Thursday, February 3, 2022

"What is your contract with God?"

Who could be knocking on the door, so late? Reluctantly, I left my book and the warmth of the fire. White moonlight gave the smooth oval of my visitor's face a pearly glow. A pleasant face, without distinctive features. The man at the door appeared to be ten years younger than myself, and perhaps a bit simple. I sensed a quiet fervor in him. Was he a Jesus freak, one of the kind who peddle religion at the doorstep?

     "I come from my father's house." His first words commanded my whole attention. I knew that this statement was true, and better than any identity card.
     He gave me a name I recognized from my father's Scottish family.
     He watched me with steady eyes, unblinking. He asked calmly, "What is your contract with God?"
     The scene shimmered, then exploded. Back in my body, I rose from the dream gasping, as if coming up from under a giant wave on a surf beach. The bedside clock told me it was shortly after 3 a.m. That's a popular time for people to be born, or to die. My wife was breathing evenly, away in a different dreamland, and did not stir as I slipped from the bed and padded downstairs to record what had just happened to me.
     I had no doubt that I had received a visitation. The stranger at my door had come to me with a question that pierced me to the marrow. The question implied that at some time, in some reality, I had made a sacred contract, "a contract with God". If this were so, then how could I have forgotten it? What would be the penalty for violating such a contract, in God knows how many ways? Would amnesia serve as an alibi?
     This visitation sowed a sort of divine discontent in me. It made me restless in familiar modes of living,    urgent to know the contents of the contract my visitor had mentioned. It brought back shards of memory, from my earlier life and from other lives. I remembered another visitor, who appeared as a radiant young man on white nights in my boyhood, and engaged in extended conversation; he taught me that the knowledge that matters is acquired through anamnesis, through "remembering" what we knew, on the level of soul or spirit, before we entered our present bodies.
     We humans are forgetful animals. We forget and remember, remember and forget. Sometimes it is necessary to die in order to remember what really matters. There is a magnificent story about that in Plato's Republic. It concerns a man who died and came back, a soldier named Er. In today's language, we might call him a near-death experiencer. From his experiences on the other side, Er brought back one of the greatest accounts in world literature of how each of us, in a space between lives, may choose the terms and conditions of our next life experience before our souls take up residence in a new body. There are varying degrees of choice, in this version. Then there is the question of how much an incoming soul will be allowed to remember after taking up residence in a body on earth. On the way to the body, a soul gets to drink from Lethe, the waters of forgetfulness; according to how deeply it drinks, it will remember a little, or a lot, or perhaps nothing at all.
     I like, even more, a Yoruba version of how we choose our births and may be helped to remember the sacred contracts we tend to forget. As the Yoruba tell it, before it enters a body the ori, or individual soul, kneels before the high God, Olodumare, to confirm a destiny that is intended to unfold in a new life.  Fortunate, evolved souls are able to choose their destinies. However, many souls have only a limited degree of choice, and many more have their destinies "laid upon their backs."
     When a soul has received its life contract from the high God, it embarks on its journey toward physical birth. At one of the gates between the worlds, it must answer the question of the Gatekeeper, the oni’bode

Gatekeeper: Where are you going?
Soul: I am going into the world.
Gatekeeper: What are you going to do there?

Can a contract with God be renegotiated? I am cheered by the Yoruba teaching that 
“an unhappy destiny can be rectified if it can be ascertained what it is.”
    I am also inspired by another Yoruba insight: that we have an ally on a higher plane of reality who is in no way alien to ourselves. This ally can help us remember our contract with God, and coach us on how to fulfill it or modify it. While the soul is down here in "the marketplace of this world", it has a “double in heaven,” observing from a higher level. From one life to another, they may swap places, alternately playing the role of actor and witness or memory-keeper. 
    Maybe the man at my door who said he came from "my father's house" was such a being. Certainly, he has inspired me to recover elements of what I regard as a sacred contract, and to live, work and play, with a clear sense of life purposes to which I believe a committed myself before I came into my present life.
    Let me hasten to add that remembering a sacred contract doesn't mean getting stuck in details. A babalawo, or high divination priest of Ifa, the Yoruba oracle, once told me that contrary to what most people suppose, most things in life are negotiable. I may be interested in renegotiating one clause on my contract that says I am supposed to publish 68 books; I am only up to 26. In the workshops where I guide intrepid dream travelers to make journeys to recover their sacred contracts, I sometimes suggest a follow-up visit to an otherworldly yet cheerily familiar Contracts Office where negotiation is the name of the game.

For more on the Myth of Er and Yoruba teachings about how the ori receives a destiny, please see my book Dreamgates.

Photos: "Dream Detective" and "Yoruba Gelede Mask" by RM

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