The Dream of the Visitation

Let me share with you a dream I had not long ago:

As I gazed at the night sky, I beheld the constellation of the Tauroctany and marveled at the sight. When I turned my gaze below to survey my surroundings, I understood that I was all alone in a dense forest. All was still and no creature in the forest made a sound until, all of a sudden, I heard in the distance a number of voices chanting the Hymn. The familiar voices grew louder and louder until at last they were upon me and I beheld, with difficulty, the faces of the Friends I had seen many times before, though always with great difficulty that demanded an intensity of concentration that existed only at the very limits of my natural faculties.

The Friends announced to me that they were arriving in the very place where I found myself on that night. When I told them that I had already seen this encounter in my mind, the Friends marveled and declared to me that they possessed no power to see or perceive events they had not yet experienced. Then, we shared greetings and offered each other titles of honor and recognition. Once this was finished, I sat upon a faldstool and recited the words of a ritual to solemnize our encounter. After this, I attempted to offer formal words of explanation and encouragement, but my thoughts were too muddled by the overwhelming joy of the occasion. And so instead of a proper discourse, I simply chose to tell the Friends the story of my own life that led me to that place of encounter on that dark night in a dense forest. I made known to them that on many occasions I nearly gave up on myself and the world because I felt too small, insignificant, and weak. Their presence and kindness on that night made all the difficulties, doubts, and despair of my entire life seem as so much dust, for the promise made long ago was a promise fulfilled in that moment and a promise that would be defended and vouched safe unto endless aeons.

The Friends thanked me for my words and then revealed to me that they had been with me on many occasions from my childhood even unto manhood. (I could not understand if their presence on that night and in the past was a personal, physical presence or a spiritual, technological presence.)

As I prepared to wander through the forest back to my home where Dante the Little Man awaited me, I was told that a child wished to greet me. The child was shy and embarrassed — much as I was as a small child many years ago — and the leader of the embassy of Friends informed me that the child was an orphan and was dying of a terrible sickness for which there could be no cure or remedy. The child told me that she was afraid to die and asked me what awaited her after death. In that moment I began to sob, as I had no honest and useful thing to tell her and, naturally, I refused to lie or recite empty platitudes to this dying child, who at last approached me and embraced me in an effort to stop my tears.

It was a suffering and dying child who consoled me when I was overcome by sorrow and felt useless before the mystery of suffering and impermanence.

The leader of the Friends then revealed to me that just as my own world into which they had come was a place of war, aggression, violence, hatred, sickness, and death, so would there always be wars and dying children among every community of beings throughout the Universe. However, the Spiritual Family that came into existence at the occasion of Contact between Earth Humans and the Visitor Friends would become an invincible power scattered among the stars and stretching to every corner of the Universe. Those beings once known as the People of War and the Avenging Gods would become a Spiritual Family, known throughout the Universe as the People of the Great Heart. Though worlds and civilizations and stars might pass away, this Family would always endure.

I gave thanks for this teaching and the Friends departed.

[Regarding dreams: I’ve found that the meaning I extract from my dreams changes and evolves, especially in the case of recurring dreams. Sometimes the benefit of experience or reflection sheds light on aspects that were obscured previously. His dictis, dreams are just dreams. They are entirely and only what we make of them.]

~BT Waldbillig
September 26, 2017

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Wrathful Warriors and Compassionate Companions

I must have been 22 or 23 when I mentioned to my mother that I was curious to learn something about Mandarin and so I had bought an introductory book and cassette tape. I didn’t presume that I could study the language in a serious way on my own but I thought I might at least begin to get an idea around the structures, inflections, and the like that make the language so utterly alien to the languages I had already studied in school and seminary. My mother exclaimed in response, “Red China! Why on Earth would you want to learn their language?”

What a difference a generation can make. My parents’ generation was conditioned to perceive and relate to the world in a way that seemed to me even in my youth as closed, fearful, and insecure. Naturally, like the better elements of the Boomer Generation, my parents no longer uncritically accept the social narratives forced upon them like a brittle, lifeless catechism that inspires only fear of Hell and not love of God and fellow man.

