“You know that the universe vibrates at 528 Hz, right?”
This was only part of the first conversation I had with Neil*, who had just come on hospice and was living at home with with his mother. It was my initial assessment with him, and it was already off to an interesting start. When I arrived for our meeting time he wasn’t available. The neighbors in his apartment building who were sitting outside said that he had just gone out to the local Rite-Aid with his girlfriend. So I waited on the patio until he arrived.
Neil right off the bat struck me as an interesting guy. He was in his mid-50’s, and his long white hair, thin build, pale Hawaiian shirt and straw fedora made him look like a wandering beachcomber. He carried a portable oxygen concentrator, the only visible indicator of his end-stage lung cancer. “Hey man! Sorry I’m late. I had to go get my meds and some toothpaste.” He introduced me to his girlfriend who was with him and neighbors and then escorted me inside, chatting the whole time.
Neil described himself as a Christian but he didn’t “buy a lot of that stuff in the Old Testament,” and while he had never really attached to a particular church or denomination he was a very spiritual person. He prayed often, and during our hour and a half long conversation he brought up his beliefs quite a lot, and asked me about my beliefs about God, spirits and demons. At one point he brought up how on two occasions he felt engulfed by the Holy Spirit. “I just knew it was God. I felt warm all over, and just felt connected to Him. I didn’t hear any words or a voice, which was how I knew it was God.” He then went on to tell me of how once he saw a “milky white face” before him which spelled out it’s name and tried to tell him that he was God. Neil said “That’s how I knew it wasn’t God. God never talked to me like that.” When Neil said “Jesus!” the face made a look of distaste and said “I don’t want to hear that again!” and went away.
The conversation I had with Neil took a lot of odd twists and turns. One subject would bleed into another, and it seemed like he was talking more in a stream of consciousness than in any clear direction. He could bounce between the historical and the fantastic without missing a beat: his history of mental illness and bad experiences with medication, his concern about his mother who was also ill, his personal experiences with spirits, his estrangement from his brother who was a “die-hard Bible thumper”, his ability to “become a tree” by sitting and meditating under one (“trees are really intelligent, man”).
I found myself putting on my psychological hat more than once during our conversation. I took his spiritual experiences at face value, as they obviously meant a lot to him. But his talk of becoming a tree along with some other pretty expansive ideas made me wonder what mental illness he might be still dealing with. I found myself being a bit judgmental at times, and fought hard to keep a nonjudgmental stance during his rambling monologue. Which brings me to 528 Hz.
“Did you know that the universe vibrates at 528 Hz? Everything in the universe vibrates at a particular frequency, and when the world was created it vibrated at 528 Hz,” he told me. “But now it’s vibrating at a much lower frequency. That’s why everything is so wrong. It’s gotten lower and lower, and there are people trying to raise it. I follow Christ and try to treat people wellWhen we finally get back to 528 Hz, I guess that’s what you call the Rapture. We’ll all be gone. I don’t know if I’ll ever see it – well, I know I won’t in this life but maybe in the next.” He chuckled and moved on to something else.
But it struck me that what he described was probably one of the better descriptions of sin in the fallen world than I’ve heard. What else is sin but something “being off” what it should be? Like an old fashioned TV set that can’t quite pull in a clear picture no matter how fine you tune the dial, sin distorts and interferes with the true and the good. The best we can get is a staticy picture and audio filled with pops and buzzes. We can see, but not as we were meant to see. But rather than try to fine tune the picture and get closer to the correct frequency, we seem to be turning the dial more and more in the other direction, expecting that to clear things up. I thought about my country and how it seems be tearing further and further apart, and how from my perspective my own faith tradition has contributed to that tearing rather than mend it.
There are a lot of metaphors for sin in the Bible: an arrow missing the mark, a stain, a burden, a debt. All of these speak to different aspects of sin and its impact on us and the world. However most of these refer to actual things and, at least for me, it has been difficult to consider how an immaterial concept like sin can be compared to a material thing. That is why this frequency and static metaphor struck me. I can easily grasp the frustration of trying to tune in a radio or television station where I just can’t seem to find the exact frequency. No matter how little I move the dial or how close I come to the real signal, I can’t escape the disharmony of static that disrupts and interferes with it.
If I had dismissed Neil as some sort of looney, I would have missed that lesson completely. I think that can happen to us as chaplains, when we come across someone who for whatever reason has a faith, value or spiritual system that seems alien or foreign to our own. It could be a Pentecostal who speaks in ecstatic tongues, a mystic who cleanses their chakras with a sound generator or a Fundamentalist who feels that all those with a belief unlike their own is a heretic. It can be hard to accept something as true when it doesn’t seem true to us or anything we know. But even if we can’t accept something as true, we can – and should – still accept it as valid. If it is meaningful to the other, then it is meaningful. And if it is meaningful to them, maybe it can be meaningful to me in some way. Acceptance is always a two-way street.
By the way, here’s what 528Hz sounds like: http://szynalski.com/tone#528,v0.75