Meeting a Mystic
Occasionally in life we are fortunate enough to meet a remarkable soul. For me, the blessing was the chance to know a small, elderly woman living in a humble cottage in Port Moody, British Columbia, the westernmost province in Canada. Over an eight-year period, from her late eighties to nineties, and my twenties, we became close friends, visiting almost every Sunday and spending hours in conversation over the telephone.
Though physically frail, she was in exceptional mental form. These visits were not charity on my part by any stretch. Our conversations were possibly the most intellectually challenging I have ever had with another human being. She challenged many of my preconceptions, answered many of my deepest questions, and exposed me to a whole dimension of thought and experience that I would never otherwise have been privy to. Why? She was a remarkable, contemporary Christian mystic whose spiritual life was not dissimilar to the prophets and seers of old. It was like meeting a Biblical personality, and being let in on a wealth of spiritual knowledge from another time. In some ways she seemed out of place in the twentieth-century world of crass materialism, but her testimony was too real to ignore.
Our first meeting alone was in the summer of 1978. I was a freshly graduated philosophy major, and we had been introduced once before. After arranging the appointment by phone, I arrived at her cottage and knocked firmly on the door three times. There was no answer, so I knocked again. I could hear her strumming her autoharp, fervently singing a hymn in utmost devotional sincerity. She obviously couldn’t hear me, so I considered my options. I tested the door handle and after a final attempt, decided to open the door a little and call out to her.
Startled, she leapt up in her chair and yelled, “Don’t you knock?” I apologized, and explained that I had tried, and she quickly shrugged it off and said “Come in, come in.” She had never attended university, but by the end of our first meeting I had become many times more intrigued by her worldview and life experience than any lettered professor I had met.
Her full name was Mary Olga Park, known as Olga in her later years and as “Granny” to her close friends. She was a woman from another era, born in 19th century Yorkshire in England. She came to British Columbia in 1910 at the age of nineteen, giving up a promising singing career to follow her family to what was then by comparison a somewhat uncultured Vancouver. She raised a family at various homes in Vancouver. The first was in Kerrisdale, when it was considered a suburb “out in the sticks”—a sea of big, charred old stumps at the south end of a muddy Granville Street, rutted from horse drawn carriages. She’d attended St. Mary’s Anglican Church for many years.
Olga’s husband James Park died when she was in her sixties, and she spent the last twenty or so years living in a tiny cottage in Port Moody. It had mock-tudor batten boards and stucco, and though it might qualify as a shack, she preferred to call it her cottage. I had seen the cottage many times before when cycling by it as a kid. It was quaint, nestled in a setting of cedar trees, only inches from Alderside Road, and only metres away from the railway tracks opposite the road. Whenever a train came by, which luckily was seldom, the whole cottage shook.
Relocating to the cottage signified a new focus in Granny’s spiritual life. After her husband’s death, she wanted to dedicate her remaining days to a purposeful devotional life of prayer, contemplation and Bible study. She did this every day for over twenty years. Her days were otherwise filled with reading about the lives of Christian mystics, early church history, or receiving invited guests whom she called “learners” for Bible study and contemplation.
Olga marked this new life of dedication in several ways. To punctuate her commitment, she gave away most of her possessions. Along with many spiritually advanced souls, she felt that attachment to material possessions was inhibiting to spiritual growth. She reduced her wardrobe to two simple outfits, both the same – as she would say, one for wearing and the second for when the first had to be washed. Her outfit consisted of slacks, a matching jacket or tunic, a white top, and sometimes a cloak to wear over the tunic. Everything but the top was grey, chosen, she said, because it was the “colour of service.” On her feet she wore pointy grey zip-up boots with a slight heel. We privately laughed about them because they seemed to be just like the “go-go” boots that were fashionable among dancers on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand show in the nineteen sixties.
