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At the end of the Rogers & Hammerstein movie musical, The King & I, as Yul Brynner (aka the King of Siam) lies on his silk-draped deathbed surrounded by his court, he summons Deborah Kerr ( as Anna Leonowens) to reconcile with her after their strong-minded personalities, firm convictions and differing world views had driven them apart at a critical moment.

“You must remember, Mrs. Anna,” the King says to the teacher whose indomitable will had locked with his own on many occasions, “you have been a very difficult woman.” With that sentence, realizing the journey they embarked on together is almost over, all the past differences fall away and what’s left between them is abounding love, respect, and gratitude.

While my last real interaction with Ron Roth in 2006 wasn’t at his deathbed, it did involve silk-draped chairs, an assembled court, and the healing of a relationship that for me, anyway, had been one part admiration, one part frustration, one part exasperation, and many parts gratitude. It was the gratitude and admiration that kept me in Ron’s entourage for six years, and the frustration and exasperation that gave me untold episodes of personal difficulty, arguing with myself about why I was sticking around. It just as well could have been me saying to him that last night: “You must realize, Ron, you have been a Very Difficult Teacher.”

Probably, though, that difficulty was the very thing that had kept me around. At the time I found Ron, I was busy studying with the other two parts of the triumvirate introduced to me through a PBS special with Caroline Myss: first Caroline herself, and later, her mentor Dr. C. Norman Shealy. A passing remark at one of her lectures led me to pick up a slim book of devotions on the bookstore table by a person whose name did not stick with me then: Fr. Ron Roth. The book, written when Ron was still a Roman Catholic priest, slipped in between thicker volumes on my shelf and there it stayed, unread and unnoticed, for several more years.

In Caroline’s early run at what later became her Sacred Contracts book and seminar series, she and Norm presented a five-day workshop in which she introduced her Archetype Cards and Archetypal Wheel in crude hand-drawn form, along with other processes that continued to be refined and developed in subsequent years. In one of those workshop processes we made timelines of various events in our lives, and noted the people with whom we had Sacred Contracts along the way. It was then that I first noticed that my entire life was peppered with amazing Teachers—and that all of them shared the fierce Warrior archetype.

My take on this was wasn’t simply that I was attracted to the Warrior archetype itself; it was that I was attracted to teachings that broke new ground, that presented the cutting edge of the worlds of art, consciousness, transformation and spirituality, and that ventured, in our era, “to boldly go where no man had gone before.”  Put another way, each of the Teachers with whom I studied intensively had chosen to bring a message into society that at the time did not have any agreement in the world.

And what type of person can withstand the criticism, the public ferocity of opposition and all that comes with the Pioneer’s journey—and still stick to their inner truth? It takes a Warrior archetype. And often, it takes a big Ego to go with it.

I have a great deal of compassion for this kind of Ego in this kind of Warrior. I believe that Spirit puts its vital messages in such vessels precisely because these people have the kind of personality that can withstand the onslaught of disagreement they are going to face at every turn.

It is easy to forget, in 2010, that back in the early Seventies, when Werner Erhard (another of my Warrior Teachers) was introducing the notion that “you create your own reality” to the masses, it took two interminable weekends and several other sessions in some of the most uncomfortable hours I have ever spent in a seminar to even begin to absorb that truth. Today, “you create your own reality” is a slogan on calendars and the basis of whole walls of books at Barnes and Nobles. All sorts of gentler teachers with loving presentations and softer personalities publish books and teach seminars about creating your own reality. But all of them today are playing in a territory that someone else, a Great Warrior, was brave enough to carve out for them in a world of non-agreement, and many of them don’t even know it.

Like the old Chinese proverb says, when the best Teacher’s work is done, the people say: “we did ourselves.” That’s just one example.

Ron Roth came of age in an era in which, as he loved to say, interfaith meant Catholics being willing —gasp—to talk to Protestants. And vice-versa. (With the word “Protestant” or “Catholic” being spoken in hushed tones by the other side.) He, and most of the people he was teaching for the twenty-five years he was a Catholic Priest and for many of the years that followed, had been raised in a church with a theology of hell and suffering, a God who was to be worshipped and feared, and a system of unquestioned authority. A rebel from early on, Ron questioned every form of authority, which naturally caused him no end of trouble in his priestly career.

