For my beautifully steadfast mother, Adele Teague:
Thank you for helping me cross over the many arduous death-wombs that could have swallowed me whole (Jeremiah 1:5).
Death comes to us all. It’s the great equalizer. No, it is the great begetter of the mysterious unknown – uniting both you and me. We may not logically frame it so, but we sense death everywhere. Throughout everything, its siren call emerges. Decomposing matter remains the arbitrary awe and function of our everyday existences. Life is fleeting and therefore trivial; this is what they say. Death turns us into the waste of what we might have known and the people we may have yet become. If only things were different. If never we’ve accepted the immaculate grace of love in this one and only world we know, then surely the earth swallows us up into its disintegrating pit of sod and soil. Six feet under. Oh, how it loves to recycle us!
We bend to the forcible will of an impermanence that cares not for how we cling to relative personal comforts for our illusions of immortality. In legacy building and the overall minutia of our perceived accomplishments, we erect vanity monuments to escape time’s ravages. We are constantly reminded, however, of the little ephemeral pieces of nothingness that we are. Both you and me. And yet no matter what life-preserver we choose to weather the storm’s rages, it still remains true: death comes to us all.
We know not what hour, nor the place of its arrival (Matthew 25:13). But like a bandit, it enters our houses and takes us for ransom. It is the strongman in the room (Luke 11: 21-22). When it comes to us, will we welcome it with generosity? We do, after all, have the ability to accept it into us, just as the intertidal shoreline embraces the immensity of a tidal wave looming on its horizon. We all know how it roils over and leans backward while taking ourselves captive. We must bend into it anyhow!
Please count me accurate on this one, for I have seen it in person. Death can be a marvelous spectacle of beauty. Conversely, it can be a chilling exercise in despair. In its final moments, a life lived in the abhorrent constriction of fear and self-isolation can produce a raw slab of existential shock for those observing it. It can, indeed, fossilize a person’s spirit just as it can annihilate a heart. In the end, I often wonder which way it shall be for you; or more precisely, which way it shall be for me?
In the cemetery of my heart, I ponder these musings before a dead zone of emotional unraveling. As doom-based thoughts wander around my brain’s periphery, I sluggishly recall my own morbid depression. Its misery is torturous and true. Why am I drowning in this cesspool of self-abysmal living, I wondered? Does it have to be so real? Oh no. Not now: I regret this circuitous cosmic tape unwinding before me. This is (just so you know) the third occasion over 2005, in which I grapple with yet another living-thread unbinding in what appears to be an endless spool of pointless tragedy. The phenomenon of death strikes once more while I rock back and forth on a whitened wicker chair on my mother’s screened-in porch. I voraciously inhale the bitter fumes off of a half-burnt cigarette nub on Easter afternoon between ho-hum commercial breaks of a UNC basketball game. It matters little now just as it mattered not then. In fact, the game weighs so light upon my soul in comparison to that awful heart explosion awaiting my arrival in the living room in three seconds time. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand. My mother projects her sobbing voice from the kitchen; its harrowing urgent pang reverberates directly in my ears.
“Son!” Yes, mom? “Get back in here quick! There’s something wrong with your stepfather!” He must be languishing away on the couch like he usually does on days like this again, I think. I’ll go check. As I traipse back into the living room in full steam-ahead motion, I look to my mom to quarterback the play. She pivots from behind the kitchen counter and then points to where my stepfather reclines back in a plush, blue chair. He seems to be snoring away in 3rd heaven! Thank you, dear mother, for your assist! As she frantically telephones 911, I stumble-step out of my depression-induced daze.
I immediately walk over to my stepfather’s unconscious body. Okay. I think I’ll check his pulse. Much to my surprise, no blood flows throughout his carotid artery. I beg him to awaken, but he does not respond. His heart explodes in his chest cavity, as we speak. They call it an aortic aneurysm. Taking his lower torso in the inadequate clutches of my arms, my mom and I lower him down into a supine position on the sprawling red carpet. My hands now quiver like the delicate little nubs they are, and I enter into a full-blown panic.
Recalling some CPR maneuvers I once rehearsed during lifeguard training, I discover my palm notching downward to what I think is an appropriate location on his chest. These compression-gestures are intended to be life-saving. Or are they? One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand. And after ten compressions, I perform a mouth sweep and pinch his nose tight. I then administer a series of mouth-to-mouth exhalations. When I begin heaving gulps of air down his throat, I notice a snoring pattern permeating into my mouth. The death-rattle. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand. Snore. Peering into the empty orbits where his vacuous eyes meet mine, an already deadened look arises. There is panic, fear, constriction. Staring blankly into the void of its digital screen, I completely disassociate. I am now entangled in with the television static. The game is still on. UNC ties in the waning moments of the Elite 8. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand.
