|A Spiritual Journey
In his book 'Conversations with God'. Neale Walsch asks God the question “How do I know that my conversations with you are not just my imagination?” God replies “ Would that make a difference if it were? I can communicate with you through your imagination just as easily as by any other means. Mine is always your highest thought, your clearest word, your grandest feeling. Anything less is from another source.”
I cannot remember when I first became religious. Even as a small child I believed in God, but I saw him like a spoiling parent asking him for material things of a frivolous nature. Like many children, I hated Sunday school and would do all sorts of things to avoid it. My mother was a religious person and over the years became more involved in the church. Out of a family of five well spaced children, I appeared to be the only one to follow her in search for a greater meaning and mysteriously the only one named after the evangelist- St Mark and apostle St Andrew. Although, my young brother asked many questions and became concerned if she did not go to church for some reason. I was a bit confused as a child because my mother suffered from a mental disorder. At times things were good and she looked after me well. But since she favoured my young brother, when things were not so good, I was the unlucky one who copped the abuse. In spite of the favouritism, I loved my brother and was happy for him. He and I grew very close. Even to the point that when I was away in the army, if he needed me he seemed to be able to call me and I would feel a compulsion to go home. He was very well liked in the community for his care and concern for others. He once went to the Melbourne Show by bus with a friend. When his friend became ill he cared for him for the whole day, missing all the things he went to see. Neighbours and friends knew their children were safe whenever he was asked to keep an eye on them. One day our eyes met for a moment and I felt like I was looking into the eyes of the Lord. I wanted to call him back, but felt paralysed and so off he went to do what he loved most, riding his motorbike.
After my brothers death, mothers suffering intensified, and I too had my own cross to bear. I had been from drug to drug and psychiatrist to psychiatrist trying to find even a moments respite from the demon illness that tortured my brain. For the first 40 years of my life just like the Israelites I was in the wilderness. Although I believed in God I could not seem to contact him and in my suffering there were times when I cursed him. Like St Paul I was a sinner amongst the foremost. But Jesus never stopped loving me. In maturity I can see how he carried me through the difficult times. At my lowest ebb, like Christ himself who fell and lacked the strength to rise. I cried out and I could hear his voice directly in my mind saying “Trust in me my son.” I think that this was the seed that began my trust and love of him. When I look back on my life, I can see how he has been true to his word in that although life hasn't been easy he has always seen to it that my burdens have not been too great for my strength. In his book he said believe in me and I will give you abundant life. I wanted a wife and children. He gave them. I wanted a nice house for them. He gave it. Becoming unemployed through my illness I felt it impossible to ever regain employment, but then became well enough to work and applied for a job. Even though I messed up the interview, I was still accepted, Ironically, I learned later that my interviewer was an active Christian. Life could have been really awful without Jesus carrying me through the difficult times and reminding me of his love for me.
I had been raised as an Anglican, but my wife was a Catholic and our children were being brought up through the Catholic school system. We went to Mass together at St. Mary’s. I had developed a great love of this house of God because I could not forget the strong aura of peace that I had felt from the first time I had entered it, even though I had only come to repair the organ and did not even have religion in mind. Eventually, a prominent Catholic women's league lady, 'Molly Jensen' somehow noticed me and asked me if I would like to become a Catholic. I entered the Church through the RCIA process. I cannot forget 'The Rite of acceptance.' I was asked if I was nervous in front of all those people? I replied. “How could you feel afraid when you felt as though Christ was cradling you in his arms?”
