I continue my obsession with the church. I sit in the main altar, meditate, and sometimes listen to Christmas songs or chant. I chant out loud just to hear my voice echo like thunder in the mighty dome, “HARE HARE HARE KRISHNA!” No priests can tell me nothing. I do whatever I like. Dog days are over!
I come to find that The Basilica is built on the original site outside the Roman walls where the group of people who first began following the message of Jesus lived. Visiting the Basilica is free but to visit the historical monks’ quarters and museum costs 8 Euros. I am not that interested in old stuff, so I walk by the museum day after day but never visit.
Everyday I witness thousands upon thousands of devoted Christians fill up the entire church. Then, suddenly, they all get back into their tour bus and the church goes empty again until the next lot arrives. This repeats about twenty times each day. I can’t get enough of it. I marvel at how efficient the church is at mass control. It’s a well oiled machine.
There is a gigantic hall devoted to eating. Everyone flocks into the cafeteria, thus making it the most popular place in the whole church. The cafeteria is my favorite place as well. I write there as an excuse to stay all day. I usually get two pots of tea, Italian pastries, pasta and whatnot. The staff look like they’ve just stepped out of a Fellini movie.
Before arriving in Rome, we stayed in a private home in Cerveteri for a few days, a town an hour outside of Rome that was once an ancient Etruscan village. The day we left, the host family took us to the train station and brought along a friend from the village named Carlo. One day while in the cafeteria, I spy Carlo. What synchronicity! I know no one in Rome and here’s the only guy I know, though I met him only once. Carlo comes over, “Ciao!”
It turns out that Carlo comes to this very place all the time because his father is an archeologist who oversees the excavation of the historical monks’ quarters located underneath the Basilica. Whoa! Carlo asks if I’ve seen the digging site? Nope! I don’t tell him that I’m not 8 Euros-worth interested in the place.
Carlo says that if I want to go, I should just ask for his father, Philip, and they’ll let me in for free. Now we’re talking! I’ve always had an affinity for anything free! We make a plan for him to come over for dinner, but he doesn’t show. My texts to him get no reply and I suspect I’ve gotten the number wrong. That fortuitous meeting turns out to be the one and only time I see Carlo in Rome. Like a messenger from the heavens, he came to deliver the message for me to visit the monks’ quarters and then disappeared back into the ether! Nevertheless, I take him up on his offer to claim my free visit.
I go to the museum entrance and ask to see Carlo’s dad Philip. The staff says, “He is out today.” The next day, I miss him again because he left early. The next day, I’m told he’s working at the Vatican excavation and they’re not sure when he’ll be back. I always miss him! Perhaps because I had gone to the entrance so many times, my curiosity was finally piqued. I give up on finding Philip and cough up the 8 Euros.
Right inside the entrance is the historical monks’ quarters. These structures are considered the “newer” buildings, although they were built around 1400, which to me is crazy old. I come from a town where one hundred years is considered ancient! Most of the original structures are still intact. The walls are ten feet thick, covered with carvings of geometric shapes. There are hardly any windows; the whole place is cold and dark. There are paintings in the hallways lit by dim, bare bulbs to simulate candles. I’m getting the full picture of a monk’s austere, strict, disciplined and devoted life in those days. I wonder why anyone would subject themselves to a life like this, particularly when wine and meat are just steps away.
I go into the modern museum, resplendent with video reenactments, paintings, drawings, graphs, original artifacts, prayer books, furniture, clothing and even utensils from the earliest days. Lo and behold! They’ve kept everything.
The site is 2000 years old and was burned down repeatedly by people who opposed the monks. Natural fires and earthquakes also destroyed the structures. Each time the site got wiped out, another group gathered and rebuilt a larger, grander structure on the same site, where today stands this grand Basilica! No wonder it is a jewel glowing amongst a sea of worshippers.
Having had enough history for the day, I exit through the gift shop. Nestled alongside the bookstore is the entrance to the excavation site where the oldest buildings once stood. I assume, since Carlo’s father is the archeologist, I most likely will find him here. I ask the guards. Nope, he is still working at the Vatican and they’ve no idea when he’ll be back. Oh well!
