Visionism: Of Schizophrenia & Spirituality
My second ever “vision” lay transposed between myself and the nineteen-inch black and white television before me, sitting as a five-year-old child in my Coke bottle glasses in the year 1974. I thought nothing of it, having been witness to so many tragic events already (as I knew, even then, that we were the true Addams family). The vision shown hazily before me, sort of grayish and transparent, almost schematic in nature. A tiny television camera pointed back at me from within a screen.
I didn’t think of the high improbability of a camera so small it would fit inside a television, and be able to film me through the screen, existing in 1974. I took the vision to mean that I was under constant observation, by what or by whom I wouldn’t find out until almost four decades later when they decided that my instruction was complete. Until the age of forty-three I’d always doubted, to some extent, the existence of celestial angels on earth, but they’re here—revealing themselves when need be.
On Sunday, March 03, 2013, I was called to write an account of what I’d experienced in order to inform the world that Jesus loves us and that the Holy Spirit is still among us. My schizophrenia allowed me to waste time “reality checking” to the point of boredom. Jesus has also tested me time and again. I have sinned, and will describe those sins in depth later on, but have tried to the best of my ability to follow in the footsteps of Jesus—my personal Lord and Savior—since the age of three, to the best of my knowledge. He has left a straight and narrow path for me to follow, which will only seem circuitous to most.
Jesus had told me, through a chorus of angels’ voices in my mind, that I’d say one thing in my life that I’d regret. I rarely received warnings this clear and straight-forward during my attempt to follow Jesus’ shining road, which was lain before me from as far back as my earliest recollection of my notion of imagery as a first language. (Jesus taught me to learn how to read most of the words in The Detroit News by the time I was four. I learned that imagery was a language before I could talk, I presume; I make all this known not as a braggadocio, though I’ve found that I’ve been an arrogant S.O.B. for most of my life, but to show Jesus’ power. I had to learn imagery and symbolism, before learning to read English, because I had to become fluent in His language for me: the visions and symbolic messages of the angels’ voices which I’ve followed to the best of my ability.) I do regret saying those words, and I don’t. The next morning, after going on a brief hiatus from Jesus’ directives, I quickly quipped that my life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to hear angels all the time—along with my own delusions and the never-ending stream of my own words in my mind that has plagued this schizophrenic for as far back as I can remember. Just like that, they were gone! —Jesus, the angels and my schizophrenic voices. All of them gone, for only the second time in my life! —the first time only having offered temporary relief. My mind was quiet, for only the second time in my life! Amen!
But I was being tested again. They would return, more restrained and clearer now that I’d passed many other trials. I just wanted to be normal, though I’ll never be. On March 01, Jesus had returned my emotions to me. I prayed to Him, thirty years earlier, to take them away because it seemed that all the world wanted was my demise, so I lived as an automaton for three decades. On that day, I went on a six-hour continuous tirade of joyful emotion: uttering thank you, Lord Jesus over five hundred times in between the lyrics of seditious songs that got me through that exile, plucked off the internet.
The next morning, I went on a five-hour self-driven think tank expedition, no different than any other day— except for the exceptional length of time on this occasion. I was set to write the greatest poem the English language had ever known, all of it committed to emotional memory (as I always would with my poetry. I never need notes now, no matter how long the poem). After completing the first three sections, I ran into a problem. God gave me an ultimatum: destroy the poem or live without emotions. He allowed me to go without emotions until I made up my mind. Poets crave fame! I used to, but it took me a mere two minutes of pacing to go straight to the computer and erase and trash everything. A few moments passed, and Jesus returned my emotions to me as He’d promised! I was not sad; I was joyous to be helpful. I have three more completed manuscripts at this point of letter-perfect verse, because I’m my own toughest critic. I asked Jesus if he wanted me to destroy everything else? His reply was no, that I’d shown true loyalty in doing what I did. With each passed test, Jesus speaks to me in more powerful forms of communication. I’m getting the feeling that it’s about trust, and the fact that it takes a while to learn a new language—the true Heavenly tongue still, as yet, unknown to me.
