This morning marks the first day of a weekend I’ll be spending at the Dominican center in Oakland, Ca. I arrived last night after my $58 flight from Phoenix to San Francisco, the city named after beloved St. Francis, was delayed by more than an hour, arriving just before 9pm.
Poor Fr. Stephen was waiting for me for about an hour, not knowing that the flight had been delayed even further from the time I first notified him. I would have notified him that yet another ½ hour delay had been announced, but I was caught up in Eric Metaxas’ book, “7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness,” caught up in the amazing lives of men like George Washington, William Wilberforce and Eric Lindell.
Besides, I didn’t realize that he was going to the airport to pick me up. We never discussed it; he only asked what time my flight would arrive. I was planning to walk to the center since it was so close to Rockridge station. Fortunately, I checked my phone after riding the escalator up to the Air Tran to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to Rockridge. It was there that I noticed Fr. Stephen had sent a text.
For some reason, the 60% charge I noticed on my phone the day before was already down to 1%. It was truly wonderful that it still had enough power to show me the message, usually it shuts off around 3%. After about 10 minutes of charging from the laptop, she had enough juice to give a jingle.
It’s an old phone, an iPhone 4. I just purchased a new cover as the five year-old Incipio was falling to pieces. The new cover was described on Amazon as a purple cover. It had good reviews and only cost five bucks.
Turns out the silicon interior is pink; it’s a purple and pink, not a color that exudes masculinity, not one I would choose in spite of that fact that pink has been associated with the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter known to boost a pleasant mood.
At any rate, as it often does, my phone was having trouble loading the front screen so that I could enter my passcode. Hoping to alleviate my frustration, I said a Holy Mary. She helped me have patience –I overcame the urge to toss it on the tracks. It was then that the ears of my mind heard the advice to give him a call; I was planning to send a text that I was about to board BART.
He informed me that he was already waiting at the airport.
How glad I was that I said that Hail Mary and took a moment to tune my mind to the heavenly radio station, he’d of been waiting another hour!
We decided it would be best if I simply take BART to Rockridge. After a relatively quick jaunt, with several minutes joyfully spent reading more about the heroic virtue of Eric Lindell, I sat down on a concrete bench at Rockridge station next to a man in a black hooded sweater.
Upon closer inspection, I could tell he was homeless. His shoes were falling apart and several toes were exposed to the cold. I asked him if he was okay.
He said, “Fine.”
I pulled out a $5 bill beforehand, ready to give him a helping hand. I was surprised that he didn’t ask for any help. I felt compelled to offer him money, but didn’t muster the courage to speak to him again, though I still felt the pressing need. I think his name was Frank, at least that is the name an angel with a woman’s voice seemed to speak to the ears of my mind.
The man had a big black bushy mustache –that was all he revealed through his hoodie.
Looking back, I wish I would have asked, “Is your name Frank?”
Fr. Stephen called out to me. He crossed the street fully armed in his long white robe, his dark wooden rosary beads dangling at his side.
I had expected to see a fairly tall brown haired Caucasian man with a prickly beard in his early 40s. At least, that is how I imagined he’d look after speaking with him a couple weeks earlier.
He stood about 5’8”, had short black hair and slightly puffy eyes. He appeared to be of Filipino descent.
We drove the short distance to the center. He asked only a couple cordial questions to get to know me, the rest were oriented towards preparing me for the visit.
So why have I come to the St. Dominic center in Oakland? Why did I choose to take advantage of this “Come and See” retreat?
Although I’ve mostly felt called to the vocation of marriage (and who wouldn’t be when innate desires are complimented by the blessing of an understanding of God’s plan for intimacy and new life), I’ve remained open to the possibility of religious life. I’ve remained open to the possibility that God may have other plans for me, that I’ll have the strength to crucify that part of self that has so often “saved-up” for beauty, for the beauty of marriage and family.
The concept of religious life is mostly foreign to those outside of God’s grace, outside of the knowledge of the redeeming work of His Son, Christ our Lord, and even to those who have such knowledge but are living somewhat apart from the fullness of the grace contained in the Church His son founded nearly 2000 years ago, i.e. those who are of Protestant descent or denomination.
Nonetheless, His bride is one with Him. When those living apart from Him choose to face the ugliness of this world without recourse, without admitting that wrong is wrong, is it any surprise that something so beautiful is foreign to them?
Who are they who seek His face? They are those who are pure of heart.
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
How should any of us expect to see the beauty of His face and that of His bride when we fill our lives with things other than Him, whether hideous idols made of gold and wood, hideous in comparison to Him, or vain, self-aggrandizing pursuits. Or, how should we expect to see Him when our attitudes and behaviors are sinful? In our time, the seriousness of temptation has been reduced to something like giving in to fancy coffee mugs or chocolate candies.
But, I digress. So why did I find myself laughing so hard? How, after only a few hours in the belly of this bride, this “beast,” as she is often referred to by those whose minds have been weakened or darkened by heresy, by half-truths, can I find myself so delighted?
Well, that is something I’m still trying to figure out. You see, this laughter came to me, not with a cup of tea and polite conversation, but in the midst of receiving many’a “Z.”