That’s when I feel excitement from my new spirit guide. Instead of his usual two o’clock position, he has now moved to my right side. It feels as if he’s pulling me by the hand, inviting me to visit the historical site. I tell him, “Nah, I’ve had enough.” Just then, one of the guards says, “Your museum ticket includes entrance to this site. You must not miss it!” He opens the gate and pushes me in. I have no choice but to go in.
Not much remains. There’s just a stone here and the base of a column there, along with a small section of foundation and a place where a well used to be. Drawings on the wall show what life was like. They wore hemp sacks with a string tied around the waist. They ate poorly and drank water from the well. Just a bunch of uneducated, lowly folks living together united by one idea.
The sad thing is that what united them made other people mad. The Romans, the Jewish rabbis, even the Zealots–everyone hated them. Time and time again, people arrested them and killed them in gruesome ways. Why? Really, why? What unites them? Christianity. A belief in Jesus Christ?
I suddenly hear the non-verbal voice of the spirit guide, “Hi, I’m Philip.”
“Philip?! Your name is Philip, huh? You’re not Jesus?”
“I never said my name was Jesus.”
“That’s right, you said that name caused you a lot of trouble.”
“I’ve been calling you to come see me here.”
“YOU?! You mean, I’ve been looking for Carlo’s dad but it’s actually you looking for me?!”
“It’s the same thing, isn’t it? You can’t be looking for me without me looking for you.”
“Wait? Isn’t Philip the name of Otis’s past life as a monk?”
“Yes, that’s right. I sent my name to both of you during your first soul retrieval session, so that you could remember me when we meet again.”
“Are you telling me, that you’re actually in my life now as Otis?”
“No way! How does this work? Wow!”
My mind is blown. My eyes are rolling in their sockets, trying to figure out the logistics. How can science explain this? Do sane people actually believe this?
“You can tell them: there is no time and no space. We’re all one. I can be here while I’m there.”
“Don’t give me New Age bullshit!”
“It’s actually old–the oldest idea.”
I mull over the idea which Philip has presented to me. I look over at him and I can “see” him! He is wearing a hemp sack with a string and slippers. I can see him much more clearly than I ever have before. He seems almost three dimensional and of flesh and blood. There is a solidity to him. I stare at him with downturned lips, disbelieving and bewildered. I am acutely aware that I am wrapped in what medical doctors and scientists would call audiovisual hallucinations. I can even smell him and his environment. So I guess that adds smell hallucinations as well!
He smiles with his usual love and understanding. Then he waves his hands about. The space comes to life with monks getting water from the well, planting, cooking, washing–just living.
Philip projects to me, “Paul’s body came back. We buried him and we built a mount to celebrate his life. We found the chain that was used to arrest him. We kept it on the altar to remind ourselves of what Paul had sacrificed. We stayed close to Paul’s body and that chain so that we could protect the teachings from being lost. We built houses, dug a well, and grew crops here just outside the walls of Rome. It was easier to just make one kind of simple clothing, so we started to dress alike and people began calling us monks. We were peacefully being guided by Paul and by Yeshua. We were living well. Gradually, we started to tell people our ideas. Before we knew it, soldiers came and burned down our houses and arrested us. We were beaten, had thorns tied to our foreheads, and some of us were nailed to crosses, some were beheaded, and others were dragged behind chariots or publicly eaten by lions.”
It’s one thing to read this information in a museum but it’s a totally different thing to hear it from personal account. Tears gush out of my eyes, my chest heaves up and down, my heart is pounding, my head aches picturing the scene. What suffering!
“You guys didn’t take defensive measures? Shouldn’t you have been more prepared?” How hard it is to truly not attack those who attack us! And more than that, not to take defensive moves to prepare for the next attack. My entire life has been an endless series of attack, defense, attack, defense and beating back anyone who was unkind to me.
“It must have been so hard not to fight back. To watch as they burned your good work and tortured your bodies.”
Philip becomes sad. “Yes, as time went on, some of the monks went out to defend peace by attacking but this is not peace. Peace is peace itself. The only way to gain peace is through peace. Yet no matter how many were killed, more kept coming back to rebuild the place and to live here. The building became bigger and bigger. Each destruction and construction renewed the idea of peace.”
