The Narrow Gate

When telling a friend on Sunday afternoon that I was going out to Vegas, I admitted that I considered it a sign that I have failed. Through all of my writing, begun anonymously out at Zaadz ten years ago and now openly here at WordPress, my hope has been that others would learn to do the things that I do.

He was irked, stating that other people pray as well.

But that’s not what I do.

I can’t document my experience. It started four days before my departure, and still continues. Time went into a blender. My body went forward on a linear track, moving through space into encounters that bridged to events earlier and later. Threads become tangled ever more densely, cresting with unforeseeable intensity.

It’s that tangling of threads that I am compelled to relate.

I knew what the outcome was: Paddock sitting with the gun in his mouth, gazing intently inwards beyond the metaphor of flesh to discern the personality that had broken his will. The flash of gunpowder blew a hole in its spirit, freeing the captives it had gained through violence.

But how to reach that moment?

The victims’ memorial was one pathway, but it also focused a wall of hatred against him. I did beneficial work there: in the first dark hours of Monday morning, rubbing the spasm-wracked back of a man mourning the stranger that he had tried to pull to safety, answering his repeated “It just sucks” with the tender mantra, “but you don’t.” Finally he opened his grief to me, and I gasped. When breath returned, I reassured him “Wow. Very good. That was good.”

As I fell asleep back at the hotel, I found again that moment of liberation, gathering the traumatized souls into my heart.

Waking at six, I pulled up the press reports to locate the Route 91 concert field. It was just kitty-corner from the hotel at the intersection of Las Vegas and Mandalay boulevards. In the days prior, I had visualized entering the field and kneeling before the stage. That seemed the most direct route into the trauma.

But faith communities were another possibility. I queried for Catholic churches, and learned that the diagonal through the field running away from the hotel ended at the Church of the Sacred Redeemer.

Expecting an early mass, I dressed and hustled down to the street. The concert field was inaccessible, cordoned by crime scene tape and guarded by officers in vehicles with flashing lights. I took the long way around to the Church, down Reno Blvd, hesitating at the cross walks to figure out how I could get through the cordon. The church yard was festooned with crime scene tape, but the schedule promised a mass at 12:10.

Backtracking, I felt the first deep surge of trauma as I walked up Reno. Catching my breath, I stretched both hands up to the sky. “Here. Here. This is where it hurts.” Washing the responsive grace slowly downwards, I found gratitude among the people and stretched back up to the heavens again.

Carrying grace and gratitude with me, I followed the hotel staff as they entered the Mandalay, stopping under the corner where the matte finish of the cladding betrayed the location from which the shots were fired. Stretching my hands up, I touched him again in a moment of calm in the days before the tragedy.

I took a shower and ate breakfast before heading back to the victims’ memorial. Chance encounters threatened to distract me: a young lady in a bright red dress standing in front of the elevator leading to the 32nd floor; two women at the table next to mine talking about blogs and event speakers; a blackjack dealer catching my eye as I tried to find my way back out to the parking structure.

I was anchored to the moment when the shooting stopped.

Heading back out to the victims’ memorial, I took more time in the sunlight to look at the faces, re-arranging the beads, signs and flowers to ensure that each was visible to the passers-by. A platoon of police officers endured stoically while tourists took selfies. Having finished my devotions to the fallen, I stepped forward to ask whether any of them had responded to the event.

I wasn’t surprised that none had, and normally would have disengaged, but the pressure that drove me brought me to ask of the man bearing insignia of rank “If it makes sense to you, would you represent them to me?” They looked askance, and I backed away. “That’s all right. I’ll walk by the concert field later.”

So I went back to the hotel. Feeling fatigued, I bought a cup of coffee and meditated to Snatam Kaur’s Jap Man Sat Nam and Ong Namo.

Then it was time to go to church.

The police SUV almost sent me away. I approached the officer to ask whether they had “shut them down.” Laughing, he replied “Far be it from me to shut down the Lord. Mass will be at 12:10.”

I entered and walked the perimeter of the interior, taking in the sculpture. I settled first in the back corner, furthest from the field, amid the icons of Christ. But a voice told me that I needed to be as close as possible to the external cross. So I moved all the way to the front, next to the statue of the Holy Mother bearing the infant Savior.

