by Fr. John Whiteford
Into the Spiritual Abyss
Later in high school, I got a job in a bookstore, and because it was my job to check new books in, I acquired a number of new interests. For example, I began studying Japanese, because of a book that I ran across that explained how to read and write the Kanji (which are the characters borrowed from Chinese). Since there were no Japanese people around that I knew, but there were a number of Chinese students, I switched my study to Chinese, and that is how I eventually met my wife (though we did not begin dating until after I was out of high school).
I also became interested in the martial arts, eastern mysticism (Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism), and even the Occult. I strayed very far from God during that time, though I continued going to Church regularly (because the idea of not going to Church was something that my mother’s strict discipline had beaten out of me many years prior). I should point out that I never could bring myself to directly deny Christ.
During that time, when people would ask me what religion I was, I would say that I was a Christ-zen (kinda Christian… kinda Buddhist). And though I had hypothesized that perhaps Christ was another incarnation of Krishna, or the Buddha, I could never quite reconcile what I knew about Christ from Scripture with these non-Christian ideas, but I chose to simply shrug my shoulders, and leave that question unresolved, because I knew that there had to be something more to the spiritual life than I had yet experienced, and I hoped that maybe I was finding it in these other religions. I had little idea of Biblical scholarship at that time, but I had heard enough from those who raised doubts about the reliability of the Scriptures, that I figured that maybe some of the things in Scripture that did not fit with these other religions were simply errors that had crept in over the centuries. Despite these uncertainties, I had a sense that I was heading in the right direction, and a confidence that I had not known before. I was the master of my fate (I thought), but I was soon to learn differently… the hard way.
After I graduated from high school, my plan was to become a police officer (partly because I figured it would tie into my interest in martial arts). However, it just so happened that the Houston Police Department decided to raise the age of entry into the police academy that year, and so I was not able to go forward with that plan for the time being. So I simply began working full time.
The three big things in my life at that time were my girlfriend (not to be confused with my wife, whom I knew at this time, but had not yet started dating), Kung Fu, and the mix of Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, and Occult ideas that I found so fascinating. I was very much into a Taoist book of divination, called the “I Ching.” I used it regularly, and thought that its predictions were remarkably accurate. One evening, however, all the indications from the I Ching were that horrible things were about to happen to me. Too much time has passed for me to remember all the details, but I do remember that one of the predictions was that my relationship with my girlfriend would end, though as of that point, nothing else had led me to think that was likely. For the first time, I had a sense that I was dabbling with something evil. It was almost as if I could feel the laughter of demons. I think that was the last time I used that book. Not many days later, something unexpectedly started a chain reaction in my life that seemed to fulfill the predictions of that evening.
I would often walk to work, because of the number of cars in the family, and sometimes just to save gas. One day, as I was leaving work at around 5:00 p.m., I was jogging on my way home, feeling really good, and was probably in the best shape of my life. I ran across a foot-bridge over Greens Bayou, and just on the other side there was a tree. On a whim, I decided to do a jumping skip kick on the tree. I had done it before, and so didn’t think anything of it. It was not kicking the tree which was the problem, but the landing. I landed on my left foot, with all my weight, and the root of the tree caused my left ankle to twist, and I heard a loud “pop”. My ankle swelled immediately to the size of a melon, and I had to remove my shoe, and hop on my right foot to the nearest phone. I was unable to walk without crutches for some time thereafter. Obviously, Kung Fu was out of the picture for the time being. A few days later, my girlfriend broke up with me, and I began to sink into a very deep depression that went on for about six months. I could hardly eat during that time. I had thoughts of suicide on a regular basis, and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.