Chapter of a Life Story
by Ethan Martin
Excerpted from the KIT August-September 1995 Newsletter, Vol. VII #8-9
Ethan Martin is not my real name, and I have changed some other names, and clues to names. Those I want to know, will know who I am. Almost a half a century ago, when I was 20 years old, I embarked upon a strange adventure. In the spring of 1948, along with two of my fellow undergraduate students at Harvard University, I dropped out of college at the end of my second year, to go down to Paraguay, where we made a lifetime commitment to the Bruderhof. As it turned out, that lifetime commitment became just an eleven-year interlude in my life, and a slightly longer one in theirs. I was the first baptized American member, and the first baptized American to leave.
I remember those eleven years as a time of unparalleled emotional and spiritual intensity. I am still evaluating that time as part of my whole life, and finding new liberating insights. I'm glad I left when I did. And I wouldn't have missed my Bruderhof years for anything. At the end of my time there, I became a witness to, and a minor player in a crisis that blew the community apart. The parallels between the events of that historical crisis and the struggle that had long been going on within my body and soul are what I think make my story worth telling.
Why, as my mother put it, with angry and permanent bitterness, did I "run off to the jungle" and join this "weird outfit?" It started one day when I was in high school, with the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. I picked up the paper from our country post office, and just stood there on the gravel for a good hour reading the news of that. Next, I found out all I could about it. I concluded at once that everything had changed. There must never be a war with atomic weapons. We needed a world federation with teeth, with a monopoly of nuclear arms. We had about ten years to make such a government, or World War III would destroy civilization, cover Europe and America with six inches of radioactive green glass. That was the message I preached in debate contests, and in competitive oratory matches, my senior year in high school.
During my two years at Harvard I learned from courses and from sophisticated Manhattanite roommates how provincial, Midwestern, middle-class, ignorant, and plain dumb many of my accustomed views had been. I learned how ethnocentric my whole life had been. I learned to respect and long for the life of primitive peoples, wrapped in the arms of myth, not in the chaos of modern contradictions -- religious ethics vs. business carnivority, Golden Rule vs. Me First, peace is wonderful vs. when there is war, you go. Human brotherhood, but not for the hunkies, the wops, the yids or the Negroes.
I learned from Professor (and prophet) Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin, Sociology department chairman, that Western Civilization's history was marked by the rise and fall of two opposing cultural systems, the Ideational (inward, religious) and the Sensate (this-worldly, commercial, scientific, sensual). We were living out the collapse of the second Sensate wave. Conflict would get worse, and end in cataclysm. 'Brute force assisted by fraud' would rule society. Out of the ashes, or green glass, a new wave of the Ideational would, over centuries, arise.
Harvard didn't support me in my green glass visions (my shrink thought I was projecting), but I went on seeing the country and the world heedlessly drifting toward universal atomic holocaust, as the Cold War set in, while everybody, in the longed-for After the War time, was happily and blindly making money, having kids, planning careers as if nothing was going to happen to them.
Actually my vision was right, as we now find out. The late General Curtis LeMay, boss of the Strategic Air Command, and the other finger on the Button, did all he could to start World War III (his term), and was furiously disappointed when it didn't happen during the Cuban missile crisis, since we had already missed some good chances before that. "Doctor Strangelove" came very close to happening.
Academically I was doing very well indeed, getting 15 A's out of 17. That was before grade inflation. I was learning marvelous new stuff -- Baudelaire, Abnormal Psych, Kierkegaard, Auden, Patterns of Culture, Yeats, Freud -- and inwardly I was at my wits' end about the world's future and my own. I was coming apart.
That was my frame of mind when I set out in the spring of 1948 to become a pacifist. No more patriotic bamboozle gearing up for one more (the last?) War to End War. On a Sunday afternoon at the local Quaker meeting house, I committed myself, in a circle of newbies my age, and of older veterans of the Conscientious Objector camps, to refuse to register in the draft that was about to be renewed, and consequently go to prison.
Moments later I made two new friends, Jack and Ron, fellow Harvard students, who shared my fascination with Sorokin's ideas, the nuclear future, and the coming collapse of Western Civilization. They told me about a settlement in Paraguay, where people from 16 nationalities -- mostly Germans and English! -- lived in peace and harmony, shared all their property, made decisions by unanimous consent, and believed that they were the forerunners of the next civilization, the Kingdom of God. They were absolute pacifists. They lived a simple agricultural life. The seed of the new Ideational age? And they were in Paraguay, where that seed, and with it, a recognizably human culture, might hope to escape being fried dead.
Within days we all made the decision to go. We dropped out of school and went down to the Bruderhof in Paraguay. We were delighted, overwhelmed. Jack and I roomed together. We used to clown about looking under the bed, to see if this was all just a wonderful illusion. "This is the flowering of the German spirit," Jack said, "not the Nazis." We used to talk that way.
Jack and I said we had the Deluxe Guestship. We got invited to one family after another for afternoon tea-time, and we were glad to see them and they were glad to see us -- the Serious Guests who had come so far, and not as tourists, but as Seekers! We worked in the garden, and plied one brother after another with questions about what they did about this and the other, and why, and about their history.
We were delighted with their culture. They were not the tightass black bumper Mennonite fundamentalist peasants we had assumed they would be. Some were peasants, but smart and witty ones. Most were middle class in background. Many were educated and well read. A few had advanced degrees. They were aware of politics and history. They had a library of 25,000 books, to which ours were added. They were absolute pacifists.
They had a large store of German and English folk songs that everybody could sing. They would have meetings where the people got together for some kind of tedious manual work. For example, they would take the seed pods out of a whole bunch of fruit bushes, rosella, so as to make jam out of the blossoms. So all the people would get together and cut off the pods and put the blossoms in baskets, and sing folk songs. All evening! Without looking at books or anything. Everybody knew the songs by heart, in three or four part harmony.
