Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
From ‘Ode to Immortality’
William Wordsworth, 1770-1850.
1: Early Days and a New Beginning
I was born into a multi-generational farming family the day before D-Day, 1944. My father, Pop, worked for his dad for several years after he and my mother, Ma, were married before he eventually took various jobs on other farming estates. In the late 1940s he became manager of a dairy and arable farm on Ashdown Forest in Sussex. We lived there for seven years. It was an idyllic environment for my brothers and me to grow up in; we had seven thousand acres of backyard for us and our imaginations to run free — the farm plus all the rest of Ashdown Forest — exploring the woods, streams, lakes and wildlife.
During our time at Old Lodge Farm, as it was named, I had a number of experiences which I did not understand at the time but which I now see were prophetic. One was a dream, which came over and over, on multiple occasions during our time there. In it, there was a tube, similar in shape and size to a toothpaste tube. The top was screwed on tightly. I knew, in some inner-knowing way, that if the top was ever opened, the contents would get out and this would cause death and destruction wherever it went, and there would be little anyone could do to stop it. This caused me great concern in the dream.
Needless to say, the top was opened and out came a ‘worm’ of what looked to all intents and purposes like toothpaste. It kept coming and coming endlessly, mile after mile, ‘worming’ its way all over the countryside and all over the world, and everything it touched was contaminated, defiled or destroyed, whether plant, animal, soil or anything. It was unstoppable, and nobody was able to put the lid back on. At the age of about six or eight, I had no knowledge of Greek mythology and had never heard of Pandora’s Box, but truly this was its equivalent, in tube form.
In the early 1950s, the age of petrochemical agriculture (and petrochemical just-about-everything-else) had barely begun, and had as yet made little perceptible impact upon the environment. The intervening years have seen such pervasive contamination of and damage to the ecosphere of Earth by man-made molecules and other destructive activities of mankind that many scientists and environmentalists believe we are on the brink of global catastrophe. Increasing numbers of ordinary citizens, I amongst them, share this view, but those who have assumed authority over us in the form of the world’s governments are still being much too slow to listen and respond actively to the wishes of the people, even in — and perhaps especially — the so-called democracies.
Nevertheless, there is much good news in this regard, for many environmentally-damaging chemicals have been withdrawn and this is prompting many new and environmentally-compatible, sustainable approaches to crop-production and other endeavours of man. These are starting to come to the forefront of human awareness and this is showing signs of beginning to accelerate at an exponential rate.
Another ‘inexplicable’ happening, which came from somewhere very deep within me, was an upwelling soul-awareness of the great, cosmic, universal, creative, intelligent Force, or Being, communing with me. This was intangible, invisible, but built up palpably inside me repeatedly every few months — over a period of several years — until I felt It was silently calling me, filling my every sense to the point where all else was subordinated by it. The only way I could satisfyingly respond to this calling was to go up into the woods, away from all other human contact, and reach upwards to heaven, not just physically with my arms but with my heart and soul, crying out to It to bring understanding of what this was all about, seeking to enter into a state of never-ending union with It.
All things that were of the ‘Earth mind consciousness of humanity’ were impediments, somehow getting in the way of this communion, and I had to separate myself from them, including the very clothes on my body. I would stand there, ‘alone’, naked, reaching out in body and soul, heart bursting for oneness; tears of wonderment, joy, love, longing pouring down my cheeks, calling out to this Universal Life Force that was invisibly, lovingly embracing me, drawing me upwards into Itself, overwhelming me with Its Love that was far, far beyond the understanding of this pre-pubescent boy. Eventually — after perhaps half an hour, maybe more — the great, insatiable yearning inside me would slowly subside, if never fully, at least to a level where I could ‘rejoin the world’ of what I now realise is illusory, consensus reality, until the whole process started and built up to a crescendo once more. I have no recollection of just how many times this took place, but it was numerous. It was only in later years, after I began to understand more about the eternal nature of the human spirit and its relationship with the Creator Spirit that I have gradually come to know more of what this was all about. No doubt there is still much more awareness to come as my understanding of eternity continues to grow toward fullness of spiritual awakening.
We left the farm in 1955 and moved into town when Pop took a job selling organic seaweed products to the farming community. Within a few years Pop became the star salesman for the Seaweed Agricultural business. I remember thinking at that time — the late 1950s — ‘Whatever happens, I will never become a seaweed salesman’. I was embarrassed to tell my peers what my dad did for a living. Yet, little did I know how this perception was to alter and affect the direction of my life not many years later.
In 1960, aged sixteen, and with a handful of ‘O’ Level certificates from school, I got a job as an office boy in an advertising agency in London. For several years I commuted daily on the train to work, lost in the ordinariness and routine of it all, but observing how others much my elder had been doing this for perhaps decades. The thought of that becoming my reality was anathema and I resolved to make a change, somehow, anyhow.
