Surprises By The Score

I am at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. It’s a Trappist monastery that was founded in 1944 by a group of twenty-one men that came from the monastery outside of Louisville, Kentucky, Gethsemani Abbey. That is the monastery where Thomas Merton was a monk, and a contemporary with these pioneers heading into South of God backwoods. Being here for Holy Week is quite a treat, though the circumstances not ideal. It has been full of surprises, most of them good, but not all.

Take this morning….please. Rim shot.

My long-suffering Dell laptop crashed most inconveniently, as if a crash is ever convenient. Fortunately, I brought my Surface tablet so I can get by…barely.

Last week, I was telling you about a three part dream that occurred the night before my ordination to the priesthood. The first segment was in a Cathedral setting but in a maritime forest like that of Cumberland Island. I felt comfortable being myself in this church that seemed to celebrate the natural beauty of Creation. It was reassuring as I had worked hard to find a church, a tradition where I could be my True Self and not some holy wannabe facsimile. I was centered, at peace, at home.

The second segment was one of classic comedic stripe. The setting shifted to Six Flags Over Georgia, an amusement park outside of Atlanta. I was there with one of my best friends, David Fikes, a fellow South of God refugee. We had both served on the staff at Northside Drive Baptist Church and had both made our way to the Cathedral of St. Philip. He is my brother in so many ways, and the godfather to my son.

David and I were walking through the park as we came across a geodesic domed building that was known as the Chevy Show. You would sit on wooden benches as you watched a film that simulated you riding in a Chevrolet car, usually a Corvette, at breakneck speeds on curvy and challenging terrain. You could feel yourself leaning into the curves naturally and if you paid attention, you could witness everyone in the room doing the same.

When Fikes and I got there, there was a sign that normally indicated the next show time. Today, it not only told what time the next show was but the topic: The Oceanic Experience. And the presenter was listted as well: Jacques Cousteau. How could it get any better? So David and I hustled in to get a seat. There were the normal benches, but now with seat belts installed to keep you secure when the “show” went into motion. And there were special form-fitting seats against the wall, like those I remember from the Mercury astronaut days. Fikes and I took our places, backs against the wall.

One note: the “oceanic experience” was the phrase Freud used to descriibe religious experience, something I studied during my doctoral work. And who better to talk about that ocean than the intrepid Cousteau? Suddenly the “show” began.

The building simulated the rolling waves of the sea. Creatures like a dolphin, an octopus, a barracuda, would emerge from the floor with realistic movements making one feel like you were underwater, observing these creatures in their natural habitat. But then the surprises started to come.

Standing at the front of the room was not the advertised Jacques Cousteau, but rather Chris Collins, the building maintenance man at the Cathedral. That was the special, comedic message for me from my unconscious. And, I got the joke and the warning.

I undid my safety strap and crawled to where the sea creatures were. There were holes in the floor where creatures had emerged, and when I looked into the holes, there were gears and cogs all turning round and round. As I saw what was really going on, I looked over to Captain Cousteau, the real oceanic experience expert, and I said, “This isn’t real!” to which he responded, “Shhhh, Don’t tell anybody!”

Suddenly, the entire building flippped, upside-down. End of the second segment. Imagine how much fun I had interpreting this part of my pre-ordination dream with my analyst. I should have run. But as St. Elvis used to intone; Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread. Well, uh huh.

I had my initial sense of the dream’s meaning, and particularly it’s warning. My analyst had his Jungian interpretation, and my monk/spiritual director had his. What sense do you make of it?

Next week, I will share the third piece of the dream, much more domestic, but still a warning.

One more current surprise to share. On Palm Sunday, I drove across the highway to the property the monks own called The Woodlands. It is a green cemetary that has been developed, providing natural burial of bodies as well as placement of cremains. I drove up to a house that serves as the center from which one can borrow an electric cart to make your way to the burial grounds.

Sitting in a cart was an older woman who I initially took to be a greeter. I introduced myself as interested in information about the cemetery. She informed me that she was about to go to her husband’s grave to place a palm branch on it from today’s service. She asked if I woulod like to ride with her. I paused, wondering if I was walking into a Flannery O’Connor story, but then agreed to the adventure.

Off we went on a long ride across a dirt trail, crossing Honey Creek via a gorgeous bridge. There is a steep incline that leads to a magnificent open-air wooden chapel that overlooks a meadow, What a heavenly view! And to top it off, there is a belfrey with a bell that you can ring the old-fashioned way. Way cool.

She then took me to the grave of her husband of 52 years. He had served in the Army and after retiring was ordained as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. He had died two years ago and was buried without a casket, as is the policy of this green cemetery. They mound the grave with dirt, and she placed the palm frond on that mound. Her daughter who died of breast cancer is buried there as well, with her receiving the same gift of a palm frond.

My new friend and I talked for a spell, about her going to Agnes Scott College, witth her husband attending Georgia Tech. That’s how they met. I told her about my love for Scotties, namely Caroline Westerhoff, who was my supervisor in the vocational testing program for ordination in the Diocese of Atlanta. Caroline was bright and sharp, sharing with me her hard truth that she could easily see me as a prophet, but not so sure about a priest. That was hard to hear but I knew that it was spoken out of love for me. That’s why when I was approved to be ordained, I asked my sharp Scottie to preach the sermon…and she did.

So I was surprised by my new friend, buoyed at just the right time by her companionship on a surprising ride to the graveyard, and reconnected to my beloved supervisor who had such a profound impact on my life. I have the rest of Holy Week here in this sacred space. What other surprises await this “old man” boy?

I will get to the last segment of my dream in next week’s article. I hope you enter into the full drama of Holy Week and emerge with a joyous Easter. I know where there’s a bell I am aiming to ring! Blessings.

8 thoughts on “Surprises By The Score

  1. I look forward to these, David. Thanks for taking the time. I also have thought about you (and Mary) through these last couple of weeks; I hope the time is fruitful for both of you. Also, hope you have your computer in shape for tomorrow. The PostScript really is rich (as usual, if its Wieman; the breadth and depth of his thought makes me feel really, really narrow and quite shallow!) Hope to see you mañana. Grace and Peace, Mike M.

    MICHAEL MURRAY (512) 971-0677



  2. THE most compelling “cliff-hanger” EVER!! Even better than Snidely Whiplash tying the damsel to the railroad tracks and “Who shot J.R.!” Even though I “know” how the Easter story “ends,” I’m


  3. I knew Fikes as well. All of us former Southern Baptists who found our way to the graces of another way.
    Blessings on your time at the monastery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Bob. Indeed, the sacramental perspective was what was missing for me. After giving it my best shot at the highest South of God church i knew, Northside Drive Baptist, I went Anglican since I couldn’t fade celibacy, We shared the journey, brother.

      Liked by 1 person

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