40 Years in America
And Restless Are Our Hearts
Dr. and Mrs. Durst at their Blessing
The story of my conversion may be unremarkable, although it moved me deeply and still does. I reluctantly record how the Spirit dealt with me, only because my experience demonstrates conclusively the deep spirituality of the Unification movement. There is no place for the misunderstanding and prejudice of "brainwashing" charges, of declarations that "Moonies" hold people against their will or exploit them, when we see the process by which individuals identify with the movement.
I came to Oakland, a disappointed but by no means broken man. My work with poor youth was demanding but satisfied my deep desire to serve others. I helped establish, among other projects, the interdisciplinary program at Laney College. I began reading spiritual classics of East and West, analyzing, on this American frontier closest to the Orient, the contributions of the East to human spiritual development.
Someone familiar with my interdisciplinary studies course told me of a Korean woman who lived on Dana Street, in Oakland, who might have some interesting ideas to share. Fresh from an improvisational dance class -- I was involved in many consciousness-raising activities -- I went to 6502 Dana Street and rang the bell. A lovely Korean woman invited me in.
The apartment was small but immaculately clean. Bright California sunlight streamed through the orange and white curtains onto the blue felt sofa where she invited me to sit. I was later to find, to my amusement and surprise, that to save money, several dresses and ties worn by members of the church were made of exactly the same material as the curtains. Onni sat on the couch and wore a long, modest woolen dress. I do not believe I ever saw her legs until about a year later, when she arrived by the San Francisco airport wearing a dress Mrs. Moon had given her.
What immediately struck me about her was her smile. She seemed so normal and happy, quite at ease with herself, yet open and responsive to the stranger who sat down in her living room. She had dark brown hair, brown eyes, and was a soft presence in a warm room. We spoke briefly, but she was quick to ask me what I did and how I liked my work. Her directness was disarming, especially in contrast to her warmth. She did not speak much during our first meeting, but I was aware that she was very much the "center" of this small spiritual community.
When I first met Onni, I was already prepared for a spiritual change, through my practice of meditation, my wide reading in spiritual subjects, and my interdisciplinary course. Nevertheless, my conversion was not to come suddenly. I was familiar with the theories of psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Erik Erikson, and their concepts of gradual, evolving change until there is a growth of the personality and spirit. Now that spiritual evolution was to take place in me.
The self-sacrifice, humility and basic goodness of Onni deeply impressed me. I valued modesty and selflessness, but had been disappointed repeatedly by people I admired such as professors and teaching colleagues, who behind their façade of knowledge and service, had hidden agendas for seeking power or sex. I prized personal purity. There were of course many opportunities for promiscuous sex in California, and everywhere, in the 1960s and í70s, but I did not take advantage of them. I was repelled by such casual approaches to something as meaningful, and to me sacred, as human sexuality. The purity of Onni and the genuine absence of lust and self-seeking in the few people drawn to this new teaching made the greatest impression on me. Here were people who were real, who meant what they said. They were, precisely, not deceptive, not out for profit or the satisfaction of their own desires. I was moved. Onni once said to me, when I marveled at her poise and giving: "We must be value-makers and happy-makers." The Unification people I met were exactly that: searchers for absolute values who tried to live those values. I found that I wanted to become like them, to give value and happiness, to make service the core of my life.
My growing attachment to the religious community was not just emotional. I knew, and had felt, religious emotion before, for the prayers at synagogue had stirred mixed emotions in me. I knew that emotion alone was not enough. My reason had to be challenged, too. Onni, with her lectures and charts, discussed with me the problem of evil. We talked at length about arrogance, pride and selfishness. We analyzed the fundamental problem of the misdirection of love in the world and in our lives. People adored things they ought not to worship and did not love what they should. We looked at how this problem had existed since the beginning of history as we surveyed the historical concept of "idolatry," or "false love," in Judaism and Christianity.
Onni frequently visited the small community we established in my home. Sometimes she visited my college classes. Each morning I got up early, prayed, helped clean the house, then took my briefcase and went out to teach literature. I was moving closer to God, but He had not yet captured me. Then, in His own time, He did. My conversion was not startling; no outward miracle took place. Just as God finally reached Augustine while he was reading the Epistles of Paul, He reached me while I was praying with my new brothers and sisters. In my own home, in the midst of a simple prayer service similar to many others in which I had engaged, I was powerfully shaken to the foundations of my being.
Onni always stressed the basic nature of sincere prayer. She tried to teach me to pray from the heart, to follow Paulís teaching that we should pray without ceasing. I was praying often and benefiting from it, but on this day there was a change from quantity to spiritual quality. Even now my whole body lights up and tingles as I think of that unforgettable, life-changing moment.
I was praying as powerfully as I could, surrounded by my friends, when I felt a sloughing off of the past, an unburdening of guilt and sadness. That prayer cleaned me out; it was catharsis in the most primal way. It was as if thousands of years of accumulated spiritual deadweight was falling away from me. I felt clean, whole, purified, down to the center of my being. I remember thinking, this is what life is meant to be; this is how I want to spend the rest of my life; no, the rest of eternity! I knew, consciously, what my unconscious was feeling: that I had discovered the deepest part of myself and had discovered, and been claimed by God.
I could not keep this to myself. I shared it with my brothers and sisters, who rejoiced with me. I shared with Onni, and from that moment on I knew that I would be part of this movement for the rest of my life, forever. I shared my joy even more. I telephoned my mother in New York, declaring, "Mom, I have discovered God. Now I know the meaning of my existence." It was wonderful to give her such hope, for I knew that she had been searching for God her entire life.
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