Friday, July 25, 1975

Pacific Ocean Baptism

Event: 25 July 1975;
Updated: 24 Oct 13

Laguna Beach


On the occasion of my 78th birthday (11/17/11), oldest son Nick recalls in an email when he stood with me while I was interviewed for re-baptism by the Newport Beach Stake High Council prior to being baptized in the Pacific Ocean on 25 July 1975. Nick was 17 years old at the time and a priest in the Mormon Church.

[Note: Stake president Ferren L. Christensen granted my request that Nick perform the baptism on the tenth anniversary of the event that precipitated my initial estrangement from the Mormon Church. President Christensen also granted my request that it take place at Laguna Beach in the Pacific Ocean, just beneath the beach house (811 Cliff Drive) where I had lived at the time I had first been excommunicated.]
Dear Dad, 
As my gift to you for your birthday I will rewrite my recollection of the interview I witnessed which allowed you to rejoin the LDS (Latter Day Shilom) Church round about 1974-75. 
I recall that the Church was no longer very important to me but I was your loyal & believing son and interested in backing you up. The men were polite and delicate about their questions. I had a feeling they were especially delicate because I was in the room and they didn't want to be too harsh in front of a teenager who they wanted to remain in and respect the church. They asked a variety of questions that you answered in such a manner as to resolve the issues diplomatically.
Then one guy had the balls to get down to business and ask about your sexual history & behavior.

I recall thinking you were busted, having been aware of some of your relationships and your relationship with Diane Kowalski at the time (if I am not mistaken), but instead of keeping his question short and concise he extended it to include a variety of scenarios with perhaps multiple relationships or partners to which you were able to respond truthfully, with a lie of omission ignoring the first and essential part of the question, with "I have no trouble with that," after which Stake President Ferren Christiansen made his statement to a seemingly relieved group about you having had what were apparently profound spiritual experiences that they may not understand, but about which they could not ask you to deny and about which you should not be penalized or persecuted any further. 
I didn't really pay much attention to Grandma at the desk before or after the session except I recall feeling she didn't think it was a good idea for me to attend and even tried to prevent me from going in, and I was resentful of her controlling & manipulating role in our family, as well as her being "against" you & your position. 
I recall leaving the meeting with it reinforcing my previous conclusion about the illegitimate nature of the church and how uninspired the group and how empty the "power" of their "priesthood authority" were, supporting my spiritual intuition that "God's Honest Truth" was not to be found here and if I wished to know anything legitimate I would have to look outside the church. 
So there it is as best a communications-challenged guy like me can write it.  Have a great 78!! 
Love,

Nicholas Eugene Kovalenko - the pot stirrer or the "smith that bloweth the coals..." ;)

On the evening of that July 25 baptism, I wrote a letter to my Mormon friend, the late Michael R. Harris, who had attended the baptism and had brought my (then) fiance Diane Kowalski with him.
Laguna Beach  July 25, 1975 
 To: Michael Harris
 Re: Reflections on being re-baptized in the ocean at Laguna Beach  
Dear Michael: 
 And so finally, it has happened. Thank you for coming such a long way today and at such a strange early morning hour. And for bringing Diane. 
You are a friend and a fine man. I have thought about your suggestion this morning of a new Dialogue article. [Michael was then one of the editors of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought] I find no energy or enthusiasm in me for it. But I do have energy for a letter to you. Or even for a series of letters if you are responsive to it. It feels good to me in that context--that vessel--rather than as an “exhibitionist confession” that Gene England asked for and Karl Keller helped with.  It feels good to let the exhibitionist in me be quiet for a change. 
Coming up out of the water this a.m. after my son, Nick, performed the ordinance, I felt the impulse to recite “Orpheo” to you and Bishop Rondel Hanson (what a “coincidence” that you knew each other at Stanford!). I reviewed those words near the water’s edge just underneath the cliffs where I’d written them in the beach house years ago:
I smile in wonder watching song with eyes upended knowing now a day will come when sea and me will be as one
Nice to have a sense of completion with that poem. It was written on 6 April 1966; just four days after my excommunication had taken place (unknown to me).  Those few days before, I had been in Carmel and had a profoundly disturbing dream about being thrown out of the Church. The dream came on the morning of the 3rd.  I felt like Cain fleeing. The excommunication had taken place the evening of the 2nd. I did not learn about the action until the middle of the following month (on Mother’s Day). 
 I've always liked the poem, even though I puzzled over those last lines a lot. Mostly I thought and associated those words with promises of creativity--and why not that too? One friend, an English teacher [Bill Jenks], thought it meant I was ready to commit suicide! Yet in a very real way that is what has happened: a loss of the old life for a rebirth of the new. The rebirth rite-of-passage ritual took place this morning.  I am glad to be here.  Gene Kregg had been baptized in Phoenix on December 6, 1941 (just before Pearl Harbor!). And he died the night of April 2, 1966.  Eugene Kovalenko has taken his place and is glad to be here. 
Then, after we all (my sons, my mother, Diane and you) returned to the beach house after the ordination, you asked for a song. What an appropriate request!  To fill the measure of that morning.  But it took me a while to find one that fit the occasion.  First I thought of the Lord’s Prayer.  Mother liked the idea, but it didn't fit, somehow.  Then I wondered about my favorite Russian folk song about the birch tree. That didn't fit either. But a Spiritual did.  Which one? A Russian one?  Didn't know any. A hymn?  No. A Negro Spiritual!  I thought of “Steal Away” because of the words: “The trumpet sounds within my soul . . ..”  And I thought of the time I sang that song in Church three years ago, just after having come out of an Oregon forest and back into the world at the encouragement of John Howard of Portland. I sang that song at a Newport Beach ward conference looking like a hippie. The date was May 21, 1972.  I mention this detail because of something that happened after I sang. 
I began to be nagged with a strange feeling which wouldn't let me alone until after I had looked into it.  As strange as it seemed, I went to the history books and looked up Joseph Smith’s birth and death dates, subtracted them to find his exact age at death, and added them to my own birth date [November 17, 1933]. When the date of May 21, 1972 dropped out I was shook! That had been the first time I’d set foot into a Church since my last appearance before a tribunal in September 1968 (for re-hearing). That synchronistic event made me again wonder about returning to the Church. 
 But, back to the song I finally sang: my favorite, “Deep River.” Commemorating the event of 10 years ago this morning when I had an experience of “fire” in response to an earnest request to know what lay behind the Church’s position on the Negro.  That event and how it was subsequently handled by me and the Church set into motion the institutional mechanisms that eventually led to my excommunication. 
Deep River,
My home is over Jordan.
Deep River, Lord.
I want to cross over into campground.

