The words are Christ’s, said prior to the horrors he would shortly face-horrors that the disciples had no understanding of.
Nor do we.
We Christians hear those words frequently in the liturgy preceding Pentecost. But until recently, I had never considered the Holy Spirit-Holy Ghost- as a lawyer. But that is the meaning of the word advocate, is it not?
“I will send you an advocate and He will teach you all things.” To whom is the Lord speaking when He makes this promise? To His Disciples and Apostles, we reply automatically. But to the rest of humanity, baptized, unbaptized, believers and non-believers also?
I can speak from personal experience. Although, at the times, I had no idea of what-Whom-I saw, I have seen the Spirit. But I saw no human form in the shape of Lady Justice instead, I saw amorphous Light-blinding, intense and invasive.
The first time was in a college philosophy classroom watching a Dominican priest outline Aquinas’ Hierarchy of Being on the blackboard. Still dazed and lost from my late-teen experience which convinced me that Jesus, religion and faith were mere fantasies, I was seriously considering suicide.
Standing in his long black robes, his right hand started at the bottom of the board, in broad sweeping strokes of the chalk on the blackboard, wrote, “Archangels,” above that “Principalities” and then “Virtues” on to the “Seraphim.” The entire board was covered. I sat staring at the words, wholly uncomprehending them. It felt as if I were looking at an alien language. And began to ponder while gaping at the board that this was an absolute fabrication, none of this existed, there was no God.
But there was none of the sarcastic teen I had been before in my thoughts. None of the wisecracking quoter of Nietzsche’s “God is dead, he choked to death on Theology” that I parroted on frequent occasions mostly to achieve the satisfying shock the comment generally elicited from my listener. There was just despair, pure and black. And I sat wondering if it just would not be far simpler to end all this. The more I considered the idea of suicide, the faster the bleak thoughts flashed through my mind.
When abruptly, the entire panel of windows lit up. I was seated right by the blackboard, five rows away from the wall of windows which were so bright that I was convinced that it had finally happened. Russia had dropped a bomb. World War III had begun.
But the Monseigneur continued to stand by the board and drone on about the Seraphim. And all of my classmate’s heads were bent toward their notes as if assiduously taking down every word out of the priest’s mouth. Only then did I realize that no one in the room saw what I did.
In awe, I sat watching the brilliance which lit up the entire wall of windows. My heart rate accelerated, and the blackness and suicidal thoughts disappeared entirely leaving something which I could not name, but I knew it, almost recognized it.
Then a powerful impression of peace enveloped me, almost like a blanket. That night, I went home and wrote a poem. I called it the Divine Spark, a tiny light which existed somewhere in me, somewhere deep but there and connected me to something I could not name. That was the first time I saw the light. There would be others.Finding the Narrow Path
Although my experience of living on both sides of the believer/non-believer equation is not unique, it is not common. Especially with the zeal with which I lived each side. I ‘get’ atheists, agnostics and haters of religion.
On this Pentecost Sunday, 2020, I wager that many of us citizens of planet earth are wondering about this pandemic. Whether believers or not, we ponder whether this thing just might have elements of the supernatural. The pervasive fear, massively stoked by the media, emanates from the natural aversion to our own death. One that resists naming because the thought can be so terrifying. For those of us living not so comfortably in the place that I once did, far away from God, we cannot resist whispering, “What happens afterward?”
Is there something?
What if what we were taught in Sunday School, or Synagogue, or Catechism is true?
What if there is a Heaven and a Hell?
I have no idea why my despairing twenty-two- year -old self was granted that vision, that Grace. Or the others to come in the subsequent years.
What I do know is this: if we search for truth, there is only one possible destination.
Finding the Narrow Path
The journey to Greece changed me. Not in ways I could readily describe when I returned or even now, looking back…My last night in this breathtaking land of crumbled ruins, mystery, and ancient wisdom was listening to a concert high above the ruins…The music ended and I sat there alone…The miracles of them, the privilege of being here…The moonlight was brilliant and the silence so immense that I was confident I could hear the whispered prayers of the many hundreds of thousands who had worshiped in this place. This sacred place.
The Advocate will teach you all things…