While I have yet to undertake a serious study of Mandarin, it strikes me that my own beloved homeland, the United States, and that most ancient of lands, China, find themselves in extraordinarily similar crises today. Both are being crushed under the weight of a generation’s failure to live up to the lofty ideals and impossible expectations of their respective founders.

I remember well from my time at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome the refrain of Professor Renato De Zan, who taught liturgical textual criticism: “When we speak of the development of liturgical texts, there is always continuity and discontinuity.” While most of my friends didn’t care for Fr. De Zan’s course, I thought it was the single most important and valuable class at what is considered the finest liturgical studies graduate program in the world.

Continuity and discontinuity.

Fr. De Zan was referring to the creation, evolution, mutation, and deliberate development of the ritual texts that frame the spiritual lives of hundreds of millions of Christians, myself included. While even devout believers pay little attention to the words of the liturgy, every word — at least in the Latin editio typica — is chosen and used with intention and possesses a literary-spiritual potency that theologians call sacramentality, which is to say that the words aren’t just words. They’re transformative actions. The deliberate, ritual speaking (or chanting) of the words brings into existence and makes present that reality the words point toward.

It’s the sort of thing that those powerful world leaders who drone on bombastically at the UN General Assembly hall and the devoted, over-achieving diplomats who labor without recognition at Foggy Bottom could learn from. Perhaps more than they can even imagine.

Continuity and discontinuity.

My Latin professor in Rome, the famous (or infamous!) Fr. Reginald Foster, used to declare that when he looked at his surroundings at the Apostolic Palace where he worked his day job as chief Latinist to the Pope — teaching Latin courses to barely above-average students like me was something he did on his own time — he was quite sure that Our Blessed Lord and St. Peter wouldn’t recognize the finely dressed, fat prelates who supposedly act in God’s name here on Earth. Reggie, as most of us affectionately called him, said things like this, in part, to annoy the many clerical climbers who desperately hoped to one day be finely dressed, fat prelates with power to lord over others. But Reggie had a point, and even as someone who was part of the ecclesiastical “machine” I whole-heartedly agreed with him in my youth and still do today.

There are many young people — tens of millions, actually — in the US and China who think on the revolutionary principles of those radical political actors who founded their respective nations and feel disappointed, if not disgusted, at the ensconced generation of political and economic leaders. Some of them are truly lousy human beings, but most are simply mediocre. They would have been out of place in revolutionary days. Surely they would have kept their distance from those radical men and women who risked everything for the sake of dreams that could change the world and give birth to peoples of great vision and even greater hearts.

Someone once said to me, “It’s easier to save the world than to fix the world.” When I look to the older generation of our world’s political and spiritual leaders, I’m not so much disappointed as sad. Truth be told, they weren’t up to the challenges of the age, though many tried and continue to do what they can in the hope of at least ensuring there’s a world to pass on to their children’s children.

It’s these young people, the generations following my own, that I once saw in a dream. They were not tepid, weak, shallow, and fearful — as the more self-important of their elders too often and too insistently declare. Instead, they appeared to me as a mighty horde of fearless warriors, as terrible in their wrath toward the enemy as they were beautiful in their compassion for one another. In the dream I was all alone in an empty place of endless night, but in the final moment when it seemed that despair would crush my bones and annihilate my spirit, they appeared: an endless stream of warriors who were to me both Friends and Family. And that was just the beginning of the dream.

Naturally, dreams are just dreams. Still, when Dante and I take our walks through Washington Heights, Harlem, and the Bronx, I see those warriors. I see them in my nieces and nephew back in the Midwest. I saw them in the undergrads at The New School when I was working on my master’s degree just a few years ago. They’re at the skate park, behind the counter at McDonald’s, and lingering at the basketball courts in Highbridge Park. They’re everywhere. And this world is just as important to them as it is to me.

Continuity and discontinuity.

Not “continuity or discontinuity”, as many of those who are soon to exit the places of power mistakenly thought in the folly of a reactionary youth.