Deep River.
My home is over Jordan.
Deep River, Lord,
I want to cross over into campground.

Oh, don't you want to go,
To the Gospel feast;
That Promised Land,
Where all is peace?

Oh, deep River, Lord,
I want to cross over into campground. 
 . . . I sang that song in campground.  This morning.  With you all.  In the beach house.  How fine that you asked, my friend. 
 As I continue to think back over these past 10 years and the years before, I marvel at the PROCESS that has moved in mysterious ways.  So much has happened!  How could it have been calculated or foreseen?!  Last night as I meditated in preparation for this morning’s event I recalled a recent dream: 
 7/13/75.  Laguna. 0230.  Dream: On a long journey on foot. Going to higher and higher levels: climbing. Am told to trust.  I do.  Will be told what to do when time.  Warned when needed.  Meet many people on way . . ..  
And I realized that I've been on this trip of faith well over these past 10 years. And am still walking!  Climbing.  Moving.  A sense of destiny stronger and stronger in my soul.  An inner confidence of being in my own space, where I belong.  I think of Carl Jung’s last letter to Miguel Serrano where he speaks of his basic tenet.  His words register with precision and impact in my deepest levels: 
 Follow that will and that way which experience confirms to be your own, i.e., the true expression of your individuality.  As nobody can become aware of his individuality unless he is closely and responsibly related to his fellow beings, he is not withdrawing to an egoistic desert when he tries to find himself.  He can only discover himself when he is deeply and unconditionally related to some, and generally related to a great many, individuals with whom he has a chance to compare, and from whom he is able to discriminate himself . . .  
I also think of an essay/poem I wrote when I first entered the woods after my first marriage broke and a day or two before I wrote a fateful letter to SLC in October 1965.  From “As if time existed: a credo”: 
        . . . We are personalities, each distinctly unique and different from any other, caught in set of circumstances (not out side our own choosing) and undergoing experience . . . We, individually, are responsible for the choices we are free to make.  Always have been and always will be . . .   
And I think of the days not long before that in the psychiatric ward in San Diego County Hospital (a kind of “jail” experience) where the chief psychiatrist told me I’d always be in trouble because of my ideas and that I was like another man in history who wrote a book called Mein Kampf! And then he released me only to ask if I’d talk to a depressed patient he’d been unable to touch, thereafter telling me his personal problems with his wife!  Hmmmm. That little episode busted my professional credibility, so I thought. 
 What else? I think of being unable to speak the right kind of words.  Of being unable to express what I’d been going through.  I think of fear.  So much fear--and fascination.  I think of my own months of fear and terror more than 11 years ago: my own “dark night of the soul” 
 The North is silent. Uneasy lull awaits as darkness gathers . . .  
There is so much more that continues to pass in and out of my memory, like threads weaving a pattern.  Connections and loose ends are being tied up and a fabric is beginning to appear.  Dates and events are making more and more sense.  People and places and scriptures and history and anticipations merge in my consciousness with a profound sense of recognition.  My sensibilities tell me some part of me has been in a long rehearsal for all this.  It is too neat, what is unfolding.  The Weaver is grander and wiser and more terrible than I would ever have supposed.  And I only glimpse Him now and again even though I know that “called or not called” He is always present. 
 Michael, my friend, I should like us to continue this dialogue.  But I am getting tired and do not want to bore you.  There are so many, many thoughts, times, dates, events, and experiences that are trying to crowd into these last paragraphs: the inner trial, the 5/6/67 dream, the "Letter to Eugene England" [2/66 poem], the “recrystallization of the Church” dream.  And dreams and dreams and dreams.  But I fear to loose you in the deluge. 
 So, let me bring this thing to a close, again thanking you for our association and friendship and for your care and courage in wanting to get to know me.  I cannot say enough how I value your beingness and my own sense of having no defenses, as we get better and better acquainted.  
Regards and my warmest best wishes.  
Your friend, Eugene

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