We each come to this life as a Divine Idea waiting expression. That mode of expression may be one brilliant light, or may be a series of lights that run the span of our physical being. One experience or path is neither greater nor less than the other; instead, these different paths create a spiritual topography upon which our collective consciousness may expand.
As I move through my second term in ministerial studies at the Unity Urban Ministerial School, I have come to appreciate that my expression is that of many lights. When I first felt the stirrings of a call to ministry is a bit uncertain. The moments I describe below are those when that stirring became a call.
At a young age, my singing talents steered me toward a career as an opera singer. From the extraordinary public school music programs in Texas, I was sent through the finest pedigree programs available to singers in the United States at the time. My entire body of work in this field was something I never truly imagined. I traveled the world, met and performed for celebrities, politicians, and rooms full of people that I never dreamt of meeting. I sang beside some of the best and brightest in this field, and never felt anything less than honored to do so. To my credit, I was seen as one of these ‘stars’ of the opera world – again, something I never imagined myself being.
Despite all of this, I knew there was something more for me to do. The stirrings were there, but the trappings of my busy- ness provided a lovely distraction.
During the events of September 11, 2001 --- at the time, I was living in New Jersey while working on a contract at Lincoln Center -- I experienced what was declared post-traumatic- stress symptoms by my treating physician. On my way to rehearsal on the morning of this world-changing day, I was one of the thousands that witnessed the collapse of the World Trade Center, from a vantage point less than ½ mile away. Sleepless melancholy, paranoia, intense panic attacks, unusually strong bursts of emotion, and many other symptoms seemed to plague my being.
Very soon after this major shift in my thinking patterns, I became more focused on the darker side of this life I was living; I lived out of a suitcase for many months of the year and felt like a stranger in my own life, at times. What once was exciting and felt absolutely normal to me suddenly became foreign, strange, and even frightening. While processing all of these new and unwelcome thoughts, I continued to fulfill singing contracts, book new ones, and put on my best ‘game face’. In my heart, however, I was experiencing a growing, sinister malaise that would at times hold me hostage in my home for days. It is in this way- suddenly the life before me didn’t make sense anymore, as if the rules were suddenly changed and I was losing – that makes me think my experience is somewhat typical. I believe I was, through these experiences, jolted forward into what Jung calls the ‘afternoon of life.’ A world and a life that once had felt magnificent and exciting became something other. Feelings of dissatisfaction surfaced as worry, blame, distrust, and even powerful doubt of what previously felt like my natural calling. I began to feel cursed by a passion for something at which I had failed. In hindsight, I know these things to be untrue- at that time, these were the demons I wrestled daily.
Slowly at first, I began to look deeper into my life. For many years, this meant merrily continuing on as I always had- picking up the pieces, hiding the cracks, and never letting anyone see my weakness. As I ventured further down this road of healing for myself and discovered the next phase of my calling, I often unwittingly found profound tools that assisted me on my journey. The following is one such discovery:
At sunset on a particularly beautiful evening, I made the decision to walk the Labyrinth at Unity Village barefoot. If you aren’t familiar, it is a rather unassuming paint -on -asphalt design right by a peaceful wooded area. What seemed like an interesting idea became one of the most profound moments of my life.
I set my shoes by the bench at the entrance. After the first few steps, I began to wince at the pain caused by the rocks under my tender feet. Undaunted, I went on.
Once inside the labyrinth, I seemed to walk easily. An occasional stone, a bit of uneven ground- no major problems so far. As I rounded the second turn, I encountered the first big patch of torn pavement. Cracks, moss, weeds, and innumerable stones sharpened through years of crumbling began to gouge and stick to my feet. The rocks that stayed on my soles made each consecutive step more painful. I finally stopped, brushed off my feet, and began walking again with a thought to be more careful as I continued.
After a few more necessary stops to brush off my feet and prepare for the next careful strides, I found my eyes looking away from the path, seeking the end of this road I chose. Seeing that it wasn’t near, I vowed again to watch the ground and avoid painful steps. Before I knew it, my journey had slowed to a near halt and I was practically tiptoeing through. At this point, I had my first ‘light bulb’ moment, which revealed the depth of this metaphor for my life. Sparked by this notion, I smiled and kept moving.
The path continued- smooth patches, rough patches, moss, and the like- appeared in random order. At one point, after a particularly mossy, pebbly spot, I stepped boldly ahead, appreciating the finally clear ground. Here, I stepped on sharp, unseen stones, causing pain that took my breath. I stopped, checked my feet for injury, and began again.
Another ‘light bulb’- How often in my life did I assume smooth sailing and start to push harder and faster forward, only to realize there were things in my path for which I was not prepared? Still smiling- and a shade more mindful- I reached the next series of turns. Feeling confident, I looked to what I thought was the final bend. Of course, this was an illusion. The path turned again, this time heading further from my destination. Wait! I thought I was on the way out! Where did this turn come from? Suffice it to say that these ‘light bulb’ moments now more clearly resembled the flash of paparazzi cameras on a Hollywood red carpet.
More of the same landscape appeared as I began to get closer to the center. Now, I was beginning to navigate the rough patches, remain mindful on the smooth ones, and simply enjoy the journey. I continued to walk, and wept lightly at the lessons being offered in every step.
Yet again empowered, I reached the center! I took an audible breath and began looking for my next adventure. Here I am- now what? Having not been in a labyrinth, and by now having learned not to look too far ahead, I didn’t consider that the way out was the way in. In my life, at the biggest moments of confusion, perhaps the answer was to use the path to center as the path to freedom. This time, the ‘light bulbs’ were cannon flashes.
So, I started the return. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised by – while still wondering if my tetanus shots were current- how easy it now seemed. I knew the terrain, and the stones were less sharp on my feet than before. Perhaps my feet were not as tender, so the bumps didn’t throw me quite as they had previously. Then, I reached an area that curved within feet of my shoes. I thought, “No one is paying attention. I have already learned so much. Perhaps I can finish this with my shoes on my feet.” The argument lasted what seemed like minutes, as I considered the option to take an easier, safer path to the end. I began to step over the line, and suddenly realized that this was not the way my story here would end. I went back to the path and started moving.
Stopping for a quick foot brushing, I took a breath and thought, “Thank you. So, what am I to learn from here?” Suddenly, a bird began to wail what sounded just like the words ‘ME, ME, ME!’ I laughed out loud at these cries; how often, even in some very profound moments, was there a voice inside me crying out, “What is in this for ME, ME, ME?” I took a deep breath and kept going.
Two deer wandered into the nearby lawn, seemingly fascinated by but unafraid of the odd man walking in circles. They ate, observed, and sauntered away.
As I rounded the final turn and could truly see the end of the path for this great journey, I decided that I would do two things: First, I would stop and look back at all the ground I had covered. Then, I would take a moment to thank this path, even with its rocky places and wild turns, for all it had shown me in such a brief, sweet time.
June 6, 2015
David Adams is currently in his first year of ministerial school on the Unity Urban Ministerial School path. He is married to Unity of Independence ministerial intern, Rev. Warren Teachout.