"Surviving a Magic Doorway" - 21st of July, 2018
"Surviving a Magic Doorway"
As a minister of religion I hear a lot of interesting stories from people. Many come to me with requests for prayer or advice. Sometimes I have answers, at times I have to refer them on to more qualified people. Most problems in this world are fairly common.
However, in 1985 I received a man into my parish who had the most unique of problems I'd ever come across - and likely ever will come across again. His experience challenged my own faith and is the reason for my exit from the traditional church into the field of what some call 'experimental religion'.
Let us call this man Robert.
It was a cold Winter's night in the July of 1985, a midweek service was being held at the chapel I was a curate at with not many in attendance. Myself, the regular minister and a handful of elderly folk sitting up the back of the chapel were in attendance. There was a great crack of lightning and thunder as the doors flew open and a wild-eyed older middle aged man rushed in and took a seat up the front. His look was quite unkempt, disheveled - but his clothes were clean. It was as if he hadn't slept in days. I still remember the wild look on his eyes - darting this way and that, involuntary facial twitches and jerky movements of his shoulders.
The service was nothing too noteworthy, I barely remember the passage we were reading from - it might have been a psalm? Anyway as this man sat in the front row, he began to burst into tears. I took him aside and inquired as to how he was. His words were somewhat unintelligible, rambling over all sorts of different ideas at once. His tears continued to flow.
Ordinarily when confronted with a case like this I'd call an ambulance or seek to notify the individual's family if I could extract that information from him. But something struck me as odd, not quite right about this man - but not in a medical or standard way I'd seen on many times before with others. His clothing was not quite right. He wore a hoodie with a well known pop culture movie image on its front and back - except the actors were wrong. He wore a football beanie with the right colours for the local team, but the wrong team name - from a team I'd never heard of. His shoes carried the logo of a prominent shoe manufacturer, but with an unknown brand name - at least to me.
As a young curate I noticed these things - I was up with pop culture in those days, and even so - everything about the branding, the identity and distinctive features on his clothing was not too incorrectly to say - out of this world.
I held off on calling either the authorities or an ambulance - it was clear to me he was out of place somehow - and at the time little did I know just how out of place he was.
As the service ended his tears had stopped. I asked his name. 'Robert'. He had calmed down somewhat and the jerkiness and twitches had disappeared. However he kept looking at his watch. I noticed it too. It seemed to have stopped. The time was off on it by several hours.
I offered Robert some coffee and biscuits which he eagerly devoured. We tried to chat a little bit but it became apparent that although we spoke the same language - none of our points of reference really matched. For one thing - he thought was in some city called 'Melbourne' in a place called 'Australia'. No such location existed that I'd ever heard of. We did get along though, and he was quite friendly, if a little startled.
After about half an hour of chatting I'd decided that he wasn't on drugs, nor was he out of his mind - though he was rattled. We had a hospice nearby where he could stay the night. Strangely enough he knew it. A different name of course, 'St John of God' according to him, but he knew the layout of our city almost perfectly.
My theological training had given me insight into a variety of spiritualities. I had also had an interest in physics and mathematics before entering the curacy. Robert told me that this had happened before to him, about ten years earlier. I listened to his story. In his understanding, from the inside of the experience, it was as if twice now he'd gone to sleep - had a dream and then woken in a place that was nearly identical to his hometown but with subtle but widespread differences. What he described sounded like something that would fit right at home in a science fiction setting - traversing different spheres of the plentiverse.
Calmer now, and the tears dried he asked me to direct him to our book store. We walked over to our book store. I wasn't sure what he was looking for. Scanning the shelves he stopped and found a book. The spine was reversed, the title facing the shelf itself - hidden from view. As he took the book from the shelf he handed me some coins. The front cover displayed a portrait photograph of Robert and was titled 'A step by step survivor's guide to magic doorways'.