Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Creator of the Stars of Night

Once upon a time, a generation or two ago, before we landed on the moon, Cape Kennedy was Cape Canaveral – home to NASA – the National Air and Space Administration  (if you need me to spell it out:-)).

When I was a kid, periodically we got to swap out our spelling books for something far more exciting. Sister Inez Patricia would wheel a little black and white TV into the classroom — 1960’s technology at its finest. Sister would fiddle with the horizontal and vertical controls – and the rabbit ears (remember those!) to get the picture just right.

Our little third grade eyes would be glued to screen as we listened to the countdown on the launch pad. 10, 9, 8, 7,6,5,4,3,2,1,0. BLASTOFF!

Off blasted John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth. Off blasted Apollo mission after Apollo mission until that incredible day when Neil Armstrong set his boots down on the surface of the moon.

One small step for man. One giant step for mankind.

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 And on those same little TV screens in 1966, Star Trek premiered. Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock and crew set out on their five-year mission to “go boldly (and in technicolor) where no man had gone before.” The Star Trek crew blew our collective imaginations as they traveled through interstellar space. Galactically romping around the Milky Way of the millions and billions of stars.

The stars declare his glory, the vault of heaven springs

Mute witness of the Master’s hand in all created things.

And through the silence of space, their soundless music rings.

(para. Psalm 19, T. Dudley Smith)

When was the last time you gazed up at the stars?

Sadly, stargazing is nearly impossible under the artificial light pollution of our urban skies. But maybe you have gotten a chance to steal a glance on a starry-starry night. Maybe out in the country or up in the mountains. Maybe at Shrine Mont.

On this Feast of the Trinity, I invite you to turn your eyes to the skies  – heavenward. And behold the handiwork of the Holy One, the Creator of the stars of night. That we may discover – or possibly even recover – the experience of what it feels like “to be born from above.”

Alan Lightman, an astrophysicist, in his book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine tells the story of how he took out his little skiff onto the water in the dead of night. He writes:

 I turned off my running lights…I turned off my engine. I lay down in the boat and looked up. A very dark night sky seen from the ocean is a mystical experience. After a few minutes, my world dissolved into the star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity…I felt an overwhelming connection to the stars, as if I were part of them. And the vast expanse of time….from the time before I was born and into the far distant future after I will die – seemed compressed to a dot…I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a great and eternal unity,  a hint of something absolute.

 Something, someone we Christians call God, Creator of all that is seen and unseen – the divine first person of the Three Person  and singular God. The God we confess week after week in the Nicene Creed.

In Lent of 2014, I took up a rather unorthodox spiritual discipline. Rather than walking the Way of the Cross, I went in search of my Creator, the ground of my being.  I am not much of a contemplative. I don’t have the discipline to read the Daily Office. And being an extrovert, I am allergic to silent retreats. But as a bibliophile, I am all about living into the Great Commandment: to love the Lord our God, with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength….but especially with all my MIND.

So instead of cracking open a Bible, I cracked open the Book of Creation – with more than a little help from a little trinity of astro-evangelists: Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, and Neil de Grasse Tyson.

I read Kaku’s Einstein’s Cosmos: How Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time. Along with my daily prayers, I made daily online visits to Brian Greene’s World Science U – and got sixty-second -plain-English answers to my questions about the mysteries of the universe. And on the Lord’s Day, I would tune into PBS for a liturgical hour — to watch an episode of Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey.

I am not sure how much I actually learned science wise. I would ceratinly need to study up if I had to take an exam. But this little discipline definitely deepened my awe and expanded my sense of wonder in God’s universe (or it multiverse?)

Much like my awe and wonder were expanded all those years ago by John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong and Captain Kirk.

And this Trinity Sunday precedes Memorial Day Monday.

So, it seems to me to be both a right and a good thing to remember with gratitude those cosmic pioneers – who risked their lives to explore our solar system and the mysteries of space. For all the astronauts whose rigor and training, intelligence and dedication were given for a higher purpose.  And especially for the fallen heroes of American space flight: the 1967 crew of Apollo I, the astronauts of the  Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, the 2003 explorers on the  Space Shuttle Columbia.

 Let’s give thanks to God for all brave and bold enough to shoot for the stars, fly to the moon, and maybe even travel to Mars. Let’s give thanks to God for the gift of wonder and awe and joy in all the Creator’s works. And most especially let us praise the beloved Name  of the First and Foremost Person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

The stars declare his glory.

JoaniSign


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Differently Wired, Elektra-kly

The Bipolar Brain, wired bright.

The Bipolar Brain, wired bright.

Medusa. I definitely resembled Medusa. Twenty-one electrodes, like snakes had been glued to my head – a crazy helmet I had to wear for forty eight hours. A crazy helmet I had to wear because a crazy neurologist was trying to figure out how my crazy brain had gone crazy haywire.

But not because I was crazy.

Three years ago I started having side effects from one of the crazy drugs I was prescribed. The symptoms were both surreal and terrifying. They occurred only at night. It was like a power outage, like someone had flipped a switch. One minute my brain was on. The next minute it seemed my brain was about to shut off. I didn’t want to close my eyes. I did not want to go to sleep. I was scared to death that I might just wake up dead. Short circuited. Wires fried. Unplugged.