And they all seemed so joyful. That awed and mystified us, however much we tried to find cynical real explanations, dirty secrets. And we worked hard at it. Jack poked around in their archives, and I translated what he found. We got found out, but they were quite good humored about that, reckoned we were "Seeking Guests." I can't imagine that kind of humor in the Bruderhof of today.
Part of the joy we felt came from a sense of the worldwide, historic and even the cosmic importance of this way of life, from its ideas and faith to the details of daily work and play. One brother said to us as we worked in the garden: "You can find people who are ready to die for a cause. It's harder to find people who for a cause will hoe the crops, for years, all day long in the sun." It was work for the community, for the Cause, for the centuries- long war of the underground Good against the organized empire of Evil in its four aspects: Money (mammon) -- lies -- murder (war, violence) -- and sexual impurity. It was the sexual impurity part that brought the Struggle home to me.
The metaphor for our structure was concentric circles. Outside, way outside, was Outside, or the World Outside, as we called it Closer in were friends who in some way shared our faith and practice -- Quakers, pacifists, secular people concerned about The World Need (Weltnot, suffering humanity). Then came guests -- from tourist to Serious. A distinct step closer in was the Considering Novice, who had decided to join -- but had more to learn and change about faith and about one's own fallibility. A Firm Novice had reached a more solid decision and was seen to be more serious and devoted. Then came baptism into the brotherhood. Closer to the center were the Witness Brothers, who were elected for their ability as wise counselors and deciders. Then the Servants of the Word, or ministers. And at the very center, God, Jesus, the holy Spirit.
In the center in another sense was the Gemeinde, the Brotherhood with a capital 'B'. This was the mystical body of all of us who were fully united with one another in faith and action. You couldn't see it, touch it, hear it. It wasn't us as people, and we didn't own it. The Gemeinde came to us. We didn't own it, and we could lose it, drive it away. But it came to us. And when it did, it was more real for us and more significant to us by far than what, in precommunity times, we would have called our individual selves.
And of course, once in the center, you could go out. Out of the prayer. Out of the meetings. Into the Small Exclusion of limited formal talking with people. Into the Great Exclusion, with the terrible words: "Because you have despised God, you are given over for a time to the power of the devil for the purging of your soul. Go out, and bewail your misery to God." And still farther out, those who broke their vows and left, the traitors, the Lost. The damned, in fact, although we didn't use those words.
I spent almost a year as a Serious Guest, learning a lot. But it was not until my first big crisis that I began to "come closer" in a decisive way, and asked for the novitiate.
As I became aware of their views about sex, I felt I had to go make some confessions. I went to a gentle young Servant of the Word, and told him about my sins. I had copulated with my high school girl friend. Twenty times. And once with another girl. And then further questions about masturbation. Yes, I did. And I had some kinkier things to admit to, which I'll spare you.
So I was instructed about purity. I was asked to stay away from prayer for a while, until I had reached a spiritual equilibrium. The brothers and sisters, who were of course not told the details, only that I had confessed to Impurity, were, it seemed to me, loving and even glad for me. Why? Because I had been struck by the light of God and the dirtiness of my self. I wrote a poem about it:
O Lord O love cast love's rebuke upon
The solemn insolence of our revolt,
And shed upon our endless goings on
Mercy descending like a thunderbolt.
Bring the cheap skeptic and the grand aspirer
To that great shattering clash with the I AM,
And lead the self-possessed and self-admirer
To weep beside the cradle of the Lamb.
They had all had some shattering clash. They were glad I had found the gate. Soon after that I asked for the novitiate, and was taken into it.
The Bruderhof demanded absolute surrender of the self. I could accept that -- as an idea -- with enthusiasm. Liberal Western warring commercial dying technological civilization was a terrible destructive failure. We needed a life of unity and brotherhood. No, for me that idea of giving up Western Sensate Freedom for Unity was not the problem. Doing it was.
It was not only that every last bit of private property had to be irrevocably signed over to the community so that, even if you left, you could take nothing with you except what the community chose to give you. That was the easy part. Then came the hard part, giving up your little willfulness, your precious old ideas. There was no private space. Every last corner of the brain, the heart, the soul were to belong to God and the Gemeinde, the church-community as a spiritual presence, and as a total earthly society. When the body or the mind rebelled, you had to join in the Fight of Good against Evil. Our human nature was weak and evil. You had to struggle against your selfish self, asking for the help of God and Gemeinde. What made me take the Firm Novice step was an experience of the call for absolute surrender of everything in me.
We were having a Pentecost night celebration and there was a big bonfire. One of my close friends, a big solid Swiss, stood straight and strong beside the flames. He was standing there making, in a thunderous voice, his Firm Novice declaration about all the things he was giving up. And I looked at the roaring flames and I saw those branches burning. I suddenly realized what they meant. To get into this life, you had to be like one of those sticks and you got burned, you got consumed, to make those glorious rising flames, and it scared the hell out of me, it really did.
What came over me when I saw the sticks being burned was that sometimes it gets down to a very subliminal level, where you can't say exactly what it is you stand to be deprived of, but you know it's something pretty vital. And at that point its like some hand just grabs your heart. You know that it's too late to back out. You're really scared. And there's something deep inside you that you very badly don't want to let go of. That is the Pentecostal fire.
Here is a poem, actually from later:
"Thy Kingdom come," I prayed, and there was sorrow
"In the still voice that rose to answer me:
""Oh it will come, and come quite suddenly.
"What would you do if it should come tomorrow?
""Thy Kingdom come --" "And when it comes, you lose
"The dozen other things you hope to get.
"Pray if you will, but never once forget
"That every time you pray, you have to choose.
""Thy Kingdom come --" "Yes. In the market place
"The people laugh and chatter as they pass
"A dying body hanging on a cross.
"Look up and see the face." It was my face.
