A Wayfarers Tale of a Godly Adventure
In the winter of 2002, I met Stan. Stan lived under a bridge by the arroyo which was near the hip and seductive downtown of Santa Fe, New Mexico. We met twice or three times a week at a cafe and conversed about the corruption and depravity of the government, society, culture, and on the environmental crisis. We also spent hours talking about a multitude of conspiracies, philosophies and some of Stan’s idiosyncratic theories expressions and concoctions. In a short time I grew attached to such a wise fool even though at times I thought him to be a complete quack. Nevertheless, he seemed to be smarter than my Berkeley professors combined and I was intrigued.
As the spring began to roll by, I began to hang-out with him even more. What most captivated me to him were his remarks concerning Christianity – remarks which made me begin thinking about God again.
It had been more than eight years since I renounced my Roman Catholic faith. I recall that one fateful evening, as I looked down, from the balcony of the church, unto the gathered faithful…O how I began to deride them and the “mass.” It was then and there where I renounced chistianity as a whole. Marx was right, I thought; religion was “the opium of the people.”
Ironically, the years I spent in catholic schools, had made me more disenchanted with the faith and, in fact, more secular. I was after all a child of Roman Catholicism which itself had long ago lost the sense of mystery, the fantastical, the mystical, and the sacred. Anyway, having attended university only solidified my disdain for Christianity, for the teachings I learned there (at the university) reassured me that there was no absolute meaning in life – that all meanings were relative – that Meaning itself was meaningless, and that finally there existed no absolute Truth. Therefore, I was offended by Christianity which claimed to have The Truth.
So to start thinking about God again was a shock for me. Yet, I yearned to hear more of Stan’s selected poems with titles like God is Alive, Magic is Afoot and his own semi-lucid, semi-schizophrenic theological commentary. Indeed, my heart was warming up to the idea that God is truly alive and magic (for lack of a better word) is indeed taking place.
The Blessed Chide
Anyway, on one beautiful spring morning, I went to meet him by the arroyo for our regular after-morning-coffee-toke (of “herb”). Sitting beside him, I waited for him to begin conversation or for his offering of herb…Yet, none of this happened for ten, fifteen, twenty long minutes. The silence lingered, even after a homeless friend of his came to sit by us.
I began to get anxious as if I was just “found out”- as if all my deep, dark and wicked secrets had been discovered. My conscience flared and I knew that, because I was holding myself in pride and not confessing (that is being true and real to him) that I was no longer to be tolerated.
…It was one thing to sense it, another to be dispassionately told about it: “Mark, could you tell Oscar that I do not want him to ever come around again. I do not want to see him.” When I heard this my heart sank, but when Mark repeats it to me, I begin to feel like garbage sludge. I try to form a protest, but only whimper mumbling words. I mumble a garble of, “wait… Stan… I…” To this Stan turns toward me and looks into my frightened eyes and with a stern firmness says that he does “not want me around.”
I am stupefied. I try to get up like a paraplegic learning to walk again. I fumble my way as a drunkard – too dazed to walk clearly. I cross the small bridge as in a fog, I cross the street and onto the sidewalk on the edge of downtown. I could walk no further.
My soul was rendered – my ego torn asunder – my bubble had busted. I was an unraveled mess, a crippled cosmology – in short, my reality had become undone and I was freefalling into the pit of isolation, despair and nothingness – I was being gripped in fear.
Not caring if I was seen, I fell on my knees and cried in agony for God. “Lord help me! God come unto my aid.” A moment later, I felt my soul breaking the years of caked-in darkness and I began to weep. Struggling with myself, I somehow (I don’t remember) found myself going up the arroyo bed – weeping and fighting to let go of my ugliness – weeping and repenting; repenting and weeping for I do not know for how long…until I found myself exhausted. I rested on a small knoll. I began to breathe slowly…and a few moments later I am in a serene calmness. I looked at the life around me: the grass, the trees, the rocks, the sand, the birds, bees, and insects and was filled with thanksgiving.
