While working at my family’s bookshop a customer came in with an English accent. He was an older man who always wore suit. Even in the summer-he would put on his pin striped linen! A very old fashioned type was this Englishman. As we saw each other periodically when he would come to look at books or order books I got to know him. I learned many things from him, about history, about Christianity and about mysticism in general. He had an extraordinary point of view. And he knew how to express it particularly in his role as Baptist Minister! I often wondered how he got away with it! Southern Baptists listening willingly to a visionary mystic! What was the world coming to? Here is what I can remember about his story.
His name was William Mellor. I knew him as “Dr. Mellor”. He had been raised working in the coal mines of Yorkshire as a young man, before WWII. During that time he became fully initiated as a “Pony Boy” which at that time meant you led the “Pit Pony” in and out of the mines. The pony pulled the carts which were laden with freshly dug coal. In order to be qualified to be a “Pony Boy” the “boy” had to be able to hit the pony in the forehead-right between the eyes and knock it unconscious. A pony that got out of hand inside a mine shaft could “make some real hell” William said. In fact with enough kicking it could bring down beams inside a mine shaft and kill everybody. William Mellor told me he could knock a pony out with his fist and even as an old man, when he told me this, he would raise his fist and I would see his carpals fluoresce—and I knew he could do it too. His hands, even in old age had that remarkable hard look you see in the hands of certain men with hard physical backgrounds.
The mines were dangerous in other ways too. A shard of coal or stone could break off and falling, go through your head and kill you. That was how William Mellor saw one of his friends die. And that was a main motivation for him to leave England. William would say, “The only thing England had ever done for the people I knew in the mines was kill them-I HAD to get out.” And he did. He got on board a ship and sailed to Boston harbor and got a job painting ships hulls. He ended up attending Harvard, Yale and NYAC. He got a gardeners job at some point in his educational adventure –working for the actress Helen Hayes. And he eventually emerged from the educational process with a degree in comparative philosophy and psychology. During his educational process he was mightily impressed with a Professor by the name of Nils Foray. I believe he was a Swedish Theology Professor. Nils Foray lectured only on two topics said Mellor. These two topics were “Eros” and “Agape”. Eros is the erotic and transcendental aspect of God in Greek philosophy. “Eros” in many ways is the figurehead of sexuality in the Greek experience and a name representing the sublime experience of the physical senses. “Agape”, on the other hand, in many ways- is the opposite of “Eros”. It is the sacrificial love of God. It is the kind of love which actually forfeits its own pleasures for another person or ideal. It is most exemplified in the life of Christ -particularly in his crucifixion as a sacrifice for humankind. These two said Mellor, were the constant crux-no pun intended- of Nils Foray. Nils never tired of lecturing about them and figured there was nothing else comparable in Christian theology. So Mellor got this Christian Vision of what the Buddhists call “Tantra” (which is to weave the ideal and physical wisdoms together) every week from Nils Foray –and he never forgot it. It allowed his Christianity a broader and deeper meaning than many modern “Christians”could grasp. And it caused him to appreciate such men as Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Mellor said Thomas would come in to class completely drunk, having been out drinking all night and raving his poetry while standing on the bars in pubs. “As soon as he walked up in front of the class he would sober up and give the most brilliant impassioned speech you imagine on the power of poetry.” And Thomas like others Mellor would speak of got a special label, “The man was a PROPHET! He would say with special relish in the word “PROPHET”. Mellor would whisper it loudly like it was the best kept secret in the world! And in many ways it really is. He used this term for William Blake and many of the great poets. “Prophet!-Propher! he would say when I asked his opinion of them. He also used the same term for men who showed incredible devotion. Among the Protestant Evangelicals in the last century was A.W. Tozer. Tozer, also was “a PROPHET”. Mellor had known Tozer and said, “he had a mind which could penetrate heaven-but he got there on his knees—praying! And he prayed sometimes for three and four hours!” Of all the Protestant Evangelicals I have kept a special niche in my mind for Tozer- largely because of Dr. Mellors influence and Tozer’s book, “Your God is too small” which I think largely describes the difficulty of modern Protestant Christianity.
