire prognosis adding to my growing depression on this gray morning. I took the elevator and entered the lab where my mother and other patients lay in beds, the whir of the blood centrifuges white noise in the background. The windowless, cinderblock walls and flourescent lights depressed me even more, and I was a dark mood as I made my way to my mother’s seemingly sleeping form at the far end of the lab.
The instant I sat in the chair beside her bed, my mood shifted so drastically that I sat up straight, confused but jubilant. I wanted to sing and dance and frolic about in some natural, sudden high that had no explanation, at least none that I could fathom then. This wonderful intensity faded to a soothing tingle after a few minutes, but it was enough to jar me out of my depression for the rest of the day. My mother opened her eyes then, and I started reading to her from Harry Potter, something to enchant and distract both of us from our surroundings, though it wasn’t needed that particular morning.
Hours later, in the car, we were talking about politics, I think, when she abruptly said, “I think I saw an angel today.”
“When?” I glanced at her, the cheery purple polka-dotted kercheif knotted on her head (her dew-rag, as she called it) at odds with her pale skin, the dark circles of cancer exhaustion under her eyes, still bright as a child’s.
“In the lab, right before you came in.”
“I thought you were asleep when I came in.”
“I had my eyes closed, half-dozing, but I could still see like my eyes were open. These little points of light came zipping from all sides of the lab and came together in a big ball of light that hovered over my bed. I’ve never felt more peaceful.”
I remember my sudden mood shift and told her about it. We sat in silence for awhile, and then she said, “I guess the oncology ward is as good a place as any to see an angel.”
Hyper-reality. My word for the world around us that can’t be sensed with our five physical senses. Some would call it the spiritual realm, some would call it paranormal phenomena, and some would probably call the rest of us crazy for believing in something we can’t see, touch, hear, smell, or taste, at least not in the usual way.
The world that the witches and warlocks in my stories can sense and eventually manipulate is my fantasy version of hyper-reality, and I believe that it is at this level of reality that my mom sensed the angel that day. Six months after she sensed the angel, my mom passed away in January of 2005 and permanently beyond this physical reality into hyper-reality. We put so much faith in physical reality because it’s usually the only reality we can consciously sense. In Always, Karen, Jeanne Walker says that the “evolution of consciousness” is the purpose of our existence, that all living things are in a process of evolving consciousness, and when we die, it is a merely a passing to the next highest level of awareness. I find this such a comfort, more of a comfort than the traditional view of heaven which has never made sense to me. Hyper-reality and the “evolution of consciousness”–the best way I have of making sense of happenings like the angel over my spooky mother’s hospital bed.Read More