The Turquoise Trail
…A few days later I awoke in the basement of a “group home” for Native American youth. My shift as an overnight supervisor had ended and I was more than ready to enjoy this beautiful spring morning. I was excited about the day, for I sensed that I was going to do and experience something new. Now the summer was coming and I was setting aside time and money to fully enjoy this “land of enchantment.” I even had a motorcycle to do it “a la bohemia.”
That morning, I remember it well; it was a beautiful and sparkling spring morning. I was excited and anticipated something good. With vigor I took in the fresh young air and exhaled with a smile on my face. I knew where I wanted to go. I jumped on my motorcycle and headed out of the city toward a quirky town called Madrid (which I had previously visited and wanted to spend more time in). Plus the two hour ride down the picturesque and winding Turquoise Trail was reason alone. Yet this light-hearted and almost giddy feeling came along with perturbing, almost nagging questions. Questions which had developed (since my surreal “episode” at the arroyo), but could not answer…Yet the morning was beautiful and the motorcycle ride to Madrid was the ticket (and these questions were not going to ruin my excitement)…
Reaching Madrid, I parked and entered into a quaint cafe. I order coffee. I take my coffee to a charming patio full of antique trinkets. It is quite early and only one middle-aged man with a white hair and a white mustache is sitting there. I take a table and sit a few feet to the side of him. I felt good. I just rode my motorcycle down a picturesque and winding road and now am about to enjoy a cup of good coffee in this charming little town…but just then, the perturbing questions fling themselves to me. I try to “shew” them away, but they do not go. I try “shake off” and avoid the questions, but the questions persistently cling on. They have me at their mercy. Even when I give in to them I find no solace, for, no matter how much I strain, I simply do not have answers. And yet the questions come:
‘If God is alive and His power is everywhere present, then where are His followers; where are His Christians? Where are His real disciples? Where are the martyrs? Where is the “oomph” of Christianity – its mystery, its mysticism, its power?’
I knew firsthand, that Roman Catholicism was impotent and I could not find God nor His true disciples there…and, I knew, without a doubt, that the protestant churches (including all it sects and cults) were no solution. I yearned for Mystical Drink, I wanted to answer these questions, but knew only farce…I was mystified. I could find no answer. In a desperate reach for something I asked the stranger in front of me the question, “Excuse me sir, sorry to bother you, but what do you think of “comfort Christianity,” or that televangelism stuff; whatever happened to the early Christians? Where are they? Where is true Christianity? Whatever happened to Christianity?”
[After having asked, I realized that such random and intense questions perhaps lacked finesse or protocol, but it was to late now].
Yet, I was the one surprised for a second later, the man responded with a nonchalant, “hold on a minute, let me finish my coffee.” So lackadaisical was his response that he did not even turn to see me. He merely continued to read his newspaper and sip his coffee…
…Two whole minutes pass, and by now the dual perplexity of my question and his ongoing response (or lack of) have left me awe-struck. I feel like a dunce, and most likely look like one as I stare at him, and await his response. I sit and stare and wait, for one then two more minutes. By the fourth minute, I start to question both our sanities. Finally, after five long minutes, he gingerly takes his last sip of coffee, unhurriedly puts the cup down, deftly rolls up the newspaper; puts under his left arm, and without looking my way says (as he beckons me with his forefinger), “come with me, I have someone to show you.” I think to myself, this has all been interesting, but who is this guy and where is he taking me? He leaves out the door and I only have a second to decide as I see him go into his truck.
I run out, jump on my motorcycle (I don’t even have time to put on my helmet as I see him driving off). I turn the ignition, rev up and pursue him. I catch up with him as he is taking me on some coal-blackened back roads of this old mining town. He is taking me up a hill and unto a mesa.