The cottage was not large enough for a dedicated bed, so she pulled out a sofa bed every evening and put it back every morning. Her sanctuary with its simple altar took up much of the small living room. Here she prayed and practiced her communion ritual. She strongly advocated private altars in the home as a focal point for one’s spiritual aspiration and energies. Granny’s altar was about four feet tall, and about twenty inches wide and deep. It held her three-branch candelabra and two other candles, all of which had symbolic significance. On the floor was a simple prayer stool made of plywood and nails. Looking up at the ceiling, you could see the black soot from candle smoke, indicating an obviously well used altar. Behind the altar was her own pastel drawing of one of her visions—of Christ standing in the midst of a menorah, like that described by John of Patmos in Revelation 1:12-13.
One wall of the cottage had a framed print of Jean-Francois Millet’s 1857 painting “The Gleaners.” The north wall closest to the train tracks had no windows, but she put curtains up anyway, along with her own drawing of an Egyptian desert scene, as if it were the view out of a window. The picture was of a blind fool walking along a narrow ledge, symbolizing the soul’s precarious journey through time.
Despite her poor hearing and eyesight, her mind was sharper than most, constantly questioning, examining, turning over words and ideas. She was less than five feet tall. Her arched back was hunched over by osteoporosis, and she probably weighed less than ninety pounds. Her friends would say she ate about as much as a little bird. To some, Granny may have looked slight and frail at first glance, but she spoke with great authority and conviction, so her physical stature seemed to be overcome by her intellectual and spiritual presence.
She lived alone, but had a small network of friends and neighbours who looked out for her. She bought groceries from the old Ioco Market, where the proprietor would let her buy on credit until her pension cheque came. Her husband had been a bank manager with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and she had a very small survivor’s pension, presumably along with the government old age pension. We used to joke that she was living so long the bank was probably losing a lot of money on her husband’s pension.
The cottage was usually kept warm from an electric heater plugged into the wall. She would make her way into the tiny kitchen and put on the kettle to make a pot of her favourite tea—darjeeling mixed with jasmine—served in delicate but stained bone china cups. She offered cookies—Peak Freans bourbon cremes and Cadbury chocolate fingers. Tea was served on a simple grey metal secretarial—a very small typewriter desk—covered by a tea towel, the creases of which she tried to flatten out with her hands. Though her bone china cups were stained and chipped, you would hear from her if you happened to match a cup with the wrong saucer. She liked things to be “properly English.”
Mrs. Park had a way of making the humblest settings seem regal and significant. She made you feel like an honoured guest, and that God had ordained this visit together. Tea always seemed to taste better at Granny’s place. We’d go home and try unsuccessfully to replicate the taste of her tea, even using the same brand. Was it the teapot? The water? Mentioning this to her once, she laughed and replied, “It’s the love I put in when preparing it!”
The purpose of my first visit was to discuss direct experience of God. By reputation, she had been having extraordinary experiences and visions for over sixty years. She was devoutly Christian, and I was told that these experiences gave her unique insights into the meaning of other visions recorded in the Bible, such as John of Patmos’ apocalyptic visions recorded in Revelation. Because of this background knowledge, I wasn’t too alarmed, though nevertheless surprised, when she spoke of the visitor who preceded me. It had been the author of the Gospel of John, who appeared to her as a large golden eagle, sitting on the chair right next to me. I jostled a little uncomfortably, not sure what to think.
As I got to know Olga, her central theme became clear. To paraphrase: Jesus is alive, and is carrying out a concrete plan to bring humanity into a more advanced state of spiritual awareness or consciousness—the state that he called the “kingdom of heaven on earth.” It’s possible to hear his living voice, just like his followers did in the years after his death, and the communion service she received is a helpful means of becoming attuned to him.
Like millions of Christians, Olga prayed daily. But her prayers were often two-way conversations, and she would share what she heard from “the other side.” Sometimes she heard directly from Jesus, whom she affectionately called “The Master;” and sometimes from others who were close to Jesus, including saints, clergy and philosophers. She was in close contact with a personal friend, the former rector at St. Mary’s Anglican in Vancouver, who predeceased her by several decades. While attending his church, she felt very close to “the Rector” spiritually, and one of her early mystical experiences was hearing his whole sermon while she was cleaning out the bathtub, two hours before he actually preached it. Her account of this experience is in her book An Open Door.