The service began with an apology from the priest. They had indeed been shut for the last week, giving up their offices and parking lot to the police and FBI while they did the crime scene analysis. The Paschal candle was lit in memorium of the victims, and the gospel would pay homage to the Good Samaritans that had done so much to prevent greater tragedy on October 1st.

And thus the gate opened to tears.

I can only bring back snippets. Sending the message into the panicked crowd that they should “run toward the cross.” Feeling Paddock, abandoned and demoralized, in the hours before the shooting started. Rallying those fleeing to “see each other” so that God might know how to marshal energy to guide the bullets away.

The great wash of energy rising from the cross, flooding across the field to enter through the open window to freeze Paddock with the proof that Christ had not abandoned him. The melody of “Amazing Grace” harmonized tenderly by the pianist, and the shocked hope of his realization that it was never too late.

And so it was finished.

As I left, I took the priest’s hands and stopped to pray:

Dear Father in Heaven: bless these hands, that those they touch may receive comfort and healing. Bless the mind of this man, so that his words may relieve confusion and bring faith. May all he encounters be inspired to open their hearts to the love that emanates from the Most High, and so receive grace and salvation.

To which, backing away, with a voice almost breaking in grief, he responded “Please keep praying for us.”

Fire From on High

Were the bullets like the angry fists that pummeled your growing body?

Was the scurrying below meaningless, like the gambling that you used to hide your pain?

…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.

[NIV Gen. 2:17]

Is that the only escape from the sorrows of this world? An escape into death?

Was that the truth you wished to communicate before you took your own life?

Oh, dear brother, why were you immune to the Lord’s promises? Did no one tell you?

I will give you a new heart and a new spirit. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

[NIV Ezek. 36:26]

For now you have fallen prey to the illusion of death. The savior reached out to you with a healing embrace, but instead of receiving that gift, you chose to bear arms.

Hurricanes to Hell

I first heard the claims from a Mormon colleague at work. The constellation Virgo was overlapped with some planets creating a configuration of twelve lights in the sky. On Monday night at Bible study the parallels with Revelation 12 (in which the Sacred Mother descends with twelve stars in her tiara) were elaborated further: one of the lights was Jupiter, which exited the constellation on September 23rd, the basis for claims that the seven-year trial of tribulation was now under way. Only one element was missing: the simultaneous descent of the dragon. The claim was that NASA had somehow “blocked out” that part of the sky, hiding one-third of the stars (the dragon’s tail?).

I kept on stating firmly “The stars in Revelation are angels,” but the speaker wouldn’t listen, doggedly pursuing the story, repeating “But there’s more.”

Given this propensity to seek material evidence of God’s forthcoming intervention, I find it wondrous that nobody has linked the first letters of Harvey, Irma and Maria to spell out “HIM.” Santa Maria is also Christ’s virgin mother. Powered by the sun and arriving in hurricane form, she struck Puerto Rico at night – I’d assume hiding a full moon.

For those that followed the video series out at Love Returns, we know that we’re well past Revelation 12, close to the seventh bowl in Revelation 16. I won’t support that claim here, however, for there’s something revealed more directly by the tragedy in Puerto Rico.

Samuel was the first to warn God’s people concerning the limitations of government, and the Resurrection itself must be taken as repudiating all earthly powers.

Puerto Rico is a potent support for the argument that government is destined to betray our hopes. As a center for drug manufacturing, the island had a successful economy until about 2005, when Congress ended tax credits that benefited pharmaceutical companies that manufactured there. Shipping goods from an island nearly 1000 miles from the mainland is expensive, and the factories soon closed, kick-starting Puerto Rico’s descent into poverty.

Maria devastated an island already on the verge of collapse.

Why did Congress end the tax credits? A hurricane is a dramatic event, focusing our awareness of tragedy, but many communities in rural America are facing similar circumstances. Corporate American has off-shored their jobs, and constricting government payrolls are knocking the legs out from under small town economies. Into that misery the pharmaceutical industry is pouring a torrent of opioids.

The anger of rural America delivered the White House into the hands of a petty tyrant. In tweets to his sycophantic chorus, Trump attacked the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, stating that her incompetence was the reason that FEMA hadn’t been able to deliver aid to 3.5 million American citizens facing slow death from thirst, hunger and disease.

