Birthday Dreams & Long Falls - Excerpt from 'Romancing The Divine'
Chapter Three – Birthday Dreams and Long Falls
Mark well any dreams you remember from the night before your birthday. The mind is aware of these cycles, and will sometimes send us messages that matter, harbingers of the year ahead, a blessing, or a warning.
Close to my fiftieth birthday, I dreamed I was flying. High in clouds and bathed in light, I sang as I flew and I was in bliss. I sang the "Ave Maria" of Bach and Gounod, and as I reached the climax of the song, as if the heat of my love had melted the wax that held my wings, I plummeted to earth in a dying fall.
I awoke from the dream at that moment and remembered two things: that at the moment I began my fall, I sang the Latin words nunc et in hora mortis nostrae (“now and at the hour of our death”). And that as I fell I saw in the sky enormous numerals - the number "52" carved in cloudy letters on the background of blue.
"Oh," I thought to myself, "so I will die at age fifty-two while singing the Ave Maria. That's not a bad way to go." But it gave me pause, as I was about to turn fifty, and was in no hurry to die.
I have not yet turned fifty-three as I write this, but I did die that year after all (in a way) and I was singing that prophesied phrase on the day itself. On my 52nd birthday I flew to Italy to sing the Ave Maria (and other devotional songs to the Divine Feminine) for a global gathering of monks and nuns from many faiths, in St. Francis' peaceful town of Assisi. And during that pilgrimage I decided to leave my marriage of many years, because the inner guidance was so clear. And I knew that I would deeply hurt a loved one, that few would understand my choice, that it would be seen in my community as a fall from grace, and that there were no guarantees of what awaited me after.
But the years of silent communion had made the Lover so real that I moved forward nevertheless, though I felt like Abraham leading his son Isaac to slaughter.
There is a wide green space in front of the massive basilica in Assisi where the bones of St. Francis are interred (in his last days, when this radically humble soul knew there was no preventing his disciples from erecting a massive church in his honor, he begged them at least to bury him among the criminals and the prostitutes – their once-dishonored graveyard at the far end of the town is now a place of pilgrimage).
Near the edge of the lawn in front of the cathedral there is a life-size statue of a knight on horseback. But it is not a triumphant image. The knight sits at a dejected angle, his whole attitude is one of brooding introspection, and even the horse seems dispirited, catching his rider’s mood. A plaque set in the grass nearby tells the story. The young Francis (Francesco Bernadone was his name) dreamed of glory as a knight, and set out in costly gear to serve a local nobleman’s war against neighboring Perugia. But two days out from Assisi, a crisis of the soul seized him, an angel appeared in a dream, and asked him, “why serve the servant, when you could serve the Master?” Caught up in the realization that his life’s purpose lay in serving God, Francis implored in prayer, “what must I do?”
“Return to your city, and you will be shown what to do.”
It was only on my last morning in Assisi, after a week of praying for guidance at his crypt at dawn every day, that I wandered over to the statue and read the story. Here (by all accounts) was one of history’s greatest lovers – one who had, in truth, finally tasted the sweetness of the elusive Lover, if anyone had. I had come to his crypt hoping for some blaze of illumination that I could take home with me, some mystic message that would allow me to break a loved one’s heart and somehow blame God. But there would be, after all, no fiery letters in the sky, and the decision would be mine, guided only by the ethereal touches of Her hand. And it came down to the simple message given to Francis. “Return to your city and you will be shown what to do.”
I had a flight to catch in Rome that day, so that much was certain: I would be returning to Los Angeles, and somehow I would find a way to speak my truth. Through thirty years of seeking I had fallen in love with the Divine, and She had become real to me, but I would still have to stumble my way through karmic buzz saws the way we all do, hurting those I love the way we all do, knowing only that in the end we will all come home to Her.
Chapter Four - The Why of Love
Whatever your religion, you are subject to the powerful pull of what Buddhists call The Ten Thousand Things – which is to say the World, the Flesh, the Devil, your laptop, your boss, your cell phone, your business, your lover, your friends, your spouse, your children, your regrets, your hopes, and your fears of dying unfulfilled. They vex you and they draw you, can still delight you, and they call to you night and day. And still you are reading this page – which may mean (we will suppose) you have always yearned for a higher love, most likely without knowing why.
I knew a monk who was once beset by such doubts. He lived in the daily presence of a saint now widely regarded as one of history’s holiest men, but still his teacher was but a man, after all, and the monk had his doubts. He was a practical sort of fellow, had been a barber in Pittsburgh, and despite his growing bliss in meditation, at night he would toss and turn with doubts.
The Master spoke to him one day: “I see you spend your nights doubting.” Startled (as he had spoken of it to no one), the monk replied, “Yes, sir – I can’t seem to help it.” “You should meditate more deeply,” advised the guru. This went on for several weeks, with the Master accosting him now and again to say, “I see you still spend your nights doubting.”
“Yes, sir, it’s true,” he would say lamely.
One day the Master said, “I see you doubt still…THE DEVIL IS OUT OF YOU!!” The saint shouted this emphatically and the monk was quite startled. “That was very strange,” he said to himself. “Why did he say that?”
But he never doubted again. And in time he became…well, I will tell you more of him later.
You may not have an illumined teacher at hand to rewire the grooves of your brain’s synapses with one power-charged affirmation, to help you overcome your need to know the “why” of love. But at least you can give yourself permission to love. And permission to give your desire for love the highest value – higher than any promise sung to you by the Ten Thousand Things.
(excerpt from "Romancing The Divine" by Michael Henry Dunn, 2021 - all rights reserved)
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