+JMJ+ Welcome to part 6 of the continuing series, Re-Reading the New Age, wherein I reveal probably more than I should. I’ve been debating whether to continue with the Alice Bailey book, Education in the New Age, or to come back to it later and pick up a different book for now, or to continue with the rambling personal story of how I got into the New Age and back out again, which will include mentions of books. Books helped get me into the New Age (you can see some of the ones that got me into it in the image at the top of this post, NOT the miracles book, that came later and I always thought it was dumb and I still do, more about that later*), and books helped me get out of the New Age. I owe their authors a deep debt of gratitude. And I owe the Lord a profound debt that I can never repay. But then He doesn’t ask me to.
I talked about some things in Part 5 that were important to me in my New Age days, and I mentioned a few more at the end of the post, but that’s all, they were bare mentions. I’ll go into more about them now.
Joseph Campbell was hugely important to me during that time. I remember first hearing him and falling in love with his voice and the way he told stories. And he didn’t use notes! A detail like that is still important to me. Oh, how I loathe listening to anyone read a paper he’s written. The only thing worse, I think, is listening to someone read a poem he’s written. And I hate hearing it because I love poetry so much. Unless you’re going to give it a dramatic reading and you can do that sort of thing, just don’t. Spare us, please!
But Joseph Campbell was that rare one who can talk endlessly about his favorite subject and never bore me. He can irritate me when he goes on a tangent about the Church, but he never bores me. And I was listening to him as a happy Buddhist with no idea that one day I would convert to the Church that he had left.
I had a set of tapes (yes, tapes, you ought to realize by now that I’m of a certain age, ahem!) that I would listen to as I drove around New England in a car that I paid $500 for. Well, $495. It was held together by my Guardian Angel, I’m sure of it. There was no radio but the heater worked, which was more than I could say for the car before that one. I bought a CD player and a small portable couple of speakers and I put those in the passenger’s seat (this is before I had dawgs or that would never have worked), and I’d listen to Joseph Campbell’s Transformations of Myth Through Time, over and over and over again until I could say every word with him. I was fascinated and entranced. He was enchanting.
I still remember those days fondly but I know things I didn’t know then, so the glamor has definitely fallen away. I heard him say a few snide or snidish things about Christ or about the Church, but I ignored them. Or I tried to but whenever he or they would start bashing Christ or the Church, I would take up for them, for Christ and the Church, I mean. But it turns out that those little remarks he made, and the way his audience snickered when he did, and my defense against them, began to work on me and broke through a little of my resistance to giving Christianity a fair hearing.
Let me clear here: I never hated Christianity, I never hated Christ, and I never was an atheist. But I did not like a certain kind of platitude-sharing person who maybe meant well but never listened to the questions I asked, and never tried to engage with the issue or with me in any serious way. Let me change that: it’s not that I didn’t like people who did that, I just didn’t like that people did that. Most of the time the people weren’t aware of what they were doing and I can’t really hold that against them. The whole reason I first got into the New Age was that I was trying to understand Christianity and I was looking for answers that I couldn’t find in the Protestantism I grew up with. I graduated high school in 1974 and began searching right away, but I didn’t find the New Age until a few years later. But when I did find it, I plunged into it. I’m not one for half-measures. If I like it, I LIKE it.
But after a few years of searching for answers about Christianity in the New Age, I mostly gave up, though I did keep an ear and an eye open in case anything should come up. I do what most of us probably do: I put a question on hold and move it to the back burner, hoping that one day I’ll find another tantalizing hint or piece of the puzzle, and I’ll pull that question back out when that piece of the puzzle comes along. But until then, I go on to other things.
That’s what happened with my search to understand Christianity: it went to the back burner, it didn’t go away entirely, and every once in a while another clue did come along. I thought esoteric Christianity held promise and I found a few different flavors of it. But after a while I even started rolling my eyes when I heard anyone speak of Christianity because all I ever heard was “You’re not supposed to do that” or “You shouldn’t read that” and it got on my nerves. I didn’t know anything about “custody of the senses” then, beyond what I picked up here and there, and then later in Buddhism. Buddhism got me out of a lot of things I should never have gotten involved with and I think helped prepare me for what I would later discover in Catholicism.
I heard someone say it just now. “See? I told you Catholicism was a bunch of pagan hooey!” No, that’s not what I mean at all. Buddhism helped me give up some things that could have definitely gotten me into trouble later on. It’s a thousand wonders it hadn’t gotten me into trouble already.
I refer, of course, to drugs. Yes, I did drugs. Not the hard stuff, the heroin (ugh, thankfully, I’ve always been terrified of the stuff), crack, meth—NOTHING like that. Shudder! But I did smoke pot and I sold enough to friends to not have to pay for my own. I also did a little coke but thankfully I never had enough money to do much and I only bought it a couple of times. And I did do acid, oh, yes, I did. Oh, the stories I could tell about that! The very first trip I ever had was at a Grateful Dead concert. And I never had a bad experience with it until the last time I did it, and I’m sure that’s because it wasn’t actually acid but something else. I never should’ve trusted that particular friend’s brother. Most unpleasant time. But I was not in any danger of throwing myself off of any balcony or otherwise hurting myself or anyone else. But I never dropped acid again.