After coming back from the store today, I’m prepared to discuss a miracle that anyone can validate, because it was witnessed by hordes of individuals over the past four years, just in time– because Jesus is even more than just exactly where He needs to be when He needs to be; divine coincidence seems to me to be a way to learning the language of heaven for me. Before I discuss that involved synopsis, I’ll present you with the simple one which Jesus laid out for me today:
At the bus stop, here in Charlotte, I waited with my earphones on. As it turns out, I was too early and the bus turned out to be quite late. But that was because Jesus is in control of everything! Earlier in the day, I went on a two-hour tirade against myself and my own sins. I would clean house in the autobiography I planned to begin writing in five years. I got on my knees to worship women who never ever showed me the slightest hint of love or even affection, but I won’t get on my knees and pray to Jesus! —I screamed, repenting as I gave it to Jesus, dropping to my knees. I said: I don’t care if I’m on a street corner, I’ll drop to my knees if that’s what’s needed by my heart. I, then, yelled: I wore my bathrobe to the bar and to the supermarket to get alcohol and I’m worried about singing the name “Jesus” in front of people because I’m too shy! Screw that! I’ll sing Your name anywhere. So I did, later on at the bus stop, chanting love—the—Lord! in between the lyrics to my favorite song.
Eventually, I turned around to see a woman sitting on the sidewalk about thirty feet behind me, her back to me. No one else was anywhere near her– a couple playing Frisbee about thirty feet in the other direction where the bus was to eventually come from. She sat there for quite a while, but had since gotten up before I’d turned around to view her again. I was looking for direction, because the song I was listening to (on a San Francisco radio station I like, on the internet phone I own) played a song about lying on the cold, hard ground. I thought that this meant that I should hit my knees, no matter how odd it was: not having the need to pray yet. But seeing her standing gave me the sign to not do it.
Once more, I’d turn around again for the next song, which contained the word “Heaven” in the lyrics. I blared it out, pointing to heaven with all my heart and joy at having emotions again, at having a Savior who cared enough to pull me for forty-three years—with a litany of signals like this. He is infinite in His wisdom! She was sitting again!
Now, if she had the same internet station from San Francisco on, was she that offended that she got off the ground because her life is not troubled? I didn’t think so. Most likely, her butt hurt. But her timing was perfect! —because the Lord willed it.
He is in all our hearts, if we’d just recognize Him. Call out to Him, possibly, and say: come into my heart, Lord Jesus—as when my emotions were slow in returning. Maybe that’s why He didn’t grant the request right away, because He knew I’d get the meaning behind it in tying that night’s events to this morning’s one? Time is not linear, and only appears to cast a linear path on the third dimension. But let’s not get into pseudoscience here! I’ll save that for my poems. I’m supposed to make this account as simple to understand as possible, without being patronizing and without throwing stones: just as I’ve been with Jesus, most of the time. The bus would come, as I turned back around, heading around the curve up the street. Perfect.
The next example is not as personal. Any skeptic could say that I made this all up. They cannot claim this with the next example as easily, though true skeptics abound. The next example is more involved, so settle in for a moment.
When I first came to Charlotte, I was in desperate shape. I came here to live out the rest of my days in an attempt to get to the bottom of the bottle that would finally put an end to my self-imposed misery. I just lost my teaching position at a prestigious northern university. My marriage was in shambles. I had no real friends anymore. I was destitute in spirit, so much so that I carved a divided cross into a portion of the chest above my heart to show how broken I was. As a (then) afflicted schizophrenic, I felt I was the angel Gabriel. I called it the Cross of Gabriel– sacrilege for sure. Only Jesus died for us, and all our sins. There I was, using his symbol to gain fame for myself while blaming Him for all my misfortune. I must do better, from this day forth. I have much more than that to answer for, in trying to walk His path. I also thought I was Jesus when being admitted to the hospital (and Satan, in addition to several other religious figures).
I chanted at the television as the European Soccer Championships went on that summer of 2008. Four years later, I’d once again end up in room 911 (on Charlotte Presbyterian Hospital’s psychiatric ward). The championships were on again, with Portugal marching out in their white “away” uniforms bearing my Cross of Gabriel! I almost wanted to scream, though I knew I wouldn’t get through the doors—as they were in the process of releasing me with a clean bill of health. This had to mean that I was key, somehow, to some big mystery. (It’s probably a small part, to no mystery at all, and I’d be fine with the man that I now am.) Images and symbols, left in my path by Jesus, became easier to follow, the older I got. But so did the number of suicide attempts. I’ve been hospitalized at least one hundred times during the past twenty years. I would not stop pursuing the path I was on, no matter the cost or the grand sin (which diverted me, at times). I have to do better, is my refrain now.