For ten minutes I follow him down this bumpy dirt path. I say to myself, “no one knows where I am, this is an isolated road, I am following a complete stranger; this is a classic scenario for a ‘disappearance.’ I ask myself, “should I go on?” I decide to be brave and continue on…
A minute or two later, I find myself stopping at the end of the mesa. I stop at a distance (just in case?!). Before me is a trailer, painted gold. The stranger, gets out of his truck, moves toward the trailer and enters through the open door. Ten seconds later he comes out and says, “My name is Michael, inside is Gregory, he will tell you what you want to know, but I have to go now.” Then, he walks back to his truck and drives off. While still on my bike, I debate whether I should go to meet this Gregory. Building up courage, I get off and approach with caution. I look inside and see Gregory sitting on a box crate. He looks like a cross-breed between a bull-fighter, Osama Bin Laden’s cousin and a renegade mafia operative. He greets me and says to come inside. I don’t know how, but I enter and sit on a small chair. He says nothing. I look around and see two small pictures of Christ in one scene or another. Seeing these things, I decide to ask him the questions…
Hours pass as he talks about church history, the Byzantine Empire, philosophy, theology, mysticism, the history of modern western thought, comparisons with the east and other pertinent subjects which give light to the question that befuddled me. He talked about Constantine, Constantinople, the “dessert fathers,” the church in Rome, the Great Squism of 1054, early Christological heresies, the Filioque, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the age of Enlightenment, the onset of modernity, modern heresies, the evil one, the modern ethos, the Byzantine effervescence of true Christianity – onward and so forth… Compared to Stan squizophrenic semi-lucidity and the sophistries of the university, these talks actually felt like they had real “substance” behind them. These talks seemed to really to go somewhere.
Anyway, hour after hour, my soul soared towards the heavens as Gregory answered my questions. The beauty of the answers and the majesty of the high desert gave these talks an almost palpable presence of grace to them. Truly, they felt not of this world. How easy those many hours flew past and if it was not for the grumbling of our stomachs, neither of us would have noticed that the morning had now become dusk.
By the time, evening had set in, we decided to go to the local tavern and get something to eat and drink (for we had not eaten all day). So we went. We arrived. We ordered… and as the food was brought to us and were about to feast, there entered three of the most beautiful young women from the chapters of Arabian Nights. These highly attractive women came in dressed in belly-dancing outfits. Being Amateur Night, these beauties were going to put on a show. How things are interesting! Previously, while up at the mesa, Gregory and I had talked about the evil one, and how he tries to ruin those who truly seek after God… and now, as my soul is rejoicing in knowing that the Church and the martyrs really exist and that Christianity is true, here appear these women?
And so it began… they came at us with fake swords on their heads, middle-eastern music in the background, and feline movements which only seductresses know of…and directing their attention toward us, they placed their scarves around our necks…they tried to enchant and capture us… and with smiles of invitation they finished… but, Gregory and I were thinking about the devil and his envy. We contemplated how the hater of man enviously tries to deny us the way to the Way. Hence, immersed in these thoughts, the temptresses before us seemed to vanish as quickly as they appeared.
An hour later after we arrived (thirty minutes after the belly-dancing performance), it was time for me to leave and go to work (as my overnight shift was in two hours). I gave my gratitude to Gregory and told him that I would come and visit him again.
I got on my motorcycle, put on my helmet and headed toward Santa Fe. A few minutes later, I was back on the Turquoise Trail, embraced by a bliss I had never felt before. It was soothing, peaceful and sweet. I remember riding the desolate road on that moonless dessert night. I was in such bliss that I had no fear.
I I am on the Turquoise Trail again. It is a moonless and almost starless night. It is sweetly warm and the road is intimate and desolate. It seems that I have the road all to myself. My headlight cuts out a narrow path through the velvety blackness. It all seems so otherworldly. I feel as if entranced by the ride’s surrealism and my feeling of euphoria. But things begin to get more interesting….
Twenty minutes into my rapture, my headlight blows out. Instantly, the road disappears and everything is literally no more. I can not see an inch away much less a foot.