As a firm novice on the way to baptism, I had not just to accept, but to joyfully experience certain articles of faith. In the baptismal ceremony at that time, we had to stand up and declare our faith in each point of the Nicene Creed. I took it very seriously and didn't want to say it unless I could really find it in my heart to believe it. I stretched myself on the rack a bit. Some people, I later learned, did not operate with my assumptions about inner passion for articles of faith. Some people could say to themselves, well, this is a traditional Christian belief. I accept Christianity in general. Therefore, I'll accept this. Or, I want this Life, so I'll accept this creed.
My two biggest creedal problems were the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of the Flesh. I rebelled and growled within myself. Yes, myth was the good enveloping presence for human life. But it was myth, not the truth of scientific anthropology.
Then I found a solution in Albert Schweitzer -- who seemed to have had my creedal problem exactly. There are two kinds of truth, he said: scientific truth -- and life- truth. Scientific truth was what was established by evidence and logic, the same for everybody. But life- truths are those things that burn in our hearts with the fire of the Living Word.
I said to myself, Well, boy, it's no accident if you're having trouble with the Virgin Birth. Sex sinner that you are. Once I had realized that my past sexual behavior and my present inclinations were a pile of filth and I felt a longing for purity, then it came upon me like a great illumination and I realized that, if a new and true life were to be given to the earth, it could only start not by sex but by a direct word from God. I realized that there was something contaminated about the sexual relationship. Then I began to see what this meaning was, this mythical truth. When a truth came alive to me, it began to glow.
That's the way the 16th Century Anabaptists used to talk about the Living Word. Go ahead and read the Bible, that's OK. But unless a thing jumps out of the page at you, comes alive, you don't really have The Word of God. The key passage that I found for this interpretation was some place in the Bible where Jesus says, "You don't believe me but if you do what I say to do then you will believe." First you leap, and only then do you land.
The Resurrection of the Flesh? The coming of the Kingdom of God would mean, not that people would fly about the ether as holy ghosts, but that the solid earth, the trees and seas and bears and bees, and human life, would be restored in their full Edenic material beauty. It would be unjust if the Second Creation left that out. "I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day, upon the earth. Though worms shall eat this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." How beautiful! Those lines from Job, and from "The Messiah."
At the Bruderhof, each of us had, sooner or later, to be brought face to face with things in ourselves that were repulsive to us. The purpose of this was to show us what schnooks we really all were; to allow us to have no self- respect whatsoever; make each of us a nothing. Because it was only then that we were really ready to embrace the new self, the values, the personality traits, that were being offered to us. You had to become your own worst enemy, your own most eloquent self-accuser. All, of course, for the greater good of eventual spiritual rebirth. The community could make life very miserable for you unless you did: Isolation, standing up and confessing, being grilled, having everybody against you.
Now, this is terrible to have to admit but, after I became a Brother, I thought, here are some new novices wanting to become members and, oh boy, they're going to have to go through the creed grinder the same way I did. But, by this time, the community was evolving in a more liberal direction. The school girls started to wear slacks, we got some record players, and listened to worldly music, folk songs. In the church meetings, we adopted the Quaker custom of people standing up and saying what was moving them.
I felt deflated when the newer novices didn't have to go through everything I went through. No Nicene Creed. They just stood up and told what was moving them. We had given up some things that later people didn't have to give up. I think that had something to do with the great crisis in 1959. They used to say, there is a donkey that brings you to This Life -- pacifism, Youth Movement, Methodism, anarchism, socialism, humanism. And the point is, when you arrive here, then get off the donkey. We had got off the donkey into the Nicean Creed. I think by 1959 some of us climbed back up and looked at the world from donkeyback again. People now didn't have to give up what we gave up. What else had we given up, than we might now take back?
Personal. Sex, that is. I heard, on a rare tense occasion or two, being officially informed in a meeting of somebody else's sin, the words "fornication" and "adultery." But I don't think I ever heard the word "sex." It was always the "personal." I once asked if I could look again into a psychology text I had brought to Primavera, along with piles of other books. I was told, why No, there were very personal things in those books. So they were kept in a shelf accessible only to the doctors. I would be allowed to read my book if I could produce a good and sufficient reason. I passed.
Let's not be too gloomy about my life there. I had some beautiful, peaceful, funny, energetic times, milking cows, joining in celebrations, teaching school, driving the steam engine, translating. But I never became a Bruderhof member in totally good standing. I was repeatedly plagued by my masturbation compulsion. It was a sign that I had not let go and turned myself over to God and the Gemeinde with all my heart. It was a sin, although not the worst.
The community was prudish about all sexual matters. I never heard anybody ever say that somebody was pregnant. Even though many women obviously were -- we had high birth rates. I know that the laundry washed the equivalent of menstrual pads. I lived near the laundry for a time and I never saw these things drying. I don't know where they dried them. I never knew how they were constructed.
Of course some people had more masturbation problems than others. There were a couple of guys whose lives were ruined by it. They became hangdog, burned- out personalities from having to get up and confess so many times. I particularly remember one of them, this poor little bald-headed bookkeeper, who lived where I lived. He had to get up and confess to it so many times that he was numb about confessing. It was the numbness that got him sent away to Asuncion. His confession lacked pain.
It seemed to me, the older one got, the nastier this sin seemed to the other Bruderhof members. We had a paraplegic guest, an old guy who had been hit by a car in Buenos Aires, and could barely shuffle around, an old German. The only work he could do was peel the skin off garlic, all alone. This was his daily work. I noticed that some of the important people had a hostile attitude toward him. I asked, "What's the matter? I know he isn't very bright, and he doesn't seem to be all too with it as to the requirements of faith."
"He's nasty. He's a dirty old man." So they apparently knew that he was jacking off. Probably from his laundry. And I think this is what tore it for him. After that he had no chance.
I was probably the only one who'd pass the time of day with him. I lived in the same place with him. I was a single brother and that's where they put him, being single, too. We used to sit there and talk.
So, finally the leadership decided that he was not for us, and they were going to ride him out. He insisted that I be present at the meeting. Two older brothers were going to tell him that he was kicked out. He was sitting there looking at me, appealing to me with his eyes. When he understood they were kicking him out, he wailed. "Can't you let me stay here? Don't send me back into the horrible city of Buenos Aires."