All this makes me think on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares from the Gospel. You’ll remember that both the enemies and the servants of the Righteous Farmer thought that if the crop in the field was not pristine, it must be ruined. But the Righteous Farmer knew that there was another way. How surprised both the enemies of the Farmer as well as his servants were at harvest when the reapers did the impossible. They saved the crop and the farm and the Farmer’s entire family.

I’m not a betting man, but if I were I’d bet that the future yet to appear in this world will be even more wondrous than any marvels beheld in a dream.

[Regarding dreams: I’ve found that the meaning I extract from my dreams changes and evolves, especially in the case of recurring dreams. Sometimes the benefit of experience or reflection sheds light on aspects that were obscured previously. His dictis, dreams are just dreams. They are entirely and only what we make of them.]

~BT Waldbillig
September 24, 2017

Toward a Universal Pictogram

First in intention
Last in execution

In order to create a peaceful, useful, and beneficial path to an eventual Contact with an alien civilization, it is necessary to carefully, deliberately, and judiciously discern our intentions, which are almost always mixed and complex in ways we fail to recognize.

From a noble and compassionate intention
A worthwhile path will arise

Alas, many of the institutions we choose to submit to are not governed by upright intentions, though they are serviced by propaganda machines skillfully designed to enslave good and honest people by means of fear, hatred, and delusion.

If we are to make lasting and positive decisions in the one moment that matters most, we will do well to withdraw our collective assent from any mechanism of governance that does not serve our noble and worthwhile intention. In former ages, Christian bishops formalized and sanctioned this seeming act of disobedience to lawful authority by deposing civil authorities who persisted in directing their lawful subjects and subordinates to commit wicked deeds that harmed the common good. In so doing, citizens and subjects could refuse and oppose putative authorities with clear conscience.

Today, you and I do well to remember that the power and authority by which some few govern us reside uniquely in our common act of the will that freely offers consent. Without our free and express consent no one has any right to lead, direct, govern, command, tax, or regulate any aspect of our lives. The wickedness of the powerful of this world need not lead to our lasting misfortune simply because they control our public institutions and bureaucracies.

Sixty years ago Blessed Pope Paul VI saw that the world was at the threshold of a new and mysterious reality that would either transform us or destroy us. His novus habitus mentis was meant not simply for the Roman Church as it miserably stumbled through the cultural and social upheaval of the second half of the twentieth century.

The novus habitus mentis was always intended to serve and save the entire world, above all on the occasion of Contact with an alien civilization when, as Papa Montini understood too well, the old ways of thinking and acting would necessarily fail us.

UniversalPictogramFirstContactRevision

Qui potest capere capiat.

~BT Waldbillig
September 16, 2017

Image above: “Universal Pictogram” by BT Waldbillig, 2017.

The Summoning

 

When the Maiden ceased her laughter
And the Wolf Pup sat at his feet

The Forest Boy held high his rod
And silence fell upon the meadow

Where the tall grass and yellow flowers
Keep watch with the sparrows

And a single tear dropped from his cheek
As stars sometimes fall from the heavens

Only then could the Forest Boy
Lay down the rod and put aside all sadness

Yet faster than a mighty stag the Pup
Seized the rod and swiftly made his way

Through the meadow, beyond the tall grass
To the place where no yellow flowers should grow

Though the sparrows know better
And the Pup looked up to the heavens

In that time between dream and dawn
In that moment they began to appear

The first from under a fallen tree
Another from behind the barren rocks

Some seemed to rise from the earth itself
While others emerged from the Lake of Many Faces

Then finally the last one came forth
From the Wolf itself, no more a pup

But mother and protector of her every litter
And through the darkness and quiet of night

They gathered around her
And fed until each was sated

And warm beneath her body
Even as sleep took each one

They left the place of awakening
For the land beyond

Knowing the perfect love of a mother
That love beyond all dreaming

Then one by one the stars appeared
Like sentries protecting their Master

Beyond numbering they appeared
Each more beautiful than the last

When at last the Boy opened his eyes
To the first light of dawn

The Maiden was gone
And the Pup nowhere to be found

Therefore he looked to Sol and rejoiced
While the sparrows returned to mark his way

