Many years go, while in the midst of a vicious MS attack, I wrote an article I called LONGINGS FROM THE LAND OF NOD. I am revisiting that frightening time and the article it spawned. It appears below with appropriate alterations to ages.
I dreamt of
sailing a grand tall ship. Initially gentle billows
swelled beneath her massive
hull. Gradually the wind began to pick
up and filled the ship’s enormous sails.
Silently the large ship started to move as though being pushed by an
invisible hand. At first, the bow gently
sliced through the water as we moved forward. The great ship’s speed increased
and soon a marvelous adventure was full speed ahead!
Waves crashed against the bow sending bracing
showers of salty spray over the deck to drench me. Seagulls flew alongside the ship squawking -
cheering the vessel on to its unknown destination as we banked into a westerly
wind. The wooden ship creaked and moaned
as the gigantic boom pitched violently starboard and the wind-filled mainsail
swung overhead across the deck. Every fiber of my body felt alive – at least in
my dream. Reality is quite different: I
live on the land-locked prairie in an advanced state of multiple sclerosis; the
closest ocean is a thousand miles away.
My sailing dream
came as I lay in bed drifting from consciousness, through the Land of Nod
toward deep sleep. The dream was so
real! I could smell, taste and hear the
wind and sea. Eventually a rude
awakening came: My eyes flickered open
to discover a body that was still half-lead, my electric wheelchair still
waited beside my bed. There was no tall ship, only the walls of my bedroom
bathed in blue moonlight steaming through my window. Bed sheets rustled not sails.
In months to
come, the dream started to recur and I became suspicious there was something
more than a desire to sail. It was a primal desire.
But desire for what? It was spiritual
not physical desire or eroticism. My
desire had different layers, like the skins of an onion. On the surface was a
desire to be free from degenerative disease, the contraptions of disability,
frustration and grief. At a deeper level was a yearning for the past – my own
past. Another layer deeper still was a
desire for the ages, but even that was not the whole of it. At the core of my ecstasy was a longing for
something or somewhere else I sensed was just beyond me.
The dream has a
generic quality: It does not reveal
whether I am crippled or healthy, boy or man, or where the ship is headed. I am simply sitting in a ship observing and
experiencing the sensations; all that was important in my life before becomes
insignificant in comparison to the sensation of sailing. The ship in my dream is always seeking yet
never arriving. But the strongest
sensation of my dream is one of longing that transcends the sea, the salt, the
wind and desires the Source of it all. It is the same fleeting desire or longing I
experienced beginning in early childhood before disease, disability, sorrow or
pain. It is the same longing that seems
to follow humanity.
|C.S. Lewis at his desk writing|
wrote about transcendent desire in his wonderful little book Surprised by
Joy. Later he spoke about it as yearning for a “far off country” or
Paradise. Lewis delivered a sermon at
the Oxford Church of St. Mary, which he called The Weight of Glory. He said, in
“ I am trying to
tear open the inconsolable secret in each one of you – the secret which hurts
so much that you take revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and
Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness
that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent,
we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and
cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a
desire for something that never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot
hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray
ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.”
this desire for Paradise to the “echo of a tune we have yet to hear” or “the
scent of a flower we have not yet found”.
For an incurably ill man like myself, these images strike a full chord. Suffering intensifies spiritual yearnings,
desire, longing for that flower I cannot quite find; it lies somewhere just
beyond the door of temporal reality.
But what lies
just beyond temporal reality that fuels this near constant yearning? It is certainly not a sailboat, seagulls or
an ocean. If someone were to magically
plop me into a sailing ship tomorrow, I think it would merely break my heart to
discover that my fantasy was only a metaphor for something else, something
grander, something other-worldly. It
would fall short of the ecstasy I imagined; I would soon discover that the
thrilling images of wind-filled sails and the sea were inadequate metaphors for
something that transcends my feeble mind or ability to even conceptualize. The yearning is for Paradise.
