By Dolores J. Nurss

Volume IV: Braided Paths

Chapter 27




I have dreamed about the Midlands, often.  I also dreamed of Kiril making brief contact, but I didn't recall any details, so I made those up.

I dreamed that Jake, Randy, and Don discovered evidence of a cult that had grown darker and darker in the boy's school, as a backlash against all the strangling propriety denatured of real spiritual content.  If a community regards all mystery as evil, then its young will hunger after evil mysteries, for the need for something beyond us will not be denied.

At the time I dreamed of this I simultaneously participated in Catholic and Protestant Fundamentalist youth groups, Bible studies and prayer groups.  I thought it would work—weren't we all siblings in faith, under a single Jesus Christ? 

Yet the differences filled me with guilt.  Did I do a good thing or an evil thing to pray the rosary?  Was it idolatry to view communion as the actual body of Christ?  Were the Saints and Angels friends and allies, or demons in disguise? 

The conflicts seemed to have Mystery as their common battleground.  Catholicism favored it, while Fundamentalist Protestantism disapproved.  Even the Bible they stripped of mystery by analyzing it like a science text.  At least this allowed in miracles among the Pentecostals, but others claimed, for some reason that I never fathomed, that the Age of Miracles had passed.

 Eventually, though, I noticed that Mystery didn't go away in the Protestant camp, it just went dark.  People still believed in it, but the more they rejected it from their worship and their lives, the more they obsessed on black magic cults and demonic forces.  And the more they renounced as evil anything beyond the obvious and physical, the more power they attributed to these cults and forces.  Those who took this to an extreme soon became paralyzed as Christians, spending much of their time wrestling their fears and little actually doing good works.

For awhile they had me scared and confused.  Did yoga really have a demon assigned to every position?  Could you absorb demons by listening to the wrong music or by reading fantasy novels, even fantasy novels written by devout Christians?  Were some children's toys manufactured possessed, ready and waiting on the store shelves to destroy the innocent?  And worst of all, was my worship in the Catholic Church, which gave me so much comfort, in fact leading me to Hell?

Reason told me something different.  Reason told me that if you have an outgunned, outnumbered force in a war going badly against you, your last hope is to make the enemy think that you're much bigger and more powerful than you are—to win by beating their morale.  You stick helmets on sticks, you learn to throw your voice, you frighten your enemy and tie them up with excess security efforts.  If you can get them to waste their ammunition shooting at shadows, so much the better.  For defeat comes not to the weakest, but to the first to despair.

Reason told me that the demon-obsessers were the best friends that a demon could have.  But then the Fundamentalists taught me that reason, too, was of the devil.  I fought to suppress these wicked suspicions; it felt like I tore my brain apart, but if thy mind offends thee, pluck it out, right?  We were supposed to be fools for Christ.  (I'm sure now that St. Paul meant something quite different from their interpretation of that, for he reasoned quite a bit.)  I was even told that I sinned to write science fiction, because science was bad, and that even reading the newspaper was "unedifying".

In the end I found my guidance in the Bible (which they recommended that I read, without foreseeing the consequences) in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "By their fruits so shall ye know them."  This is how we could discern good teachings from bad!  And the Bible lists the fruits of the Holy Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and steadfastness.

The demon-obsessers knew no peace and only a facade of joy.  Their perfect fear cast out love.  They seemed quick to anger rather than patient, and could be crushingly unkind.  They were not steadfast, but would teeter into sin-binges and then teeter back in tearful remorse, feel forgiven, and then turn right around and do the same thing again—I mean, nobody's perfect, everybody sins now and then, but a certain gradual improvement, a learning-curve, seemed absent in the fearful ones.  And all of this they suffered in the name of goodness, but in actuality they seemed to reap and sow harm.

Are the secular better off?  I think not.  Their demonized mysteries arise as dark social and political conspiracy-theories about their enemies.  Ursula K. LeGuin once pointed out that those who insist that they never fantasize in fact have simply lost the capacity to know when they're fantasizing.  For the secular despiser of mystery, mortal groups rear up as their demons, denuded of redeeming traits and indeed humanity, sometimes as targets for bigotry, sometimes as transgressors whose crimes become exaggerated beyond all facts (if indeed they did anything wrong in the first place) sometimes as scandalous celebrities (often as not egged on in acting out the darkest desires of their devouring fans until it kills them) and sometimes as dehumanized political opposition, domestic or abroad.  In the worst instance the demonization of others breaks out in mass killings, in war, terrorism, private massacres, or genocide.  (Yes, religion has led to war, too—generally through denouncing somebody else's mystery while forgetting the salient teachings of one's own.)

We need to allow space for Mystery.  We need that inconceivable loop of infinity unbroken by the lightning-bolt rift of division, separating our commonality into Us and Them.  We need to admit that we don't know everything, and that not everything which lies beyond our understanding and control is evil—maybe not even most.  It doesn't have to turn dark.

In the long-dream about Vanikke, which set the framework for others, I received, sent by an evil power, embarrassing letters written in my youth, intended to rattle me and distract me from my mission.  In the waking-world at that time my mentor, Fritz Leiber, had just died, and a man planned to publish the letters in his possession—including a sizeable number that I had written as a very immature teenager.  I felt mortified, but could do nothing about it as they now belonged to his estate.  (In the end, nothing ever came of it, as it turns out.)

In my waking-life the "evil force" was my own pride.  I believe that this dream warned me to not let shame stop me from writing. In fact, the greatest of all lies that The Liar teaches is the urge to conceal our nakedness from the gaze of God and of ourselves, to grasp at figleafs of rationalization, denial, pretense that what we did never happened, anything to maintain an illusion of perfection.  And if you spend all your energy trying to maintain this myth of flawlessness, you never have a chance to learn from your flaws.

To look back on immaturity with embarrassment means that you have grown beyond it enough to recognize it.  That in fact you're on the right track.    The most fatal thing to developing along God's ideal path for you is to say, "I am complete right now, and here I stop!"

Zanne's greatest weakness has always been her pride.  Anyone who would want to sabotage her, and had the means to pry into her would hit her right there.  Fortunately, she knows it.

Main Page