Back through the meadow
Beyond the tall grass and yellow flowers

And when at last he arrived home
He was no more a boy, but a Father

Returning to many sons and daughters
Who gathered around him like pups

Eager to see the Father
Who is also Mother

So they sat around the hearth
And silence fell upon the house

As he told them stories
More beautiful than any dream

Stories only a Mother can tell
Though he had become a Father

Beyond fathers
Beyond mothers

He was the Friend
Who walks among us even now

And if you watch carefully
You will see Him yet

Running among the trees
Swiftly following his faithful Dog

Together they hunt the mighty Stag
To offer as sacrifice in the hidden place

Where the memory still abides
Though few remember

That place of empty lands
And undiscovered woods

Let us go there together
For I have much to show you there

In that place where once
I was a boy with a pup like no other

There he rests
There I wept

There I offered sacrifice as to a god
And refreshed myself in cool waters

There you, too, will travel
When you are no longer children

There you will offer sacrifice on my behalf
And you will know that you are loved

So long as your love endures
That place will endure

Your Father, too, will endure
Just as the Master endures

Just as your children will endure
And take refuge under the sacred tree

The one that grew from a boy’s staff
The one that gives refuge from all sorrow

Where children and pups and sparrows
Fish and insects and serpents

And creatures of darkest night
Gather no more in silence

They gather together
To sing wondrous songs

To tell stories as fantastical as fables
In the place where all discover

That they waited for no god or titan
For no father or mother or lost son

They waited for each other
For they were always

The People of the Great Heart

~BT Waldbillig
September 12, 2017

Indeed the Reapers

For most human beings, life without some purpose and meaning is a burden too great to bear. That’s why most of us either choose some form of religion or spiritual belief, or else we spend every waking moment of each day distracting ourselves from the reality of our own mortality and the impermanence of everything and everyone we experience in this world.

To my estimation, the simplest, surest, and most primitive way to discover meaning and purpose to life is to look at the source of life: the Family. Life, as we know it, originates in a community, endures by means of a community, prospers by means of a community, and increases by means of a community. We call that community the Family.

While it seems likely that the conditions that support life as we know it exist abundantly across the Universe, it seems just as likely that it endures only with great difficulty, not unlike a candle that quickly lights but also quickly goes out if not protected from wind or water or dirt.

As it happens, I come from a place where people understand how precious life is and also how precarious life can be. My ancestors who left Luxembourg and settled on a farm in Iowa were intimately acquainted with the precariousness of life. I imagine that when they attended Sunday Mass and heard the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares they must have seen themselves as characters within the story. Perhaps you remember the it:  A wicked enemy, seeking to destroy the good seed of the righteous farmer, entered his fields under cover of darkness and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the farmhands realized this had happened they didn’t know what to do and feared that the entire harvest would be lost. The righteous farmer, on the other hand, did not let the deeds of wicked men lead him to despair.

Now, there’s something missing from the Gospel account: Jesus tells us that the farmer instructed the farmhands to let the good and bad seed continue to grow in the field together until harvest, at which time the reapers would sort out the good from the bad. This implies that the wicked men who sought to destroy the harvest were unaware that this could be done, otherwise they would have been little more than hoodlums. But more strangely, the farmhands don’t know how to handle the situation. The farmer, however, knows precisely the best course of action to take. Perhaps this is not surprising, as he is familiar every inch of his land. He knows how to survive in times of clement weather and also through drought and plague. He has seen many harvests and plenty of weeds.  The farmer’s patient endurance in caring for the land across the years gives him greater wisdom than both his enemies and his helpers.

I can’t help but wonder if the righteous farmer, by telling his farmhands to do nothing, was also biding his time, letting the wicked men think they held the place of power and advantage. Perhaps they would reveal themselves in order to taunt and mock the farmer, the farmhands, and even their women and children. And when they reveal themselves, they will become the cause of their own perdition. In this context the mention of reapers takes on a darker significance. Indeed, the reapers will sort the wheat from the weeds!

