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By Jo Cleland

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I owed reverence, respect, and restraint to all. Holy happenings don’t always involve lovely birds, beautiful sunsets, or lions lying down with lambs, however. They may happen in an encounter with a creature from the dark side of the force. This spring I came upon the most awesome rattlesnake I had ever seen: a full four feet long, thick as my wrist, and dark green at the head, tapering to lime green by midlength. Only the last twelve inches before the rattles had the dark crisscross lines against a tan background that are typical of rattlesnakes.

The thrush’s song belongs to a family of experiences that usher us into a threshold where sound trails off into silence, time disappears into timelessness, and the known world is engulfed by the great mystery. The family includes the reverberating echo of a temple bell that dwindles off into the void; the polyphonic chanting of Tibetan monks that merges into an endless communal chorus; the electric interval between the crash of thunder and the flash of lightning; the awful emptiness when the exhalation of a dying person is not followed by an inspiration; the deep sigh and profound calm that comes in meditation when the mind finally stops chattering; the timeless moment, before sleep or after awakening, when we enter a dream world in which it seems perfectly reasonable that we should fly, change gender, or simultaneously be ourselves and our parents.

Most of the time she sits quietly and listens to books on tape, or prays for an unknown number of family members, missionaries, and those in peril in the far corners of the earth. I am sure she prays that I will find my way back to the true faith, to the Old, Old Story, but I no longer discuss theological matters with her. ” Tired from a long night punctuated by accompanying Mother on her many trips to the bathroom, I lie down in the late afternoon and fall into a fathomless sleep. Each time I try to struggle to the surface, I am pulled deeper into a vortex of darkness.

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Achoo! by Jo Cleland

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