So, like I said, there were two songs that impressed themselves on me as a young child. The first (see Part One) was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." But the second song needs a little explaining.
I was raised Catholic. From an early age I was taught the traditions of my family's faith. I even became an altar boy. Now, there's a lot, both good and bad that I could say about it all, but I'll save that for another time. Concerning music's earliest influences, there was another song I would often hear and join the congregation in singing. Now there were tons of hymns and choruses we sang, but this one always stood out. It stirred up something in me. The melody was different than the others (haunting) and the words were .... well majestic. The song in question was "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." I knew nothing of the song itself or its origins (and for the sake of time I'm not going to go into that here.) I just knew how it made me feel every time we sang it. It intrigued me. So it made my early list along with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight " as the first two songs I recognized as my own favorites.
Well, my young Catholic innocence gave way to the course of nature. At about age twelve I decided that ceremonies, robes and rituals didn't have much to do with my "real life." And, in short order, I morphed into a convinced and professing atheist. It was logical to me ... a well thought through conclusion I came to as a young and adventurous teen. Plus, I had things I wanted to do and they didn't include church.
So, what followed was music, bands, girls, getting high and all the other things that were common to the times.
I will fast forward now to excepts of something I wrote back in the late Seventies .. an account of the events that shaped the second side of this "Tale of the Two Me's ... The Lion Awakens."
(WARNING: EXPLICIT SPIRITUAL CONTENT. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.)
"We laughed the whole night through, lying on our backs watching the blank screen of our portable TV. We had each done a hit of windowpane acid and everything that night seemed hilarious. The fears that had been mounting up in my life were, for the time being forgotten.
It’s hard to explain fear like that. But, as I looked around at the world, I felt a sense of impending doom. Living in a nuclear age, seemingly perched on the brink of annihilation is how I viewed the crazy world I was brought up into. Being a professed atheist and clinging hard to my convictions, left no room in my thinking for the hope of some divine intervention. No, the only answers were in the hands of mankind itself … and that was frightening to me.
It had been two months since Sally and I moved in with Doug and his girlfriend Harriet. That was back in '72. We had a lot of kicks together and things really weren't all that bad. We managed to stay high alot and Doug and I were working pretty steady at the gas station.
That is when I received the call from my sister. She told me that if I wanted to see my mother alive I had better get to Florida right away. My folks had been living there for some time. She had a stroke and a heart attack back to back and they weren't giving her much hope. So I took a few weeks off work and Sally and I drove down to see her. As it turned out, we ended up staying there four years (and my boss thought it was a really long vacation).
My mother looked pitiful. She only weighed about ninety pounds and she wouldn't talk to anyone. She was like a vegetable. Though to our surprise she didn't die. She had to be under constant care as she seemed to grow progressively worse. I couldn't handle being around her, so I tried to avoid seeing her as much as possible.
We made a lot of friends in Florida and really partied our brains out. But, the more partying we did, the more I recognized that something was missing. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I felt empty. It was as though my life was this puzzle with a piece missing and everything I tried putting in its place didn't seem to fit.
At the time, I was working as a forman for an office and floor cleaning crew. We had stolen a quantity of quaaludes from a pharmacy we had cleaned ... which was nothing new. In fact, we found a lot of fringe benefits coming our way, working after hours in a variety of stores around town. Well, late that night we had a party and decided to break into a public swimming pool to do some skinny-dipping. I don't know what really happened but they found me at the bottom of the pool. I had apparently passed out while swimming.
They managed to get me home, and except for an occasional choking gasp I was hardly breathing. As they were waiting for an ambulance, I began spitting up blood and my skin by that time had turned blue. Later, we found out that the ambulance crew, unable to find us, had dismissed our call as a hoax, and were heading back to the hospital when by chance they stumbled across our street.
The doctors said if I did live (which wasn't likely) I would have extreme brain damage. Two weeks later, I was home and doing fine. All in all, I became cocky about the whole thing. I felt as though I had wrestled with death and came out the winner.