Now, as anyone from my hometown can tell you,  there’s nothing romantic or picturesque about life on a farm. It is relentless and exhausting, merciless and back-breaking. Farmers perform an essential and difficult task for the community, and yet their recompense is meager and every harvest is precarious. Few of us recognize just how impressive farmers are. I can attest that many an Iowa farmboy can stare down a bear or a coyote without breaking a sweat, and I know farmgirls who can drag an escaped bull back into his pen and still make it to the homecoming dance on time. Though I didn’t understand it in my youth, I was incredibly fortunate to grow up around farms and farm families.

It all goes back to family. What I’ve learned from my experience in spiritual communities is that people who seem different, with nothing in common and no reason to want to know and love each other, can create a Spiritual Family that’s stronger and more certain to endure than any blood line.

I’ve even learned this truth from my dog. The love I have for Dante and the bond I experience with him is more powerful than anything I’ve ever known. Even though we seem entirely different sorts of beings, he has become family to me. Surely if a man and a dog can discover something like family in each other, then you and I could experience that also with beings from some distant place in the Universe.

I’ve always been a sci-fi fan but something odd strikes me about the ways we envision the future and an encounter with alien beings. For some reason we usually depict ourselves as either passive and insignificant, just sitting around waiting for someone to find us, or else anyone who’s not like us is an enemy or a danger. I think that only now are we discovering that we need a shared purpose to make something like First Contact both possible and desirable.

But what if we’re alone in Universe? Why hasn’t it occurred to anyone that we should vouchsafe the continuation of life? For my part, I am convinced that this place and our form of life are worthwhile, but even now, in this moment, our world is passing away. This should be motive enough for us to spread life wherever it can take hold. However it was that we got here, we are meant exist and we are meant to spread the life we have received. In this context, the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply takes on a new and more urgent meaning.

If the farmer doesn’t sow seed and labor tirelessly there’s no harvest and when there’s no harvest the living soon become the dead. The wicked men in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares thought they had power to destroy the harvest of the righteous farmer. But the power was always with the farmer. It was up to him to decide if the harvest was worth saving.

You and I are the righteous farmer.

~BT Waldbillig
September 7, 2017

Salus et Vita

Qui signa invenimus
Sicut et signa offerimus

We are surrounded by wonders beyond our greatest dreaming, if only we could — at least for some brief, passing moment — set aside the fear we feel before the vastness of the Universe and the hopelessness we know when we stare the terror of mortality in the face.

Not long ago I saw in a dream the darkness that dwells in the heart of the every man, myself included. This darkness grew and spread until it began to rip the very stars from the heavens and snuff out the Sun and the Moon, emptying the Universe of all that is living and beautiful. Though only one man, insignificant and small before the immense and endless darkness, I refused to submit to it. While this choice seemed futile as the darkness fell upon me to annihilate its final victim,  my refusal to submit was no longer the futile choice of one man. Instead, it was the battle cry of many generations, mere men and women who made of themselves fearless warriors. They were as terrifying to their enemies as they were beautiful to one another, and together we became invincible.

It’s only in the reality of our frailty, weakness, inadequacy, and brief time in this world that we see ourselves as we truly are: Alone no one among us is immortal, invincible, or all-wise, but when we come together and unite we are strong enough to survive and grow and hope and love in even the most unlikely and impossible of circumstances.

Haec dies
Spes nostra
Nunc nobis
Salus et vita

Our world might not have endured to see this day. Our kind might have perished in the darkness that lingers before the bright shining dawn. And yet: We Are Here

[Regarding dreams: I’ve found that the meaning I extract from my dreams changes and evolves, especially in the case of recurring dreams. Sometimes the benefit of experience or reflection sheds light on aspects that were obscured previously. His dictis, dreams are just dreams. They are entirely and only what we make of them.]

~BT Waldbillig
September 5, 2017