Later on that day, I saw an old high school friend from my days back in Detroit on the bus all the way down here in Charlotte, over two decades after we last had contact with each other. On this day, of all days, to see her must mean that Jesus was letting me know, beyond all doubt, that He (and not Satan or any delusion) was leading me to the day when I’d get my emotions back. I had no idea that I’d, days later, be called upon to write an account of that walk I continue to be on with Him.
The first time I was in a room 911 was at Western Psychiatric (in Pittsburgh) during the 9/11 tragedy. I would, later, write in a poem of my experiences there, thinking I’d caused it: some werewolf/transmitter for evil. I’ve had so many identities I’ve tried on. The Lord said enough today, or something akin to it, through the angels. He said that I’m Anthony Butts, no one else.
Just after reconnecting with my old friend, I transferred to a bus with the city serial number ‘911’ shining in the window, heading out on the number 15 route. Whew, I’d thought! And, still, I tested to make sure it was Jesus. I’d been through so much hardship in my life: atrociously vicious physical abuse, seditious sexual abuse, malicious mental abuse, not to mention the abuse I’d heaped on myself in just trying to exit this world. But Jesus cared enough for a wretch like me to lead me out, so long as I tried to stay on the path. Like when the angels told me to blindly jump out of a bathroom door at CMC Randolph and yell as loud as I could while throwing my hands wildly into the air. When I did this, I discovered two passing police officers right in front of me. The always twitchy unit officers didn’t even flinch, not even an eyelid, when much, much less might have gotten me wrestled to the ground at the very least!
I’d forgotten that until now. I was dallying in the kitchen, shoving chips down my throat so I could get back to the computer and keep working. But the Lord needed me to be there sooner—so the Lord, Himself, commanded me to move more quickly. Just then, a song that I love started playing on the internet radio of the computer I’m typing on. It immediately jarred my memory of the officers because this is only the second time I’ve been asked to move. So, others must also hear Him—appearing before me when need be. I’m so glad to know, now, that others can hear Him, too! Just now, as I’ve typed this, I found out, I’m not alone on earth! There are others who hear Jesus speaking to them. It’s just taken me longer because of my circumstances to develop the maturity necessary to understand Him. Jesus is Lord, the vibrant Spirit alive and speaking to us—whoever we are to be known of collectively as a group. Maybe I’ll learn that in the future, but I’ve got a lot of growing to do.
I’m not trying to convince you for my sake, but for your own. Just lift your arms up and ask for Lord Jesus to come into your heart to guide you, and maybe He will. That’s up to Him, ultimately.
A young white woman dallied, in her black puffy coat, near the bus
stop (where I was standing) for some unknown reason,
conspicuously toying with the cement via her outstretched toe
for me to know what? I know now. She was my envoi,
sent from God to signal my approaching trip to an unknown paradise. At the time
she was just a part of some small mystery to me—
the red lipped Taylor Swift cued up as the next song
by the deejay, unbeknownst to the audience tuning in to WILD-FM
via iHeart radio: connecting a divine lifeline from the station’s home
there in San Francisco to my chilly and sun-drenched ears
here in Charlotte. Sitting down afterwards, never allowing the words
lying on the cold, hard ground to catch her out of place. She sat, for at least
ten minutes before the song, and five minutes afterwards, having walked away
just scant moments before the bus would round the corner
and appear within sight of my vantage point. She sat, respectfully.
She sat on cue with the universe of thought. I would later find out
that I’m truly blessed, me: Anthony Butts, in the words of Jesus
Himself—clear as a bell, clichéd phrase or not. Let’s rock tonight,
even now more fully connected to the angel network. We are already here! —
all of us here! —awaiting Jesus’ ultimate instruction. My other three poetry
manuscripts suck, compared to the feeling of having earned His blessing. Earned it,
He said. A wretch like me! There is no imagery like her in my heart.
I loved the way she moved, knowing intuitively that she was following
Jesus. A promise, more so than a literary piece, I will marry a woman like her!
Anthony Butts is the author of Little Low Heaven (New Issues 2003), Winner of the Poetry Society of America’s 2004 William Carlos William’s Award for best book. He is also the nephew of Florence Ballard—former member of the Supremes singing group before her suicide in 1976. Butts continues to overcome the maladies of schizophrenia, Asperger syndrome and issues with anxiety. Dr. Butts has a ph. D. from the University of Missouri in poetry writing and is a native Detroiter currently residing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Photo credit: “White Noises” by Jacob Whittaker, via Flickr.com.