The tall ship of
my dream cannot reach “the far off country” because such a destination is
beyond my temporal experience to imagine (or the experience of anyone else this
side of the grave). I have only
tantalizing hints of somewhere else that occasionally well up from deep within,
and hope of the “far off country”
– the scent of the “flower not yet found” – to excite my longing. Metaphors schmetafors! The images turn bitter if dwelt upon. They only point toward the ancient Joys of
They are not Heaven. Nature is a poor
reflection of paradise, and ships are for mortals of little faith. I remain exiled with all Christians,
spiritually drowsy, yearning, desiring in the Land of Nod. The longing, the Romance, the desire for
heaven’s ecstasy cannot be satisfied in the natural world, only in the next.
I must not rush
headlong or prematurely into eternity to seek
the Object of my desire (Christ),
or escape the despair of life inside a diseased and withering carcass. That would presume upon God’s mercy and
Divine plan: He is a God of light not darkness,
the author of life
not death. Without light there is no
Control of life is not mine to seize plunging it into darkness, only God’s to
give and take Freedom cannot be forced! Paradise rushes for no man’s agenda, the Joy
of Heaven cannot be pilfered. It is not
mine to seize or possess yet. I am being
prepared, purified, refined in a fire, made fit for eternity. Foretastes must do for now.
foretastes, sensations or vapors of the soul is counterproductive and only
reveals spiritual immaturity by seeking escapism from a miserable fate. The mystery of life is growth not desire. The
hope of life is Christ not escape from sorrow or pain. In fact, suffering, disability or pain can
be a blessing. There is blessing in
suffering, the sufferer must look for it and be open to what is being said by
it. John Donne is best known for his
immortal words about human interdependence “No man is an island, entire of it
self; …” The same Meditation deals with the fruits of human affliction:
"All mankind is of one Author, and one volume; when one Man
dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better
language; and every chapter must be so translated; …God employs several
translators; some pieced are translated by Age, some by sickness, some by war,
some by justice, but God's hand is in every translation; .…"
affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough, that is not
matured, and ripened by it, and made fit for God."
ships and the sea are enjoyable and harmless.
But we are not to dwell upon snippets of spiritual ecstasy or romance or
fleeting moments of spiritual longings.
Man matures more by agony than by ecstasy. C.S. Lewis said “Joy is the serious business
but spiritual growth is the serious business of our time on earth.
as He lived. Meekness is more than being mild and
gentle. It is a temperament of the soul
whereby we accept God’s dealings with us as good (whatever that may involve)
without resisting or disputing. We accept, by faith in Christ, that our
trials and sufferings are making us fit for eternity and that we are somehow
being prepared to assume our holy citizenship in the Celestial City. Sometimes the fastest way home is the longest
road and I wish that were not so.
I have been
chronically ill with multiple sclerosis for more than thirty-two years. My life has degenerated from being a normal,
able-bodied, athletic husband and father to spending most of my days in an
electric wheelchair. My next mailing
address will probably be a nursing home.
By most people’s standard, life is over for me at the age of sixty-three.
Some people believe my life was over by age of thirty when the MS was
first diagnosed. Not true.
The sicker I
become, the more evident Christ’s presence becomes to me. Like the fourth figure in the fiery furnace
with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Christ is with me in the fire of MS:
unlike Shadrach, Mechach and Abednego the fire has ravaged my body (but not my
soul). Jesus sits with me even in the
ashes of my misery and comforts me. He
assures me there is a divine purpose to the fiery torments
and that we shall walk away from scorching flames into the warm light of His
Kingdom. He talks of water and wind that takes me away
from the fire to where I do not yet know. The image is so real – I can hear the
wind and feel the spray of water on my face. Once again, I am overcome by a transcendent
longing. At last I understand that the ecstasy is inextricably linked to the
divine attributes of God’s love. One day
there will be no more foretastes but the real banquet; no more wandering, no
more longings from the Land of Nod. I
will be home. I will see the Object of my desire.
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