I recall visiting a large Methodist church in Atlanta,GA with Dr. Mellor. We visited the “Activity Building”-which was basically a fully fitted gymnasium. Mellor was not impressed. He looked at me cunningly and said, “These people obviously have a lot of money. You know, Christians these days like to have a lot of ACTIVITY.” I nodded and said blandly “Apparently”. Then he looked at me and said, “You know what I asked the minister?” I said, “No”…he said, “I asked the Minister if they had any rooms they could PRAY in!—the Minister did not know what to say-he just looked at me!” I laughed and Dr. Mellor smiled broadly, like a Tiger who had just eaten. Dr. Mellor figured the best exercise was prayer.
Other incidents come to mind when I think of William or “Dr. Mellor”. I recall our talks on Christian Mysticism and him looking at me and saying, “Do you want to see the face of Christ?” and I said, “Yes”. He continued, “Well start with his feet and work you way up. I have found the feet of Christ to be very instructive.” I was bowled over. And still am. I advise anyone with an interest in Christianity to try this one meditation.
Dr. Mellor also mentioned to me the time when he came back from England on a ship and he was listed as “Dr. Mellor”. There was another man on the ship too he noticed this. His name was Cary Grant. Grant had an abiding interest, even a fascination with human behavior. Because of this when he found out Dr. Mellors degree was also in Psychology (“Just what kind of Dr. is he?” He had asked the Steward) they became daily dinner companions on the trip back to the U.S. Mellors comments on Grant were as follows, “ A very, very bright man, interesting, quick, intelligent, urbane, had it all-just could not handle women!”
And I recall Dr. Mellors comments about Journalist Bill Moyers, “Good man, enjoyed working with him during the Kennedy Administration.”
Another time I had asked the Dr. about “the power of Disciplic Succession”. That is, that each religious tradition has a passing down of power from teacher to student. Usually done by laying on the hands in a ritual of some sort. Mellor, said, “Yes, just like Elijah. It still exists. Do you want me to lay hands on you and pass the blessing on?” “Yes” I said. So I knelt down and he put his hand on my head and prayed following the tradition of – I believe -Samuel Chadwick who he regard highly. I recall Chadwick had met Mellor when Mellor was a young man. Chadwick was in his wheelchair. Mellor made the request and Chadwick complied.
On Protestant Christian Theology Mellor taught me the following;
“The three B’s; Bultmann, Bohhoffer, and Barth-they all were trying to make Christ approachable. They tried to de-mystify him. They tried!”
“Kierkegaard discovered the undertone of life”.
(my note here from discussions with Russian Orthodox monks is that the drone in Russian Orthodox Christianity represents the Will of God and the melody of the music- the wills of human beings).
also he said the following which I am still watching for;
“I did not think Russia would break up in my life time. I think America is next.”
I asked him about mystical experiences he may have had. He answered, “Oh yes, mainly two. One was when I was up very early in the morning. I could not sleep. So I sat down here in the Living Room in a chair. I could see the front door. I prayed. I began to see a light below the edge of the front door. It became very bright. In fact it came all around the door, incredibly bright. It was too early for sunrise. There were no cars outside. No traffic. Must have been about 3 in the morning. At a certain point I knew what it was. It was an Angel. The intense light stayed there for some minutes. And then faded away. It was a visitation.”
“…and I also saw Beatrice. You know, Beatrice- from Dante’s Inferno. I wrote a poem about it called “My Beatrice”. It was the summer time and I was teaching at (name) College and was leaving my classes and I saw her – sitting on a bench in white. You know, just like a goddess. She got in the car with me and I drove home and she got out and disappeared. Just like that. It was her. I saw her. I got to just BE with her. Nothing like it has happened to me before or since. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, could ever imagine”. Whenever Mellor would mention this experience he would quote his poem, “Beatrice, my Beatrice”. I do not know if he mentioned this story to anyone else. I am sure most would have thought the old fellow had lost his marbles! interestingly it reminds me of the book “The Story of St. Michelle” by Axle Munthe…Munthe was a Swedish Physician and appointed to the Royal Courts in Italy during a time of great sickness. He writes of his adventures as a young medical students studying hypnosis with Freud’s teacher, Charcot. He also writes of curing some of his wealthy spoiled patients by giving them rides into the poor district by carriage -as it was done then. During these rides Munthe found the wealthy were often cured of their own sickness when they took an interest in the poor and became involved in community service. But Munthe writes of something else. He writes of hiking up in Finland among the Lapp people. And in one passage he describes resting in a barn and seeing an Elf! and they I recall had a conversation…this incident was dropped into the book as though it was completely natural. I cannot decide if Munthe was trying to trick his readers or teach them something or just throw them off. But it is a very peculiar and strange incident which comes up “out of nowhere”…