Susan and I returned last week from a five day journey to the city of Evanston, Ill. We went there to attend the last concert of The Lakeside Singers conducted by Susan’s cousin. The Chicago region is where Susan lived until the age of ten and both of her parents are buried there…so it was a trip back home and a time for sharing many memories of her childhood. For me, it was an opportunity to experience the world where Susan began life…Des Plaines, Prospect Heights and Barrington, areas just north and west of downtown Chicago.
As you can well imagine, this is a busy area of the Chicago suburbs to negotiate by car. It is great to have that sure–but gentle–feminine voice of the GPS helping you to find the way from one destination to the next one. Susan has many stories of how she managed to find her way around San Diego, CA. when she worked and lived there for ten years. She could drive alone with her GPS, hearing the voice, watching the screen and keeping her eyes on the road all at one time. My anxiety-driven mind cannot bear to watch her multi-tasking ways when driving a car; so I proposed when driving together that I drive and she use the GPS to give me directions for finding our way. We did this several times in our travels around the windy city and it worked well!
It was the early morning of our third day in Evanston–while still in bed–that I had a thought about the parallels between our relationship with the GPS software/machine and our relationship with the spiritual energy that many call God! For some, like me, we travel from one place to another using our powers of reason–we study maps, write out directions and put them on the dashboard of the car to read as we make our way from one place to another in our travel. With the GPS Lady we surrender–well, for the most part–our powers of reason and depend on her to guide our path from one place to the next place on our trip.
So I ask myself: Is this the same decision we make when we accept that there is a divine energy–GOD– that guides our trip through this experience we call LIFE? For myself, I must say that I have trouble trusting either God or the GPS Lady! By saying this I am not trying to claim superiority, but simply stating a reality and trying to understand it…and decide if I want to, or can, change my Self.
I grew up in a family with little formal education, either spiritual or reason– based. Our lives were focused on the need to “make a livin’”. My father worked 8-16 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, in a steel mill. This pattern of work with its rational realities dominated our lives. We did have a spiritual side to our lives. We attended church on Sunday, we prayed over each evening meal and we said our prayers before going to bed at night. Life was compartmentalized and you did your best to give attention to the duty at hand…there was little energy left to open yourself to the spiritual that you do not control.
There was a balance to this reason-driven world of industrial America. My parents bought four acres of land when they had established some financial stability. The setting was away from the mill town and situated in the western Pennsylvania countryside…essentially what had been a farmer’s alfalfa field! Here we built a home: we literally build our own house, planted an orchard of fruit trees, a vegetable garden and many other trees and shrubs! The land was set back a couple of hundred yards from the nearest country road, so there was a real sense of isolation from the human world! This setting, I think, did help us to open ourselves to the spiritual side of being human through our communion with nature!
My struggle to trust that energy I cannot see and control has slowly awakened over the past eighty years! I do believe the essence has always been in me. I see this when I read the journals that I have kept for the past sixty years. When I served in the Peace Corps at the age of twenty-one, helping a community to build a school in the Dominican Republic, I wrote more about my understanding of the divine than about the school we were building! Later when I started my career as an oral storyteller, I slowly came to see my connection to the divine through the “creative process” of writing and telling stories orally. Now, as an old man, I truly have time to understand and explore this spiritual side of Raymond Lowell Gray!
So, slowly, I have come to trust and find love in this uncertain world…I find ways to balance my “Steelworker Self” with my “Creative Self” and so open myself to the Unseen! Slowly I am learning to trust the GPS Lady–and my wife Susan– and this is like a crack in the wall that separates the rational from the spiritual in my life!