In The Other Side of My Soul edited by Beatrice Bruteau, Wayne Teasdale says that Saccidananda means “the total bliss of being absolutely conscious of the fullness of being.” I’ve had 3 experiences that stand out to me as possibly fitting this definition. In this post, after a little about my childhood, I’ll tell you about the first experience.

Early Childhood

At age 5 my younger brother and I began living with my paternal grandmother. We lived with her for 3 years during which time I attended a Catholic school, not because I was Catholic, but because it was within walking distance of my grandmother’s home. Recollections of school are hazy, with a pleasant overtone. I remember learning a few Polish words (St. Hedwig’s was the name of the school) and going to Mass regularly, maybe once a week with my class, maybe more often. I don’t think I went on Sunday to that church or any other church. I remember going to First Confession which I simply slipped into along with my classmates and that I was not allowed to go to First Communion. I think at some point I may have seen the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (a large, round, white Communion Host placed in an ornate vessel and placed on the altar with great reverence) and I suppose we were taught something that a second grader would understand. This exposure to Catholic ritual may have been important in later experience.

On the day of my 8th birthday my dad told us that we would soon be moving in with him and his new wife. This would mean a change of schools which did not feel significant to me. I plodded along in public school until 6th grade and age 11. The teacher that year turned me on to math and reading and I found a love of learning which stayed with me.

Catholic Convert

When I was 14 one of my dad’s co-workers got married and we took a trip to St. Louis, Missouri for the wedding. I did not go to the wedding itself, but visited the Catholic church next door on the Friday before the ceremony. On that day they had the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and I felt to kneel there and gaze. During that time I had the sense that God was here. There was no other thought except that sensation. Shortly after this I told my dad that I wanted to be Catholic. If that was the place where I had felt God, then that is where I wanted to be.

I went for one year to weekly classes with Catholic kids and then another year with one-on-one talks with the pastor of a church in our area. I indelibly remember one night after one of those talks I was outside waiting for my ride home. It was dark and starry and I looked up and said “God, if you are there, I want to know you.” At age 16 I was baptized Catholic. When I was 18 I decided to leave home and my dad signed for me to go into the Army. I continued going to church that first year.

First Experience

Here begins the story of the first of those three experiences. I had been in the Army for a little over a year and was transferred to lab school in Texas. I took a week of leave to visit my mom in Florida. During the visit she took me to her church with her. It was non-denominational and a lively service which included people speaking in tongues. This was very new to me and I was uncomfortable there.

The next time Mom went to service I asked her to drop me off at a Catholic church. It was a weekday evening and they had Bingo. I found a quiet chapel area and was kneeling and praying when a priest and a few people came in. A young teenage girl was being baptized. I felt a discontinuity with this holy thing happening while Bingo numbers were being shouted in our hearing. That upset me and I went looking for a quiet place and finding none I walked out a bit away from the church to wait for my mom to pick me up. As I walked I felt to pull the chained medal of saints from my neck and throw it away. In my mind that ended my link to the Catholic Church. Yeah, over reaction!

A few days later nearing the end of my leave I spent a day with my brother and that evening I was at a home meeting of some of these young people. The woman who owned the home led the meeting and sure enough at some point some were speaking in tongues. I was kneeling in my little world waiting for it to be over. In my mind I prayed “God, I’ll give you 5 minutes.” Basically I gave God permission to do whatever for a brief time. And in that silent moment I felt a hand on my head. I looked up and saw that woman’s face and I imagine I had a giant question mark on my forehead. She said, “Open your mouth.” I did and the unbelievable happened. I began babbling and crying and went from my knees to rolling on the floor in a state of total joy. The above definition, “the total bliss of being absolutely conscious of the fullness of being” seems to fit.

The next day I flew to Texas to begin Army lab school. On the way to the plane my mom took me to a book store and bought me a Bible. I was somewhat familiar with the Bible, but had not been a reader. On the flight I began to think about the happening the night before and doubted the validity of my experience. As I sat there with these thoughts I closed my eyes and I saw something like 2 black ticker tapes with white lettering. I knew they were scripture references. I looked them up in my new Bible. I’ve never forgotten the essence of what they said to me: “See the clouds of the air” and “Only a fool says there is no God”. I looked for them recently and found them: Job 35:5 and Ps. 14:1. There I was looking out the window at the clouds and it removed my doubts about my experience the night before.

Lab school was 4 months long and all during that time I had utter peace and joy. I did not affiliate with a church and I didn’t speak in tongues, because that had been something that had happened to me and I never thought about trying to do it again. I did talk to a couple of people about Jesus, but I don’t recall what I said. I didn’t have a dogma to present, only that I knew I had found peace and joy and felt loved. I was seriously high!

I enjoyed lab school and did well. About the time school ended, the bliss also ended. The time between my desire to become Catholic and leaving the church and this experience was about 5 years. Four months after the experience, I felt I was back to square one.

Years later I would hear a name for the experience: “Baptism in the Spirit.” I realize looking back, that a door opened wider in me at that time. It was a door that was already ajar.

Continued with Part 2