But when I got involved with Buddhism I discovered that a practitioner can’t meditate and do drugs. So drugs (which at that point only consisted of occasional weed) went out the window because I wanted to meditate and I wanted to do it right. By this time I was living up North and New Age and Buddhism were on every street corner, even in tiny villages in New Hampshire. I stopped doing any kind of drug (and for the last few decades I would rarely will take so much as an aspirin, though now I have to take it because it’s been prescribed for me), and drove myself to Tail of the Tiger (or its newer name, Karme Choling) monastery/meditation center in Vermont. It was a short drive from where I was living at the time. I asked for someone to teach me to meditate. That was an interesting visit and the first of a few. I don’t know that I ever did learn to meditate but the instructor did tell me that my posture was great. (If she could see me now! I’m bent over like an old woman. Heck, I am an old woman! Do I get to wear purple now?)
So I got free of even a desire for drugs and lived and breathed Buddhism. For a few years. Then I had to come back home to the South and briefly took up smoking weed again. Briefly. A few years later (a few years after I converted) I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis and before you jump to any conclusions—or is it already too late?—it is not caused by smoking. It’s more of a genetic thing. It’s aggravated by smoke but not caused by it. I did not give it to myself, I did not get what I deserved for smoking, and remarks like those used to bother me. Now I accept that usually no one knows what the heck sarcoidosis is (even the doctors and nurses I’ve had in the hospitals) and everybody and their brother has an opinion on everything whether they know anything about it or not, so I’m used to it. I let it slide off of me like water off of Miss Lucy Dawg with her amazing many-colored water-resistant coat. I’ve learned over the years to pick my battles, or at least, better than I used to do. (Yes, I am a Joni Mitchell fan.)
So I came back home, found a tiny hole-in-the-wall Catholic bookstore, explored it so I could tell my best friend, ended up working there but with no intention of converting, got into an awful argument with said best friend because she said I should convert, and I was offended in the extreme. The catechism came out about this time and my friend was going to take a class over the summer. She didn’t have any idea that I would be interested. But I started thinking about all of those Joseph Campbell talks and how I had defended Christ and the Church, and the fact that I had been collecting religions for many years at this point. So, I decided, what was one more? I would attend and take notes and add another religion to my collection. No biggie.
But it was a biggie. The book itself was a…revelation. (Sorry, not sorry, had to do it.) But the classes—marvelous! The facilitator hurt her foot or leg, I forget which, bless her heart, and the priest allowed us to talk him into taking one session. And after that session we all begged him to take over the whole thing. He came from Ireland, and an Ireland that, when he left it, had still been Catholic. It was glorious. He made it all come alive. I still want to cry every time I think about the fact that I have never had the opportunity to live in a truly Catholic culture. I have to settle for glimpses of it in film and books, and in stories told by those who can still remember, who are still with us.
Now don’t you go thinking it was all easy peasy and that I never put up any roadblocks or defenses. I did. I even left the Church for a year, maybe two. I tried to return to my old ways. I was going to be an astrologer, I’m not kidding. That’s what I was going to be before I converted and I was going to go live the dream. Or nightmare. I even went to an astrology conference in a far away town that was filled with New Agers.
But I couldn’t do it. And the closer I got to home, the more I longed to be back in the Church. I stopped in one town and bought a Rosary and a prayer book. I stopped in another and bought a Bible, another and bought a Catechism. And I began studying in the motels and praying in the car and when I finally got back home, I was ready to go back to Holy Church.
I arrived home the first weekend of October. Soon went to confession. Asked if I should burn my New Age books. Fr. M. told me to throw them away instead. I took them all to a dumpster and tossed them. Tarot cards, expensive astrology software, books—threw it all in. Went to Mass the next Tuesday. October 7. The feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. I wept. I’m tearing up now remembering it.
I had been studying the faith for years. But this occasion marked the moment I decided to study in earnest, and with prayer, and to do more. Within a year I sponsored a friend in what was supposed to be RCIA (I’ve written about that here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, so don’t get me started), participated in a local pro-life prayer group (we’ve all gone our separate ways now but I miss them all), joined the 40 Days for Life people out on the sidewalk in prayer vigils to end abortion, and started the blog with no clear idea what I was going to do with it, I only knew I had to do something. But like I always say, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly and before you figure out what the heck you’re trying to do, anyway. (I think I
stole borrowed that from someone, but I added my own sumpin to it.)
That’s it for now. If you’re still interested in any of my story, or want to ask me anything, drop it in the comments below or email me using the contact form. If it’s not too incredibly personal, who knows, I just might answer.
Thank you for visiting and reading. I hope you’ll join me again. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy. May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+
Notes and Links
- Since the links occur near the end of this post, I’m not going to repeat them here.
- *I was going to write about A Course In Miracles tonight, but decided not to after I’d already gotten quite a bit written. I’ll use it another time. I do want to talk about it. It’s fooled too many people not to address it.
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