Paradise Theology and the Stooge
This article is adapted from my forthcoming memoir "Rose Mary Pillowwater." In the memoir -- and as a matter of course -- I refer to my male self in the third person, as "George."
Meet the Stooge
In 1990 George dreamed:
It gets increasingly difficult to move forward, as if a force like gravity is acting against me. All kinds of men appear before me, trying to stop me. I force my way past them. Progress becomes so difficult that I must move forward by grabbing onto fenceposts and trees, and pulling myself along with incredible effort. Finally I come to a man I can not get around. His name is Will. I beat him severely and slam him onto the ground. I am on top of him, but I still can't get around him. Into his face I shout over and over, "I want God! I want God! I want God!" He looks at me smugly and tells me snidely that I'll never find God. He tells me he's been battling God for thousands of years. So is Will Satan? I wonder. My passion burns.
Seven years after the dream, in 1997, George's will was dissolving day-by-day into a great blackness. After arriving home from work, he was too depressed to move. His girlfriend would lie with him, on top of him, wanting to get inside him, asking him what was wrong. George didn't know, but he thought it was related to the helicopters he was dreaming about. They hovered above his and his girlfriend's room, so loud it was deafening. They were coming to rescue him from himself.
George didn't have enough room for his girlfriend. He had to get away from her so that he could get to himself -- so that he could get back to his girlfriend, he reasoned. Thus he left her, and ended up at his parents' house. He spent a couple of months there listening to his dreams and trying to decide what to do next. The only place that attracted him was San Francisco, mainly because a best friend named Cedar was there.
Cedar and George met in college. For four years they carried on an evolving conversation about culture, spirituality, philosophy, religion, mythology, dreams, psychology, history, art, dance, music, and the like. Cedar took dance classes and went to contact improvisation workshops. He would dance anywhere, in supermarkets, in the street, while doing the dishes. He was known to write poetry in his sleep, go to African-American churches, give flowers to strangers, and he didn't work. Yet he had money. Life was his job. Everywhere he went he was loved. His genuineness was accentuated by his apple-butter eyes and his merry Anglo-Semitic face. He was as heartwarming as a Christmas tree. George practically worshipped him because he was so free.
After college, the two men went separate ways for a time -- George moving to Budapest to teach English, Cedar earning a graduate degree in art therapy, before being called into ministry. He enrolled at the same school his father had attended, Golden Gate Seminary. Cedar found the school dull and inhibiting and spent nearly all his time ministering in Haight-Ashbury.
George phoned Cedar to talk over the possibility of relocating to San Francisco. Cedar asked George why he wanted to come. George said that he had to make a leap of faith into something and Cedar was the only person who could support him in it. In response Cedar said, "I feel the countenance of God ready to pour all over you. The wisdom that you'll be given will be passed down through generations. It's about sky."
At the outset of George's ten-week odyssey in California, he and Cedar went on a road trip with seven born-again street kids in Cedar's charge. The kids incurred George's loathing with their sanctimoniousness, acting like they belonged to an elite club, evangelizing to strangers, and crucifying themselves with piety and prayer. One of George's dreams personified them as naked people with guns, meaning that their faith was as sincere as could be, but they used it like a weapon. George complained to Cedar about their excesses. Frowning, he replied, "They're just kids."
They all stayed over at a motel. George woke in the middle of the night with his heart racing. His muscles were cramping and twitching. His loathing for the kids had morphed into a generalized, all-consuming hatred. In his sleep, Cedar opened his eyes, took hold of George's arm, shook his finger at him and said, "No no no no no. No no no no no." The reproach enabled George to step outside his mind and see himself. He sensed an island of feeling around the heart. It was the only place he was not seething with rage.
Focusing on the heart, George recognized it as a door. He turned away from everything but the door and called through it to "love beyond name." The door blasted open and love annihilated the hatred with a sweetness that burned through George like white fire, leaving him as defenseless as he was when he was born. It was painful to have the flesh so open so suddenly. The "love beyond name" told him, "I am the beginning and the end."
For the next two months, George roamed the west coast being subjected to a series of spiritual rites and mystical experiences, weaving him into communion with the Spirit. "The countenance of God poured all over [him]." (Drugs were not involved.) The communion culminated in a week during which George had about two hours of black, dreamless sleep a night. He didn't need to dream because his dreams had merged with waking life. Poems, paintings, music and dance blew around him like wind, all of them interconnected on an unbreakable web of being. Wild animals gathered round him. When he passed babies, they gazed at him adoringly. People fuming with darkness were also strewn along the way.
