Brother Benedict, a monk, led her over the mountains of Ethiopia. He led her to the very highest cliffs, and that day-that moment-made her doubt every bit of science she had ever known. She found God on that mountain. She touched heaven, and when she touched heaven, she felt its power and promise. Her guide calmly told her, "You have experienced the Lalibella Moment."
Katherine discovered a hidden holy land. She had her moment, when the divine broke through and altered her life. But there is more to be learned in the hills of Ethiopia. Katherine soon comes upon secrets of the human body that render her speechless as she struggles to accept the enlightenment of the untouched holy land. Join Katherine-an unintended pilgrim-on her journey of the soul, and feel the tugging of the divine on your own heart, as well.
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To Touch HEAVENWhere the Invisible Becomes Visible
By Patricia Marie Bluemel
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Patricia Marie Bluemel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe I Am Not
Dear Pilgrim, all of the angels and saints are
praying for you.
They pray that you may find the true source of all joy!
All of heaven holds its breath as you look here and
there to find this priceless knowledge.
Oh, Pilgrim, if you just knew how all of creation
holds its breath in hope for your successful journey.
The Pier Top
It was an evening of pinks and purples. We were at the Pier Top Lounge, perched high above paradise.
There, in the light of a setting fireball sun, our waiter popped a champagne cork. Bubbles of delight filled our glasses, and the city seemed to melt into a thousand and one diamond-like lights.
"Life is so good," I thought. "We are here in this paradise— exquisite yachts in every direction, multimillion-dollar condos along the beach, mansions glimmering near the waterway, and then those cruise liners, those bastions of fantasy illuminating the harbor ..."
"What more could there be?" I suggested to my husband.
We toasted once again, and then JB leaned forward, rested his glass firmly on the table, smiled, and became more serious. "Let's leave all this—the million-dollar view, this paradise! Let us sell everything we have and go to Africa and really live our lives."
I responded with a nervous laugh.
JB just smiled.
"You are serious!"
"Yes, I am."
I went silent. I knew at that very moment that my life had drastically changed forever!
The Wake-Up Call
My wake-up call was a blood-curdling cry from the nearby mosque, the early-morning call to prayer, reminding me that I was not at home but rather in Africa ... Ethiopia ... Addis Ababa.
The first day started with cold showers, cultural indoctrinations, drinking Ethiopian coffee—not with sugar or cream but salt and rancid butter.
Everything here felt strange, foreign. The food, the language, even the alphabet—are not our western letters but rather Ethiopian letters called fidels—and most of all, their concept of time.
In Ethiopia, the day begins at 6:00 a.m., not 12:00 a.m., there is a thirteen-month calendar, and the calendar itself is eight years behind our own, so that it is not 2010 here, but rather 2002.
All of this on the first morning here, and it was only noon. What could possibly be next?
How Did I Get Here?
The next thing was a ride through the city of Addis Ababa.
Our driver wove in and out of traffic, yielding right and then turning sharply left, dodging donkeys overloaded with all sorts of goods and black-fuming buses crammed with humanity.
With an abrupt swerve and stop, our driver and instructor invited us for coffee. It was a lesson, of course, in how to negotiate such a city. In nanoseconds, our truck was surrounded by a crowd of children crying for money and knocking on the windows. "Money for us! Money for us!"
JB opened my door, grabbed my hand, and pulled me through the crowd as a boy on all fours with wooden blocks strapped to his knees pulled on my skirt with his mouth.
Inside, we were quiet, recovering from the imposing crowd. The instructor lectured on how one must be quick—no time to pause— and be aggressive in moving through the crowds.
The "bunabet," a coffee shop, was plain—no frills, no décor, with empty shelves and unclean tables. Somehow, I knew deep down that this was the introduction to my new life.
JB, untouched by the meager surroundings, engaged in lively conversation with the instructor while I sat and wondered, "Just how did I get here—here at this coffee shop? Shouldn't I be in Paris at an elegant bistro?"
How did I get to be at that coffee shop? It started at high school graduation, that day of high excitement and high anticipation.
The keynote speaker was a woman. Her name is long erased from my aging memory bank, but she managed to redirect my life.
Entering the graduation hall, I was sure that happiness was what I wanted out of life.
Midway during the ceremony, during the keynote address, I became ambivalent. The speaker suggested, "Do not settle for anything less in life than to touch heaven."
Somehow, this notion—this idea of devoting one's life to touching heaven—overcame me. I found myself transported into new heights of inspiration.
And so, from that very moment, to touch heaven became my life.
Beginning the Quest
I grew up in paradise—a garden of aquamarine waters, white-powdered beaches, swaying palms. My childhood was spent on a dreamy sixty-foot, gaff-rigged schooner decked with golden trailboards, ratlines, and a fifteen-foot bowsprit. The Island Trader was the pirate ship of its day, noticed wherever she went, sparking conversation and intrigue.
I spent my early adult life lying in the net of the bowsprit, reading and playing with the dolphins as they swam alongside. It was here that the beauty of creation captivated me, and so I made the logical conclusion that to touch heaven required me to make a study of it.