Ma’s best friend, who was also my Godmother, had married a Canadian, and after the war moved with him to Vancouver. The thought of going there, getting away from the familiar circumstances and influences that I felt were dragging me into their carousel of sameness and repetition, began to build in me. By summer 1963 I had decided this was a way forward; an ‘escape to freedom’; freedom to discover the ‘real me’ hiding deep inside, that was in danger of inexorably becoming smothered by other people and the influence that their perceptions of what life was all about was subtly having upon me. Somehow, I knew there was more to life than all that and I had to get away in order to make a fresh start, with a clean slate, to discover what was really deep within me, seeking to come out.
I was floating about ten feet in the air above a young man, and knew that young man was me.
In April 1964 as I stood on the deck of the Cunard Line’s SS ‘Carmania’ waving goodbye to Ma and Pop on the quay far below at Southampton dock, watching them slowly recede into the distance as we pulled out into deep water, I found myself looking down, from a state of complete peace, calm and inner knowing, at a young man, about ten feet below me. I was floating in the air above and slightly behind him. I knew that young man, not yet twenty years old, was me. How could this possibly be? At that time I knew nothing of out-of-body experiences, and had no idea what this ship-board event of seeing ‘me’ from outside myself was all about, and even less idea how much this was a portent of the great mystical and spiritual journey that lay before me.
Yes, I had read the Denis Wheatley novels about psychic matters, resonated with the sense they made to my mind and to my ‘inner knowing’; I had dabbled with Ouija boards, through which there had been many communications from ‘beyond’ which all made perfect sense and which I accepted as a matter of fact, even though some souls in this earthly life warned of the danger of such activities and how they invited dark and satanic consequences. But the communications I had received were all from entirely benign, kindly, well-meaning, good-humoured souls, and I felt no sense of threat, evil or ‘the slippery slope to hell’, although I do not doubt that such is the experience of others who have similarly dabbled. (This is not intended to be either a recommendation for or a condemnation of Ouija boards; we all have God-given free will to choose, although the advice that has served me well through the decades is, If in doubt, do nothing.)
If anything, these experiences had strengthened my sense of matter-of-fact acceptance of the reality of Eternity and my place — indeed, the place of all humanity — within it. I had had a terrible, breath-taking, heart-stopping fear of death during much of my teen years. The word death, it seemed to me, indicated the complete end of life and consciousness, bringing only darkness, silence, emptiness, nothingness. Forever. This frightened me so badly I had palpitations, sweating palms and blurred vision every time I thought about it. Awareness of the reality of life continuing beyond this mortal existence on Earth being made real and tangible, through contact with those in that place beyond, was to me a very acceptable, reassuring, natural, sensible and exciting thing. It opened up possibilities that seemed endless, inspiring and utterly desirable. I was definitely eager to find out more, experience more, especially as all such experiences to date had been benign.
From earliest recollections of daily morning assembly at school, during which there were always at least one Bible reading, several hymns and several prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, I had accepted matter-of-factly that Jesus of Nazareth, this historical figure, was ‘the Lord of mankind, the Son of God, the Christ’ (whatever that meant); that the miracles he performed were real events — including his own resurrection — and that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the one and only, true God of all creation. But this was somehow separate from ‘real life’ in middle England, where there was beer to be drunk, work to be done (unfortunately), cars to be driven, girls to be wooed, jokes to be shared. So I put God and all His appurtenances ‘into a box’ and tucked it out of sight, out of harm’s way, trying to ignore It (or Him, as consensus reality would have it). But He never really was quite out of sight, out of mind. He was always there, just slightly out of focus. Well, quite a lot out of focus really, but somehow, never to be totally ignored or forgotten. Not for long anyway.
By about 1963 this ‘never quite out of line of sight’ God started to move more ‘into my face’, albeit in a rather indirect way. Right in the middle of the path of life along which I was skipping, blocking my progress so comprehensively that it was no longer dismissible, was this immeasurably large ‘billboard’, with sky-writingly large letters which read, purely and simply, Either there is a God or there is not a God. This was not God presenting Himself in a confrontational manner. Rather it was, in a sense, me, presenting myself with the age-old question and saying to myself, ‘Now is the time to face up to it fairly and squarely; you cannot go on ignoring this all-important issue indefinitely.’
It was axiomatic, incontrovertible — to me anyway — that this God of the Universe IS. I had been trying to live in denial of this, not wishing to be confronted by such an inescapable reality, because acceptance of it would mean that by the standards and values that were a crucial part of my persona, I would require of myself that something meaningful be done about it. The frightening question was What? Frightening because it would mean, by my then understanding, that I would have to change my lifestyle and do something about the fact that this God was not just the God of the Universe but the God of my own, personal life also. That was too close for comfort. After all, if this God had the attributes bestowed upon Him by the perceptions of orthodox religion — He was all-powerful, jealous, wrathful, vengeful, and could squash me like an insect at any moment of His choosing — then I wished to get, and remain, on His ‘right side’.
