–The Light and Sound of SUGMAD sets me free. __Steve Kenyon
During the late 1940’s, most of the north country had grown beyond outdoor plumbing but retained the cold winter nights. Our family’s ranch nestled in a curve of the land, tall ridges to the north and east, the Clark Fork River to the south. Between us and the steep hundred-foot bank to the river ran a long, looping curve of U.S. Highway 10., two lanes of busy asphalt later replaced by straight line freeway hiding off in the distance between the railroad tracks. Old 10, though, plunged toward us from Rattlesnake Hill, turned sharply at the base, roared past our side door and the mailbox mounted on a barrel full of rocks. The mailbox served as a school day place to gather for the Baker children, awaiting the school bus and occasionally noting the iron silhouette of cowboy, horse, and steer shaped by Dad’s cutting torch.
Sunshine or snow, young child or long grown adult, I continued to admire that mailbox. It combined pure function and a true expression of craftsmanship with good common sense. The fifty-five gallon drum serving as its base had been cut open on the side facing the house, providing a shelter for large packages in bad weather. The ballast rocks filled only the bottom third of the drum yet guaranteed that any high spirited young fellow trying to wipe out a country mailbox with his pickup on a gleeful Saturday night would find himself missing part of a truck when he sobered up on Sunday morning. We suffered thefts of saddles from the barn and gasoline from the 250 gallon tank in the shed, but our mailbox remained invulnerable.
When each December arrived in earnest with its long bitter nights and frigid cow feeding chores, we three youngsters were at our best. Without us, Mom and Dad could hardly have held the ranch together, and we all knew it. Our duties were serious things, although the rebel in me longed often to escape and fly free. Both parents diligently taught us how to work as well as to dream. Dad, himself one of the hardest working men I have known, put an axe in my hands when I was four years old. Not a toy, but a working single bit tool with which I began chopping wood for both the Royal cooking range in the kitchen and the Ashley heater in the living room.
Those first few years, my father occasionally helped me on a particularly nasty winter evening when the frozen blocks in the woodshed were more obstinate than usual and my mittened fingers numb with cold, but we both knew the job was mine. Much as the Mahanta, the Living Eck Master, will not allow the student of Eckankar to lean on him unnecessarily, Elvin M Baker allowed neither excuses nor faltering in his oldest child and only son. The sense of self worth I gained from this assignment out-valued truckloads of fame or barrels of cash, yet how did he do it? When my oldest daughter turned four, I tried to imagine turning her loose with an axe…and shuddered. What courage Dad must have possessed to allow me that opportunity for growth and self reliance….
One fine Christmas Eve with the cows and horses fed, wood chopped, and supper enthusiastically devoured, we three children settled into bed, certain that this time we would catch Santa Claus in the act of stuffing our Christmas stockings. We knew Santa had to be Dad, yet strangely enough we never caught him–not once in all our growing-up years.
I had begun attending Sunday School the previous summer. Later I would go beyond what Christianity could offer, but in that deep December night Jesus served as my only reference point for the mysteries of Spirit. The focus on Christmas had been intensified by the annual grade school Christmas program that always ended with a Santa who handed out brown paper bags filled with oranges and unshelled peanuts, hard candy and other goodies.
Snug under the covers, knowing presents would be opened in the morning, my attention wandered, finally focusing on the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem. Wondering about that marvelous event, I fell asleep. Some hours later, deep in the night, Mom touched us lightly to awaken us. She did not turn on a light.
“Fred, Donna, Harriet.” She whispered. “Be quiet and come out to the kitchen. I have something to show you.”
She led us slipper footed and pajama clad past the curtained bedroom in which Dad slept soundly. We gathered in the kitchen and stared in wonder through the window above the sink. Suspended above the high eastern ridge, a magnificent trembling star beamed its blessings in a silver-gold light so brilliant it lit our faces where we stood in the shadows of the house. Its size was nearly that of a full moon, its radiance far greater. We stood and stared and stared and stared.
How long we stood there in silent awe, I had no idea. At last, Mom gestured and we padded quickly back to our respective beds, our unadulterated joy and sense of spiritual blessing so great we forgot to even glance at our hung stockings already stuffed overfull by the Santa Who Could Not Be Caught.
Curiously enough, none of us spoke of the incident the next day or in the days that followed. Four talkative Souls: A mother, a son, and two daughters–all of us held wisely and mysteriously to the ancient Law of Silence, our inner treasure in the experience kept secret and protected so that night reality could not be doubted by day skeptics. So powerful had the experience been that it could not be doubted, and only much later did I realize an even more staggering truth.
Thirty years after the fact, it occurred to me that when we watched the Star, we did one strange thing: All four of us stared out of the same window, the small one set high above the kitchen sink. That didn’t make sense. A larger window, set low enough for young children to use easily, did exist in that same east-facing wall and would have been used for such a viewing–as indeed we used it a year later to watch the moon turn grape-colored during an eclipse. There could be only one conclusion, one inescapable, irrefutable conclusion:
We had been out of our bodies at the time. Mom had taken us to some spiritual place on the inner planes of reality and allowed us to see the true Christmas Star in all its glory. As young children, we had Soul traveled–and so had Mom! I had come into this world through an accomplished Soul traveler, whether her conscious mind admitted it or not.
Remembering, I realized this had been my first conscious experience with the actual Light of God. I began to wonder when I had first experienced the Sound….