Last month I shared a story that was created out of the angst of separating from the Presbyterian Church fifty years ago. Evidently my creative self was not finished with telling that story. About two weeks ago, I had a dream that brought me back to the same nexus between my creative and spiritual lives. I found myself silently reading a text with a female companion. As I read, she offered a spoken interpretation of the text. When I woke up in the morning, I understood the dream to mean that the “spoken interpretation” was an intuitive and creative reflection on the rational story of my life. My female companion was my anima! This dream was a gentle reminder from Grandpa Jung to not forget my connection to the unconscious, both the personal and collective.
What next? Intuitively I decided not to go back to my stack of old stories–as I did for the last blog–instead I turned to the book shelf where I have stored fifty-six years of journals in twenty books. Quickly I separated out the journals that covered 1969-1973. These were the years that saw the transition from potential minister in the Presbyterian Church to storyteller. There I found an entry from November of 1969 that stimulated the creative process in me:
“Read my Bible every day,
Study hard, hard, hard,
And I will earn the Master’s pay.
Leave these books, forget the Word,
Work hard, hard, hard,
Can I still earn the Master’s pay?
I feel great pressure about the decision I have to make in the coming year. What am I doing in my life? I question my ability to make the right decision. I don’t have anyone I can go to, to talk about what I am going to do. I do not trust my own judgement. I need to find someone to bounce my ideas off, and to see my reflection through another set of eyes.”
When I read the phrase, “Master’s pay”, I immediately made the connection to “God” as the world’s spiritual master. Then, I thought about young, Raymond Lowell Gray, he came from a family of steel workers and coal miners. In the working man’s world the company was the master who set your schedule and paid your worldly wages. Finally, I thought about my world: Who is my master? The best I can imagine is that my creativity has set my schedule and paid my wages for over forty years–modest though it be.
Then a few days later, I had a second dream that I thought had a relation to this subject. This time I found myself at a party where I met a young man. We talked about a career for him. I suggested that he was good looking and personable. He might do well to find a corporate job and work his way up the ladder to success, wealth and fame. A wry smile appeared on the young man’s face and he disappeared from my dream. When I woke up, I realized my dream companion this time was myself as a young man!
Finally, the light turned on and I made a connection to the beginning of a story. It is a story about my two “selves”; my self as a twenty-seven year old Young Man; and my self as seventy-seven year old Old Man. They will meet and the Old Man will be the other “set of eyes” that the Young Man is seeking in his journal entry. I wonder what advice the Old Man will offer him? And, perhaps more interesting, I wonder what advice the Young Man might offer to the Old Man?
The story begins on a November night in 1969. We find Raymond Lowell, a twenty-seven year old, sitting at a desk in an apartment in Princeton, New Jersey. On the desk before him is a letter from the Presbyterian Church telling him officially that he has been rejected for ordination as a minister. With a gesture of anger and frustration, he sweeps the letter from the desk and it floats gently to the floor. From the side of the desk he purposely takes hold of a journal where he records his most personal thoughts and feelings about life. He picks up a pen and begins to write: “I feel great pressure about the decision I have to make in the coming year. What am I doing in my life? I question my ability to make the right decision. I don’t have anyone I can go to, to talk about what I am going to do. I do not trust my own judgement. I need to find someone to bounce my ideas off, and to see my reflection through another set of eyes.”
Gently Raymond Lowell puts down his pen and reads the words he has written on the paper. For a moment he considers who that person might be–that other set of eyes–his father, his wife, his mother, his best friend? Yes, he will consult with all of these close members of his family, but might there be one who is close, but not tied to the present circumstances? Quietly he closes his eyes and waits for a response from the unconscious.
Raymond Lowell finds himself sitting in a comfortable reclining chair. As he looks about him, he sees a man sitting at a desk, his back to Raymond. The room about him appears to be a study. There is a bookcase full of books. On the walls there are pictures, some reprints of paintings, some original and some are photos. He recognizes the people in the photos. They are members of his family–his parents, his sister and brother.
The man is working and he is unaware of the visitor to his world. He is typing on the keyboard of what appears to be typewriter, but instead of the words appearing on paper above his keyboard, they are appearing on a portable screen standing on the desk. Raymond has no words to describe this machine. He has never seen personal computer.
Wishing to engage the man, Raymond coughs and says gently, “Excuse me sir.” His approach is not gentle enough, the man is startled. The man turns and for a moment Raymond sees a look on his face, like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. “I’m sorry if I startled you. I just want to ask a favor of you.”