Trump’s cruelty was triggered by the words of Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, recorded earlier in the day criticizing the Administration’s characterization of the relief efforts as “wonderful.” Mincing no words, she pointed out that people were dying, and that if an effective response was not mounted immediately, the federal government would find itself presiding over a genocide. Clearly suffering from trauma, Cruz characterized Trump’s attitude as that of one consigning citizens to “die like animals.”

But of course.

It is not government that delivers us dignity. Government is not worthy of our faith. It is only in God that we find the strength to suffer in dignity. Facing death, it is only to the faithful that certainty is given that we possess a spirit intended to receive infinite love.

So, please, Mayor Cruz: don’t pray to government. Pray to Him, for it is the lack of Him that has brought us to this impasse. The physical and social forces that brutalize the poor are huge, and far beyond the capacity of governments to overcome. Security, dignity and grace are found only in God.

Bringing Water

At the homeless camp on Saturday morning, I met a Puerto Rican woman who testified that she was processing the Hurricane Maria tragedy as “God’s will.”

This breaks my heart.

My greatest fear is that the victims of the recent natural disasters will see it that way – that God has brought ruin upon them.

When I was driving north at the start of my vacation, I was struggling against the fear and anger that was being mounted up against me at work, and finally overcame it with this vision: traveling to those displaced by natural disasters with the simple message: “The waters of death and destruction have risen against you, but those are not the waters that God sends to you. I can’t offer you food, clothing, or shelter. Instead, God sent me to tell you this: the waters of life will pour down upon you that thirst. Remember all those left behind, and send to them the strength of God’s love. Let his waters be the resource they need to prepare for your safe return, just as Jesus left to prepare a sanctuary for those that have faith in the Father.”

I have a strong need to realize this vision. If anyone has any connections that would facilitate that process, please let me know. I will pay for travel.

What’s Your Medium?

Facebook, created by Mark Zuckerberg and other lonely undergrads as a distributed system to rate and stalk girls, is anti-social media. That may seem harsh, but while some use it to organize charitable events, that must be set against Facebook’s unregulated distribution of propaganda (such as Russia used to help Trump gain the White House) and monetization of every site and post through targeted advertising.

The Holy Spirit, the original world-wide-web, joins people in bonds of love. That is social media.

Allocate your time accordingly.

Working for God

Before I went on vacation, the company owner told me that I was responsible for my own anxiety.

I thought about that while I was on the road on Wednesday. I have several reasons to feel anxiety at work, but late that night, as I struggled to find the peace of sleep, I realized that they were all attempts by others to poison public perception of my conduct.

Putting those anxieties aside, then, what I was left with was this: standing in the door of my colleague’s office, telling him that I despite three books, a web site and three blogs, I have failed to build any interest in the truths that have been entrusted to me. That, and the images of the destruction wrought be hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with the fear that many would believe that God had forgotten them.

And I saw myself going to the camps of the displaced with boxloads of my Love Returns t-shirts for the children. The message was simple: the waters of death and destruction had risen against you to drown your faith, but the waters that Jesus offers are the waters of life. You are not forgotten – you are beloved.

The sermon on the boat in Galilee also came to mind: not from the perspective of Peter, but from the perspective of the fishes that hid from the nets all night until Jesus commanded Peter to let them down again. The vision was of children hiding under blankets in the corner when their parents came to look for them. When the children don’t show, the teacher sends the parents outside. The children remain under the blankets until the teacher goes to the door to tell their parents to “Try again.” Then the little class rushes forward to happily embrace their parents.

With these visions, all the negative thoughts vanished.

But I woke at 5 AM. Entering the town that the retreat I was attending was located at, I drove up Interstate 80 for ninety minutes, past Rocklin and almost to Truckee. Following the directions, I found myself at the supposed destination in the middle of an empty stretch of road. Checking my e-mail notices from the retreat, I learned that it was actually outside Sonora, almost four hours away.

Having left early, I was still going to make the first Thursday session, but I felt foolish and ashamed. I pushed that aside and focused on my good fortune: I was still going to be there early. As I approached Rocklin, I began wondering whether there wasn’t a reason this happened. As I entered Rocklin, I decided to search for some Christian music on the radio, and found AirOne. After a few songs played, a notice came on: AirOne was looking for two big data analysts to work in Rocklin.

Those that have been following this blog will remember that I had been taking courses in this field through eDx last year before I started the video series at Love Returns.

No prize to those that predict that I’ll apply. It’s the only way to clear up my deepest anxieties.