The illusory aspects of George's adult male self were asleep. He was like a seven-year-old boy -- the seven-year-old boy he had forsaken to become a man.
He felt the signature of God in everything. There was no death. Metaphor was no longer figurative. It was actual. It was in the fibers of nature. For psychotics, the symbolic consumes the real. For George, the symbolic and the real embraced, illuminating consciousness and making him whole.
Throughout the coming summer, the Spirit leached out of George's body, back to the sky. He returned to Budapest where he spent some months putting together "The Stooge," a spoken-word performance about his quest.
The Stooge was a being that had possessed George during the quest, initiating his weeklong communion with the Spirit. It happened at the house where Cedar lived with six other neo-Christians. The house was on a street called "Otsego." Otsego is an anagram of "Stooge." Hence, Cedar and his housemates called their house "the Stooge House" and themselves "stooges."
The stooges saw themselves as Christian clowns. They referred to traditional church as "stupid church," and published a revisionist newsletter that turned religion upside-down. In one tract, they asserted that heresy didn't exist, Satan had manned the pulpit through most of history, and every person's task was to find their place in the mystical body of Christ.
One evening, the stooges came together to play music. After jamming for half an hour, they took a break. Channeling the Spirit, Cedar began, "You know, it's a special time. It's a special time. Most of the time, we can't appreciate the importance of friendship and community. We don't see possibilities within ourselves because we don't let down our guard enough to appreciate others. While there's warmth, let's bask in it. Let's bask in it. Let's bask in it..."
Steeped in the salving tone of Cedar's words, the room began to feel intimate, familial, like home. Then, without warning, Cedar screamed, "Cowards!" As the word issued, his mouth was open like a canon. His face reddened and stretched grotesquely. Everyone except George was rigidly attentive.
George wasn't a coward nor was he particularly brave. He was following his path. There was no reason for him to be shouted at. The stooges were fixed on Cedar, their eyes abulge. He said, "The Spirit is telling us that, too."
Needing to be away from them, George went off to Cedar's room. There, effortlessly and without forethought, he drew a naked man leaping over a crossroads, from the decay of the old world into a new one, which was empty except for the road into it. A mushroom on a cloud floated above the scene. The Virgin Mary's countenance blanketed the sky of the old world. Her tears fell onto a coffin.
Intending the next drawing to be his feminine aspect, George drew a model from a magazine turned upside-down. When he finished the face, he set the drawing rightside-up. The face's countenance looked conspicuously like a joker's from a deck of cards. George added a ruff and clown outfit to complete the drawing as a joker.
There was a twinkle in the joker's eyes that touched something inside George. He tried to place what he was seeing. The figure looked alive, like it possessed consciousness, like it was about to emerge from the page. In an instant George recalled this dream which he had six years before, in 1992:
I am asked to be a clown for some dance performances. The dancers are divided into groups and have ornate costumes. My costume is white and light blue and I wearing an Elizabethan ruff around my neck. Someone paints my face. I'm a little nervous. My face is not painted like the faces of the other people in my group because I am different. Music starts and I feel inhibited, but I quickly feel freer as I breathe and wave my arms rhythmically up and down. Then I dance without limits as if I were bouncing on the breeze. I become a character. I am inhabited by a mischievous man-sprite. I am like the joker in a deck of cards. I am both clever and senseless. I am athletic without muscle. I have no mind. George is gone. I weave around the other dancers. I am wild.
Associating the dream with the drawing of the joker, a key turned inside George, opening a lock. An inner door swung open, admitting The Stooge. At once, The Stooge surged down to George's feet and up to his head. As the possession was completing George felt The Stooge's countenance form through his own, and in the next moment George was rocketing through a realm inhabited with flying beings, moving at great speed through fantastic forms and colors.
In another instant, George saw the beings he had been with when he entered The Stooge's world. There were three of them flying in a V-formation. They were blue and wore white headpieces resembling turbans but without layers or seams. One of the headpieces had a blue star.
Then, George saw shiny, black musical notation seeming to tell a story in the sky. The notation formed a bridge between smoothly-rounded clouds tinted yellow and orange from sunset. Below the clouds, George viewed the contents of the Tarot deck, images from the range of archetypal stories that comprise human reality. The Stooge was the Tarot's Fool, after the Fool has escaped the deck, and before he has entered it.