I add, “In more and more people.” He nods. “Yes, the living spirit of peace was indeed burned but always rebuilt. The important thing is that year by year, the ranks of those who neither attacked nor defended grew. Each time we gained ground as the spirit of peace grew larger. The joy, for me, is that we now have our grand Basilica that you are so enjoying!”
“Isn’t the Basilica about God? Or Christ? Or a Saint named Paul?”
“We don’t know anything about God. The Basilica is about who Paul is! There are today, at this very moment, many Pauls at work. Most importantly you! Consider the Basilica as a symbol of yourself.”
“All the work you’ve been doing to not kick my butt again,” Philip laughs.
“Oh, you mean, like, you’ve come back as Otis?”
“Not exactly but you can say that because we’re all…”
“…One! I know, I know.”
“You are the eternal everlasting life of spirit. You are love itself.”
“Oh yes! I am!” I holler and double over with laughter. At that moment, I actually believe him.
The rest of our days in Roma find me in super high spirits. I am extra kind to Otis. Even when he behaves like an asshole, I forgive him.
Otis is not thrilled with this ancient city. “All of Europe has slow internet except Berlin and London and Rome is the slowest of all. Everything closes way too early. There are no 24-hour coffee shops and too many old people.” This man is a ball of negativity but somehow he looks super cute to me.
We’re heading out the next day. I take my last stroll through the park to my beloved Basilica. As usual I enter through the garden, pausing in front of the statue of Saint Paul to pay my respect.
The Basilica is built so that everything is centered on a central axis point. From the statue of Saint Paul you can walk in a straight line, all the way from the crypt to the enormous main altar.
As I approach the gigantic, ordained central entrance with those four panels of Paul’s life, I see that the main doors are wide open. I’ve never seen the entrance be open. I have always entered through a smaller side door. As I enter through the main doors, I can see
exactly how symmetrical the entire church is – a privilege I’ve never had before.
The Basilica is eerily quiet today except for a low hum. There is very little of the usual hushed chatter, whispers, prayers and sounds of children laughing. It’s empty, the usual rows of chairs are gone. I can see the magnificent marble floors clearly. Oh! Yesterday was Easter Sunday, so they must have removed all the chairs. They have yet to replace the chairs because they are taking the opportunity to polish the floor.
What a nice opportunity to enjoy the church all by myself! I compose myself, stand erect, and mentally open the imaginary wings behind my back like I am an angel. I stretch out my right leg and point my toes like I am a ballerina preparing to take my first steps on stage. I take one step onto the central line that points straight to the altar.
On either side of me, I can feel the entire hall fill with non-physical beings: spirits, angels, saints and sages past and present. They’re all dressed in celebratory fineries, bejeweled crowns and party gowns. As I walk past each person, the men pay their respect by lowering their heads to bow and the ladies curtsy. I acknowledge them in return with a nod and a smile. I arrive at the altar and turn to face the congregation. They all bow and curtsy again in somber unison. They remain standing as I go down the steps to Saint Paul’s sunken crypt, where the undisputed original chain used to arrest Saint Paul is on display.
In the underground crypt, I kneel and pray. A lot has happened here. For a rebellious Catholic school girl like me, who has rejected Christianity her whole life, this journey to the headquarters has not made me embrace the religion, but has helped me understand its teachings. I feel eternally grateful for Saint Paul and for the existence of the Basilica. It’s no small matter that I also have a new spirit guide who is my own lover’s past life!
I emerge from the sunken crypt and stand in the middle of the altar, facing the congregation of spirits. I am aware that all of my people are standing behind me – the child, witch, prostitute, and mother. All of me, united in one Awareness. I try to put everything I’ve learned so far into words and it comes out this way, “Love is all there is!”
I hear Philip cheer, “We’ve waited eons for you to make the transition from hate to love.” The entire congregation erupts in thundering ovation. At this exact moment, the grand church organ, which I’ve never heard, and honestly thought was just decorative, suddenly lets out a loud blast: BAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRHHHHH!