There was no transcendental experience, just an anthill

Keith Brumley

Keith BrumleyColumnist

I was hitchhiking to the West Coast and back during the last month of summer vacation. I’d been given lifts by a treasure hunter, an economics professor, a vacationing couple from South Dakota and a police officer who’d been kind enough to shuttle me from the east to the west side of Battle Mountain, Nev.

This was during the mid-1970s and hitchhiking still held an allure for we who were intrigued by the freewheeling stream of consciousness Gonzo-type novels and poetry of Jack Kerouac. Like the young Thomas Merton who was similarly inspired by Ernest Hemingway, I wanted pure experience in the raw and held my arms open for anything that came my way. I’d visited my friend, Scot Clark in Sacramento, had hitched part way up the Oregon Coast, turned inland and was invited in for an evening with a carpenter and his family in Eugene. I was on my way back east and headed toward the Great Basin country of eastern Oregon and beyond.

I was still up in the Cascades when a yellow VW stopped. As it turned out, the driver was headed toward a weekend church retreat. The afternoon was getting on and he invited me to spend the night. The rides had been slow in coming and I accepted.

The driver had been involved in hallucinogenics and had a “come to Jesus” experience a couple of years before that. He had done some psilocybin mushrooms, was lying on his back in a park, and pretending to control the movement of clouds. A pair of Dobermans had jumped into his face, literally scaring the Devil out of him. He shortly thereafter gave his life to Christ. His life had since changed dramatically, he told me, and since accepting Jesus Christ as his personal savior, he’d developed a private business, was engaged to be married, and was feeling more fulfilled than ever before in his life.

We pulled off the highway, wound our way into camp, made the introductions and began prayer in preparation for supper.

It was the first time I heard anyone speak in tongues and soon the entire congregation was speaking as one in an evanescent voice that seemed to come from outside the dining hall. It was the sound I’d imagined of angels.

I slept well that night and the following morning after breakfast, the pastor and my friend invited me outside and asked if I was ready to commit my life to Christ. They’d been kind enough to provide supper, a warm place to sleep and breakfast. I figured since they’d been so generous, it was only polite for me to agree. I didn’t, after all, want to seem ungrateful.

And so it was then that I became born again. There was no transcendental experience, no sense of anything … except that as I prayed, I looked down and noticed an anthill. For some reason, it appeared important.

From there I set back on the road. The rides came fast: first from a guy who was running away from his wife and then changed his mind in Twin Falls, Idaho. The second was from a travel agent who’d entered a bad backpacking tryst with a woman he’d met on a cruise. He drove me through Glacial National Park and dropped me off at the junction of I-94 and I-29 in Fargo, N.D. From there I took a ride from a young woman who’d been harassed by her employer and was making a wild run toward home. She dropped me off in Brookings.

When classes started the next week, I met with a philosophy professor, a retired Lutheran minister, a graduate student in counseling, and an English graduate student. When I came to the anthill bit and mentioned that it seemed very important at the time, the philosophy professor asked what I made of it.

“I don’t know,” I said. “They were just ants.”

The Lutheran minister erupted into laughter. I was a fool for Christ.

Keith Brumley is an SDSU alumnus and current journalism graduate student at SDSU. Contact Keith at [email protected]