What impressed me most about Olga was her rational mind. I had never met a mystic before, but had imagined them to be the “touchy feely” type who don’t have a lot of time for the demands of logic and evidentiary proof. In her case, I was dead wrong. She saw God as the source of reason, and rational inquiry as our duty. Although she could engage in the most profound of conversations, what was most evident was her personal devotion to Jesus. You couldn’t help but get a sense that you were in the presence of someone who was a close personal friend of his. She spoke as someone who just got off the telephone with him. I’d been exposed to fundamentalist preachers who made similar claims, but they often seemed to trivialize Jesus by suggesting he was speaking to them about the car they were about to buy, or worse, trying to appeal to his higher authority to control others. Some may even have been dangerously close to mistaking Jesus’ voice for that of their own alter ego. But Mrs. Park’s discussion of Jesus was always about higher thoughts and life principles, much like the sayings attributed to him in the gospels.
When it came to Bible study, Mrs. Park had a detective-like approach to examining the incidents from Jesus’ life in the gospels. She had a way of getting into the story that enlivened it. It was as if it were happening right before her, and this sense of immediacy gave rise to all kinds of questions left unanswered by the gospel texts. She would often speculate about why Jesus did or said something. She would ask the question, and then go into a deep meditation, coming out of which she might say, “I can’t figure it out—but I love a good mystery” or “someone in the spirit world just told me that it was because…” Sometimes she wouldn’t let you in on her discovery, and would say, “You’ll just have to figure it out for yourself.”
One of these insights related to what she saw as a major shift in Jesus’ thinking following the transfiguration on the Mount of Olives where Moses and Elijah appeared to him. Mrs. Park had no difficulty believing the historicity of biblical events such as this. She taught that there are many dimensions of reality and existence, just as Jesus taught, “in my father’s house are many mansions.” Her main goal was the cultivation of a spirituality attuned to the dimension in which Jesus now lives and operates. She sought to develop in herself the ability to hear the voice of Jesus, and to share her methods with others. The primary vehicle for developing the ability to communicate at that level is the communion service that was given to her in stages over several years. It incorporates a blend of song, prayer, ritual and meditation that she said could “attune” one to Jesus’ higher “vibrational” level. Her belief that she was “just an ordinary housewife” led her to a conviction that anyone could develop this capacity, though I suspect that at times she must have realized as well that she had a special gift in this regard.
Mrs. Park was always open-minded. She would have been thrilled to learn more about recently discovered gospel texts and archaeological discoveries relevant to Jesus’ time on earth. I expect she also would closely follow the “Jesus scholars” in their quest to distill the historical Jesus from the texts written about him. In many ways, she was pursuing a similar type of analysis throughout her life, and quite independently came to similar conclusions about the editing of certain gospel texts and early Church motivations for advancing certain doctrines and dismissing others.
One major difference in her approach, however, is that she had much more acceptance and awareness of the spiritual and miraculous, which often seems to be dismissed by many of the scholars as superstitious or concocted tales to advance certain doctrinal or political views. I expect Mrs. Park would find some of these scholars to be unduly cynical and unaware of the potential for interaction between the physical and spiritual dimensions. She found it deplorable that some Christian scholars do not believe in the soul’s survival after physical death. Her experience of that realm was a common occurrence, so it wasn’t an academic question so much as a lived reality.
