At the age of 20, I had a near-death experience after the birth of my first child — an event that defined my life's path. When I awoke to the news that I'd survived the massive uterine hemorrhage, I was enraged I'd been sent back to earth — why in hell would I want to be imprisoned in the muck of a life that was mired in physical and mental anguish after being embraced in indescribable, unconditional love and peace?
I became obsessed with wondering why I wasn't good enough to be taken "Home to God." I must have done something radically wrong to be so dismissed. For 30 years, I wrestled with life, diving into dark nights of insanity, despair and gut-wrenching suffering. It took me years to understand that the gift of life was seeking me while I'd settled for death.
I grew up Catholic on the East Coast in a family challenged with poverty, abuse and mental illness. Outwardly, I was fragile and angelic; inwardly I had a Wonder Woman fierceness that was determined not to let craziness take me down. I held the tension between wanting to die at an early age and knowing in my bones my life's mission was to share with others how Spirit seized me early on and moved every step of my life through dream, visions and intuition.
Over the years, I sought refuge in prayer, begging, screaming and bargaining with God to fix my pain. I studied with shamans, traveled to sacred sites in Africa, Egypt, New Mexico and Crete. I was initiated in Native American and African traditions. I tried every conceivable alternative healing modality to find the source of "what's wrong with me." Once I even stood naked while a shaman shouted incantations to release me from the curse of my mother, poured ice-cold vodka over me, and then passed a lit torch over my body!
Throughout my journey, I was unaware of the divine feminine consciousness looking for ways to remind me that She was living through me, within me — and, in some real sense, was me. In my previous understanding, the Divine was always "out there," as no divine being would dare live in my brokenness. I was so focused on clawing away at my insufficiency and trying to be perfect that I wasn't hearing the Song of the Soul, a song yearning to experience the brilliance and the messiness of life through the holy ground of the body.
Prior to living in Oak Park, I worked with homeless people with mental illness in Rogers Park. These were my people, earth angels who often saved me more than I helped them.
There was one particular client with schizophrenia. He'd been recently hospitalized but managed to escape because he'd received a message from God, for me, while taking his morning shower. The police found him and brought him to the parish where I worked. The client, an improbable prophet, agreed to return to the institution if he completed his Godly mission. He looked into my eyes and said, "God said he has a man for you in your life. And well, God said you won't believe this, but you have to believe it. It's Father Frank."
Father Frank was a Jesuit priest in the parish where I served as director of Social Service and Volunteer Programs. Eventually Father Frank left the priesthood and we were married in a friend's backyard in Oak Park. Our life together is a radical blessing.
I hope my book will encourage the mystics, dreamers and visionaries to give voice to what they know, and face the challenge to embody their spirituality within ordinary life. I accomplish this by laughing a lot with Frank, hanging out with teenagers, singing, digging up weeds, and being silent. I'm also committed to several volunteer ministries in the St. Giles Parish and Family Mass Community: music, youth, and bereavement. All are avenues for the Divine to flow effortlessly through me, keeping me planted on the earth.
"Rooted in the Stars, Planted on the Earth: One Woman's Path to Embodied Mysticism" by Annette Hulefeld, D.Min/LCSW, of Oak Park, is available locally at The Book Table. More: annettehulefeld.com.
Answer Book 2019
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