The Doors of Revelation

When I was around seventh or eighth grade, I happened upon the band The Doors self-titled first album in my older brother’s record collection. This find was a grand event in my teenage years. I loved The Doors, their sound, their aura. I especially became fascinated, as perhaps only teenagers can be, with Jim Morrison and his expressed love of poetry and prose, especially writers like Arthur Rimbaud, Friedrich Nietzsche, and William Blake. Many people probably associate Jim Morrison with leather pants and prodigious psychedelic drug use, but I will always associate him with an intellectual curiosity outside the norms of his time.

The Doors took their name from two sources. The first is a couplet from William Blake’s work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” The second source was Adolph Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception, which borrowed the title from Blake’s earlier work.

William Blake was a mystic Christian poet and illustrator from the late 1700’s to early 1800’s. He was a bit of an iconoclast and more than a bit of an outsider for whom religious experience was very personal and practical. He took inspiration in part from the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions and he was a friend of one of the great thinkers of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine.

Adolph Huxley, another Englishman who wrote in the mid-1900’s, is probably best known for his dystopian novel, Brave New World. His book The Doors of Perception was about the author’s experiences with psychedelic drugs, in his case mescaline. Unfortunately, this second inspiration for the naming of The Doors became much more well researched than the first, and Huxley’s own work was denigrated and reduced to the idea that drug use is essential to creativity and inspiration.

I never really bought into the idea that the altered states of consciousness brought about from mind altering drugs in general and psychedelics specifically were an essential or even useful tool for creativity and inspiration, but have come to believe that the highest form of creativity and inspiration comes through revelation. I did though have one experience with LSD that helped me to understand why the association is so common and what true revelation comes from.

When I was in my second year of college I had some friends who defined recreational drug use for me. Weed and LSD were their forms of entertainment. That lifestyle never appealed to me, in fact I found it more than a little depressing, but one evening in a moment of weakness I tried LSD. For them LSD was a joyful experience, for me it was the worst evening and morning of my life. Throughout the evening, between hallucinations and whatever else I don’t truly remember, my only thought was I can’t wait until the trip is over and I get back to “normal.” The return from the trip, while I reflected on what was meaningful and valuable to me that was returning, was revelatory.

When I ponder that experience I do see how drug use has become associated with creativity and revelation, and I think I have a better idea what true revelation is. True revelation comes not from the leaving or destruction of self, but in the returning and greater realization of self. The best analogy I can think of is the painter working on a painting or the writer writing a novel. The painter, while actually putting brush to canvas, is close up to the work and focused on the small area and detail of that moment. The writer working on the novel is concerned in that moment on the particular words and phrases, perhaps even letters and spaces, being placed. But what does the painter and the writer then do after moments of focused attention on the details? They both walk away, they step back, they survey how the part fits into the whole. They may even leave the work for a time to return later so as to see the work with fresh eyes. The walking away and then returning is where revelation takes place.

In Matthew, Chapter 17;14-21, the Savior has an interesting interaction with a man seeking to have his son blessed and uses the opportunity to teach his disciples an important lesson about revelation, not unlike William Blake’s couplet:

And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Revelation, in this case the revelation about how to cure the man’s son, would have come to the disciples if they has put in the requisite prayer and fasting. Often, an essential element of prayer and fasting is nothing more than forgetting oneself, walking away, and then returning. In prayer we seek communion and communication with our Heavenly Father. We forsake our reliance on our own abilities and seek the help of our Heavenly Father. We acknowledge our own weakness and failings and ask for help. In fasting we remove ourselves from our typical patterns of daily living, of cycles of eating and drinking, and seek to focus less on our temporal concerns, on simple day to day subsistence, and focus on more eternal concerns. From focusing less on ourselves and our day to day material existence, when seeking a more eternal perspective, revelations manifest themselves.