One Saturday morning when I was eleven, I went to see Mr. Hedgepath, my pastor at Conway Methodist Church. It was my very first time to seek out a pastor for a personal conversation.
In the sixth grade, I was just about to come into puberty. My voice had not changed. I had little body hair. I was intelligent but rather socially odd—at least compared with my peers. I desperately wanted to be popular, but somehow felt all the surefire ways of doing so as a boy were blocked to me. I was not interested in nor good at sports. I had few close male friends. The girls that I wanted to like me seemed always to be drawn to more boyish boys.
I remember asking Mr. Hedgepath if it were OK for me not to play sports. I obviously wanted some assurance that I was in fact all right. I was beginning to suspect that I was “different.” In fact I knew I was. Almost none of my peers, girls or boys, was nearly so enchanted as was I with churchy things. I liked a raft of things that few other kids, boys especially, seemed to care at all about—house cleaning, flower arranging, gardening (I grew zinnias from seeds), genealogy, local history, visiting older people. I doubt that I unpacked very much of that for the pastor. I might have had a few other issues—but I can only remember the question I put to him about playing football and baseball, they being clearly the focus of my visit.
Mr. Hedgepath, said, “Frank, I think football and baseball are fine—I played them both, but I don’t think you have to.” He proceeded to look for a book he wanted to lend or give me. He never could lay his hand on it, but in the process of looking, he pulled out a thin little volume called God’s Perfect Way for You, by Hazel Pickett. He gave it to me, suggesting that I might find it helpful. I think I never opened it. I could never get past the title. I thought, as I grew older and occasionally cast my eye on the fading blue cover, that it was likely a book that would reveal to me that God had a “perfect” way for me that somehow I would find it terribly difficult to live up to.
I held on to the book for one reason. Mr. Hedgepath had given it to me. In all the downsizings through the years, I have never even seriously thought of giving or throwing it away. Nor have I had any intention of reading it. Apparently I never read the subtitle: “A Manual of the different Ways we may come to know God as a Living Presence within us, and thereby reach complete fulfillment and complete joy.” Words were unimportant, but the gift, my only token of a real childhood model and mentor, was precious.
In my latest thinning out of books, I picked up Mrs. Pickett’s book. I opened it and began reading. Much to my surprise, it turns out to be something of a practical mystagogy. It is not the kind of book I would likely write or even buy. But what impresses me is how much I understand of it today and how little of it I would have understood sixty years ago. I could not have understood much more than the bare words on the page. I would have missed the message entirely.
Hazel Pickett was clearly a mystic, in the sense that she had a direct experience of God. Like all mystics, she transcends binary thinking and understands the fundamental Unity of all things and persons with God. Her grasp of the “perfect way” is a contemplative, peaceful, joyous ride with the Almighty.
It has taken me six decades to arrive at the point where I am able to read appreciatively the book Mr. Hedgepath pulled off his library shelf. Maybe unconsciously I saved it until the kairos moment—when the time was fulfilled and I was ready.
© Frank Gasque Dunn