(Written in the Spring of 2012.)
I’m writing this not knowing whether or not I will be able to make my Guymon High School 35th class reunion this summer. Guymon Oklahoma is far from Chicago, and Oklahoma City, the gathering spot for the reunion, is not much closer. We’re all grown up these days, if not in mind at least in body and in accumulated responsibilities. Duties, time, money, and the general vagaries of life all come into play in determining the outcome. Then we have to sort, prioritize, plan-a-tize, and all those other “ize” kinds of things. Sometimes I just wish I were closer to home. And that, the general theme of coming home, and coming home from where, is what I would like to present to you here.
The first thing to notice is that I refer to Guymon, OK as home. The home where I now live is in the Chicago metro area. It is indeed “a” home. For my son, who has spent most of his life here, this will be as much “home” for him as Guymon is “home” for me. So, in that sense, Chicago land is sacred ground. Plus, I really like it here. But none of that can alter the fundamental truth for me that Guymon is “my” home. Of course, if I were to go back there today, I would not know too many people (and they would certainly not recognize me). Most of the friends with whom I grew up are gone as well. But that does nothing to keep Guymon from still being “home.” A high school classmate recently wrote me a note on Facebook pointing out that there is an old saying to the effect that while young, one tries to get away from home, only to spend the rest if his or her life trying to get back. “I heard that,” as one might say “back home.”
This all became poignantly clear to me over the past few years. Facebook brought me back into touch with those people and those memories in a way that I could never have imagined a few years earlier when I was globe-trotting. I assumed then that there was only forward motion with no chance to go back. Yet, the oddest thing has happened to me over this time. I have traveled to worlds beyond while at the same time finding myself heading “home” again. Forward motion has come together with what is behind me in a way that has touched me profoundly.
I believe that when that happens, when time comes together into one moment where the past, present, and future collide, we call that eternity. It is the Eternal NOW. I think that this NOW brushed up against me. I did not know what it was. It startled me. Yet, it has left an indelible mark on my soul. Rather, it has bored all the way through my soul like a branding iron to my most hidden chambers. That I write publicly about these things, in effect as one who pens a private diary only to purposely leave it on a bench in a public square, might seem strange, self-centered, imprudent, all the above, or, quite simply, just mad. But the reality is that it seems impossible for me not to do it. Like an energy source, this NOW has a life of its own that at the same time has become the essence of my own life. It is not of me, but it is me, and there is no other way I can explain it. It demands to break out. My joy in living is to let it do so. Plus, I don’t like traveling alone.
It was on July 17, 2006 that the thing happened. I won’t go into the details, as I have written a number of posts about this event. But for those of you who have followed my journeys over the years, you know what that thing was that happened. On that day my life was unalterably altered by the influence of the greatest heroine in the history of France, or of all the world for that matter, Ste. Jeanne d’Arc. I could not possibly recount to you here how all of this happened. You would have to simply read through my material. But my experience that day, and the spiritual journey it brought about in me over what appears to be the rest of my years on earth and then into eternity, forever shook me to my core. Life has not been the same since, nor could it ever be, and I will not rest until I am finally eternally home in the Mystical Kingdom of France with Jeanne d’Arc.
I did something that day, July 17, 2006, that is perhaps the most outrageous, the most daring, the most breathtaking, the most unthinkable thing a person could do. I did what so few people in the modern world have done. This act was an egregious break with modern society. It was the most counter-revolutionary, counter-cultural act a person can make in the modern era. What I did was this. I decided to take the Catholic Church at her word. I decided to accept everything she had to say and to (you might want to pause here for strength) surrender my intellect and will, that is, to submit my intellect and will, to the authority of the Catholic Church. Can you imagine? The audacity! John Lennon’s Revolution was easy. That can be done falling out bed in the morning. You should try the Counter-Revolution. That will make your hair stand on end like a loopty-loop roller-coaster. I went where in the modern world we could almost say, no man goes before us. Modern man will say that he is not foolish enough to do what I did. I will respond that he is not brave enough to do what I did. With shrieks from the general community, I went forward. Into the mist I went.
Why, in heaven or on earth, would I have done that? What causes a man to simply go mad? Well, for starters, I was motivated by the desire to live. The day before, July 16, 2006, I was not far from death and was even closer to insanity. The choices before me on July 16 were: Jail, Asylum, or Coffin. One of those three was going to be my destiny within my near future, probably within a year. Yet, only 24 hours later, on July 17, 2006, I was completely restored by the authority of the King of Heaven Himself.