George sensed he was physically descending, down to a dusky, verdant Earth that was rejoicing in peace. Then, the moment he was back in his ordinary body he was stricken with panic, fighting off the possession, recoiling from the collision with eternity and clutching at fragments of his identity. As he began recognizing Cedar's room around him, he felt as if he had been resuscitated. Sitting on the edge of the bed, a sense of continuity coalesced, but trails of the realm he had just breached tugged at his spirit to let go and fly away. Their pull was hard to resist. Lightheaded and dreading disappearing again, George left the room to join Cedar and the others, and to get grounded.
He sat crosslegged on the floor and nonchalantly listened to their conversation for a few moments. Then he thought back to the realm he had just emerged from and it began to reassume him. His identity was rapidly disappearing. George reached toward Cedar, silently mouthing pleas for help as he drifted to the wood floor like downy feathers.
Lying supine, George heard the stooges praying and felt the warmth of their hands on him. At the time, he couldn't call it praying and he couldn't call them hands. He didn't understand anything. Like in his dream, he had no mind. George wasn't separate from the world. He was an infant again.
In Cedar's room the possession had been spiritual, via The Stooge. Among Cedar and the others the possession was material, via George's infant self. High voltage mystical experiences often call attention to some kind of juxtaposition of the spiritual with the material, as was the case here.
The Infant and The Stooge
After this experience, The Stooge became central to George's eschatology -- which is now my eschatology. The eschatology is essentially this: Each stage of the journey, first from innocence to experience and then through purgation to higher innocence, is denoted by a different type of clown: The fool is in innocence; the clown in experience; the stooge in purgatory; and finally, in higher innocence, where the soul is reunited with the flesh, the stooge becomes the joker, the mischievous man-sprite that became George in his dream. These four stages in the evolution of the archetypal clown -- fool, clown, stooge and joker -- form a bridge from Eden to Paradise. 
The Stooge is a personification of the point where Heaven & Earth meet in human beings. It lives eternally, like Nature. As such, it exists in and of itself, flows harmoniously, and has no sense of value or any goals aside from equilibrium.
The Stooge is an innate part of every person. It is the part that observes non-judgmentally. It is most present in sleep and meditation. It is not male or female.
The Stooge is like the "inner child," only it is deeper: it is the inner infant. The Stooge is without identity. It is selfless like an infant. Like an infant, The Stooge doesn't inhibit or judge any natural bodily process or sensation. The Stooge's connection to the mind & body is identical to an infant's, for all intents and purposes. The infant and The Stooge are composed of the same elements: mind, body, heart, soul and wisdom/intuition. Through The Stooge, the adult heart, mind & body may become as they were in infancy.
The infant is unaware that it is separate from the universe. The Stooge can be informed about its separateness from the universe by the awareness of the adult it inhabits, and be guided by their wisdom.
The infant has no wisdom, but is perfectly intuitive. As it ages, it loses intuition, but gains wisdom from experience. However, the infant's potential for wisdom is limited by the environment into which it is born. The Stooge's wisdom is perfect.
The infant and The Stooge are both embodiments of wholeness -- wholeness being the harmoniously functioning heart, mind, body and soul. As we age, the negative impact of experience makes us fear and even fight the infant's receptivity in ourselves, thereby alienating our wholeness. The Stooge awakens our receptivity to our wholeness, wholeness that in turn acts as a purgative of the negative impact of experience. Thereby The Stooge draws together Heaven & Earth.
The infant and The Stooge, in and of themselves, are possessed by nothing, except the cosmos in which they dwell. They are self-possessed, but unaware of it. As the infant becomes a child he/she becomes possessed by a family, a society, a culture, a collective, a world. In so doing, the individual becomes alienated from the personal/cosmic.
Human beings have four layers: 1) personal, 2) collective, 3) global, and 4) cosmic. The layers form a circle. Layers one and four, at opposite ends of the spectrum, touch to complete the circle. As such, our most personal selves interweave with our cosmic selves, weaving the soul into the flesh. In time, through spiritual evolution, the personal and the cosmic fuse and grow together, eventually integrating the collective soul into the collective.
Historically, the collective has alienated the soul, and thus God as well. Hence, God has been oft misidentified. The god becomes the collective itself, in how it possesses the individual, determining his/her attitudes and behaviors. In general, God is so alienated from the collective that the collective has no terms by which to say that God possesses an individual, except perhaps for the expression "in the hands of the Living God" -- a mystical state that cannot be faked or enculturated, the state in which George found himself at the height of his 1998 odyssey. Otherwise, the perfect communion of the individual with God falls into the realm of metaphor. Such metaphors tend to characterize God as an alien or "body-snatcher."
Through The Stooge, God may "repossess" us, to reclaim us from the collective and unite us with our souls, making us as cosmic as we were as infants. The notion that this is even a possibility -- that we can invite God to act through us, upon our inner-stooge, in order to become our true selves -- is not yet collectively understood; which is to say, it is still unconscious.