My survival instincts flare up, and my mind almost simultaneously recalls that the particular stretch of road (I am on) is straight; long enough for me to break, without the danger of curves, falling into a ravine or hitting a tree…A few moments later I stop and in complete blackness, I had to now quickly move my motorcycle off the road (as I did not want to get hit from behind). It was so black that I only ventured to move my motorcycle only a few inches to the side of the road (the distance which my break lights gave light to – enough to ensure I was not next to a chasm).
“That was odd,” I say to myself.” “Hmm, what do I do now?”… Standing over my motorcycle (and now an inch or two by the side of the road) I began to view my options, but already in my mind there was only one; to somehow continue on. I looked behind me and in the distance; I saw a vehicle coming down the road. I quickly thought of following a few feet behind this vehicle (and see the road through its headlights). It sounded good and plus, it seemed to be the only option…and so a few seconds later, I was waiting for it to pass me.
The thing about plans is that they usually come with preconceived ideas and so I expected the vehicle to be moving at a precautious speed (considering how pitch black the surroundings were and how narrow the road was, and how full of curves and deep gulches there were), but the truck has just zoomed past me at an incredible speed. By the time I revved up my bike and released the clutch, gave it full throttle, and sped after the truck; the truck was no where near my projected “ten feet,” nor was it at twenty, but the truck was over 40 or more feet in front of me.
Accelerating past 55mph the truck was still moving further away from me. I could see it break light moving up a hill and its headlights lighting oncoming stretches of curved road. I tried increase speed and simultaneously memorize the time of the oncoming curve and its degree and length of curvature, for I had no other option. By the time I was to arrive where the truck was; the truck would be further down the road leaving behind only a momentary imprint of the road (soon to be covered over by the black curtain of darkness). Yet, I had no time to think of just how outlandish and ludicrous this situation was – to time things right – it was akin to a blind man jaywalking across a ten lane highway.
Surprisingly enough, I was calm throughout all this – even moronic – as I was still relishing the “afterglow” of the bliss of a few minutes ago. I remember being eerily calm, even after I felt the “ ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ”of the trembling motorcycle; and realized that I was no longer on the road….
My bike was now violently shaking and I remember calmly thinking (almost if from a distance): “Oh, I am no longer on the road…Where is the road?… There is but blackness all around me…What do I do?” At that moment I heard a voice say, “ Let go! ”
Without hesitating, I immediately let go of the bike…and fell back…The next moment, I remember being on the ground, face down. The fall had taken the air out of my lungs, but I could now breathe. I expected broken bones. My helmet prevented my face from any facial injury, but for the rest of my body, I was sure to find something, especially if wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sandals.
I slowly began to get up and to my amazement, I could stand – my leg bones were all right! I then began to exaggerate my breathing to see if I had any broken ribs and discovered I did not I moved my arms and hands and they functioned normally. I can walk, breath and move, but now what do I do?
I looked around before me and saw only what looked to be a landscape covered with tar – everything was pitch-black! I could only see my motorcycle a few yards away by its break lights. The engine was still on and I ventured to turn the machine off (hoping that it would not explode). Once that was done, I knew that I need to find the road. A few minutes of fumbling (of stepping and feeling the texture of ground before me), and I eventually found the road.
Once on the road, I thought of what to do next. I first thought about walking on the desolate road throughout this blackness and through the wilderness and perhaps reaching Santa Fe by morning. But I quickly hoped for another option. I did not want to walk in darkness where coyotes, wolves and bears might be (or worse my frightened imagination)…just then I saw hope, there was a beam of light coming from behind me, and I thought of hitchhiking…
…But, the two cars that came within that half hour, passed by me as if they had seen a ghost…and I did not blame them, for here is a creature walking in the middle of nowhere, surrounded in blackness and carrying something round. I imagined that I would appear more as an aberration than a human and with the stories of Indian witchdoctors and the proliferation of witches and Satanists that congregate in parts of New Mexico, I myself would not stop for myself.