A person like that, had he been a loyal community member, would have been a beloved figure. You'd have such sympathy for him. If his foot ached you would go there and sing songs outside his house to make him feel good. You would bring him little presents. You would go and visit him and listen to his pearls of wisdom. And here we were sending this man back to the city to perish. There was no overflow of emotion about that, not from me and not from anybody. It just had to be done.
I refused to have doubts. I continued to think to myself that I would never leave the Bruderhof no matter what happened. While I was there I thought at least I'm going to be loyal. My troubles were such that unless I told about them, nobody would know. And so I often had internal conflict. Maybe this wasn't really as serious as I was making it. Perhaps this wasn't really a sin. Maybe I shouldn't say anything. But I found out by practice that I couldn't take it, not to tell. When you have something on your conscience the world changes shape. I thought rather than destroy the things I believed in, which would have been the effect of not telling, I had to confess. It was better for me to be punished and shamed, than to have my inner life distorted.
This was a problem mainly for single men. For more of them than I realized at the time, since I was not privy to other guys' confessions to Servants, and missed considerable time from meetings through being Out. Occasionally, it might conceivably been a problem for a married man, but I would never have heard, since such things were discussed "in the circle of the married members." Which is where sex was supposed to be, nowhere else.
I do remember an instance of a married woman who got tied up in a knot over sexual fantasies. She was women's work distributor at the time. And, very vocal, very robust, a solid citizen. Of course I never heard the details, but apparently she began to be obsessed with sexy thoughts and she would accuse herself, and pray about it and get over intense in the prayer and then be guilty about praying so much, and be guilty about her self-concern, guilty about her guilt until she finally got herself tangled up in a first class depression. We looked upon it as a disability more than a transgression. She had to be relieved of her responsibility and given a different job, a change of scene and it was hoped that she'd recover. I think she was actually sent off to Asuncion for therapy.
Other people had more serious chronic sexual problems. A teacher, and another guy with pederastic inclinations, for example, would make improper physical contacts with children. They'd been excluded for this years before but then they would be reinstated and it would happen again. We would conclude that something wasn't cured back then when it should have been. The community stood ready to give people another chance if the repentance seemed sincere. Sins were supposed to be repented of, forgiven and forgotten. I'm afraid the forgetting was sometimes incomplete. Some dogs got a bad name. In the end, so did I.
Because of this chronic disability that I had, I never did fulfill the potentialities that I might have otherwise. A leader told me in the beginning, "You're a very promising young man. Why don't you get over this business so we can use you." Years went by, and I was still diddling around on the margin.
What made my sexual conflicts all the more sharp was that, for the last seven of my eleven years of struggling with this issue, I was fervently in love with Adelina, a young woman born in the community. I was reasonably sure she felt the same way about me, although of course we could never speak of it. From my point of view, this put a greater stake on whether I was going to get through or not, cure myself of this infirmity, and become really a legitimate Brotherhood member, firm and solid. I would think, well now it can almost happen, and then bang, down I'd go again. I would raise my hopes, and then dash them with my own hand, figuratively and literally.
You might think that marriage would be seen as a solution to my problem. But there was a Catch-22. To be married you first had to not have this sort of trouble. The Servants used to say to me, "You know, the real solution to this is marriage. The real problem is not this thing itself. You could solve that if you only wouldn't get depressed and bitter about it every time it happens. It's the brooding that goes along with it that's really making your trouble. You get critical, you get cynical, you get depressed, you go off by yourself and wind up doing this thing again."
That was quite true. As I now see, I with my love for the dramatic was fascinated by the Evil, the darkness, the duel with the devil. I prayed hard and desperately to God the distant Judge, My Will be Done. My will wasn't done. I felt God was playing with me, as a cat plays with a mouse. I got bitter against God, very bitter. If I could just have relaxed and got bored with the game! A brother told me he had had this problem, but "Now this has gone out of my life."
But there was no way to reduce the salience of this sin from my or their point of view. It was a sin. It had to be confessed. It had to be punished in some way, by a small exclusion. And then forgiven, and the sinner embraced once more. And so the cycle went round and round. Sin, horror, confession, shame, being taken care of, forgiveness, harmony and bliss, resolutions, boredom, temptation, resistance, struggle, fascination, crisis, SIN! I always cooperated. I kept the wheels turning. In the past few years I have come to know some "recovering Catholics" who are familiar with such cycles. Much of the hierarchic power of the Church is built on this game.
Let me explain what I mean when I say that I was quasi-engaged to Adelina for seven years. This is hard to explain to someone who hasn't been in the Bruderhof or a community like it. The Bruderhof courtship custom was that you are not allowed to have dates or anything like that. Theoretically you're not supposed to let your beloved know at all that you're interested. She should be the last to know.
One time, a friend of mine was wildly in love with a young woman for about two years. And he had already asked the Servants if they could get married. And they said, "Well, wait a little bit, she's only eighteen, she's so young."
They went on a Youth trip together, along with the whole Youth group, down to the river. And he went so far as to take her for a little boat ride about a hundred yards down and back. Just her and him in a boat. Of course the other Youths were all around, all over the place. But he was very worried about this. He thought, Woe, have I gone too far? They didn't say anything to each other. They didn't hold hands. God forbid they should hold hands. But just being alone with her, maybe he'd gone too far. I don't think she even knew he was interested in her before that. But he figured that after that she must have twigged it. And he was worried. The Youth would sing together, folk dance together, but no pairing off or anything like that. The farthest they would go would maybe make a few cow-eyes in a very stealthy sort of way.