In the meantime, mother now in her seventies had deteriorated physically. In her later years she had sacrificed a lot for me to help hold my marriage together while I did battle with my illness. I visited her often and she would say. “Hello Mark” even before she could have known it was me. I would make the sign of the cross on her forehead and tell her to be patient that he will be coming for her soon. But her suffering appeared to continue endlessly. I wondered what was I supposed to do? Could it be that I was expected to end it for her? But no, somehow I just knew that something important was happening. Mother appeared to be evolving into something special. One day she asked me if Norelle, my daughter, was alright now, as she had heard her scream. I remembered that Norelle had driven a staple into her finger and had cried out in pain that morning. Mother appeared to be reaching out of the tomb that was her body. Then one day she died. Somehow I felt disappointed because I was sure that because of our faith that I would have felt something special when she went. But no, she was dead and that was that and I had not even been with her when she went. Some months later at a Mass for the confirmation of grade 6 children something truly wonderful happened. I felt a tingling sensation on my forehead. Very slowly it moved down stopping just above my nose, then it started again above the eye and moved across. This was unmistakably the sign of the cross. This event puzzled me as I had never experienced anything like it before. It was nearly a week later while riding my bike and meditating like I often do that the penny dropped. This was what I used to do to mother! Dare I believe that she had reached from the grave to make the sign of the cross on my forehead. If it were possible and even if there were some penalty for doing it, I have no doubt that mother would do it for me. I remember her telling me one time that she did not want me to be spending my spare time coming to see her. She would rather that I go and enjoy myself. My reply was that if we only looked after ourselves and did not care about each other, then there could be no love in the world and I could not live in a world like that. My only explanation for this event was that I had given her one of the greatest gifts that Jesus had come to earth to teach. Forgiveness! And the sign of the cross brought with it the message that in doing so, I had been forgiven my sins also.
At the Easter Vigil and my First Communion, I wondered if I would have any other experiences of the spirit and I did. I looked at the eyes of the 500 people loving and welcoming me and through them I saw the face of Christ in his people, his body! I felt truly at home. Shortly after this my son and other students were to do their confirmation. My mother had worshipped my son and I imagine that the sign of the cross occurring at the confirmation Mass had been because mother had been a Sunday school teacher for many years and such an occasion would have been special to her. I wondered if I would feel the sign of the cross again. This time I felt it the entire length and width of my face and in the years to come, feeling the sign of the cross became a regular occurrence.
Part 2: 16 years later -2009
Sometimes I even felt that thoughts that came into my head in response to some question were not my own, just like the first when I had heard him say to trust in him. On my first trip to East Timor, saddened by the intense suffering of a people so beautiful both physically and spiritually. I stood below a concrete cross on a hill above Dili and just kind of mused to myself “Why wouldn't you put an end to such suffering” Instantly into my mind I heard a voice. “Many souls would be lost if I did it now.”
A new drug had given me some years of peace from my illness as well as the fantastic experience of being able to teach English to students in East Timor. But the effects of the medication were starting to wain and even worse were producing new and horrible symptoms. On an occasion when I was scheduled to do a talk at RCIA, I had been in a state of anxiety due to changes in medication and its withdrawal effects. I wondered if I should use a tranquilliser to calm me so that I would be able to do it properly and not embarrass myself. But I kept thinking to myself that I needed to show my trust and faith in Jesus by not using it. Just before the talk a thought suddenly came into my mind. “You don't have to be a Martyr Mark, I know how much you love me.” I took the tranquilliser and had a great time. The talk was on the Eucharist and the following Sunday I was an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and I had the most powerful sense of the presence of Jesus. So even if my talk was a bit off, at least Jesus still loves me.
Things started to get really bad with my illness, the last resort drug which had helped for several months had failed and I was experiencing some nasty feelings. We had our house on the market as we had planned to build again, which would keep me occupied, but just at the critical time we had a buyer and suddenly we had to find a place to rent and move. This was an enormous task because of all my tools and equipment. But enduring some terrible anxiety we managed to get settled. I'm sure that thanks to the help of Jesus a comfortable home with an enormous shed came along just at the right time. But my condition continued to deteriorate. I had often wondered if hearing the voice of Jesus coaching me had been real or just my imagination. Then came the clincher! When all medical treatment had failed and I was suffering intensely. One day laying down in a most horrible state of depression, I felt my burden too heavy to bear. I wished with all my soul for death to envelope me and to slip peacefully into nothingness. In my mind I heard a gentle voice. “If you went now Mark, you would be very disappointed that you gave up so easily.” Finally realising that it was the medication that was the problem, I started the painful withdrawal process. Through my recovery, whenever I closed my eyes and thought about Jesus, I would feel the sign of the cross on my forehead. One night I felt lots of tiny little ones. I like to imagine it being the little children that I have loved and cared about that have gone to be with Jesus who had come to return the love in my hour of need. Recently my wife and I have suffered the bereavement of my brother in-law. Each night after I say goodnight to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I also say goodnight to the Mothers, Brothers and of course, most of all to the little children.