I had no idea how to do this, but again, looking to orthodox consensus for guidance it seemed that the best way to get into God’s good books would be to turn my collar round and traipse off to darkest Africa and ‘convert the natives’. This may sound glib, pretentious, arrogant, or even, in this time of the new millennium, politically incorrect, but such was my naiveté at the time that I had no other perceptions of how ‘serving God’ might best be accomplished. However, this prospect did not appeal to me one bit. It did not seem the kind of endeavour with which I felt any resonance whatsoever. Not knowing where to go from there and since by this time I was making arrangements for moving to Canada, that is what I did.
During this several-months-long transitional stage of making the arrangements (writing for jobs, applying for immigration etc.), and then the actual moving from England to Canada, I began reading the Bible, something of which I had not done much in the past. However, I had read enough to know that Jesus was the focal point of the Christian scriptures, so I turned my attention first to the four gospel accounts of his life. This recapitulation seemed to reaffirm my lifelong, unquestioning acceptance that he was the Lord and that the best way to follow/serve God was to follow/serve Jesus. To do this, it seemed logical to get to know him better, and the only way I thought that could be possible was to start going to church again — something I had not done voluntarily since pre-adolescence.
Having arrived in Vancouver and settled in at my Godparents’ house in a suburb called Richmond, in due course I sought out the local Anglican church (after all, being English that seemed the appropriate thing to do!). As I write this, some four decades on, even though I can clearly see the church building in my mind’s eye and could no doubt even still find my way there, I can recollect not a single moment or experience inside it. My overall sense is that there was nothing memorable, uplifting or spiritually inspiring about it; not a moment in which I felt actually more in the presence of either Jesus or God within it than when I was away from that building.
After six months the time came for me to branch out on my own and I eventually settled in board and lodgings in Kerrisdale, a middle-class district of south Vancouver. I was still filled with a sense of purpose and commitment to serve God; more than ever, in fact, in spite of the rather non-event experience of attending the church in Richmond. Knowing of no other way to do this than through the church, and having noticed that no more than two or three blocks down the same street from my new accommodation was St Mary’s Anglican church, I started attending, with renewed commitment and determination to stick with it. This caused me to soon be recognised as new, young, enthusiastic, committed-to-service blood. I was invited to teach Sunday school to a group of fourteen-year-old boys (no girls; segregation was absolutely the order of the day). This was very much an uphill struggle in which I can make no claim to victory. I was also invited to become a member of the church committee, the voluntary body of congregants who met monthly under the chairmanship of the parish vicar to run the church and all matters to do with it, including the fabric upkeep, maintenance and so on.
I was greatly flattered at this, for I was only twenty years old, a fire burning in me, bright as a magnesium flare, with desire to serve. All the other committee members were at least old enough to be my father and many were easily old enough to be my grandfather. I use the male gender here advisedly as there was not a single female on the committee.
At first I attended these meetings eagerly, anticipating that here, at last, would be that opportunity to serve that my soul had now been craving for the better part of a year. But, to my dismay, there was no spirituality or spiritually-uplifting energy in any of these meetings. They discussed, in an entirely mundane manner only, such matters as the adhesive on the collection-money envelopes, or autumn leaves blocking the gutters and what to do about them. Such discussions could easily take an hour to cover one subject, and often with much more heat than light being generated during the proceedings.
Some of the actual services had moments of more spiritual upliftment than at the Richmond church, especially the hymns, many of which did produce a sense of ‘communion with my Lord and with my Creator’. There was also, as I recall, a magnificent stained-glass window over the altar, depicting Jesus in a typical scene as recorded in the Gospel accounts. I do not now specifically recall the scene, but it was probably Jesus at the lakeshore. It was a big window and the illustration of Jesus himself, portrayed in a very realistic way, was actually larger than life-size. As I knelt at the altar-rail to receive the bread and wine of Communion, I would look up at this image and in my heart and mind would be with him, in glorious, one-to-one, personal fellowship. Such moments of togetherness were sadly short-lived because although I would gladly have spent hours in this moment with my Lord, other communicants were lined-up behind me to take my place at the rail. I found it difficult to have and to develop a personal relationship with Jesus whilst in the midst of several hundred other congregants, some of whom were coughing, some snoring, some laughing and playing about, and all of whose presence were somehow inhibiting my ability to enter into my closet and fellowship with him there, an experience for which my heart ached interminably.