Now, this was the theory. In fact it was prescribed in the old Hutterian rules. If a brother becomes interested in a sister, he should not go to counsel with flesh and blood. This means he shouldn't ask himself, do I have sexual feelings toward her? He shouldn't court her in any way. He should ask, is this girl an outstanding member of the church, and if so then he should go and talk with a responsible brother. And they would take counsel together and decide whether this would be a good thing or not. And that's the way it was done. The Bruderhof yenta system. I would say that in about half the cases the couples were aware of their mutual interest in each other. Especially if they were part of the born-in-the-Bruderhof Youth group. There were ways, you know, like glances and so forth. That's the way it was with me, eye-messages. I was pretty sure she knew. But I could never be absolutely sure, since we couldn't talk about it. Here is how I wrote about it in 1955:
Even This
If I could speak, I might well tell you this:
That I have kept hope small, and tried to soften
Looming impossibilities, and often
I have been thinking of you -- not to kiss.
Whenever we talked, we talked about some book
Or teaching methods -- some safe thing like that.
At mealtimes I have known just where you sat,
And not allowed myself a single look.
But still I keep on longing, willy-nilly,
And I imagine what we'd say together
If we but had the chance, and wonder whether
I'm not too old for being quite so silly.
I've tried to keep on doing what I ought
And make no motions, since for all I knew
Somebody else might have pet names for you,
And rights to say them to you, that I've not.
If I pretend that this is next December,
Since, after all, by then I ought to know,
And be consoled by knowing, yes or no --
Even this will be pleasant to remember.
Until 1957. I went through another short exclusion period in 1957. They had a big three-continent conference there in Primavera, and they were shifting people around and she was to be sent off to England for medical treatment. One of the Servants of the Word came up to me down by the horse stable and said, "Before Adelina left she said she wants to marry you." I jumped up in the air. He went on: "We would like to see you two get married. I've had my doubts up to now, but if you could just straighten out and behave like a solid brother for a while then it will be possible."
That was so much encouragement to me that I came right out of my gloom like a Polaris out from under water. I was flying. They sent me down to an outpost hof in Uruguay for a "new start." I wrote this shortly after I arrived there. I knew, without quite admitting it, that I wasn't sure who this wind was, the Spirit, or my love for Adelina.
You Wind
Over my heart's sprawling city,
shaking the rooftrees, the cowering walls,
you, wind, sweep battering.
I start awake in the vibrating darkness
at the surf-surge of your voice.
You, bitter flood assaulting my body,
iron in my mouth, of joy, of fear, of future, dim looming,
dark angel over the doorpost,
far trumpet resounding.
You are thunder astray on the peaks, shouting,
on the remote red mountains.
You, uncanny burst of rain
shocking the listless meadows.
There is haste in my heart, is running, fluttering curtains,
slamming of doors, a crying, a song,
secret plunging of delight:
Come wind, come flood, come storm:
Come Lover, Stranger, Fate and Friend.
I tried hard, too hard, to be an outstanding brotherhood member. I caught myself trying to sound like a certain Servant of the Word, using his vocabulary. While I was down there I was writing to her in England and we were all but engaged. She was in the hospital over there and I was writing love letters to her. We wouldn't talk about marriage in so many words, of course. But we would write the word "love" to each other. We even kept that under control, but it was obvious that we were having an intimate correspondence. And then, bang, I bombed out once again.
That was the low point of my entire Bruderhof career. I was never more bitter and despairing. Especially because I wasn't even fully aware of how it happened. I had got talking with an Argentinean guest that we had there named Felipe. We felt drawn to each other because we had common interests in intellectual subjects that you couldn't talk about with most people, particularly psychology. We'd have long marvelous conversations. He used to get up early in the morning to start the bakery going. And he came in one time to where I slept to wake me up, about four o'clock one morning, and there I was apparently jacking off. I was told about this. I had no awareness of it whatsoever. I just did not know. I must have been sound asleep and doing it.
They weren't quite so sure I was asleep. But to me, here I was right at the pinnacle of my hopes. I'm a kind of a guy that elaborates fantasies, thinking about marrying this woman for seven years. I'd been writing in my journal about it, stacks of tablets, writing poems about her. I'd been imagining what it would be like, imagining how it would be if it didn't happen, how it would be if it did. What if she marries some one else, what if, what if. I was finally right in sight of my goal and smash. "We're going to send you back to Primavera," they eventually told me. "It's too much of a burden to have you excluded here in this place with only 80 people." I was profoundly ashamed and despairing.
Over in England they told her what I had done, told her I was no good, made her burn my letters, told her to forget me.
So I got back to Primavera, into another official Small Exclusion, and some ghastly despairing times. In the early weeks I had a companion, a rat who nibbled the soap at night, and would run over me in the dark from head to foot. I finally caught him in a box and held him under water in the rain barrel. After all, a rat! We looked each other in the eye until he let out his last bubble. Afterward I was sorry. And lonely. I missed him.
Time went on, I worked in construction. Eventually Adelina came back from England. We would catch sight of each other every once in a while. She was in another hof so I didn't have much daily experience of her. But once she shook my hand and gave it an extra hard squeeze at the end. That was a big thing to dare to do that much. I took it as a gesture of love and also rejoicing that I was getting back onto the way. I began to have hope.
Two years after I arrived back in Primavera came the Great Crisis of 1959. My view is that it sprang out of a "bitter root" that had been growing in the dark inside Heini and possibly a few others for two decades, maybe even much longer. Let me first describe what occurred and then go into more detail about my particular role in it all.
This is what I have understood. The founder of the community, Eberhard Arnold, died in 1935. It was a big shock to everyone and many people predicted that since the whole place had been so dominated by Papa Eberhard, when he died the community would expire. But they endured, through expulsion by the Nazis, the Blitz in England, emigration to Paraguay, and pioneering in the bush.
Eberhard left behind three sons, Hardy, Heini, and Hans Hermann, but they were still too young at the time of his death to hold positions of top responsibility. He also left behind two daughters who had married somewhat older spiritually gifted husbands. One of these sons-in- law, Hans Zumpe, assumed a first-among-equals leadership role. Eberhard left him a letter with instructions bestowing the mantle upon him. And advising him to keep Heini in the agriculture, and out of a responsible post. When they went to Paraguay, the two sons-in-law were high in the leadership, but the sons had respectable positions, too.