It came to me in a dream; I’ve never laughed so hard, never laughed so hard in a dream!
The dream started out mirroring my visitation to this center. I was showed a place to sleep and promptly went to sleep. When I awoke, I realized that I had overslept. I had told Fr. Stephen I would arise at 6:30 to begin morning prayers with everyone… instead I awoke closer to 10!
Thankfully, the short stocky man who greeted me, his head very large and square, his hair short, blond and spiked, was very gracious. He was not at all concerned that I had overslept. Rather, he sat and watched over me as I laid back, thinking of how stupid I was to oversleep.
Before long, there was a parade going on… I could feel the excitement as though it were passing me. Although I’m in a private dorm in reality, the bed in the dream was next to others aligned neatly in a row and a few feet apart, like something you’d see in an orphanage with Peter Pan!
As I lept out of bed, I dropped something. I quickly stooped to the floor to clean it up. Some of it was like yellow candy that permanently stuck to the carpet.
Before long I was back in bed, but in another room. The excitement and joy was still all around me; I lapped it up like a dog whose traveled for miles through a hot, parched desert.
A fairly plump middle-aged lady with short bushy blond hair sat to my right. I appeared to be in a woman’s dormitory, one likely for girls given the pink and red sheets and walls in the room. There was a magazine beside me, I picked it up and began reading.
The first page contained a diagram and text discussing how we can strengthen our memory. Tips were presented in a manner as though the riddle of how to have an good memory had finally been solved. I looked at the words and the diagram with amazement and joy… they revealed that rote memorization was the solution. That’s right, simply by repeating what we’ve learned, exposing ourselves to it time and time again, simply taking the time needed, builds the memory!
What a gift!
This was good news for me. I’ve often thought that I don’t have a good enough memory to be a priest –so many exhibit such amazing intelligence in covering the history of the Church and the many experiences they’ve had that tie into the daily readings in some way. At times I think I could never measure up to such greatness, let alone remember the names of so many parishioners!
The next page was a collage. It had cut and pasted card stock that were rectangular in red and then pink. They were filled with stories in fancy cursive. It became apparent that the collage was put together by a child, that it highlighted some of the favorite and exciting things that were going on in her life.
I immediately thought that I shouldn’t be reading this magazine, that it might be a personal journal of someone whose bed I shouldn’t be in.
I turned to the lady to my right and asked her if this belonged to someone.
“No.” she replied. “This is Ave Maria Magazine, they pass it out to everyone here.”
What a relief, and what a great idea! Think about it… a magazine where children, or even adults, can express their experiences through collage and put them together for everyone to read!
I turned another page in the magazine and saw a comic depicted. There was a man who had a flock of sheep, and every now and then a wolf would enter into the flock. With such great force and power, the shepherd could hit his staff on the ground and great power like thunder and lightning were released. I laughed hysterically as the mighty staff vanquished the wolf ! I laughed and laughed and laughed. And then I laughed some more.
Now I’ve had dreams where I’ve cried, where the sorrow was so real that I’d check my cheeks for signs of tears upon awakening. This was very similar, except with laughter.
Perhaps by being in this holy place, I’m imbibing the goodness that surrounds me. Moreover, as Catholics, we believe that matter can be imparted with a spiritual character, either good or evil. For example, water can become holy water, endowed with spiritual power after being blessed by a priest.
In being here, I’m surrounded with spiritual powers from heavenly realms, they’ve trickled into my dreams and colored them joyful!
After leaving the bed with the magazine I discovered I was in a very large mansion, perhaps a castle. There were many rooms bustling with joy and excitement. Truly overwhelming!
One of the rooms I visited appeared to be especially for Africans. Those coming and going were ecstatic, primarily because of the music coming from the second room leading inward. I didn’t go into that room but watched as those who did had spirits ablaze.
Perhaps this aspect of the dream reflected an interest I’ve often had in freestyle rapping. When I was in college, I emulated the talent of Eminem, someone able to skillfully harness raw creativity in telling a story as fast as the speed of thought, one that rhymes and synchronizes to a beat.
I’ve practiced such a skill from time to time. The mind is amazing!
However, when it comes to rank freestyle rapping, I’ll pass. Some of Eminem’s songs are really gross. Nonetheless, for good music with a good story, rap is a great tool… so many are drawn in. What a net that could be cast.
Tedashi is one of my favorite Christian rap artists. Have you heard any of his songs?
Can you imagine the work of Domincan preachers rapping?!
“He who sings prays twice,” says St. Augustine.
Now, in closing, you may have wondered about the “Dominican Peace Pipe” image at the start of this article.
We’re in the same boat in wondering.
What is a pipe doing at the Dominican center?
I still don’t know. But, I thought it might help get your attention; pipes and laughter often go hand in hand, particularly when what’s going up in smoke is marijuana.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating weed. My own experiences, although often filled with laughter after a toke, were too often unproductive, too often taking me down the wrong path. Weed produces a spirit, and frequently enough, not a holy one.
Just say No to drugs, and say Yes to the Holy Spirit!
Peace be upon you brothers and sisters!