After all is finished, the paramedics arrive 10 minutes too late. UNC prevails by a 6-point margin. By this time, however, the poor man before me – I know from inhaling his fragrance – has long since expired. Revved up electrical charges shock his body like high frequency chatter. Tick-tock-tick-tock. Boom! Zap. His heart blows-up like a thick wad of confetti, showering the room in its mourning. I cannot articulate this new lingering feeling (or non-feeling if you will) that slowly encases my being. In his final moments, my stepfather injects something into my newly fractured identity. His departing essence transmits its agonizing constriction into the feeble moorings of my soul. Wave after wave of despair crashes into my suddenly wilting center. Without my consent, I am irrevocably transformed.
I know not what, at the time, this heart-implosion means. I am, however, converted into a hardened shell of a human being. In the aftermath of this debacle, I let myself go. I am but only 21 years of age. It will take me the following decade and more to mend this trauma. No one knows why I down-spiraled into such future-fragmentation: only I know the facts. The specter of my stepfather still follows me. Only in time, will my mother’s love realize and compensate for this most unfortunate of mortal happenings. Our family shall rally together. The question yet remains: did I do it okay?
Flash-forward precisely one decade later. I now sit vigil beside my beloved spiritual teacher, Dr. Beatrice Bruteau. Her wrinkly skinny nubs are a residual reminder of where her 84 year-old hands once orchestrated aerial mind-bending feats from the vestiges of her intellectual prowess. Oh, how she used to wave her hands to and fro like magic wands that pumped pixie-dust ideas straight into my soul. I was once enchanted (no, invigorated!) by the palpable energy-forces that crisscrossed between such wild gesticulations. And yes, she was a beyond-brilliant, highly cerebral master of Hindu Vedanta and Christian contemplation.
Beatrice interwove her musings with inter-stellar bursts of scientific logic and the evolutionary enlightenment found in Sri. Aurobindo and Teilhardian teachings. Even at warp speed, my mind could never ascertain the cross-pollinating currents of information and energy at once, all of which she used to zap me where I sat. It was never the absorbed content that mattered – at least not during our teaching-instruction sessions. She reminded me on occasion, “Josh it’s not about theology! Whenever we talk about God, we’re really talking about ourselves! It’s the presence that you have to offer other persons that truly matters…” Yes, dear Beatrice. My heart bends into you, even still.
One afternoon while standing idly in her apartment, with Beatrice sitting in a living room chair, closely attuned to my current cognitive condition, and I staring blankly toward the dining room window, she giddily approached me. “Josh, what are you thinking about?!” to which I replied, “Beatrice, I am thinking about God.” She then retorted, “Why don’t you remove the ‘thinking’ and the ‘about’?” After toying with the removal of this predicate data over a period of no less than 30 seconds, fully digesting the implications of what I had accepted in my heart to be true, I felt compelled to respond: “Beatrice, if I am God, then you are God too.” To my surprise, whatever Teacher-student hierarchy had existed in the back of my mind immediately toppled. We were both suspended in this simple “if, then…” hypothesis, that if I dwelled in her, then in the dissolution of my disbelief, she had come to dwell in me. This I now know to be true: she remains identical to my most actualized source-ness. She speaks through me, arises from the foundations of my existence, is the transformative-catalyst for my self-actualizing being. She is made acutely manifest in my better actions and deeds.
But how did this come to be? I wonder. It was just earlier this evening that she had conferred upon me the filial-gift of recognition, “At least we have produced a successful offspring in you!” With this bedside blessing, my heart exploded. This time, however, the confetti-energy shooting across the room was of a positive variety! I had developed sufficient enough reason through the completion of my undergraduate studies and now in seminary at Wake Forest University to know that this was no ordinary blessing. Rather, my wonderful Wisdom teacher Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault illumined me that this was nothing other than a lineage-transmission – or, an uninterrupted conferring of spiritual power-in-relation from one successor to another extending back to our tradition’s founder.
I nevertheless began lamenting our beautiful year-long relationship that had culminated in her hip-fracture. After contracting a bacterial infection in her GI tract, hospice soon came calling. Within this context, our time together was painfully short-lived. My intuitive reasoning, indeed, led me to believe that Beatrice, with all of her higher-tier cognitive faculties, was willing herself to die. Not only did she refuse solid foods for minute dollops of ice cream, she began chasing around her nurses with her intimidating demands. The more awareness she gave to nurse so-and-so, the more likely that particular nurse would devolve into a condition of learned helplessness.
That said, her nurses loved her. They simply did not know her genius and tried to convert her on her death bed. On one very tense occasion when a nurse tried to tell her “Now Beatrice, the powers that be need you to eat your food,” Beatrice rebelled, “I-am the powers that be!” They each knew their places thereafter. Unfortunately, none of her nurses were on a given wavelength to understand her. It was in these vulnerable moments of relational disconnection that Beatrice confided in me. No matter how much it appeared that she would spontaneously rebound (both spiritually and physiologically) it was to be of a different nature. She never conceived of the necessity for a full-on physical resurrection. Only that of her Spirit: nothing less, nothing greater.
