So you'd think that having experienced the glory of God's light at age 9, I might have thought more about this, asked some questions, maybe even read a book. Of course, they did not have the "Children's Bible" available then, with those wondrous stick figures with the ping-pong ball eyes. I would have liked the illustration where Balam's ass skids to a halt, having seen the angel in the road; of course, Balam, being the ass that HE is, doesn't see the angel. Classic confrontation between mystery and blindness.
But, no--like Mary, I "treasured these things" in my heart, because I had no one to explain them to me. And that's not a complaint! My parents, bless them, taught me to see beauty; care for the worlds' unfortunate; get angry over injustice; and work for peace. They were Christians in practice, if not in belief.
To continue the story. Can sheer beauty bring us to God? Even if you are not using the "G" word? I think it can, in its way. I continued to grow, a frizzy-haired, wide-eyed snip of a girl, desperate to be liked and to be like other girls in our rural, New England town. This was a vain wish, given my parents' radical politics and my having a mother who wore jeans (in the 50's) and read Colette. I painted pictures inside, did linoleum cuts, read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books with my mom (shivering under the comforter as she read the dramatic "The Long Winter"), and learned about the power of words. Mom pointed out the drying thistles in our overgrown field, and how graceful were the weeds against the sky. I think the word "grace" in the longer word sank into the my inner soil. She even pointed out the beauty in a dead starling, which she kept in the freezer for several weeks so that she could properly draw it. I saw nothing odd in this, although I did not know anyone else who had a dead bird in the freezer.
Things were being laid down, like stout beams under a floor: "beauty is not always what you think. Dead weeds are as beautiful as living flowers. Art has to do with more than appearances."
One other supporting beam in seeing the world infused with beauty was the constant presence of music in our house. My dad had eclectic tastes which ranged from Jazz, to Baroque Music, to Beethoven's Quartets, Debussy, Ravel, Bartok's quartets, and more. I think I drew the line at Shostakovitch and still do. At any rate, walking through our house was like being accompanied by a cloud of little notes hovering about ones shoulders.
So I grew, contained and held up by the beauty of nature and music and the love of my family. It wasn't until I reached 7th grade that I again had what I would call a clear "otherworldly" experience, or a meeting with the Divine. In the days I attended Middle School, we still had Religious Education. (Gasp! Say it ain't so!) The Catholics would go to "their" place, somewhere down the road (I had no idea I would later convert to Catholicism), and we Protestants went to the huge white church with the steeple. A collection of rather talkative, twitchy adolescents proceeded to sit down with our new minister who talked to us about the Psalms (what were THEY?) and the Lord's Prayer. (Say, what?) I memorized the Our Father, and for reasons I have never clearly understood, I began to say it at night when I got into bed. Did I need extra comfort? Had some early sexual abuse and the shock of a gun accident at age 7 made me more open to Divine comfort? I don't know. What I do know is this, and I know it as strongly as I see my fingers typing these lines: When I prayed, I felt as if a warm blanket had settled over my body. My heart expanded and felt warm. All of my body, all of my limbs were enfolded with warmth. My heart slowed.
This prayer time was almost like a secret, something I never told anyone about, as if I were somehow sneaking my dad's whiskey into my room and taking nips. I prayed. And felt an answer. And was reassured in a way so deep that to this day I can feel myself back in that bed, with the words of the Our Father floating over me, and the Father himself holding me in his arms.
I lie. I do understand it now, the impulse for this prayer. Rohr, my favorite radical Franciscan priest, has said (and St. Paul says this as well) that when we pray, the Holy Spirit is already at work in us, moving through us, praying with "sighs too deep for words." In a strange way, prayer is almost God talking to Himself/Herself--through us.
A mystery. A wonder. I was learning about God through my experience: She was in music, in the dead weeds, in the dry apple trunks, and in an invisible blanket which covered me with love each night.