Houses of My Consciousness
Waking from Religion to Spirit
No one expects a miracle standing at the kitchen sink. It’s a place of transformation, yes: dishes go from soiled to sparkling,
glasses from smudged to clear. But who could imagine that more would arise out of soapy water and fleeting thoughts? Not I.
Perhaps it was the trance of my watery ritual that took my mind from its hopscotching ways and opened another door. Perhaps it was the rising majesty of the
out my window— crowned with snow and sunlight—that let a miracle slip in. Boise Mountains
I only know that in the simple act of lifting and rinsing my plate, I heard a voice. It came from within, but so quietly clear that I almost turned to look over my shoulder. I had heard this voice in years past and followed its guidance without regret. But this time, I didn’t like the message.
It’s easier to negate a message you don’t like. Nothing rises up from inside you to greet or bless it. There’s no urge to note it in your journal. It’s the bud of a flower you don’t want in your garden.
To understand my response to this message, you’d have to be reading the end of this book instead of the beginning. Or … have a history similar to mine: born into a religious system that with all good intentions, misrepresented God, Life, and Love. And if, like me, you had first given your life to this system, and then left it in order to be whole, you would know why I turned away from these words, “Go to Cathy’s church.”
“Cathy’s church”—it wasn’t even hers anymore. She was long gone to
, and in the years she’d been my next door neighbor, I’d declined all invitations to go with her. It was good for Cathy. That I could see. Her beloved pastor, George, was obviously a fount of inspiration for her. And I could also see that this church was vastly different from the one of my lineage. Still, it hadn’t appealed to me then nor did it appeal to me now. I had the same lack of response to the voice as I’d had to Cathy: no need and no desire. Begin reenacting the decades of obligatory Sunday morning rituals? Give up the quiet, delicious joy of solitude that had replaced those rituals? No. Arizona
It had been seventeen years since I’d been to church. In my youth I’d lived in the parsonage because my grandfather, who was the minister, lived with us. In my adulthood, I’d lived in the parsonage because I married a ministerial student. Now, in my eighties, and with my spiritual freedom still relatively new to me, there was no longer a steeple on the landscape of my life. Church had slowly faded—a curled up Polaroid of something I had once lived for, but whose heart no longer lived in me.
And so, on this late winter morning, I let this message go past me like a stranger who had stopped by my house, offered some advice I didn’t need, and walked on. The voice itself I chalked up to an old tape impersonating guidance. Besides, I realized with reassuring finality, I did go to Cathy’s church once to see a film and had even met George. “Thanks anyway,” I said to the voice, “but I’ve already been.”
I considered the conversation, such as it was, to be complete. Yet across the next few weeks, the voice returned in another form: an inner, recurring impression to go to Cathy’s church. These feelings weren’t as resolute as the voice itself had been, but they didn’t disappear either. Nor did my response.
Weeks later, in looking over a stack of mail I’d set aside for that infamous “second glance,” I came across a small magazine still in its plastic wrapping. Inside was a series of inspirational thoughts—one for each day of the month. The first I read out of curiosity, the rest out of immense satisfaction. Before I knew it, I’d read a week’s worth and a few days later, did the same. Having now reached the middle of the booklet, I found to my surprise, a list of churches affiliated with the magazine. This was a church magazine? “Science of Mind,” it said. I looked to see if there was a local congregation, my eyes scanning the list for Boise. There it was, and with it something else: the address where I’d gone to see the film with Cathy. The pastor’s name was listed as George Dashiell. Stunned, I flipped back to the cover to verify the name of these churches. Yes, “Science of Mind.” But Cathy had always called it “Center for Spiritual Living.” I had never made the connection—until now. Direction stirred in me again, although now it could not be mistaken for an old recording. Nor could I dismiss it.
Still I hesitated. A couple of weeks went by before I got up one Sunday morning, not to the quiet rejoicing of another day of life, another Sunday morning spent alone, but to the odd and deeply familiar nudge to get ready for church. My only motivation was simply this: to pay my respects to the voice, and to see what this was all about. Underneath that motivation, was another: to comply with the voice so that I could get back to my churchless ways.