Dr. Khan stared at the scratches and the scribblings. Silent seizures, she said. That’s what wrong with your head. You’re not bipolar. You have silent seizures. Days of mania? Nights of depression? One EEG and she thought she had my brain all figured out. Diagnosis done. But Dr, Khan in the end turned out to be the crazy one. Crazy wrong.

But it’s really not so crazy to want to understand. The mystery of the mind is not solved with an x-ray or a blood test or an EEG. Cracking open the skull is like trying to crack God’s own safe. It is virtually un-crackable.

Just ask Michio Kaku, a theoretical astrophysicist and author of “The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind.”

There are 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, roughly the same number of neurons in your brain. You may have to travel 24 trillion miles to the nearest star outside of our solar system, to find an object as complex as what is sitting on your shoulders.”

“The Universe is concerned with the vastness of outer space…. black holes, exploding stars, and colliding galaxies. While the brain is concerned with inner space, where we find our most intimate and private hopes and desires. The mind is no farther than our next thought, yet we are often clueless when asked to explain it.”

100 billion lights to light up my brain. 100 billion lights wired 100 billion different ways. To the 100 billionth power. Welcome to my wired world. There is a symphony of synapses firing in my head. Sometimes the music is exquisite.  Sometimes cacophonous. Sometimes incomprehensible.

And sometimes my brain erupts like fireworks. Bright flames of orange and yellow and red. Flames I am most reluctant to extinguish. Flames that keep me up at night. Once upon an October just two years ago, I barely slept for ten straight days and ten straight nights. For ten straight days and ten straight nights, my fingers flew like lightning on the keyboard of my Mac. Twelve sermons in two hundred and forty hours. Brilliant. Profound. Inspired. Glorious. Indeed so  — maybe the first five or six. The next half dozen – not so much.

Manic fire fizzles. It fades to shades of purple, blue, and black. Just how purple, blue, and black depends. Sometimes dim and depressed and distracted. Sometimes as deep and dark and black as a black hole.

The brain burns itself out — shattered in an electric storm as surely as when lightning strikes a tree. A matter of scientific interest  of great interest to none other than Mary Shelley’s, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

…for a time I was occupied by exploded systems, mingling a thousand contradictory theories and floundering desperately, guided by an ardent imagination and childish reasoning, till an accident again changed the current of my ideas.”

“When I was but fifteen…I witnessed a most violent and terrible thunderstorm. It advanced from the mountains…and the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens. I remained while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight. As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood twenty yards from our house; and as soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump….shattered in a singular manner….not just splintered by the shock but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood.”

My mother once was shattered thus. So shattered she could not speak. So shattered she could not hear. So shattered she did not eat. So shattered she could not raise her head.  So shattered all her days were night. So shattered it seemed – it would take a lightning bolt to raise her from the dead.

A lightning bolt did. It’s called ECT – electro-convulsive therapy. And my mother, a bit like Frankenstein, had these electrodes wired to her head. The doctor flipped the switch and she was resurrected. Maybe not the first time, but after several treatments — with all the electricity of a 100 watt light bulb — my mother was resurrected.

And no one knows how. No doctor, no scientist could explain how my mother’s brain got rewired but it did. Who needs a psychiatrist when you can call an electrician?

Differently wired. I have come to understand my bipolar brain as differently wired. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and Mt Sinai Hospital Center are all working on the same thing. How to make visible that invisible thing called bipolar disorder. How to rewire the manic side and the depressive side just so. How to rewire the brain chemically and genetically just so. The very best scientists of the very best kinds are all exploring that inner space — magnetically, electronically, digitally.

All to find out what I already know. I am differently wired. My brain is bipolar and that is how it works. It is how I perceive the world. It is how I experience the ups and downs of life. It is how I think. It is how I feel. It is both blessing and curse. It is a gift I did not ask for, but I am grateful for it just the same. I am differently wired. That is who I am.

My mind dances in spirals and does not walk in straight lines. My thoughts fly like fireflies and my head is often in the clouds. Words spill out of my mouth both melodious and ridiculous. I am a one woman band, getting so much good stuff done in so little time. At least so I believe of myself — most of the time. I do not want to medicate myself away. But my brain can do with a little management — at least a little bit.

You see, I resemble Elektra more than I do Medusa. In Greek mythology Elektra is a nymph of the ocean married to a god of the sea. One daughter is Iris, the rainbow. The other daughter is Harpies, the storm winds that blow. Elektra — amber, shining, and bright — pierces the storm clouds with rainbows of light. I am Elektra. At least so I believe most of the time!

So with a little bit of science, with a little bit of magic, with a little bit of prayer, with a little bit of humor, with a little bit of faith, with a little bit of help, with a little bit of spark, and yes with a little bit of medication, and more than just a little bit of sleep — that is how I manage to be me. Joan Louise – Elektra – Peacock.

Differently wired. Definitely me.

So…

Thanks  be to all the gods and goddesses.

Thanks be to God, The Holy Three.

Thanks be to God for wiring me,

Electrically,

Quite differently.

For making me — just me.

JoaniSign