As with any phenomenon that is unconscious, the psyche characterizes it metaphorically, through, for example, alien possession and alien abduction. Aliens are a metaphor for the collective's alienation from God. They have no existence outside the metaphor. That millions of people claim to have been literally abducted by aliens speaks to the immeasurable power of metaphor.
"Made in God's image," we are intended to be metaphors of God -- microcosms of God. God is beauty, sensuality, peace, love, eros, music, dance, eternity, existence, wisdom, nakedness, the creative impulse, joy/sorrow. Our most essential selves are purely these qualities. If God has ever acted against us, it is to edify these qualities. That which diverts us from them -- cruelty, suffering, survival, fatigue, sickness, consensus reality, despair, ignorance, enmity, and so on - has nothing to do with who we truly cosmically are. It has everything to do what we are not. We can't know what we are until we know what we are not.
In the presence of The Stooge, the soul is not alien, residing in some other realm, nor is it a philosophical abstraction. Through The Stooge, the soul is a tangible reality, here-and-now, living in the heart, mind and body. Through The Stooge, when the soul moves we move. When we are still, the soul is still. With The Stooge as a conduit, there is communion between the soul and the flesh. This communion is that which abides in Eden and Paradise, and is periodically experienced on the path between them.
The Stooge is a tool for uniting Heaven and Earth, for reconciling the end of the world with the life of the eternal soul. Taken a step further, The Stooge is a conduit for Everlasting Life in the body.
"Satan" is no more than a name for that which conceals Everlasting Life. Like The Stooge, Satan is not a figure with intellect. Satan differs from The Stooge only in that it is full of ignorance instead of being. In fact, take away the Devil's horns and goatee, change its countenance from wrathful to neutral, and turn its skin from red to blue, and you will have The Stooge. Add wisdom and you will have a divine avatar -- an avatar whose spirituality is informed as much by one religion as another, or by none at all.
Like The Stooge, the spirit of religion is, ideally, no more than a vehicle to deeper reality -- never an enculturated one. When The Stooge is honored for what it is, the cultural trappings of religion evanesce. Spirituality evolves.
Like the purpose of The Stooge, the ultimate purpose of the five great religions is to harmonize and cultivate the mind, body, heart, soul and wisdom. Similarly, The Stooge is a figure through whom the disparities between the religions are reconciled and the religions' promises of Paradise are fulfilled. Through the wisdom we lend The Stooge, the religions may function as a whole, like one person in whom mind, body, heart and soul function as one.
Where the religions are seen as a single person, Christianity can be the heart, Judaism the soul, Islam the body, and Buddhism and Hinduism the mind. Obviously, the heart, soul, mind and body are central to every religion, but here it serves understanding to assign each its own. Moreover, integrating the religions into a harmonious gestalt, as is done here, is not meant to be dogmatic. It is playful. God is far more playful than religious culture. For The Stooge, play is serious work.
Christianity is assigned the heart because of that religion's emphasis on love as the means to eternal life. Judaism is assigned the soul because through Christ -- a Jew -- the soul lives eternally.
Islam is assigned the body because of its forbiddance of graven images and the veiling of women. Implicit in such concealment is tremendous power. Put another way, the end of the world is an unveiling of long-hidden beauty.
Humankind cannot fulfill the potential of the body until it makes peace with the mind. Since eastern religion corresponds to the mind and western religion to everything else, together they form a perfect whole.
The End of the World
Since this theology is a bridge to Paradise, let's call it "Paradise theology." The infrastructure of Paradise theology is humanity's collective story. Paradise theology has been delineated and illuminated by human experience and observation of the divine.
Paradise theology holds that the human heart, mind, body and soul are patterned after the divine ones, and that humanity's task is to realize this fully. Once it is, there will be a global shift that will end suffering and invite Paradise.
Given this, Paradise theology respectfully, mindfully, and enthusiastically invites the end of the world. It invites it not through destruction, but through deconstruction and awareness. There is great struggle in deconstruction and awareness, but it is psychic instead of physical. The end of the world is within, just as the Kingdom of Heaven is within.
The fractured psyche is one in which the soul, heart, body and mind are not in accord. They are in accord in no one. The end of the world is the end of the fractured psyche and the inception of psychic wholeness. Paradise is first psychic wholeness, second psychic health, and third a global reality.
 More discussion about the archetypal clown can be found in my essay Borat: On the Soul of Comedy.
Image by orinoptiglot courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet