Gospel & Universe
Beyond Whose Bourne
This page explores a bittersweet dream in which I saw the Christianity of my sister wave a friendly goodbye from the roof of a bus
Wheels - Mudroom of the Psyche - Waving Goodbye - The Garden of Paradise
It’s easy to dismiss the religious experience of other people — to see it as merely the product of brain chemistry, early indoctrination, self-fulfilling prophecy, the placebo effect, the fear of meaninglessness, the fear of death, etc. Yet we’re less eager to explain away our own experience as hormone-driven, indoctrinated, or self-induced.
Experience is the stuff of our being, and as a result it can be more convincing than logic and reason. Moreover, the intellect isn't some foreign thing: it comes from the brain, which is intimately connected to the body and to our feelings in a billion subtle ways. The brain-body complex brings together the extraordinarily diverse and powerful flows — of sensation, perception, feeling, thought, memory, fantasy, fear, and hope — that constitute our state of being.
In Ontology Precedes Epistemology I argue that experience is often more powerful than reason in determining our belief system. A dream I had last night is a case in point.
Despite my rational tendencies, this dream made me question — again, and in a different way — the rational things I’ve written on this website. It made me wonder if maybe I’m missing something by rejecting Christianity. Perhaps the train is in the station, ready to take me to Salvation. Meanwhile, I examine the schedule, doubting its authenticity. I wonder if the station itself isn't on the other side of town. Or perhaps this town has no train station. Perhaps I should be looking for a bus.
While this dream was not shocking or overwhelming in any way, it was my dream, and not the dream of someone else. Mine. And because it was mine, it influences me more personally than the arguments of other people, from Sartre to C.S. Lewis. It makes me question my skepticism more than the reality of the existential world or the reverberations of Sunday school doctrine. The dream has more effect on me than Pascal’s threatening logic — the one that goes, If God doesn’t exist, you lose nothing by believing in Him; if God does exist, you lose everything by not believing in Him (see The Cosmic Casino). Indeed, perhaps the reason it makes me question my skepticism is that it wasn’t a threatening or coercive argument. Rather, it was a simple experience, tinged with sadness and love.
The dream started in the dining room of our house in Calgary. It ended with my sister waving at me from the top of a bus (or a train, I couldn’t tell) on a road that cut through deep green hills.
It started with my dad in the dining room. Once vigorous, almost military in his 8 AM Saturday morning clarity, in my dream he was no longer able to direct the troops. He could no longer get us to mow the lawn and weed the garden, and do all the other chores that seemed so important to him, but to us just seemed like his way of wrecking Saturday morning.
I left him in the dining room, mumbling something that I can’t remember. I went to the mudroom in search of whatever it was the dream was about.
I should explain that my dad died several months ago, after a long slide into complete dementia. Most probably, this descent from sanity was the reason he sat at the head of the table in the dining room, bereft of all direction.
While I still have no desire to weed the garden or plant begonias (whatever those are), I wish he could still marshal the troops into the backyard. I can almost hear him whistling seventy-six trombones lead the big parade, his favourite marching tune.
Here are two photos taken in Edmonton, circa 1963. In the second photo, my father’s trying to get me interested in trimming a tree. Although I appear to be concentrating on my task, I suspect that I was just trying to figure out how to get back on my tricycle.
The relation with my father may seem to have nothing to do with my argument about belief systems and agnosticism. Yet it has everything to do with the experience of dreams, which is mysteriously connected to the experience of our waking selves. Dreams draw currents from deep inside us. These currents blend with currents that flow from elsewhere, from outside of us. The mix of these currents contours our thoughts and feelings, and plays a part in sculpting our beliefs.
Mudroom of the Psyche
I left my father and headed to the mudroom.
The mudroom is the one room in the house that no one probably thinks much about. Yet this almost forgotten space speaks more to me now than the volumes of the adjacent den, with its shag rug and its loud, all-important TV. Perhaps it’s because the TV was omnipotent (transfixing our thoughts every evening) and omnipresent (in all dens at the same time, everywhere saying the same thing to everyone) that it doesn't have much to say about our family in particular.
Mute and almost invisible, the mudroom has more to say.
In my dream I don’t remember what it was that I was searching for in the mudroom. Perhaps something I needed for the upcoming journey to find whatever it was the dream was about. Perhaps I was just going to the bathroom, which our parents always encouraged us to do before getting into the car. This makes a certain amount of sense spatially, since the bathroom was in the mudroom, and the door to the mudroom was next to the door to the garage.
The mudroom was composed of three rooms: a washroom (the only one on the main floor); a closet with baseball gear and jackets hanging from pegs; and the larger main room, with a washer and dryer. Across from the washer and dryer was a white wooden bench, set sturdily into the side wall of the closet, the back wall of the mudroom, and the exterior wall of the house.
I remember this bench because it was here that we were spanked. Pants down. Slap, slap, slap.
I should note that my parents weren't abusive, unless you think spanking’s abusive. My parents were very caring, yet they had to raise four children who listened to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. You say you want a revolution. Get off of my cloud.
It was also on this white wooden bench that my sister was forced to swallow pieces of banana. My parents made her do this so that she would be able to swallow her vitamins. Whether this really happened in the mudroom, or whether I’m superimposing one event on another location, I’m not completely sure. In any case, this forced banana-eating was unacceptable to me. But then again I didn’t believe in taking vitamins. Certainly not in training to take vitamins. And certainly not in being forced to eat bits of bananas in the mudroom.
The mudroom was also the location of a brief episode involving our housekeeper (who was kneeling in front of the dryer) and a towel that slipped from my waist. I was about fourteen; she was about thirty-five. I recall that I had come downstairs in search of my jock-strap, which I needed for karate class that night. She searched among the dry laundry, and handed it to me. I picked up my towel and went upstairs. This episode — its mix of practicality, innocence, and eroticism — adds a partly submerged current to the memory currents that the space of the mudroom may represent in my dream.
Or perhaps my dream-mind went to the mudroom because it was the source of potential danger. Next to the dryer was the side door of our house, and this door was often unlocked. One evening a neighbourhood punk came into our house through this door. I still remember the feeling: He was in our house!
The mudroom represents a number of things: the lifting of jackets and baseball gloves from hooks, hurried trips to the bathroom before scrambling into the car, the rumbling of laundry, spankings and bananas, the falling of towels, and danger.
I've perhaps lingered too long on the mudroom, especially since I don't know what it means. Perhaps Dr. Freud could tell me. But it’s worth mentioning precisely because I don’t know what it means. It remains connected to the subterranean currents of what makes us who we are — tangled networks of experience, daily chores, expectations, sports, rules, punishments, sexuality, fear, etc.
In my dream, I went purposely to the mudroom, to find what — or to do what — I don’t know. I then brought this whatever the mudroom meant with me to the garage, or at least in the direction of the garage.
The garage was the location most connected to exploration and adventure. Initially, it contained my tricycle, and then my bicycle. Later, it harboured my bright green Suzuki 90, the ultimate freedom machine of my adolescence. It also housed our cars — from the '67 Plymouth Fury with its sparkling cherry paint to the '75 Dodge Monaco with its enormous engine and its third row of seats facing backwards. The garage had an electric door that lifted up the horizon of the world.
The details of my movement toward the garage are unclear, yet my goal was to get out of the house, and then go somewhere to find something. I had no idea what. Whatever it was, I left the mudroom and was transported out the garage in search of it.
My sister is presently taking a course on Colossians, the twelfth book of the New Testament. At 8:00 AM (while I'm still sleeping, perchance dreaming) she’s sitting in the auditorium up the hill at Regent's College. This is the same small college I used to have coffee in while I was up at UBC doing my Ph.D. I'd stroll for hours through the small, choice library, picking up books on religion: Frye’s Fearful Symmetry, Eliade’s History of Religions, O’Flaherty’s Shiva: the Erotic Ascetic, Snorri’s Poetic Edda, and McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible. My sister once told me that she thought Moses wrote the Old Testament. I was shocked.
Meanwhile I’m sleeping, dreaming perhaps of the things I'd been thinking of in the last day or two — how I'm going to rework my story about Moses in The Confused Astronomers of Babylon. What if Moses really lived in Babylon? What if he didn't? What if he dragged his tribes and their golden calf across the desert? What if the waters really parted to let him pass? What if he never lived at all? All of a sudden I'm dreaming about the dining room and my dad, the mudroom, the garage, and riding a train (or a bus) out from the city.
I was now outside the city, in green curving hills, waiting for the train (or the bus) to come by. I was standing on the side of a dirt road (or a highway) when it loomed in the distance, my sister aboard. I flung a huge cowboy loop, with a giant invisible lasso, to help her carriage navigate the curve of the green foothills.
In my arcing, slingshot motion I switched the oncoming carriage onto a second path. My sister careened by me on a parallel road.
It all happened so fast, I didn’t even think of hopping on board.
My sister waved a friendly Hello! from the roof of the bus. Or was it a Goodbye?
I stood on the side of the road, wondering.
The Garden of Paradise
Wherever I am
in an afterlife of green leaves or barren plain
I'll stretch out my hand to my sister
and together we'll talk and laugh
wandering through a 7-acre orchard
with a dozen types of apple tree
or make our way
past scorching empty stretches
to wadi and Bedouin song
I'm certain that if there's an afterlife
I'll stretch out my hand
yet if the doctrine’s true
she won't be allowed to do the same
I imagine her turning her face away
from the clanging iron gate
and hiding her tears in the effulgent Light
Next: Canticle to the Stars