The overall church experience was immeasurably less inspiring, uplifting, fulfilling or spiritually rewarding than I had envisaged as the anticipated route to oneness with God, and the writing was on the wall that the parting of the ways was not far off. This was sealed when, after missing church for some weeks (having by now moved to accommodation somewhat more distant), I eventually received a phone call from another parishioner.
“Brian,” he said, “where have you been? I have been trying to reach you for weeks now. I need to know how much money you are going to give to the church during the coming twelve months.”
Roy, the fellow parishioner, made no enquiry for my well-being, either physical or spiritual. The sole interest was money. This accurately reflected my perception of the spirit of the church, whose annual outgoings — including stipends and all fabric costs — were $40,000 per annum and whose annual income was $80,000.
My perception, caused not just by this one event but many others where parishioners were given what was tantamount to instruction in how much to give, was that the church was obsessive about money. How far is the church — generally — from the counsel of him whom they claim to be following: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things shall be added unto you.? The word ‘first’ in Jesus’ admonition appeared to have failed to find its true significance with those for whom the church was so important in their lives, and it seemed to me that the church had become stuck, in their perception, as ahead of God and Jesus in their list of whom or what they were supposed to be faithfully following. However, unknown to me at that time, my heart’s desire for moving closer to God and his Anointed Messenger, Jesus of Nazareth, had not gone unnoticed by Them.
Teachers of Sunday school used a teacher’s manual to guide the lessons. On one particular Sunday I left my copy at the church hall, only realising it as I got home. Never mind, I thought, I’ll pick it up next Sunday; it’s bound to be there, in safe hands. After all, if it wasn’t safe in church property, where would it be safe!?
The next Sunday, astonishingly, it was nowhere to be found. Incredibly, there was not a single spare copy in the spare copies cupboard. There was nothing for it but to go to the Bible Bookshop downtown and buy another copy. No problem; the bookshop was on the same street as my office, just a few blocks away. Midweek, I walked there at lunchtime and bought a copy from the kindly lady who ran the shop. We chatted cordially for some time. Suddenly I realised it was time to get back to work, and headed for the door.
Some invisible force took my hand and with it lifted a book off a shelf before I even saw it there.
As I passed a book case near the exit someinvisible force took my hand and with it lifted a book off a shelf practically before I even saw it there. It was called Between Time and Eternity. This pushed some buttons deep within me. Anything to do with Eternity, I wanted to hear about it.
The dust jacket described the author as a Yorkshire woman who had begun life as an orthodox churchgoer and who had started having unsought experiences of contact from the spirit world. She was taken out of the body to places and events in various parts of the planet about which she subsequently read in Illustrated London News and elsewhere. These, and other evidence of the power and authority of those in charge of these events, led her to come to trust them, one of whom introduced himself as her Teacher and instructed her in many matters, all to do with Christian mysticism.
I said to the shopkeeper, “This looks fascinating, just up my street.” I looked at the price and counted my money. I had less than was needed to buy it so I said, “I’ll come back for it another day.”
The lady looked deep into my soul for one of those timeless moments, and I could see she was trying to assess my honesty.
“Go on, take it; you look trustworthy. Read it. If you like it and want to keep it, come back and pay me. If you don’t want to keep it, bring it back and no-one has lost anything.”
She would have none of my protestations that I couldn’t possibly do this, that it wouldn’t be right. She told me as a parting comment that the author lived in Vancouver.
One evening after work a little while later, I picked up the book and could not put it down until it was nearly finished but my eyelids were so heavy I just had to sleep — if only I could, so excited was I by her story.
I hurried back to the bookshop at the first opportunity to pay the lady and ask her how I could contact Olga Park, the author, who did not appear to have a listing in the Vancouver phone directory.
“Oh, that’s easy,” she said. “My husband used to work at the Post Office with Mrs Park’s son, Robert. We can find him in the phone book and he can direct you to his mother.”
This was music to my ears. I had resolved in the small hours, as I read her book, that I would contact her and visit her because my head, my heart, even, so it felt, my big toe, were stuffed with questions I just had to ask her about. I was hungering and thirsting after spiritual knowledge, wisdom, truth and experience and it was evident from Olga Park’s writing that she had all these. I wanted to learn from her so much it hurt.
Soon, with information from Robert, I phoned Olga, introduced myself, told her I had read her book and was most interested in meeting her, as soon as possible. Not many days later I found myself walking up the wooden steps to the door of her little cottage, twenty miles from Vancouver in the woods round the head of Burrard Inlet, the huge natural harbour at whose mouth Vancouver sits. As I walked up those steps and knocked at her door, a profound peace came upon me. This was a magnificent, enveloping, heavenly peace, not achievable by or from any earthly experience or source. It was a feeling that I had ‘come home’ to the place where I belonged.
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