Now here was something I was certain I was not qualified to do. I argued, “I don’t write those kinds of books. I write textbooks and cultural stuff. I would not know how to write something about You or for You.” Why God puts up with my argumentativeness and does not simply wipe me out with the swat of a thought or give up on me, I do not know, but I am grateful for His patience.
The response to my argument was immediate. Against the clouds, I saw a pink-covered book with a moving black pen. “I will guide your pen,” came the response.
Well, here was an interesting dilemma. First, what on earth was I supposed to write? There was not much direction in what I had heard. Second, when on earth was I supposed to do it? I had a job that often required me to put in as many as 60-70 hours a week, a job, I might mention, that God insisted I take and keep. Third, by the time I got to work I was wondering had I really heard what I heard.
It would have been easy perhaps to ignore the vision and Voice, but somehow I could not. I fussed about it for four months, trying to figure out what to do about the tasking and wondering if it was authentic. This was the first time that I felt a definite need for a priest’s interpretation, yet I really did not want to be written off as hopelessly psychotic. I tried to turn to Fr. Barry, at the time just completing an assignment as our interim parish priest at the time (double-hatting with directing the St. Francis Retreat Center). I took RCIA classes with him and over time he has become my de facto spiritual advisor and informal confessor although I generally go to regular confession at Old Mission with one of our parish priests (English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, or Latin Mass -- for a small town, we are rich in that respect). Each time I ran into Fr. Barry, however, when I tried to bring up the topic, but my tongue just would not work. Finally, I sent him the following letter:
Fr. Barry, for some weeks, I have wanted to relate an overwhelming event because I trust your insights and experience. Each time I have tried, however, I have lost my courage. I think the only way around this barrier is to seize a brave moment and describe it in writing. To wit, I spend my 90-minute (roundtrip) daily commute in communication with God, enjoying His presence. Well, one morning I heard, “I gave you the gift of words. Use them for Me.” I argued that I don’t know how to do this kind of writing. In answer, against the clouds I saw a book and a moving quill pen. The Voice said, “I will guide your pen.” I have not known what to make of this. I am not anyone special to entrust with such a task, yet this is not something I would be likely to fantasize since I do not consider myself capable of writing this sort of book, my job does not allow time to write, and logic dominates my thinking. (The latter trait is probably why for 56 years I remained an atheist. My coming to faith is a testament to the remarkable power and loving willingness of God to touch both mind and body.) Since “no” turned out to be an unacceptable response, I have now written 100 pages. My pen has indeed been guided, and this incident, along with others, has introduced me to the concept of submission.
Having learned that such experiences are not typical for all believers, I have told nearly no one. My support has come singularly from God through hours of prayer. I stumbled across St. Thérèse d’Avile’s journals; they have helped me to understand the voice. The medieval mystics’ works also ring true for me, but I am left to my own interpretations.
Do you have insight into this and time to talk to me about it or know someone who does? I am not sure what I need—perhaps confirmation of my sanity or, if I am misinterpreting something, correction. I yearn to know more about such experiences and how to achieve the self-effacing submission that God seems to want. I know there are people who need support just to get through their daily lives and my need is minor, so if there is no help except through what God chooses to tell me, I will cope, confident that in time I will be led to understand what it is that God wants me to understand and the rest is unimportant.
Thank you for reading this, Fr. Barry. I feel better having shared it. Since only sane folk question their sanity, I pray that you will not think I have taken leave of my senses—as I sometimes ask myself.
Fr. Barry called me immediately and grilled me for nearly half an hour. Later, as I became more familiar with Catholic literature, I realized that much of his questioning came straight out of the journals of St. Theresa of Avila. They were the kinds of questions she posed to herself to determine the authenticity of what she had heard. Fr. Barry concluded that the Voice (and tasking) was likely authentic and that I should try to follow through and see what happened. (He also suggested that I not share widely the experience. "It might be best to keep this to yourself," he said. "I don't think you're crazy, but others might." Of course, this has been my concern for quite some time -- until recently when Fr. Kevin from San Jose, with whom I am taking a yearlong contemplative prayer seminar, said that everyone is called to the seventh mansion described by St. Theresa of Avila (which I have not reached and may never reach although I find it desirable, attractive, fascinating, etc.). With those words, Fr. Kevin allayed my fears, and I am starting to feel quite normal now. Yes! :)
As for the tasking, along the way, when I asked for help, as I did on several occasions, the book title popped into my head: Blest Atheist. All along the way, from the day he first told me to treat the tasking as real, Fr. Barry has been available to help, reading my drafts, giving me feedback, encouraging me. Of course, I gave him the very first copy of the book, following publication. (Oddly enough, the color of the book cover is essentially pink.)
And now Blest Atheist has become a blog. That blog led to other blogs, including to this one. Perhaps blogging is more important than the book itself. However, the next book is underway (if I can stop blogging long enough to finish it).
These days I try hard to use my words for God because I know that any talent with words that I might have comes from God and therefore my words belong to Him. Not only am I writing, but the rest of the message -- "on the basis of what you write, speak" -- has started to occur in and of itself. I have been asked to speak at organizations, at chapel sessions, and, surprisingly to my family and friends, have become a catechist.
Fr. Barry told me to write and "see where it takes you." Clearly, it is taking me.