Mrs. Park’s awareness of spiritual dimensions led her not to question the authenticity of recorded miracles, such as Jesus’ turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. This was not because she was gullible or had a propensity to accept the incredible, but was rooted in genuine open-mindedness originating from her own experience of the miraculous on many occasions. She documented many of these experiences in An Open Door, such as the occasion when an iris she had picked for her altar that “resurrected” three times after the blossom had withered. She would therefore approach reports of Jesus’ miracles with a detective’s investigative mind, trying to figure out how it might be that Jesus could convert water molecules into good wine. She saw miracles not as a suspension of natural law, but as demonstrations of hitherto undiscovered laws affecting the interactions possible between spirit and substance. She would attribute our limited understanding of these laws to general Western scepticism about the spiritual dimension of existence, caused by the schism between religious dogma and scientific inquiry. In discussing the gospel miracles she would often say that “Jesus is not a magician—he’s a scientist. It’s just that our science hasn’t caught up with him yet!”
Her quest was for much more than the historical Jesus. She wanted to understand the historical Jesus in order to gain insight into the cosmic Christ. Her visions taught her that Christ’s mission was much larger than his Jewish incarnation that ended in his murder at a young age. The cosmic Christ that revealed himself to her was dedicated to elevating the spiritual consciousness of all of humanity. She would sometimes say, “You know, he hasn’t just been twiddling his thumbs up on some cloud for the last 2,000 years. His mission goes forward, one step at a time.” So while she was deeply interested in and committed to the historical Christ, it was so she could “attune” herself to the thought-realm of the living, cosmic Christ. On Good Friday in 1946, she received a fascinating vision, initially of the Egyptian god Osiris, who then became Jesus the Christ. In An Open Door she writes:
Directly I saw him [Osiris] I had the spontaneous and overwhelming feeling of devotion to him that I have felt always and only for Jesus, the Christ, and I flung myself at his feet crying out, "0 my dear Lord and Master." At this, the whole of his appearance as Osiris fell away, and he stood before me as Jesus the Good Shepherd with the crook of the Shepherd of Israel in one hand and the flail of Cosmic Law in the other.
Mrs. Park’s meditations were rooted in the wisdom tradition, drawing at once from the mind, heart and soul. When pondering a question or curious biblical event, there would often be long pauses in her thoughts followed by sentences as she meditated and composed on the spot. Her mind was deeply engaged—you could feel it working. It was as if she was reaching out to a thought realm where she might encounter other great minds for inspiration or answers.
Spirituality informed every aspect of her life, including what she ate and how she prepared her food. Once I saw her gently tearing lettuce for a sandwich, thanking it as she did. She said that even plants have their own level of awareness, and that it was too shocking to abruptly cut it with a knife—you should treat it with respect. One of her favorite meals was a grated apple sandwich, with the crust cut off the bread so she could chew it. At a certain stage in her eremitic life she complied with a personal imperative from Jesus that she “eat no meat.” She said his advice had something to do with a need for consistency between his desired level of spiritual consciousness for her and the “vibrational” level at which the body operates. She often said that things needed to be “in alignment.”
Over the years we became very close. Some of the best times in my life were sitting with her on the sofa, me on one side, my spouse on the other, invited into the depths of her contemplation on the mysteries of God, some aspect of Jesus’ life or teaching, or some wonder of nature. Granny never ever lost her sense of wonder. One of her most treasured memories was that of hearing a mother songbird teaching a musical scale to its young. She seemed to be continually in awe at the beauty of life on earth.
She came to accept that certain principles were inherent in God’s creation. For example, she believed that God had created a cure for every ailment faced by humans. It would take right relationship with the Earth to discover what those are. For her own health, Olga relied entirely on herbal remedies that she had studied and experienced. If she didn’t have a particular herb growing near her cottage, she would ask us to go get it at a store that sold them in old Port Moody. She marveled that God would design healing properties in such a common and abundant plant as ground ivy. She almost never saw a doctor, but then again never really needed to because she was in good health most of her elderly life, except when she fell and broke her leg. In this she was not unlike some aboriginal elders of whom native friends have told me.
Mrs. Park had a profound understanding of astrology, but cautioned against its popular misuse and oversimplification. She fundamentally challenged newspaper and tabloid variety astrology as overly simplistic and wrong-headed. Properly prepared astrological charts would have to take in a whole host of factors and influences unique to birth time and place, as well as personal choices and preferences, and could not be generalized simply by birth sign. She could read an astrological chart and accurately identify fundamental personality traits and specific life challenges. Astrological understanding formed a significant part of her worldview in two respects. The first is that she saw God’s design in all of creation. Life was not a matter of chance. The idea that the stars and galaxies would correspond to events in a person’s life on earth made sense to her, much like the biblical notion of the “Book of Life” in which God’s will and purpose for us is written. At all times, however, Granny believed in the vital importance of individual free will. Some parameters or conditions for our incarnation were set in order to ensure the conditions necessary for our spiritual growth. But the importance of the will in determining the “desire of the heart” was a key concept in her thinking. She was perturbed that much popular astrology was geared towards prediction of future conditions affecting one’s happiness, wealth or love life.
The second aspect of astrological significance on her worldview was that she saw, by God’s design, the spiritual evolution of humanity unfolding in a series of astrological ages. Each age has its religious significance and limitations. For example, the Age of Aries, represented by the ram, was dominated by religions that, for example, sacrificed rams to appease the wrath of God or gods. It was not mere coincidence to her that the current Age of Pisces saw the rise and dominance of Christianity, which is represented by the sign of the fish. What she thought was quite significant about the current time is that as the Piscean Age draws to a close, the Aquarian Age is the last of a series of ages in about a 25,000+ year cycle, the approximate time it takes for successive vernal equinoxes to move through each of the twelve constellations. She develops the significance of this notion in An Open Door.
Mrs. Park’s astrological understanding allowed her to accept completely the account in the gospel of Matthew about the magi or astrologers from the east who predicted Jesus’ birth and came making their inquiries. She thought they might have been Zoroastrians from Persia. Hearing her describe the proper understanding and use of astrology was like peeking through a window into antiquity and seeing a body of wisdom and knowledge that modern society has mostly either abandoned, forgotten or trivialized.
Granny believed that all of these complexities were part of God’s design to lead humanity along an evolutionary path of ever-higher spiritual understanding and experience. She half-jokingly called it the “cosmic collegiate system.” She believed the purpose of life on earth was to meet challenges that were not present in the life beyond death—that souls are tested here not so much for fidelity to God but for the opportunity of spiritual advancement, according to one’s desire. Her love and awe of Jesus was based on her belief that he was the first human being to achieve a perfected state of spiritual union with God while here on Earth. This is what gave him the authority to speak on God’s behalf, because he and God were now one.
Coming to these understandings led her to reject some conventional doctrines. For example, she particularly objected to the doctrine of atonement—the notion that Jesus’ blood sacrifice was necessary to appease God’s anger over humanity’s sinfulness. It not only distorts the injustice of his death, but also presents an entirely fallacious notion of God that is inconsistent with Jesus’ own teaching that God is love. She would point out that the notion of Jesus’ death being necessary in order for God to forgive human sin was not Jesus’ idea at all, but that of Caiaphas, as mentioned in John 18:14. She couldn’t understand why the early church would come to adopt a doctrine so hostile to Jesus’ teaching about God as a loving father. In much of her writing and speech, she would turn the notion of atonement around and refer instead to “at-one-ment” with God, meaning union and consistency of purpose.
She believed in the importance of ritual as a sacred means of achieving union with God. Certain spiritual concepts could only be understood through sacred symbols because of the limitations of language. An important aspect of her teaching was that experiencing the presence of God required a deep level of individual contemplation. She would say of the conventional church communion practice, “You can’t experience union with God when there are people lined up in front of and behind you, and you only have a brief moment to partake of the bread and wine.” The difficulty is that union with God is essentially a “vertical” relationship, whereas participation in group exercises is primarily operating on the “horizontal” plane of consciousness. Another way of describing the same principle is that communing with God is in its essence an inward, spiritual relationship, and this is quite difficult to achieve in a public setting where lots of people are necessarily relating to each other in horizontal or outer relationships. For Granny, the practice of communion was an important ritual, but ritual held deeper meaning. It was not merely a commemorative event reminiscent of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, but a living opportunity for actual relationship with Jesus in the here and now.