So I studied biology at the University of Miami, a pathway demanding innumerable dissections and memorization of anatomical charts.
"To understand biology in more depth," one professor recommended, "you should study chemistry."
And so I embarked on a long journey of foul-smelling chemistry labs and memorization of chemical formulas, learning the art of balancing equations and calculating moles.
After that, a chemistry professor suggested that, to really understand chemistry in depth, I should make a study of physics. So I found myself struggling with the basics of movement, everything in the cosmos being reduced to math.
I received my bachelor of science and realized that I had not yet managed to touch heaven, so graduate school must be the next logical step.
At Bucknell University, I studied cellular biology and statistics, and I spent most of my time in the laboratory.
At graduation for a master of science, I realized that I had not yet touched heaven. I clutched my diploma and wondered, "What is next?"
The Lure of the Divine Proportion
A letter was what came next—from the US Army—offering a direct commission as a first lieutenant. Desperate for science-trained personnel—linguists—the letter outlined an exciting career as a cryptologist.
The study of codes and symbols led to glyphs and ultimately to the divine proportion. It had a special seduction—the golden mean, the sacred cut, the revelation of numbers, the secret of simple patterns of numbers found not only in simple mathematics but also in music and throughout nature and science. It was alluring, and I dedicated hours of my free time to exploring it. I was consumed with the pursuit of understanding.
The more I read, and the more I became involved with popular notions of truth, the more muddled life seemed to become. Instead of nearing heaven, I felt that it was more elusive than ever.
And then JB came into my life—a handsome, well-traveled doctor, a physician committed to helping the less fortunate. He convinced me to marry him and to start a new path in service to others—and that this might be a better path in search of heaven.
The Meeting of Father K.
Fast-forward now from graduate school, the US Army, and my marriage to JB to Ethiopia and the meeting of Kes Kafalyew, better known to the English speaking as Father K., an Ethiopian priest—trained Jesuit—with an Irish accent.
We were in the backseat of an old Land Rover on an arduous journey from Gambala to Addis Ababa, a ride over dusty roads, up steep inclines, and through rough, mountainous terrain.
This long trip afforded one thing, and that was plenty of time for me to share my now rather long story—my quest to touch heaven.
My tale was further complicated by the events of living within a mission, the sometimes bizarre behavior of missionaries, the challenges of different nationalities, and other exotic incidents of outback life.
"I am no longer sure that the Christian life is a real possibility, something attainable," I explained. "And so I have resigned myself to an alternative spiritual pathway, especially after living with missionaries."
Father K. smiled. For a moment, he scanned the mountainous landscape, and then, with his green eyes, he looked directly into my soul. "You need to be taken away from books—and, I guess, missionaries." He returned his gaze to the landscape.
There was a long pause in our conversation, as though he was remembering something profound.
"When creation is reduced to mathematical equations, when it has lost a respect for the deep mystery, awe and wonderment are lost. Science in this form is lethal, and in a way, it is suicidal. Reductionist science is simply improper knowledge. This is what you are suffering from—improper knowledge, improper education. Trust me, I know. I have been there ... twelve years at Cambridge." He smiled. "This is now the great root of suffering of mankind, reducing life to technology, math, and equations. It is a relativism of all truth. The result is that humanity is lost. Remember one thing—we need being for truth, we need the human body to understand and perceive truth, and we require a body to have a sense of awe and mystery. This is why life is so precious, and that is what should be the constant crusade of the church."
"And so?" I responded.
"What you need is proper knowledge—what we call Eternal Wisdom—and then you will touch heaven," he answered. "You need the experience of God in addition to that of books and science and missionaries. This new knowledge, this proper knowledge, is your answer. It embraces something beyond the mathematical equation. It accepts the everlasting mystery of things, and it helps us to even accept the missionary and his shortcomings."
"And so what graduate school provides this proper knowledge?" I inquired.
"It is not found in a graduate school or university. It can be found, however, in a hidden holy land not known yet throughout the world. It is truly a special place. It is called Lalibela."
"Lalibela? Where might that be?"
"It is here—here in Ethiopia!"
My eyes widened in amazement. And by hearing the word Lalibela, I sensed that something big was about to happen in my life. Though I could not articulate it at the time, the I Am Not phase of my life had come to a close.
The He Did
Dear Pilgrim, all of the angels and saints and now
all of creation is celebrating, because your
He Did encounter is near!
The heavens are lighted, and the choirs of angels are
For today, all heaven and earth smile,
and there is joy
Father K. had secretly arranged everything, which inspired a whirlwind of activity—a rush to submit forms and documents, the request to the Ethiopian government for permission to travel to an unauthorized site, the chartering of a bush plane, the packing of food, water, and sleeping bag—and then there I was, suddenly at the airport in safari pants, a hat, hiking boots, and two backpacks.
The inner cabin shook, and the propellers swirled. Two monks, a priest, a passenger from the French embassy, and I buckled up, and the plane began to roar as we taxied the potholed runway of the airport in Addis Ababa.
