Waking up in a cornfield
I had been heading in the wrong direction, both geographically and spiritually.
I woke up at dawn, shivering and covered by moldy cornstalks. However, although I was physically uncomfortable, I was settled in my conscience. I had been heading in the wrong direction, both geographically and spiritually, and during this long, cold night, I had repented and resolved to head in the right direction.
About halfway through the fall term of my sophomore year in college, I had become fed up. I’d been sliding through school the “easy” way, without dedicating sufficient time and effort to my studies, and was slipping into self-destructive activities such as drug experimentation. I was disappointing my parents, my professors, and myself.
At that point, like the prodigal son in Christ Jesus’ parable in the Bible, I decided to run away from my responsibilities. It was an unseasonably warm autumn day, so I walked off campus and hitchhiked along the Mississippi River. I was headed to Iowa, where a friend had offered to get me a job—amusingly, considering the prodigal son story, at a pig trough factory. This plan had seemed feasible in the warmth of the day, but as the sun set, I discovered I was unprepared for the drop in temperature, having neither warm clothes nor funds for lodging or transportation. On that autumn night, with no cars coming or going, I was stuck in the dark on a deserted country road with no prospects for movement in any direction. In an attempt to keep warm, I went out into a field and covered myself with damp, rotting cornstalks. The rest of the night was spent wrestling, like the prodigal, within my consciousness.
During the months leading up to my “escape” attempt, I had been burdened by selfish and lazy thinking and the belief that this mental state was my own. In actuality, it was an imposition by what the Apostle Paul described as “the carnal mind” (see Romans 8:7) —thinking based in the belief that existence is material and evil is real. I had been lulled into a hypnotic dream of having a consciousness and life separate from God—my creator, my preserver, the ever-present divine Mind. I had mistakenly accepted the false suggestion that I could be an outlaw, expecting my life to be harmonious, happy, and safe while indulging the senses and apparently living outside of God’s government. But on a more intuitive level, I knew that running away was not my highest sense of right—or, in reality, even possible.
Having been raised in Christian Science, I understood, at least theoretically, the importance of guarding my thinking against worldly temptations and the notion that materialistic shortcuts could produce successful or satisfying outcomes.
I guess I still had to learn it the hard way.
Essentially, my mental wrestlings among the cornstalks boiled down to this: On the one hand, I could make my way up to Iowa and live a marginal life manufacturing pig troughs and getting high with my friend. On the other, I could go back to school; live morally; fulfill my obligations to family, self, and God; and receive a college degree. Shivering in my damp, rotting refuge, I had a moment of clarity. I guess I fell asleep for an hour or two, because I remember waking up knowing I had to go back.
The Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, captures what I experienced and felt in this passage: “The sharp experiences of belief in the supposititious life of matter, as well as our disappointments and ceaseless woes, turn us like tired children to the arms of divine Love. Then we begin to learn Life in divine Science” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 322).
I heard a truck coming south, and I hustled out to the road. The driver went out of his way to drop me off at campus. It was warm in the truck, but it was even warmer in my heart, because I had repented that night under the cornstalks. I was heading in the right direction.
I made it in time for my classes, and only a couple of friends knew I had even left. But it felt as though I had traveled a long distance and for a long time, because I knew I had changed.
Things were different in the days and weeks that followed. The temptation to use drugs immediately and permanently left me, and I reengaged with our campus Christian Science organization. I also began regularly studying the weekly Bible Lessons from the Christian Science Quarterly. Instead of avoiding homework, I embraced it. It was shockingly easy to succeed in school when my mind was clear, and when I studied, showed up for class, and completed my assignments on time. And it was exciting, intellectually satisfying, and gratifying to know that I was living responsibly and morally.
I am thankful for this milestone, which I owe to my Sunday School education, the prayers of my parents, the support of a couple of solid friends—and a few cornstalks in Southern Illinois.