Over the course of many years of private prayer and meditation practice, Mrs. Park developed or "received" a communion ritual that focuses on the aspects of Jesus’ teaching that lead to unity with God. It is intended for use by individuals, or partners who are close in spiritual orientation. Her explanation of the genesis of the communion service and the meaning of its symbols and words is found in her Book of Instructions for the Communion Service.
It has become popular recently for some Christians to practice a form of meditation that incorporates a desire to empty oneself of thoughts to achieve a quieting of the soul. While this is no doubt a beneficial practice for many, especially in an overly busy, overly stimulated world, Mrs. Park’s meditation practice and communion ritual encourages much more mental engagement. In other words, while much meditation is based on disengaging, her practice was to achieve a state of quietude, emptying oneself of worldly concerns or petty thoughts, but then proceeding to a higher level of engagement in a state of alertness and receptivity. In her Book of Instructions she describes it by saying, “[T]his method of entering into the Silence is different from others in that no attempt is made to still the objective mind. Instead, an attunement is made between the mind of the communicant and the mind of Jesus. This progresses through the Devotions to the place of Silence, and the door of the soul opens without effort…”
Mrs. Park also meditated outside of the communion service, as she pondered gospel incidents or considered probing spiritual questions. From watching and listening to her, it seemed that at some point her own thought became engaged in a dialogue or exchange of ideas with higher minds that met hers in that state. She would sometimes call it a “hook up.” While some might call this psychic, she stressed that there was an important distinction between the psyche and the spirit. The psyche operates at the feeling level, and she believed that some people are able to attune themselves to that same psychic level in others. Because the soul survives death, some with this ability could also attune to psyches in the life beyond death. However, after years of psychic experience and exposure to other psychics who did not earn her respect as spiritually advanced souls, she believed that the psyche must come under the authority of the spirit. The spirit is that within us that yearns for God, and represents our highest level of being. God operates at the spirit level, and if we are to be in communion with God, we too must strive to operate at that level. Moreover, operating at the psychic level alone is necessarily inferior and could lead one into all manners of confusion. Because psychic ability is not dependent on a spiritually advanced state of being, it can be abused. The relative novelty of psychic ability could lead to a false pride and, at worst, a desire to dominate others by virtue of knowledge (or alleged knowledge) that the psychic alone may be privy to. Even for the right-minded or highly moral person with psychic ability, she believed it very important for the psyche to be subservient to the spiritual aspiration for God, which alone would bring about the necessary balance.
Although Olga had considerable psychic experience over seven decades, she did not encourage people to explore the psychic realm for its novelty. Rather, she encouraged her learners to focus on service and dedication to Jesus and God first and foremost. She suggested praying that our psychic and spiritual experience be guided under the authority of Jesus the Christ, who by virtue of his advanced spiritual state of union with God had been granted God-delegated authority over the spiritual evolution of humanity.
It is not that surprising that many people, even religious people, might be very nervous about the notion of direct contact with the life beyond death. Mrs. Park felt that among the religious, Roman Catholics tended to be more open to these realities due to their familiarity with prayer to particular saints for particular problems. She thought this practice was quite legitimate.
But this is without doubt a difficult area. We can probably all cite terrible abuses by people claiming direct access to God, or sad cases of the mentally ill or deluded believing they have it. To some it may seem safer to avoid the issue entirely than to entertain the possibility and have to sort through what is legitimate experience and what is mistaken or fraudulent. The mystical path is clearly not for everyone. There are many advanced souls who go through life without any awareness of these sorts of things and get by perfectly well. Mrs. Park felt that people who live in this way may nevertheless achieve the purpose of their incarnation by meeting challenges and growing spiritually, but they are missing out on a big part of reality, not seeing the full picture. For these reasons, Olga dedicated the records of her life’s experiences to “all persons endeavouring to live by the Ever-living Word of Jesus, for their strengthening and encouragement.”