Possibly Hardy, the oldest, was the foremost of the three sons at first. But he and his brothers got knocked down. There may have been resentment against this royal family clan feeling. You know, we are the bigshot sons of Eberhard Arnold. In 1941 Heini Arnold went religious- nuts for a while, spent months on his deathbed prophesying, said he felt an Evil Spirit in the community, and it had to be rooted out. They all got hysterically spooked for a time. It was chiefly (but not only) Hans Zumpe, the brother-in-law, who shooed the spooks. Heini got sent to Asuncion for psychiatric treatment. Then in 1944 the Arnold boys and a supporter or two planned a coup, but that was unveiled and put down. So these guys were in the dog house, excluded and sent away. Eventually they regained leadership positions but, until 1959, none of them were able to dominate. Hans Zumpe got to be more First, and less Equal. A new member from Germany said to me, before he quit and left: "Hans Zumpe comes on like a little tin God." He had a point. They were talking about making Hans Bishop, an office we never had. Heini bided his time and waited, probably not all that consciously, for an opportunity for revenge and retribution. This finally came in early 1959.
By 1959, Heini's new Woodcrest Bruderhof in the United States was the scene of great enthusiasm, as new Americans came to join. It was prospering economically, a novelty in Bruderhof history, having taken over a school- toy business from a community all but one of whose members joined them. The "mother" communities in Paraguay were struggling along as usual. Heini had recruited a bunch of very competent high energy young American lieutenants who thought the world of him, owed their positions to him, and would follow him anywhere. His and their view came to be that Heini and Woodcrest had the True Spirit, while Hans Zumpe and Primavera had extinguished their torches. This is their official view now: that Hans was a devil, Heini was a saint, and the torches were extinguished from Eberhard's death on, until Heini relit them in Woodcrest. My view is that Heini was a gifted paranoid. Such people can be loving and inspiring, and then crazy cruel. They can have tremendous charismatic power. And be spectacularly destructive: see David Koresh, Jim Jones, Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Sri Ragwan Bazhneesh, and other assorted Elmer Gantrys.
We in Paraguay had come up with a plan to grow and sell rice. We were going to plant about 400 acres of rice in the swamp land. We had already cleared the land, dug the canals, bought a big diesel pump, and constructed a long nine foot diameter wooden pipe to pump water from the river. We had put a lot of sweat into this project.
Suddenly Woodcrest started sending letters criticizing our plan. We should manufacture things instead -- like them with their toy business. We were puzzled. Quite a few members had been sent up there by us. Didn't they know the transport and market conditions in Paraguay?
Then the people at Woodcrest began to notice some disturbing things, they wrote, in letters they'd received from Primavera. Nothing to do with agriculture, but, for example, someone writing to a friend at Woodcrest and saying, in effect, one of the things that bolsters our resolve here and gives us the strength to go on under these adverse conditions is our awareness that we are an outpost of the Kingdom of God.
Under ordinary circumstances nobody would have noticed anything about such a statement, but in this context, they began to ask if Primavera had somehow gotten too smug. Heini and the Woodcrest leaders asked, Are you so sure you are an outpost of the Kingdom of God? Don't you know that we will only know at the Last Judgment if we are God's representatives or not? You seem to think there's nothing that can possibly be wrong with you. And look to it brother. You better examine yourselves. We took this to heart and we began to examine ourselves. We examined ourselves to pieces through the first three months of the year 1959. We made ourselves into spiritual and emotional basket cases. And that was not the end.
By mid 1960, people from Woodcrest decided that they had to come down to Paraguay and set the house in order. That's when the real purge began, in July of 1960 or so. By this time, I was gone. Apparently, it was an agonizing mess. They were in and out. They were a Brotherhood, they were not a Brotherhood, they had never been a Brotherhood. It got really chaotic. Heini came down from Woodcrest with a hit list, and a Goon Squad of young Americans. Get rid of these people fast. Hundreds of them. Including my fellow Americans from 1948, Jack and Ron and their families. Some of of the expelled were old people with no money and nowhere to go. They weren't even asked to make a statement or to repent, just out the door and good riddance. Some of you never should have been here in the first place. Those who are meant to be with us will, with the help of God, eventually find your way back. Subsequently Heini and the American Goon Squad cut a swath through all the other communities as well, descending like Avenging Angels, expelling and excluding.
I left in September of 1959. I saw the beginning of the crisis but not the end. But I took a very active part in the beginning. I'd been in Small Exclusion for two years, from 1957 to 1959. I was attending church meetings, but not the prayer. But then, as the crisis began, the leadership felt I should take part in the discussions. Everybody should. "We're all on the same bench," Servants and simple members side by side.
This was a novel situation for me. Here I was a semi- excludee, and what right did I have to talk? Yet I was encouraged to feel like an equal in this crisis, all on the same bench. So, to my own astonishment, I had a go at it. It became the general view that if the whole community was in such a mess, something must be wrong with every one of us. No matter how innocuous we had appeared before this. So, all I had to do was listen and look for it and I would find it. Some guy would get up and make a statement that I thought was blah and I would sit there busting inside, and come storming out with "What is going on? Don't we realize how serious this is? We're standing here making blabbing statements like this and we don't realize the depth of our guilt, the depth of the things from which we have to repent." And everybody nodded. I picked out things that ordinarily you would admonish people for in private and I brought them out right there in front of everybody. I quoted Hebrews: "For our God is a consuming fire!" I said I had felt all the time I'd been here, something was not quite right. Now, at last we were going to be absolutely, totally devoted to the Kingdom of God.
I was excited, constantly praying, grateful that at last my calling had come. I started discovering powers I didn't know I had. I would sit listening with the Third Ear of symbolic awareness. There was an old harmless guy, who had taught me chess in my abundant spare time as a Small Excludee. He was single, a short guy, a funny guy with a little white beard. He was making a short confession. It was obvious that he just didn't get the point. He wasn't quite with it. I sat there and started feeling, when is it that I don't comprehend things? It's when I've got something on my conscience. So I got him off in a corner. I said, "Look, I can't tell you how I think I know this, but I think you should ask yourself if there's a sin that you have on your mind that you haven't confessed. And don't tell me, go and talk to a Servant."