In minutes, the sprawl of Addis Ababa gave way to the countryside and the familiar grass huts and endless land. We ascended up into the gem-rich mountains of northern Ethiopia, sparkling at once in emerald and then ruby with sprinkles of sapphire and gold.
And so I was off, on my way to find Eternal Wisdom—the proper knowledge, as Father K. put it—to see the Face of Christ.
Two hours later, the pilot politely interrupted our quiet meditations, explaining the flight plan and the mountaintop landing to take place shortly after flying over the next ridge.
The bush plane soared up and then zoomed down—straight down—theenginesstuttering,thepilotsspeakingloudlyinAmharic, turning to the passengers with gestures of reassurance.
The monks remained calm and centered in their contemplations. My eyes were squeezed shut as we touched down and came to a quick halt on the runway, which was a level area of rock on the mountaintop.
The bush plane had stopped by the one and only tree where an Ethiopian and a minibus were waiting for us, the arrivals.
As I scanned the scenery, I wondered, "Where is the Eternal Wisdom and the face of Christ?" It was not on the rusted bus grinding its way down and then up the steep inclines, winding its way to Lalibela. We pulled into the Seven Olives Hotel and were informed promptly that there was no water till 6:00 p.m. and only two items on the dinner menu.
The Lalibela Moment
My guide, also a monk, greeted me at the hotel.
"Father K. has told me all about you," he said, grinning.
"Oh, dear," I responded.
"It is time for you to come with me. We are going to climb a mountain. Come follow me now." He smiled.
It was no easy feat. Exhaustion took over, but the guide, Brother Benedict, kept urging me to the top, assuring me of a great revelation.
As I reached the crest at the top, Brother Benedict grabbed my arm, slowed me down, and held me steady. As I looked down, my eyes widened with amazement, my heart beat wildly, and my mind stopped. Paralyzed, I was struck silent. I could not utter one word!
The air was suddenly perfumed, filled with divine suggestion, a thousand and one partial apprehensions of another world. I remember what seemed to be a chorus of angels, a flutter of feathers, and the sound of a door creaking open, revealing an incredible light. And in that instant, that nanosecond, I touched heaven.
Hundreds of feet below me was St. George's Cathedral, sculpted out of the earth and hewn in the top of the mountain with architectural perfection. Hundreds of chanting priests surrounded it.
There was a profusion of light. In every direction, it was luminous and radiant, exquisite in every way, and there was an infinite power of presence exuding a pure joy and a sense of the miraculous. It seemed like a silent rejoicing, and then Brother Benedict whispered to me, "You have just experienced the Lalibela Moment, the Lalibela Blessing, Eternal Wisdom, the Face of Christ."
An Introduction to a Hidden Mystery
The steps were steep down to the base of the cathedral. "Think of this descent as an entry into the womb of our Blessed Mother," Brother Benedict said with a smile. He looked at me and sighed. "I can sense you do not know her."
"No, that part of Christianity is foreign to me."
"Think of her this way, then. Mary is the one who teaches humanity the purpose of their human bodies. She teaches us about pregnancy and about giving everything to Christ."
"Wow," I interjected. "I have taught the biology of the human body for years, and I have never heard this before."
"Well, then, since I have piqued your interest, let me continue," Brother Benedict said with a grin. "Mary is that creature who was able to be pregnant with Christ; she was able to birth him. She is actually a model for all Christians. We are all to become pregnant with Christ. What do you think of that?"
Brother Benedict paused, taking a rest on the steps of the cathedral before he continued, "You could say that pregnancy is the true state of the Christian pilgrim. To be pregnant with Christ is what we are called to be—to give birth to him in every task we do, every encounter we have, in every challenge we face."
Excerpted from To Touch HEAVEN by Patricia Marie Bluemel Copyright © 2011 by Patricia Marie Bluemel. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The I Am Not....................3
The Pier Top....................4
The Wake-Up Call....................6
How Did I Get Here?....................7
Beginning the Quest....................10
The Lure of the Divine Proportion....................12
The Meeting of Father K....................13
The He Did....................19
The Lalibela Moment....................22
An Introduction to a Hidden Mystery....................24
Lalibela, a New Jerusalem....................28
Father K.'s Special Retreat....................32
The Precious Human Body....................37
The I Am....................49
One Morning in Chemistry Class....................54
A Distant Memory....................55
St. Joseph Parish....................57
The Worst Part of It....................61
The End Result....................63
The Real Facts....................64
When People Are Used....................66
A Hidden Wisdom....................68
A Miracle Priest....................71
The Chalice of the Silver Maple....................73
Resurrection of the Manuscript....................76
Rereading the Manuscript....................78
The Next Day....................82
The Mystical Bailey Roe....................84
You Knew This Would Happen....................89
A Final Reflection....................91
A Time for Celebration....................95
The Nature of the Pilgrim....................97
Reentry Back into the World....................101
Teaching To Touch Heaven....................103