I arrived to a parking lot completely full of cars, and not one stray soul in sight to consult about alternate parking. I did try the high school parking lot across the street, but was stopped by a sturdy rope across the entry and a menacing sign that read, “No Parking! Cars will be towed!” I hardly needed the admonition. I really didn’t want to go anyway.
“Well,” I said to myself and to the voice at the same time, “I tried.” I felt no triumph, but did ride home in a quasi-state of relief. Maybe the whole thing was just about willingness, a demonstration of openness to a different experience of church than the one still branded on my heart.
As I pulled into the garage, I remembered that I needed to call my son-in-law, Jerry, about reserving a plane ticket for me. Once inside, I dialed the number that was imprinted on my brain from years of continuous use.
“Hello,” an unfamiliar voice said. It was the gentle voice of an older man.
“Oh,” I replied. “I must have the wrong number.”
“This is George,” he said.
“I’m sorry, George. I dialed the wrong number.”
“Oh I see. Goodbye.”
I stood paralyzed with the phone in my hand. Who gives their name in response to a wrong number? Then I noticed exactly where I was standing: in the kitchen, staring out the window at the Boise Mountains. The snow was almost gone.
The following week was Palm Sunday. “At least it will be celebratory,” I told myself as I dressed for church. My curiosity, I noted, had begun to change places with my reluctance. All week that gentle voice on the phone had come to me when least expected: “This is George.” As if the voice that had begun within me calling me to Cathy’s church was now echoing back from the outer world. I easily found a parking spot this time, and as I got out of my car, I noticed another person walking toward the door from the opposite direction. It was George. I slackened my step so as not to encounter him, waiting until he got inside the church before I entered.
Inside, over the shoulder of the greeter, I saw a perplexing sight: a crowd gathered around George, waiting to hug him. Surely this wasn’t a weekly ritual. The usher seated me toward the front, and as the service started, I noticed that George, too, was taking a seat in the pulsing, warm life of the congregation. My confusion cleared as a vibrant woman introduced herself as Pastor Jackie. She welcomed everyone, but gave a special greeting to George, the visiting former pastor.
Sitting in that place I had resisted for so many weeks, I felt that George had come this particular Sunday, not only to see all the people who loved him so dearly, but perhaps just as much for someone he didn’t know. His presence was an unmistakable and living confirmation of the direction I’d been given.
In this state, I opened my heart to the music and to Jackie’s message. Her lively, passionate words resonated deeply with all I’d been learning for the last many years. Never had the experience of church so fed and vitalized me, so reflected my inner spirit. Never had it met me on the edge of my wending path and beckoned me forward. In the last many years, I had been personally and spiritually transformed. Perhaps now it was time to transform my experience of church.
And so, without making it an obligation, I began attending the Center for Spiritual Living in Boise, Idaho. And every time I went, I left feeling uplifted and renewed. For the first time in my life, I could say that I loved going to church; but even more importantly, I loved how it affected my daily life, supporting me to be more open to the presence of God in all things. Some would say that is enough. Some would say the mystery had been resolved. But inside, I knew there was another reason for the voice, the perfect wrong number, and that one moment alone in the parking lot with George.
I had no idea what the reason was, but I did know this: it would be revealed. As long as I kept following guidance, there’s no chance I would miss it.
When I was a child, I had a friend who lived in an abandoned cottage not far from where we lived. Others would have automatically labeled him “imaginary,” but to me he was real—whether a product of my creative mind or the actual presence of a spirit, I cannot say. One day, in an unguarded moment, I’d told my mother about my friend, informing her that he was on a trip to Europe. I still remember the spot in our house where I stood before my seated, stern mother while she lectured me on the sin of lying. After that, my friend did not exist for me. His name was “Uncle George.”
Without needing to explain or understand this, it’s no coincidence that the name George had once again come into my life, creating an experience that some people, just like my mother, would disbelieve. But this time, there was no stern parent to deter me from my reality—without or within.
It has taken me eighty-eight years to come to this place of guidance and grace, of freedom and increasing peace. This book is the story of that late-blooming, but ever-moving transformation. It will lead you one-by-one through the houses in which I’ve lived, those outer places wherein my inner life found its ultimate home. I call them “houses of my consciousness.”
By the end of this story, I trust we will both understand why the voice of Spirit said to me one snow-capped, March morning, “Go to Cathy’s church.”