talking with my father about Paul
The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
(1 Corinthians 15: 53 - 56)
When I last visited my father, he was recovering from hip replacement surgery in a rehab center in Sebring, Florida. He was also dying of cancer, and taking morphine for the pain. We tried to talk about what concerned us most, but it was hard to find understanding. He had been hallucinating, or dreaming, he wasn't sure which, and he thought he had heard a TV news report, or people in the next room talking, about some terrible things taking place outside. I called him before I came over, and he didn't think it was a good idea to be on the road during such a time, but the road was fine.
He was in bed, going in and out of consciousness, and in and out of coherence. His roommate said he was under the influence of the morphine. I wondered if his fears about a tribulation underway were projections of some spiritual conflict he was undergoing, the crisis of facing death. I didn't know what to say to him. We prayed. I gave him a back rub. I talked about some things I had been thinking about Paul's vision of the third heaven. I thought Paul's experience, similar in ways to alien abduction stories, was a kind of altered state some people have spontaneously, and some through psychoactive drugs. Paul may have had some kind of epilepsy, like Dostoevsky, who also described mystical experiences he had during seizures. I also thought it was the basis for Paul's statements on "rapture," especially a future, universal, rapture in which all humanity is "taken up." He asked me if I ever had such an experience. I don't remember what I said. I thought of moments I had under the influence of LSD and psilocybin, but drug stories seemed irrelevant and silly. Maybe my reluctance to "boast" was akin to Paul's.
2 Corinthians 12:1 - 5
"I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know -- God knows. And I know that this man -- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows -- was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking a truth."
I read the above scripture passage to my father, and then I read another one.
Listen, "I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed -- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."
Dad said he always reads that scripture at funerals, and we read it at his. The news of his death struck me terribly, I knew our last conversation didn't reach a resolution, a mutual understanding of life or death, and I wanted to try to get there through writing a letter, but the letter I started was a mundane account of the day to day. Augustine wrote of a conversation with his mother that turned into a shared transcendent experience. I longed for this with my father. My mother was afflicted with dementia in her last year, and was in a coma when I last saw her. I talked to my father on the phone a few times, not enough times. When my niece called me at work and told me he was gone I saw an abyss.
I have read articles about studies in the use of mescaline, and other psychoactive drugs, in the therapeutic treatment of depressed, terminally ill patients, and they are very interesting, and possibly relevant to my ideas about Paul, but I don't know if there is a pill guaranteed to give Blessed Assurance. Alan Watts likened LSD to a telephone. When you get the message, he said, hang up the phone. The message I thought I got was the eternal was here and now and within and among us. I know this is true and I know it sounds foolish, and I am playing the fool when I try to say it and make sense out of non-sense. One of the last times I tripped, maybe it was the last time, I visited some friends and I tried to tell my friends, who were disappointed because they didn't have anything to get them high, that it didn't matter. The mushrooms I had eaten hadn't changed reality. Reality was always here and they only needed to stop ignoring it. That was over forty years ago. I don't know if ayahuasca, or peyote, or any chemical can really get me "There," if I don't still possess the message I got the last time.
We face the eternal, but it is hidden from us. Maybe it is our ignorance that hides the eternal, the need to ignore eternity while we deal with the day to day struggles. A catastrophic event, or a neurological event, or a neurological event triggered by a catastrophe, can put us face to face with -- What? Whom?
"The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. "