So my hopes died; for whom would pick-up such a phantom…and yet I was not looking forward to walking all night through such blackness and such wilderness and my imagination. Then I saw a vehicle coming towards me. I said to myself, “Forget Santa Fe, go back to Madrid and stay with Gregory.” This time I was going to make sure that they stopped. I placed myself in the middle of the road and hoped to force the oncoming vehicle to stop…
As it approached I got nervous. Would it stop in time? I put out my arm and spread my hand in front of me and tilted my head sideways and down (just in case, if these were to be my last moments; I did not want to see it all – yet throughout all this I was somehow very calm).
So, I saw increasing light…and the light increased in brightness…and I heard the screeching of wheels. When I looked up the vehicle was just a foot or two away from me. I walked over to the driver and told him of my accident and that if he could take me to Madrid for I knew a man there who would give me hospice. The driver of the jeep said that he actually knew Gregory and that he was in fact a neighbor (living a mile away). As I went around the jeep and entered into the passenger seat I took the time to notice (through the cars interior light) my wounds. I expected deep cuts and gashes and such, but to my surprise (after falling from a motorcycle at 55mphs, with only sandals, shorts and a shirt) I only had three tiny little cat scratches on my left ankle.
The True Journey Begins
We arrived at Gregory’s house and woke him up with the vehicle’s beams (for he slept on a futon outside). He received me as a brother would receive a brother…
The next morning, Gregory and I went to get some coffee at the same quaint cafй where I met Michael. Afterwards, we went to retrieve my motorcycle. Twenty or so minutes later I found my motorcycle on a patch of rough terrain, an inch away from hitting a barbed-wired fence. If I was to have stayed on my motorcycle I would have been sliced into pieces…
I stayed with Gregory for four months and began to learn the awesome mystery of the Theoanthropic Society – that sacred Body of Christ – the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church (known as Eastern Orthodoxy). Gregory was at that time a catechuman and shared with me (in our talks) the things that he had discovered concerning Orthodox Christianity and about his own journey to Orthodoxy. He told me that by age thirty-five, he had been an upper-tier yuppie, a millionaire, a playboy, married twice, and overall lived a life of a Lamborguini. He told me how he eventually found himself living on the mesa with no plumbing, electricity, gas or telephone; as he called “living off the grid.” He told me of those bitterly-harsh high dessert winters where he was forced to live on bread and peanut butter, tea and the Jesus Prayer in order to survive. And regarding his many spiritual experiences…there are simply too many to mention. Anyway in the midst of his ascetic way of life, I dropped by.
And for these four months, Gregory and I had the blessed life of a Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, of a Don Quixote and Sancho. We were brothers in one mind, exalting in the discovery of the one true Faith; continuing to enter into uncharted and fascinating territory – continuing to enter into the fantastical reality of the true Faith.
We researched and investigated the life of an Orthodox Christian. We experimented in living the life of an Orthodox Christian. In the following years we had a great many blessed adventures as Orthodox Christians. But, I am getting ahead of myself…
After having stayed four months with Gregory, I had to return back to California. In September I left and by May of I was baptized and took the name Alexander. A year later, in September I returned to see my friend Gregory. I had arranged it as the third leg of my traveling. I was first to go to my grandmother’s family reunion in Chicago, then fly to Arizona to visit the elders of Saint Anthony’s monastery and to make arrangements for my trip to the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos). And then I was going to hitchhike to Madrid New Mexico, stay with Gregory for two weeks and fly to Greece from Albuquerque.
All went well, but I never made it to Greece (I had missed my flight; and I could not reschedule). Yet, it seems it was meant to be for I stayed with Gregory for eight months. Within these eight months and thereafter we had a great many and blessed adventures which one day I hope to write about. Nevertheless, I hope that the little I have written brings us to the understanding that indeed God is alive and His power is everywhere…that we, His children, are the martyrs of old, His disciples that continue to be, and the true sojourners amidst a strange land.