And bang. He had done something fifteen years before and then sure enough it had been on his mind during that meeting, hovering around. So that came out. It had survived fifteen solid years of annual Lord's Suppers when everything was supposed to be cleared up. Fifteen years of solid challenges of people getting excluded for similar things.
I had noticed over the years how another older brother, a former parson, often spoke of God as punishing, told children not to run and squeal when a storm was coming up, but rather to fear the majesty of the Creator. I took him aside and put it to him: "Willi, have you ever forgiven your father?" Bullseye! I was startled to see him crumble into tears right in front of me, and he told me a painful story.
I said during one meeting that what I'd heard so far that evening gave me the impression that people didn't mind confessing their sins so long as they didn't loose their dignity. I reserved my particular wrath for those who never seemed to have anything very serious to confess. I made a specialty of working over these silent types to see what I could find. I seized on the idea that besides the sinful sins of people like me, there was such a thing as the sins of the Pharisees. The sins of the good, law abiding people who never got into trouble, but were lukewarm. As Jesus said in a parable, the one who will love the master most is the one to whom much was forgiven. Like me. And you can quote usefully from the book of Revelations that those who are lukewarm I will spew out of my mouth and I would you were hot or cold, but not just halfway between. If you had something flamingly wrong and confessed about it, you got out better at purge time than if you sat there and finally made some pious statement. Oh I was a real terror there for a while. Even if incidentally I made a real fool of myself on several occasions in public. What I now see is that I was acting out the fanatical terror tactics that later became standard practice under Saint Heini. And that was my worst time, not my best.
After this had gone on for a while at the three villages, we had a communal meeting. We all got together in the huge dining room in Isla and we asked ourselves, "Can we get some sort of sense of the meeting about this." And here I noticed something really terrifying. Where was the Brotherhood? That was the question. And the Brotherhood had always been there, somehow. The Servant might be exposed as a charlatan and get put into exclusion, but the brotherhood was still there. Such and such a respected person might fall but the Brotherhood was still there. We all of us might be a little confused for a while, but the Brotherhood was still there working on it and we knew we'd come through. Now I suddenly had a feeling of a great emptiness. It was an existential shock. Something you've always been able to rely on is not there. As if a kid had had his parents killed out from over him.
The final blow for me came when the Brotherhood was reconstituted. I was not made a Witness Brother, as I had imagined in the intoxification of my Prosecuting Attorney dramas. I was taken back into the Brotherhood. But into the Non-Decision Making Brotherhood. These were people who were asked to leave a meeting if anything serious came up. These were the guys who would never get married, ever, and were looked on as weird at best, and at worst, Unclean. That was the end of any hopes of my marrying Adelina. Inside me, something broke.
I fell into a pattern of masturbation again. I went to my trusted Witness Brother friend and said, "I've tried everything. I tried praying and not praying; I tried reading and not reading; I tried being sociable I've tried being solitary; I've tried fasting. There isn't anything on God's green earth I haven't tried. And I don't want to start all through it again because it seems to me futile. I don't know how to cure myself of this vice. I can't go on. I just don't know what to do." Under the newly sterner standards I had helped set up, I could not just drift on any more, didn't want to.
And he said, "Maybe you'd better go back home to the States." Break my vows? I was thunderstruck. I said, "I think I'd better." So that's how I left. Not with a bang, with a whimper.
I have told people that I was in a critical frame of mind and eventually began to see all of the contradictions. That is true enough. I read Schweitzer's The Quest for the Historical Jesus and from then on, in the back of my mind, remained alienated from all forms of Churchianity, including ours. I was disgusted when the community refused to take in a severely malnourished Paraguayan child, because, they said, yes the Good Samaritan Parable, but Social Work was not our task, being an outpost of the Kingdom of God was. But actually it was my own inner contradictions that made me leave because when you come right down to it, it broke my heart to keep on trying to do something impossible.
Technically speaking, they didn't kick me out. In my last brotherhood meeting, the decision was made by the brotherhood that I should leave. I made a statement and then the Servant of the Word said a few things. I thought he was slightly bitter. He said, in so many words, "We haven't been able to do anything with you so now you go out and we'll see you again if you find a way yourself." They even said in my last Brotherhood meeting that it was odd but they felt a kind of unity with me in spite of the fact that we both could see that I had to go away, and they hoped very much they'd see me again, eventually, and hear that I had gotten back into the Brotherhood. I had been a sinner, a failure, but somehow a loyal one.
When I was leaving a Servant said to me: "Well, what are you going to do now? Are you going to go back to Harvard and become a professor?" And I said, "Ach! Nonsense!" One of the Youth, a person of no particular distinction, gave me an admonitory lecture, which I think lifted his self-esteem. I was going up a walk by the hospital, and Adelina, who had been coming my direction, saw me, flinched, turned away and went somewhere else.
When I came home I had to tell my parents what had happened and why I left. My father said, "Oh, but that's natural. That's a human thing."
I said, "No. You don't understand: from their point of view, it's wrong. They were right to send me away. I failed. They were right." I didn't want to lose the feeling that what I believed in was right even if meant that I was wrong.
I forget whose idea it was -- I drove down to a roadhouse near the Pennsylvania bruderhof, Farmington. Art Wiser and another brother met me and talked over my situation. His suggestion: I should get a job in Pittsburgh, live by myself in Great Exclusion, and try to get back in. His parting words were: "I'm sorry for you." In a day or two I had decided I wasn't going to go back and go through that again.