Now, in this moment, while grasping the sum of her pruned-out fingers in the palm of my hand, I gaze at her directly. Truth be told, she remains God-incarnate – at least for me. I look upon her somberly. With the exception of a 75 pound exoskeletal-frame that is shrinking by the day, she has lost most of her mortal features. Over the next 2 weeks, as she abounds more and more with the powerful radial energies at her disposal, she will arise from her indolent slumber only to reconcile her practical affairs. Others may not be in the loop, but I know the truth: her self-effusive vibrancy is short-acting.
Her radiant essence is a bittersweet perfume wafting into my nostrils and out of my awareness. Its magnificent glowing aura breathes life from her dilapidated frame, like a vibrant phosphorescent mist careening across the room. What I’m really exposing myself to, in this moment, is the distillation of her consciousness. It overpours into mine with the most salient of ease. I do not have to penetrate too hard below the surface in mining for what I am after. I suppose that what I’m trying to convey is that Beatrice summoned me here, specifically for this. I am to bear witness to her conscious crucifixion. I am to receive her Christ-contagion in love, as an offspring; a spiritual son who is to carry the future-mantle of her flame. I let this reality seep in before suddenly peering up.
A light lingering above her head calls me over, ever-so quietly. I look out of the window and into the night’s horizon. It is the moon! A halo envelops her softly sleeping crown. I know that the grief will come. There will be time enough for every unknown feeling to fluidly cascade forth; to crash forward into me like a tsunami, carrying my fragile identity back out again to sea. But not now. In this moment, I am being reborn in the death of a woman’s love. And that love is a life that will eventually overcome…
Death comes to us all. What a simple fact to swallow, but a difficult truth to learn? When we give death our presences while we are still living, a heart-to-heart connection can be forged between both living and dying. The basic constitution of these energies merely depends on what death-source transmits it to us. The source of our transmission assuredly determines how it can be incorporated into the subtle depths of our awareness. It also determines what consciousness-material manifests in us, as its receiving agents.
On a personal note, I know how the knock-down-drag-out lows on the receiving end of another’s death can result in a poverty of presence. The grimness of its transmission, for me, from my stepfather, was absolutely wrecking. I also know how the transformative effects of a pure self-giving can occur from an enlightened beloved’s intentional radiation just moments before departure. In the totality of my experience, what I do know is that love, in its most refined variation, is more potent than death. We only need the right transmitting-source to show us this fact.
The love that I received from Beatrice is now synonymous to the love that I give. In the absence of her mortal guidance, I am simply a mouthpiece. Although we remain two particular beings with distinct life-experiences and characteristic-identities that couldn’t be further, the quality of depth exchanged between us is absolutely analogous. As a matter of fact, the presence that I now possess may very well be Beatrice’s own! Our consciousness’ are so interwoven in the shared garment of a mutual indwelling that it is difficult to tease us apart. She dwells in the space-less place where I begin and I-am located in the transitional-zone where she ends. Back and forth, we dovetail each other throughout space-time horizons.
At the origins of my own consciousness, I now (as always) recognize that it is in Her that I live and move and have my being (Acts 17: 28). While my stepfather introduced me to the gravity and weight and seriousness of what death could offer, Beatrice set me free. Even as I crudely tried to cut her cuticles on her death bed, fumbling around with the clippers so as to lightly nick her quick, I wondered: am I doing it okay? In death, Beatrice reminds me that there is no right or wrong. She affirms us all: “Yes, yes, you are. Let-be. You are doing it in only the way that you know how. Let-go.” Love is stronger than death. Now, I finally see.
A grateful long-time student of Rev. Cynthia’s Bourgeault, Joshua underwent a radical process of deepening consciousness that culminated in a profoundly enduring relationship with the inter-spiritual mathematician and philosopher Dr. Beatrice Bruteau. After her death in Nov. 2014, Joshua underwent a series of life-altering changes; he refers to this spontaneous showdown with the unconscious as a constructive process in grief. An ongoing flow of self-transcending experiences (in suffering) suddenly led to a shattering of his narrow identity. What gradually emerged in the aftermath of this creative transformation was an altogether different person. Operating from beyond his prior limitations, Joshua seeks to both incorporate and advance the philosophical understandings of Bruteau. Having recently accepted an invitation to “upgrade” the formal learning instruction of his transmission-download, Joshua now consciously actualizes his Wisdom inheritance as Bruteau’s lineage-bearer. Joshua remains committed to developing a Wisdom circle in Raleigh, NC, where he plans on realizing this blessing as a formal spiritual teacher.