Six months later, my father received a call from my oldest sister in Michigan. She told him that she had went to some kind of "prayer meeting" and had gotten "saved" (whatever that meant) and crazier yet, she said that God had told her my mother would be healed within two weeks. Now my sister was the type that dabbled in all sorts of strange things ... palm reading, quija boards, etc. So, when I heard this I laughed out loud saying "Well you know her." We just brushed it off, after all, my mother had been a vegetable for almost four years by then.
I was stunned to silence as I watched my mother begin to talk and eat. Next, she was out of bed and walking around. All she could talk about was how good God was ... and no one had even told her what my sister had said. Within two weeks she was a completely different person.
Needless to say, I was freaked out. I just ran away from the whole thing. It was too weird for me to handle.
Then one by one, each of my sisters in Michigan were getting "saved," and they would write me letters and tell me all about it. I would get furious and throw the letters away. I thought,"I don't care what they're into, I just don't want to hear about it,"They told me I was unhappy, I told them they were all nuts. They told me I needed Jesus, I told them I didn't need anything. And around and around it went.
Well, Sally and I had planned a trip back to Michigan, and I wasn't looking forward to facing any of my family considering all that had happened. But it wasn't long before we were in the car on our way back to our home State.
The sun had been up only a few hours when we entered the Detroit area. We stopped and I picked up a quart of beer to start the day right, but cringed after taking my first drink. It was green and tasted terrible. I thought, "I hope this isn't an indication of the way things are going to go up here." So, before reaching my oldest sister's home, we stopped to pick up a six pack. All of my family was waiting together for our arrival, and after we had finished greeting one another I grabbed another beer and popped the top, I was annoyed to find that it too was green. I cringed again and said to my sister, "What's the deal, have they forgotten how to make beer in Michigan?" She laughed (a bit more than seemed called for) and told me they had prayed together that God would show me "a sign" of His reality by making me lose my taste for beer. They knew that would be a miracle. I shook my head.
I really didn't know what to make of all that was happening, but after being with them awhile I knew something really had changed about them. There seemed to be something different in their eyes, something in the way they talked, but most of all I saw genuine love in them. And they talked about Jesus as though they actually knew him. All of my arguments were crumbling. I couldn't contend with what I saw, after all, I had known them all of my life. And they were not the same.
They explained what they called "the gospel" to me (something I don't think I had ever really heard). They told me that the emptiness that was within me was common to everyone, and that no matter what we try to fill it with ... drugs, sex, our jobs, new cars or money ,,, nothing can fill that void because it can only be filled with God Himself.
They explained that Jesus had taken on Himself the penalty for our sins when He died on the cross and that now He was actually alive and waiting for us to receive Him into our hearts and to make Him Lord of our lives, that He might save us.
After nearly cornering me, I finally agreed to pray with them. I remember saying to God, "I don't know if any of this is true. But, if you are real, and things are as they say they are, come into my heart and life and make me new, and I will give you my life and serve you with it. There were no earthquakes. No lighning nor thunder. But when I woke up the following day, it was as though a huge weight had been lifted ... and all those mounting fears had left me."
Well, that has been many, many years ago now and I still look back on that single day as the greatest day in my life. Something in the middle of me changed. And that change has stood the test of time ... over forty years now.
It's true, as time passed, I did get wrapped up in "religion" for some years, it took some time, but thank God that's gone now. You see, I don't like religion. I don't like what it does to people. I don't like how it seems to create smug attitudes of feeling superior to others. No, what I'm talking about is reality not religion. When I walked away from ceremony, robes and rituals as a child it was because I didn't see them fitting into real life and living (though I do understand that differently now). But, a life lived out with the one who designed me ... that has been an adventure ... horribly difficult at times, but non-the-less real, and in the end rewarding.
So, back to "the Lion Sleeps Tonight." I'm reminded of "Aslan" from CS Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" ... that untamed Lion that is known in other places by other names. I like to think of it this way ... The "Sleeping Lion" of my youthful interest has awakened now. And He is no tame Lion. Following Him can at times be perilous, challenging and overwhelming. But it's real. That "majestic" Lion of my youth has now become my life and my muse ... "a mighty fortress" in a very real world.