I then found myself before the Queen of Heaven who gave me one command, and one command only, as a condition for my continued freedom from the chains that had held me bound: “Seek First the Kingdom.” Ste. Jeanne d’Arc, the heavenly Daughter of God who restored the Kingdom of France for Jesus Christ during her temporal life, was to be my constant companion and guide. Why this is so is not as mysterious as it might first sound, but you will need to read my other writings to understand it. Thus, before me in one direction was death, or more likely, insanity just preceding an early death. Before me in the opposite direction was a Kingdom. Which path would I choose? It was up to me. Perhaps this decision was not as difficult as you might have imagined in the beginning. Mad? I was already mad. Been there, done that. “Imagine there’s no heaven, and no religion, too” Mr. Lennon? Sorry. Been there done that, too. That’s what drove me mad.
Crossing through the threshold of the gateway into the Kingdom, I found, as G.K. Chesterton has described it, that the Church was bigger on the inside than on the outside. That is because the Church is not simply an institution; it is not simply a religion; it is not simply a philosophy; nor is it a mere opinion. The Church is a Kingdom. It is a Kingdom that is seen on earth as one sees mountains in the distance from a meadow on a hillside looking through the early morning mist. Something grand is out there, but you just can’t see it all. The actual reality is indeed bigger than the foggy view you have before you. Only when the mist rises can we see the entire panorama. The mist will not fully rise until we die.
Over the past six years, I have been riding through that Kingdom, misty as it might be for me, with my most faithful guide. My goodness. We have battled the Saracen at Tours with Charles Martel, fought Crusades in the Holy Lands, studied philosophy with Thomas Aquinas in Paris, crowned Kings in Rheims, been imprisoned at Rouen, burned at the stake, backed-up to the gates of hell, fought the Protestant and Catholic Wars of Religion, marched alongside general Charette in the armée catholique et royale of the Vendée during the French Revolution, had peaceful retreats in the meadows of France, and once or twice on a sunny day even caught glimpses of those celestial castles. I am happy to argue religion and philosophy with you, but you first have to convince me that you’re having more fun than I am.
Through it all, I became a new man who is still the same man. Note that I did not say that I was a new man who was still the old man, for the new and the old cannot co-exist. New wine in old wineskins will merely split and spoil the new wine. No, I mean I became a new man who is the same man. As Aquinas teaches us, grace builds on nature; it does not destroy nature.
I knew then that my destiny was in a place I like to call “La France Mystique,” or, Mystical France. I had become (brace yourself) medieval-minded. Rather than the ardent Democratic Republican I had been so dogmatically taught to be from my youth, I had become a strong supporter of the Frankish Royalty and of the restoration of the French Monarchy. I have even proposed a Catholic Monarchy for the United States (a real popular concept here, as you can imagine – it should really take off any day now). Why, again, would I do, say, and propose such madness? Well, now, this time, it is not from a sense of desperation; rather, it is from a sense of love. I do and say mad things about my saintly heroine, her kings, her queens, and her land because I have come, through all of these grand adventures, to love this Kingdom with that King, that Queen, and that saintly heroine. I sought the Kingdom as commanded, and that Kingdom is breathtaking.
But still, recently, I could tell that my heart was nevertheless, and simultaneously, sending me home, back home to the much smaller and fantastically less romantic kingdom of Guymon, OK where I grew up and had such wonderful childhood memories. Despite these marvelous adventures in forward motion, I was still, as my facebook friend had warned, trying to get “back home.” Why? And how could I, now that I was destined only for “La France Mystique”?
Then it dawned on me. My saintly heroine was pointing out something to me. My original conversion to the Catholic Church came on the heels of my engagement to my wife, Josey, in my home town. My first introduction to the Queen of Heaven was in the Church of St. Peter’s in my home town. My introduction to Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, the 19th century French Carmelite nun who introduced me to Jeanne d’Arc had occurred in Guymon (or at least from a book found in that Catholic book store in Amarillo we always visited). My trip to France in high school with my classmates, whereby I first saw Jeanne’s statue at the island fortress of Mont-Saint-Michel, took place while I was still in Guymon. I looked back over the many writings I had produced during these recent years. I noted that in my earliest accounts I mention being grounded in the contemplative spirit during my youth while looking out on the high plains that surrounded my home town.
It became obvious. I was new, but I was the same. The seed of the Kingdom had been with me all the time that I was growing up in Guymon. I left that town and those friends, in a temporal sense, only to ride headlong to the gates of hell. I then rode, in a mystical sense, through ancient Christendom with Jeanne d’Arc only to find the Kingdom of Heaven. And I have now come home to my native town and my friends, at least in spirit if not in time and space, only to discover that both home and the Kingdom had been available to me my entire life.
I’m new, but I’m the same. A new man, yet the same man. But NOW a whole man, thanks to the King of this Kingdom, the Queen, and Sainte Jeanne d’Arc with her ever faithful heavenly sister Thérèse. Most importantly though, I am home. Home where both forward meets what is behind in what we might call “the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”
Vive la France Mystique, y’all.