The man quickly regains his composure and smiles. “That’s OK, I am easily startled. We all have our shortcomings.”
Raymond takes a moment to measure this man of his dream. He is elderly, thick through the middle, but not obese. His hair is gray, the hairline receding, but he still has a full head of hair: and his smile, it radiates a warmth and willingness to communicate. Raymond feels emboldened: “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I’m facing a difficult time in my life and……and I need someone to talk with…I mean someone who can help me reflect…you know, like another set of eyes to see into the future.”
The Old Man rolls his chair away from the desk and closer to Raymond. He reaches out his hand and touches Raymond’s knee: “Where’s the rub?”
His eyes looking away, Raymond continues: “You see, I’ve always thought of myself as a spiritual person. I think about God a lot. I’ve tried to understand my relationship with the divine….about my soul and its relationship to God. For me, this relationship is tied more to people and social responsibility than to the practice of rituals”
“That works for me”, says the Old Man, “where is your problem?”
“It’s the Church”, says Raymond, “I thought I could serve God and satisfy my spiritual needs by becoming a Presbyterian minister. I’ve been successful at earning the degree, but I failed when I was questioned by the Church elders about my beliefs. My problem is my passion for the spiritual journey. I start to talk and tell stories and I don’t think about institutions and the people who run them…I forget about the beliefs of the Church–taking Jesus as my Savior and looking forward to my reward in Heaven means nothing to me. My spirituality is in the here and now, in my relationship with those that I love and want to serve. Now the Presbyterian Church has turned me down, rejected me for ordination…and I don’t know what to do.
The Old Man is silent for a long time as Raymond Lowell shifts nervously about in the Old Man’s so-called “easy chair”. Finally he responds with a question: “Do you know what it means to live a creative life?”
Raymond frowns: “You mean like the hippies, ‘do your thing’?”
The Old Man laughs out loud and slaps Raymond on the arm, “No man, I’m not saying you have to smoke dope, grow long hair and wear bell-bottom pants. But you do have to be willing to step outside the norm of what others want you to be and do. And you have to know that you are going to make mistakes, steps in the wrong direction, not everything is going to work. Here’s where your Christian idea of grace comes into play. You’re allowed to make mistakes, be forgiven and start over again.”
Raymond stands up and walks over to the window and stares outside for a quiet moment. When he turns back to the Old Man, he now has a frown on his face. “What about my family? What about my parents? They want to tell their friends about their son, the Rev. Raymond Lowell Gray. And I have a wife, a son and a second child on the way. How am I going to support them?
The Old Man stands up and he faces Raymond Lowell, eye to eye. “It ain’t gonna be easy. You will have to work, work, work to earn your Master’s pay. I believe you can do it. I know you will do it.”
When Raymond Lowell opens his eyes again, he hears his son crying in the bedroom of the apartment. It is time to comfort a child’s fears of the unknown. We all need support and guidance, another set of eyes to help us find our way in this life.
Last night I finished the part of my story where the Old Man shares his advice, or wisdom, with young Raymond Lowell Gray. As I fell asleep, my rational mind was thinking about the next part of the story. What will the young man share with the old man? Again, my unconscious had a response that was shared in a dream:
It is a warm, summer day and I am standing on a grassy field. My companion is a young girl about the age of eight or nine. She is laughing, happy and bit mischievous by the look on her face. She tells me to lie down on my back in the grass. She turns and runs a short distance; then, turns back toward me and warns me to be very still. Suddenly, laughing loudly, she runs towards me. When she comes to my body, she puts her hands on my fat belly and somersaults over my body, arms and legs awry, and still laughing!
When I woke up I pondered this dream: ‘So what’s this about? Maybe something the Young Man wants to share with the Old Man?
Before we go back to the story, I have an explanation to make about my name. As a young man I was known as Raymond Lowell Gray. My family called me “Ray”, but I believe, if I had become a Presbyterian minister, I would have been known as the Rev. Raymond Lowell Gray. As my life happened, and I became a teller of stories to children, the school children chose the name of Ray Gray. This happened on a day early in my work as a presenter of school assembly programs. I walked into a school where I had performed a couple of times. Some kids saw me and one called out: “Hey, there’s Ray Gray, the storyteller!” From that day I started to promote myself as “storyteller, Ray Gray”. With this explanation, let’s go back to our story of the Young Man, Raymond Lowell, and the Old Man, Ray.
