Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga
Poet Susan McCaslin has written a memoir on her years knowing Olga Park. "Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga" was published in 2014 by Inanna Publications, Toronto.
Reviews of the book and information on ordering is available on Susan's website
The following is an earlier essay written by Susan.
In the Fall of 1969, a friend of mine at Simon Fraser University where I was a graduate student took me to meet “a spiritual woman” who lived in Port Moody, British Columbia, once the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Rail. I had come to a terminus in my life as well, having moved through my studious high school years on to my “hippyish” university days. Despite the slow dismantling of my childhood Christian faith during university, I found myself intrigued by the idea of meeting a living mystic, a Christian holy woman living in seclusion at the end of the Burrard Inlet.
We drove along Ioco Road, named after the local oil refinery, up to a small, black and white Tudor-style cottage with a giant cedar tree growing near the door. The door swung open to reveal an elderly woman no more than five feet tall with clear blue eyes, dressed in gray slacks and a simple tunic. I cannot recall much of our first conversation except that it was not just her teachings or words about the living presence of the one she called the Master Jesus that remained with me, but the sense that her whole being was infused with a radiant energy derived from her day to day experience of the “other life.” The core of her message that day, however, was that I didn’t have to take her word for anything, but that if I established a regular time and place for contemplative prayer, I would discover for myself the reality of the things of spirit.
I found her hard to categorize—and this remains so when attempting to describe the impact of her presence. Though she was acquainted with the ideas of the spiritualists and theosophists, she was not identified with these movements. Though she knew all about the saints and mystics of the Christian tradition, there was nothing ethereal or other-worldly about her. She had a keen sense of humour and a strong Yorkshire brogue. I have come to see her as a modern mystic in the line of such pragmatic women as Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich.
While I was fascinated with her accounts and ideas, she made it clear from the start that the spiritual life is not essentially about belief. She experienced Jesus and some of the disciples not as figures from the past or transcendent archetypes, but as intimate friends. She once told me of how she saw Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, tapping at the door of the institution she had founded and being turned away. “Isn’t this exactly the history of religion,” she suggested, “that the structure built around the original revelation of its founder becomes an ideology, and the spirit cannot get in?” She made it clear she did not wish to be the head of a society, church or esoteric cult, but that she saw herself merely as “a serviceable tool.”
My first visit led to another and another, and turned in time to a weekly sharing with her of a sacramental practice of the partaking of wine and bread. She explained that this ritual had been given her by her Teacher and guide in the other life. For years she had practiced it in solitude, but in recent months the Master Jesus had authorized her to share the practice with others. She encouraged me to set up a small altar in my home and establish a regular time for prayer and meditation, and eventually taught me her own order of service. The story of how she received this practice and its purpose unfolds in her own words in her writings.
Though she begins her first book, Between Time and Eternity, with the disclaimer that her identity in terms of personality and circumstance is of little importance, the story of her revelations, visions, and lifelong faithfulness to what she received is indeed remarkable and worthy of being heard by a larger audience. Her vision of “the Church of the Future” in which she was taken out of the body to participate in a celebration free of the dogmas and limiting notions of God of the past is an extraordinary account of an emerging, more universal and inclusive practice.
Mrs. Park was a life-transforming presence for me because she was able to take my moribund Christian belief and open it to the experiential, to lift it out of a closed system. I began slowly to experience my own interior visions and write out of them as a poet. She became the necessary catalyst, mentor and friend I most needed, and I was privileged to study under her for the sixteen most formative years of my life.
Her writings, which are found on the "Publications" page of this web site, are the record she left of her life, witness and teachings. They are addressed to all who desire a deeper, more intimate experience of the realms of spirit. In her first book, Between Time and Eternity, Mrs. Park distinguishes between a living faith and “faith by group concept”:
Mrs. Park was born into the “group concept” of the Wesleyan Methodists in England, but began to experience a series of unsolicited visions beginning in 1914 when she was in her early twenties. As a young girl, she chose to attend the Church of England because of her affinity with its more sacramental form of worship. During her young adulthood and into mid-life while living in Vancouver, British Columbia, she was an active member of the Anglican Church. Hers was a lonely path, for she could not share her profound, interior experiences with many people of her acquaintance. Due to the broadening of her theology, she eventually felt compelled to move outside the parameters of the institutional Church.
Though deeply Christian, Mrs. Park’s work speaks to seekers of spiritual truth from a variety of cultural and religious perspectives, since she is working within a mystical tradition. Mysticism thrives at the peripheries of the major religions and serves as a unifying link among them because it centres on experience rather than dogma. The Christ of her visions is clearly inter-spiritual, non-sectarian, as she writes:
Fellowship with spirit and holy guidance is not confined or reserved to professing Christians. On the contrary, it is experienced by people of all races and faiths whose channels of reception are not blocked by the fixation that God’s revelation of truth is limited to one particular race or religion. (Between Time and Eternity).
Entering the world of Mrs. Park’s visions and spiritual experiences seems at first a journey into the “paranormal,” an area still being explored by scholars, academics, scientists, and spiritual seekers. Her writings are an invitation to those who have experienced or dreamed of visionary glimpses and interior openings to sit for a while with an advanced soul and listen to her stories and teachings. She did not consider herself a medium or even a psychic, but, in her later years particularly, a spiritual teacher. She wished others to practice solitary prayer and contemplation for themselves so they might be open to their own experiences of the divine. Therefore, her transmission of a simple practice of communion, prayer and contemplation, adaptable to individual use, became the focus of her teaching.
If asked what seems to me her most significant characteristic, I would answer unequivocally—her direct relationship with a larger, visionary world. I was struck deeply on my first visit by the depth of her devotion to “the living Christ” and her unassailable sense that he was ontologically real, not just a symbolic figure from the past. The “Master Jesus,” as she called him, was not aloof or distant but a vital personal presence, able to break in on her consciousness at any time. The whole of her story is an account of how a larger order transformed the awareness of an ordinary Vancouver housewife who was not seeking esoteric revelations and had no interest in such teaching. Many Christians speak of having a personal relationship with Christ, but for her, such a relationship was not an ideology but a fact of everyday experience. The essence of her teaching is that any sincere seeker can experience the presence and guidance of the living Christ.
The voice that emerges from her writings is pragmatic and probing. She transmits the sense that her formulations will be qualified or expanded by new revelations. Her sense of reality is of an unfolding mystery. Towards the end of her life, she passed on a filing cabinet of her writings to my husband and me with the intention that we might one day make some of these materials available to others. It is our desire at this time to let her record speak for itself.
For another friend's memoir about Olga, please click here.