It is remarkable how much of the Christian record, even the New or Second Testament alone, assumes all manner of spiritual realities, from miracles to visions to angels to reincarnation to direct experience of Jesus following his death. The sort of mystical experiences Granny had were not dissimilar to those of the Apostles Paul, Peter, or John of Patmos. Yet a good number of Christians today dismiss these experiences as either limited to the Pentecostal period of the early Church, or merely symbolic and metaphorical language. From her many experiences of those in the life beyond, Mrs. Park came to believe that souls there remain highly concerned about the affairs of Earth and humanity, and that many under Christ’s authority carry out missions for our protection and fulfillment. It just happens that some people are aware of these interactions.
To many of us brought up in the age of scientific reasoning, it is highly problematic to accept the possibility of extra-physical dimensions and the existence of souls. It is even scary, because as Mrs. Park herself recounts in Between Time and Eternity, her own initial experience of the life beyond death shocked and offended her notion of privacy insofar as it suggested that others might have access to our life of thought. But she felt that such experiences should not be that troubling for a religious person who accepts the existence of God and has a prayer life. She would often ask, “What do you think you are doing when you pray?” She believed that in prayer our spirits are sending out what she called “thought-desire energy” into the spiritual realm. In essence, prayer is a spiritual activity, and we shouldn’t be surprised or frightened if our prayer is responded to, or if some people happen to be more aware of contact with a spiritual realm. There is a clear danger, however, in people claiming spiritual leadership by virtue of their supposedly superior access to hearing God’s voice, and using that to dominate others. This is completely inconsistent with Jesus and God’s modus operandi.
At the end of the day, Mrs. Park would place a much higher value on the purity of one’s spiritual motivation and desire than on any extra-sensory ability to hear from or communicate with souls in other dimensions. Belief in these dimensions also did not matter to her. While she took them as matters of obvious fact, she also accepted that awareness of spiritual realities was guided or determined by many factors, including the receptivity and need of the individual soul. She stressed that her experiences were unsought, and I do not believe she would encourage anyone to seek them out. She believed that everything, including our level of personal awareness of these matters, would unfold in its own due time according to a larger purpose.
Olga Park’s spiritual writings record many of the most significant experiences she had up until the time of writing. But her awareness of the spiritual dimension and visionary experience continued well past the time that she made her written record. Sometimes she saw the spiritual aspect of a contemporary event. For example, after breaking her leg in a fall in the late 1970s, she moved from the cottage to a friend’s basement suite in East Vancouver. She had no television or radio, and probably could not have heard them if she did. Nor did she read the newspaper or receive updates from anyone. When I visited one day in the summer of 1979, she asked me what was going on “out there” in the world. She said she had an unusual vision the night before of an object hurtling through space out of control, with the potential to cause harm. Then she saw “Christ’s light” stream out towards it, and lasso the object so that it came under control and could not cause any harm. I marvelled at her account, because although she had no way of knowing about it, the news was dominated by concerns that “Skylab was falling” back into the earth’s atmosphere, and NASA had completely lost control of where it might land. Everyone was concerned that it could land in a populated area and kill or injure people if it did not burn up entirely on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. In the end, Skylab landed in a rural part of Australia and no one was harmed. Granny was not at all surprised to learn this, for she believed that Christ remained intimately concerned with the affairs of earth.