I lay about for two months and watched television, a new experience for me, a dozen hours a day, so as not to think, not to feel. Then I went and got a job collecting weekly insurance payments from a poor and almost entirely black set of customers. I needed new clothes. I bought a black suit, a black hat, black shoes, and a black overcoat. A customer once asked me, "Hey shoonse man, you a preacher?" I guess I acted like one. I bought a record of The Messiah. I lived with my parents, had no friends. The future did not exist. Sometimes I'd see from a distance and from behind, a woman who looked slightly like Adelina, and my heart would give a smashing thud.
After a few months of this, I got a letter from Kay, a young woman who had visited Primavera for a workcamp there. She had talked with me briefly. We corresponded for a while, and got together at the college where she had graduated the year before. We quickly decided to get married, and did. I went back to college, and eventually got a Ph.D. and became a college professor after all.
There's more to tell. Much more. I'm just getting started. But there's space only for a satellite overpass.
I see my personal troubles in Primavera from the perspective of my experience, these past four years, in a 12-step program, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. The Bruderhof didn't make me into what I was there. I had, and potentially still have, an addictive personality. Adelina and I quit smoking cold turkey the 18th of August, 1973. And then my drinking took off. I stopped drinking in 1983, and my sex and romance-intrigue addiction took off. I got into recovery from that in 1992. Right now I have to work the program against the Internet, the World Wide Web, Computerholism. Peeling the onion, we call it. You keep going deeper, and shed some tears.
I have been married four times to three women. After 11 years of marriage, and a new born baby girl, I was divorced from Kay, my first wife -- because against all my expectations, Adelina left the Bruderhof, finished college, and got in touch with me. We found each other after all that time. The past was not forgotten, it wasn't even past, as Faulkner said. What a story! The Golden Legend. People loved to hear us tell it. It ran in a local paper. The trouble with the Golden Legend was that it left out Kay, my first wife, and Susan, our daughter. Susan read the story in the paper, and it hurt. Not only did she have no daddy, she didn't even exist in the story of his life.
Adelina and I were married, had a wonderful life together, our own baby daughter, Renata -- and then came my crazy time. Sneaking off to porn movies. Hiding collections of porn magazines. Several one-night stands. Acting out with a mistress for four years, all the while picturing myself as a devoted husband and father. Until finally I left Adelina and Renata for Caroline, a sexy woman who'd been married six times before, was married to her for six years, was slowly destroying myself and her, until finally, as we say in the Program, I Hit Bottom, saw my life disappearing, left, was divorced again.
And now Adelina and I are married again, together again but anew in a life of joyful discovery. I have had a thorough reconciling talk with my first wife Kay. I have made amends with my daughters, cried with them, and kept more and more in touch. I have changed. I am a person in recovery. I have come to understand my wounds, and the way they go back through the generations on both sides of my parents' families. And how the Bruderhof was a setup for my acting-out dramas in one form. Later I found other forms.
I know now how we addicts, how I, have used addictive behavior to drug away the inner pain of self- contempt. I have got in touch with my Shadow, who appeared once in therapy as a black monkey, a demon, and at the same time as a lost and lonely part of my Child self who needed to be taken in out of the cold and the darkness, and who knew how to work destruction on me and those I loved, until I finally paid him the attention and love he had always wanted. Now a little black cloth monkey sits on my night table, wearing a T-shirt that says: Get Well Soon. We could think of him as the mascot of Adelina's and my increasing delight and healing as we work our way through Margo Anand's The Art of Sexual Ecstacy, a Western-hospitable Tantric way of action, uniting body, soul, and spirit. We delight in learning and using new ways of sensual massage.
I can see now how my Bruderhof situation set me up to Fight the Devil, and always lose. The Devil was really my own Shadow, my lonely little black monkey part. The day came when I realized my God was not the one who had nailed me to the cross. I had been addicted to sex, but really to the forgiveness moment -- no, actually to the shame, because at bottom I felt that was my own fundamental Ground Zero identity. Whereas God had always loved me, just as I was, and waited for me to reach out. His Will Be Done was no longer a frightening threat, since he knew what I needed far better than I did. And if I asked for bread, he would not give me a stone.
Therapy and healing imagination and working my program have made my life a peaceful adventure, full of discoveries, bringing together more and more of my history into a Story with a happy ending. I have come to experience increasingly the Promises of Alchoholics Anonymous and its cousin recovery programs, especially these:
We shall know peace.
We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
We will suddenly notice that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
We will lose interest in selfish things, and gain interest in our fellows.
Stopping the addictive destructive behaviors has been only the start. The continuation is the rebuilding of our lives with the help of God as a loving partner, not a punishing judge. Along with my new life with Adelina, my greatest joy is the sense of the gentle, humorous presence of God, with all these Good Surprises, time and again. I remember reading, as I ran the Loma steam engine, a little book by Brother Lawrence, called The Practice of the Presence of God. I had a glimpse of that presence then. And now constantly. My God, my Higher Power, is always right there, and I turn to him often, leave things up to him, or (just as much) her. My sense of this presence is of the Loving Father Jesus spoke of, but also the Mother Goddess of the East and the Mideast. The inner god of Thou Art That. Even fortune cookies give me messages:
Trust your intution. The Universe is guiding your life.
You have some new ideas, do them. (Seems refer to this article!)
God's blessings keep arriving when I or we need them, I just have to keep watch for them. Sometimes they arrive in a nearly impenetrable disguise. And look at me with a grin when I recognize them.
I wrote this about Adelina back in 1956:
The Changes in Your Face
The ringing silence there, the low light burning
Like echoes of spent music, like the turning
Of white wings lifted on a distant sea,
Told me that time was done,
That all the years were one,
Imaged, unlost, in this eternity.
I moved through frames of memory unnumbered
Down the bright gallery of years remembered
And traced fate in the changes of your face:
Child's fresh wonder, young girl's laughter,
Work and childbirth, slow age after:
I held the perfect wholeness of your days.
And a wild sorrow and a wilder longing
Sang in the years and pierced me with its singing
Until I woke, knew where I was, and knew
I'd watched what I might never see,
Looked back on what is yet to be:
The time is now, and you are twenty-two.
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