I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, until first grade when we moved to Connecticut. My father was Italian and my mother was American and they had a beautiful marriage. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended parochial school in my elementary years. After high school I did a few years at the University of Connecticut. Then my father died, and in 1972 my mom and I returned to St. Louis where I started Chiropractic College. Six months later, I was so homesick for my friends in Connecticut that I decided to go back there for Christmas. That’s when things started to get interesting.
I had been a dedicated atheist for a few years, but in sudden desperation I prayed to Whoever-Was-Out-There something like this: “… I have $11 in my pocket to get me back East- if You really are there… get me home and We Will Talk. Later that afternoon in school an upperclassman I’d never met approached me and said “she’d heard” I was looking for a ride back East and they needed a fourth driver to make the trip to New Haven-it would be about $11 in gas per person and was I interested? Astounded didn’t even begin to cover it. Something Was Up. Needless to say, I made the trip.
This was to be one of the most interesting journeys of my life. We drove 2200 miles in 24 hours. Two of my companions were unlike anyone I’d ever met. One was the owner of the car- a clean-cut 26-year-old who owned a prominent vegetarian restaurant in St. Louis (read: spiritually hip). He was a devout disciple of a teacher of some sort of spiritual practice and he played Findhorn Garden tapes (fairies and oversouls, anyone?) all the way there. The music was beautiful and ethereal and set the tone for some pretty imaginative conversation. The second young man was small and slender, and wore a large white turban over a scraggly beard. He had a picnic basket full of unusual things to eat as he was a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian. Most memorable of these things was something called ghee, a clarified butter that he ate on everything. He was also a practicing Baha’i, which meant that we stopped the car every four hours and pulled to the side of the road so our friend could prostrate and pray.
I honestly don’t remember the return journey but I do know that when I got back to St. Louis I had a healthy dose of spiritual curiosity. So when the restaurant owner invited me to hear a priest from the Holy Order of MANS* speak, I went. He talked about all kinds of interesting new age things that jived beautifully with all the fascinating concepts I’d heard on my trip but also included Jesus. I was thrilled because now I could put Jesus in a context that made sense to me. When I became convinced that this was IT (help save the world and spread the light of Christ) I was IN.
I ended up in Portland in January of 1977, and worked a variety of jobs in restaurants and women’s shelters. Finally, I served as the cook and the purchaser for our small Christian community of 25 families and handful of single folks. We hosted Abbot Herman and some of the monks from St. Herman Monastery in Platina, California for a series of lectures and invited some folks from other communities to attend. One of the visiting couples was expecting their first child. During the weekend, the mother went into labor, and the baby was born four months premature. The baby only lived a few hours. She was so tiny she had to be dressed in doll clothes for her burial. We took turns keeping vigil through the night in our chapel before her funeral. The beauty and the solemnity of reading the psalms still permeate my memory, and though I didn’t know it at the time, I was being prepared for my mother’s death in a few days.
By this time, I was engaged to James, who was also part of the Christian community. James and I went over to my mother’s house the Sunday after the baby’s funeral. As we were leaving that evening, my mother took both my hands in hers, and asked me softly but intently to “please make it stop”—referring to the pain and discomfort of her illness. My mom had been my rock all of my life. My heart was wrung, and I returned home numb and devastated. During her illness she had been cheerful and positive, proactive and determined. Her turning to me for comfort was overwhelming, and I took the next day off from work. I did not call her in the evening as was my custom. I guess I was taking a break.
The next day it was business as usual, and I called my mom after dinner. When there was no answer I suddenly knew that she was gone. I called James and we went over to mom’s and found that she had passed away. Even though I had expected her death for some time, the reality was something else again. I heard crying and wailing and I looked up to see James standing by me. Then I realized it was me making all that noise. I also realized that this man would stand by me forever no matter what happened. And he has.
James and I took my mother home to Missouri for her funeral in March of 1988. When we returned to Portland, we begin to take our Orthodoxy more seriously and prepared for baptism. We were baptized on Pentecost in May of 1988 with a group of others by Fr. Herman in the Madd River near Platina. It was cold! I have the pictures with snow on the ground to prove it.
We were married at the Church of the Annunciation in October of 1988. Bernadette was born in December of 1992. When Bernadette was 4-years-old I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I actually cried with relief when I found out because it meant that most likely I would be here to see Bernadette grow up and be with James a long time. The other possibilities weren’t so great.
The situation with MS had turned out to be a blessing because it drove me to God. We began to attend church more regularly. My time as a devout atheist, however, had strengthened some of my deepest weaknesses: hardness of heart, self-indulgence and skepticism. My increasing physical deterioration, mental fuzziness and loss of life as I knew it was and is a fabulous prescription for depending on God. And God, in his perfect economy of spirit, shared this remedy with my family and brought us to St. John the Baptist to share it with you. They say “many hands make light work,” and to that I would add many prayers don’t hurt either. God bless us all.
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* The Holy Order of MANS was a religious organization founded by Earl (Fr. Paul) Blighton in 1968. It was based on another religious idea called the Science of Man. MANS is an acryonym for the Greek works Mysterion, Agape, Nous and Sophia. In 1988 the majority of the members joined a non-canonical Orthodox Christian jurisdiction and later most of these were accepted into canonical Orthodox churches. The Holy Order of MANS was disbanded. It is helpful to note that the Order was primarily a Christ-seeking community, although their practices and history may have been divergent from traditional Christianity. By God’s grace, He leads those who seek truth to Himself.