Foreword by Thomas Moore
A few years ago I received a book from a thoughtful woman who lives in the United Arab Emirates, an illustrated version of the Sufi tale Mojud: The Man with the Inexplicable Life. Mojud starts out as an inspector of weights and measures but then receives several visits from the spirit guide Khidr. Each time his life settles, the spirit appears with a new adventure. Everyone thinks Mojud is mad, but with a sacred simple-mindedness he empties his will and follows directions. Finally, the story says, "Clerics, philosophers and others visited him and asked, 'Under whom did you study?' 'It is difficult to say,' said Mojud."
I think Khidr must have visited Jerry Wennstrom a few times, too. His many beautifully told stories show that Jerry has Mojud's open-hearted faith, the intelligent willingness to read the signs life offers of what to do next and where to turn. As Jerry himself realizes, it is the way of the Holy Fool, the one who grasps the simple idea that being open to life is ultimately more rewarding that trying to control it.
Joseph Campbell once wrote that Aphrodite can be seen today standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. The timeless spirits and the timeless truths are ever-present, if disguised in ordinary clothes and personalities. Jerry's insights show all the traces of the world's ancient wisdom, though he uses his own hand-crafted images and phrases. This is another example of what happens when you open yourself to people and events without self-protective judgments.
Reading Jerry's own tale within his many vivid stories, I am also visited by Perceval, who found his way through the forests and the wasteland with a simplicity of mind and an egolessness that was magical. As I was reading how Jerry consistently appreciates the holiness in his many troubled acquaintances, I also thought of R. D. Laing, that brave soul who was ridiculed for his own wayward life. Jerry's attitude echoes Laing's insight that psychological problems are actually spiritual in nature and deserve to be treated as such.
I don't share Jerry's enthusiasm for "wholeness," but I like his description of it as coming full circle. My favorite image for this is the ancient ouroboros, the snake that bites its tail. We humans are not evolving but circling, and that the stuff of our souls keeps coming back for more attention and more living. I appreciate the form of Jerry's book, a series of stories that circle around. I like the fact that they aren't entirely chronological and that each one is a beginning. I imagine Alexander Calder mobiles spinning all around me as I read, and I trust that view of life, one that gets nowhere, no, not even spiraling toward a better end.
While Jerry's stories will remain with me for a long time as lessons in being open to life's paradoxes, I am also taking note of powerful phrases that conjure up ancient wisdom: "Seasoning sanctifies. Insanity, that too is God. The power of the bloodline. Our dualistic package. Form is death. I have to leave this perfection. We do not make good gods. The whispering God. Enlightenment is surrender."
I'm sure that many people will find comfort and inspiration in this book. Jerry is able to describe a spiritual journey outside of any ancient tradition or modern system, and I trust that originality. He avoids the many hollow words sometimes enter contemporary spiritual thought and embodies the idea that you can be fully spiritual and fully secular at the same time.
Jerry's experience shows that simply by being receptive to deep intuition and living intelligently from the heart, you can achieve a degree of holiness. In the old Sufi story people were amazed that Mojud, an untutored wanderer, developed the power to heal. I expect Jerry's book to be a source of healing, and so I can ask him the question put to Mojud: "Under whom did you study?" I would expect him to answer, "It is difficult to say."
Thomas Moore is the author of Care of the Soul; The Soul of Sex and The Reenchantment of Everyday Life.