Mrs. Park left us not only a record of her thoughts and visions, but also a communion service to help focus our contemplation and desire for union with God. The service affirms the importance of ritual and sacrament as a way to achieve greater unity with Jesus—and not only Jesus but also God the Father, and all those whose purpose is aligned with Christ’s ongoing mission for humanity. In the words of the service itself, it is really for those who “seek a greater understanding and deeper experience, for their strengthening and encouragement, and for the regeneration of Christ’s word in the earth.” It is offered to anyone, including those who attend church but who recognize the need for a deep, structured, private prayer and meditation life that is not available in a group setting. It is offered to those who do not attend church, who perhaps have become disillusioned by all the baggage that comes with religious institutions, whether it be doctrinal narrow-mindedness or the sad history of moral corruption.
As she recounts in Between Time and Eternity, Olga began her religious life as a Wesleyan Methodist in England, and later attended St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Vancouver. However, for much of her spiritual life, she did not attend church at all, having become disillusioned with what she believed to be fundamentally flawed doctrines and a superficial focus on social norms rather than a deepening of one’s spirituality. Occasionally she referred to organized religion as “churchianity.” She felt that institutional structures tend to put boxes around concepts and ideas and actually limit spiritual growth. As Jesus put it, “You shouldn’t put new wine in old wineskins.” Any fixed containment of spiritual understanding is ultimately doomed. Perhaps the best summation of this principle is found in the sermon she heard before it was actually preached, the account of which is found in An Open Door.
Although I shared her distaste for (and hence avoided) institutional Christianity for most of my adult life, more recently I have found great satisfaction in a church life that is more open-minded and less doctrinally narrow than what was available in her day. In addition, I find it rewarding to experience the fellowship of those who are seeking spiritually, who share a similar moral outlook, and who seek meaning through relationship with God. It can be very lonely to “go it alone” in an increasingly secular, materialistic and politically crazy world. The knowledge that a larger faith community shares your worldview and values can be enormously helpful. But there is clearly no substitute for a vital, private devotional life. Relying on church alone for one’s spiritual development is rather like driving into a gas station and just checking the air pressure in your tires, when what you really need is to fill up your gas tank. It is essential for the development of spiritual understanding to take the time and make the effort to seek God and Jesus through personal prayer and contemplation.
Notwithstanding her disillusionment with established religious structures, many of Mrs. Park’s visions and spiritual experiences involved churches or cathedrals or temples. One of the most profound of these is her 1928 experience of the “Church of Christ of the Future,” described in An Open Door, which she believed was a prophetic glimpse of a future type of church that overcame the limitations she saw in religious institutions of her day. Her distrust of religious institutions led her to be very clear that her communion service and teachings were in no way to be interpreted as offering another structure or sect. She often repeated that with this private communion practice there is no membership, no dues, and no doctrine—just the free offering of an inspired ritual for those who want to develop a closer relationship with Jesus, who is very much alive and active in the affairs of earth today.
In the revelation received by John of Patmos, Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Olga Park understood this not just metaphorically, but mystically. Jesus wasn’t just alluding to some warm and fuzzy notion of togetherness. For her, he was speaking mystically (after all, it was communicated through a vision many years following his death) about his desire and availability for actual spiritual contact with those on earth who “open the door.” She develops her understanding of this in the Book of Instructions for the Communion Service.
Some modern biblical scholars believe that in his last years on earth Jesus instituted a sacred feasting ritual as a means of achieving union with God, and as a substitute for the sacrifice of animals in the corrupt temple system of his day. He taught that access to God is not dependent on having enough money to buy a certain kind of ram from a certain vendor in order to have a pure enough sacrifice acceptable to God. Rather, God is as close as the bread on your table, if only you can see it in a spiritual way. The communion ritual affirms this perspective; it offers a means to accept Jesus’ invitation, and open the door to higher awareness of him.
Mrs. Park’s legacy is therefore twofold: her spiritual records of visions and mystical experiences are a witness to us that such incidents, though perhaps rare, are not just historical anecdotes from a simpler people two millennia ago, but continue, for some at least, into modern times. The second major message of her life is that greater spiritual awareness of Jesus and his ongoing service to humanity can be developed in all of us, through helpful devotional rituals and a contemplative prayer practice such as the communion service.