Ray Gray is sitting on the old recliner in his study. He is thinking about a story he is writing. It is a story about a meeting between himself, as an old man, and himself as a young man. Ray imagines being able to talk with himself, that young man who was twenty-seven years old and trying to find his way in the world. What would he say to him? What advice could he offer from fifty years of living? Maybe more important: What would that young man say to him? What advice might a young man share with an old man of seventy-seven years? Ray closes his eyes and he waits for the unconscious to speak about the advice that the young have for the old in this world.
Ray finds himself sitting in a comfortable reclining chair, not unlike the “easy chair” in his study, but newer and more comfortable. As he looks about him, he sees a man sitting at a desk, his back to Ray. The room about him appears to be a student’s apartment. It serves as a combination, living room, dining room and study place with an old oak desk. On the walls there are picture of a small, blond hair boy. Ray recognizes the boy as his own son at the age of two.
The man is sitting at the oak desk. He is working and unaware of the visitor to his world. He is typing on a Smith-Corona typewriter like Ray had as a young man. Wishing to engage the man, Ray coughs and says gently, “Excuse me sir. “His approach is not gentle enough, the man is startled. He turns and for a moment there is a look on his face, like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. “I’m sorry if I startled you. I just want to ask a favor of you.”
The man quickly regains his composure and smiles. “That’s OK, I am easily startled. We all have our shortcomings.”
The man stands up and extends his hand. Ray stands up, face to face with the Young Man. He takes a moment to measure this man of his dream. He looks very familiar, almost, kind of like, like Ray remembers himself as a young man. He is solidly built, but not fat. His hair is auburn colored, close cut and he has no facial hair. He is smiling; his face radiates a warmth and willingness to communicate. Ray reacts to the Young Man’s smile and he is emboldened to speak: “I’m sorry to disturb you, I’m old and maybe a bit set in my ways…you know caught up with my past…and maybe I can’t see the world as younger people see it. I need another set of eyes…. eyes to see the world as a young man, not an old man.”
The Young Man reaches out and touches the Ray’s arm. He says: “Tell me about the life you have lived. I’m interested to hear how have you spent the past fifty years?”
Ray turns and looks out a window. He is quiet for a moment and then turns back to the Young Man. “I guess you would say that they have been good years. I did what I needed to do…to become myself…not what others wanted me to be. I didn’t find fame and fortune, but I made a living. I guess if I have a complaint at the age of seventy-seven…..I mean…..what bugs me is that my creative ideas today are ignored by young people. It feels like they don’t listen…and it’s just because I’m old!
The Young Man smiles and says: Maybe you’ve forgotten how the game is played?
Ray frowns: “You mean like old men who play golf…nah, I don’t enjoy competition anymore… I certainly don’t like the games that young people play with old people at the gym. Yesterday I saw a young man leading a bunch of old people through a set of exercises on machines. As they pumped, he asked them trivia questions from the 1960’s….and I don’t like games old people play to keep their minds from developing dementia! I am more interested in creative work than play.”
The Young Man laughs as he turns and points to one of the pictures on the wall. “Do you see that boy in the picture? He is my two year old son. He is also my teacher, the one who is teaching me to play again. I think we know how to play as children, but we forget as we grow older. Let me tell you a little story.
Before that two year old came into my life, I was very serious. Life was work, work, work: social causes, book work, changing the world. One day my son and I were walking along the canal near here. I was thinking about Karl Barth’s idea of ‘dialectical theology’ for a paper I was writing. I didn’t see my son stop, go to the edge of the canal and hunker down right at the water’s edge.
When I turned and saw him, I hollered: “What are you doing, you could fall into the water and drown!”
He ignored me and dropped a piece of tree bark into the water.
I ran back to him and said, “Don’t you know you could drown in that canal. What are you doing?”
He looked up to me and said: “I’m send Tuggy the Tugboat off to find the sea.” The story of the tugboat was my son’s favorite story,and I liked the story too.”
The Young Man smiles and looks at Ray:” You know that day I stopped thinking about theology and took time to play with my son. We both went home muddy and wet after launching ten Tuggy the Tugboats off to the sea!”
The Young Man turns to Ray with a pensive look on his face, “You like that story? I do, I’m not sure where this will lead, but I like playing with the idea of creating and telling stories. Maybe I can work something out.”
Ray smiles: “Thank you for reminding me to play….and keep working on the story telling thing. I think your on to something!”
It has taken me nearly a lifetime to begin to discover the synergy that grows out of the relationship between creative play and work. I will continue to create stories that talk about this basic part of human experience. Like the man of my dream, I will try to provide the intuitive and creative reflection on the rational story of my life. It is my way to earn the Master’s pay.