What gave him the courage to face down authority? Ron had several God-given gifts, or as he would call them, graces. First, he had the grace of his strong personality. Second, and most important, he had what we would call paranormal and mystical experiences from his youth, and third, he had the gift of a Polish family in which such experiences were known and not regarded as imagination or as coming from the Devil. However, his mother and his grandfather had the good sense to know what topics could or couldn’t be discussed in parochial school or in confession, and that third grace was the source of some of Ron’s funniest stories about his early days.

Right from those earliest years, Ron’s spiritual life—a term not to come into general use for several more decades—was an experienced reality and not just a set of catechisms taught from a book. This gave him an inner certainty that most people have to develop consciously and with great effort. God saw to it that Ron’s path had him encounter people who served as critical conduits of Truths larger than what was found through the approved modes—most notably a friend who prayed with him for the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life, leading him ultimately to his phenomenal (literally) experiences of healing others; and his formative time with a priest/professor—an expert in Aramaic— just returned from years of translating the Dead Sea Scrolls. That teacher, according to Ron, glowed from within at the expanded knowledge of Truths that went far beyond accepted theology of the time.

Ron was a passionate student of mystical truth, and that commitment took him not only into deep hours of prayer and meditation daily, but to any and all of the world’s spiritual traditions to find examples, both in story and in person, of healers who represented different facets of the same vibrational frequency of divine current that flowed through him.

By the time I first heard him on a tape series, The Dark Night of the Soul, sometime in late 1999, Ron had left the Catholic church and started his own organization, Celebrating Life, through which he had begun to offer intensive retreats and weekend workshops.

I don’t want to gloss over what it took for him to leave the church; at one intensive I attended, he showed a film of his healing ministry at the height of his church career. He was leading a healing services for a group of as many as 10,000 or more in an arena. His decision to leave,to start again from scratch outside the container of the power of the church, and his personal journey of reclaiming his spiritual power, was his own Dark Night, lasting as long as eight years, and in some senses, for the rest of his life; of this he occasionally, but rarely, spoke in the time I was with him.

I came to Ron not because I was seeking a teacher, but because my own Teacher, my Sadguru, Sathya Sai Baba, sent me to him. How it happened was this: I had gone to Sai Baba’s ashram in south India in the summer of 1999 with a small group of friends. In an episode I have recounted elsewhere, there came into my keeping, quite miraculously, an ounce of precious materialized holy liquid, known by the Sanskrit name of amrita, the fabled nectar of immortality. That scant ounce I divided in two to share with my friend who had been with me on the trip. From the remaining half ounce, I had given tastes to over 50 people, and still at least half of my share remained; the amount in the container had hardly diminished in proportion to what I had doled out.

Shortly after my return from India, one morning in meditation I heard: “Get your credentials and become a minister.”  How I knew this was Divine Guidance was that I’d had no thoughts or plans of becoming a minister; indeed, at that time the word “minister” was neither an active nor passive part of my vocabulary. I took to the internet to find some sort of out-of-the-traditional-box programs, as I knew that whatever it was that I was to do, it wasn’t to be a part of any existing organized religious system.

The number of interfaith (the word was hardly used) or ecumenical programs then was quite small, and one that popped up was Ron Roth’s. His name looked familiar, and over a few readings of his material, it dawned on me that he was the person Caroline Myss had mentioned. His program for ordination seemed to be what I was looking for, and it stated that the first requirement was to attend a five-day intensive, and then apply. 

While mulling all this over, I had to drive to a workshop I was delivering some three hours away. Looking for something to listen to on the drive, I found an unopened set of tapes I’d forgotten about, The Dark Night of the Soul by Ron Roth. I’d never listened to them because they’d been advertised on Amazon under Caroline Myss’s name, and it turned out that her only contribution was an endorsement on the front of the box. But now, I got in the car, put in the first tape and set off on my drive. In his opening remarks, Ron said something along the lines of: “it doesn’t matter what your religion is. You might be Jewish or Christian or Hindu. Perhaps you’re a student of Sai Baba’s....”  My synchronicity alert system started flashing, and I sat up and paid attention. By the time I was past the first rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike, I was hooked by Ron’s irreverent humor, piercing insights and general genius.

Some time after that I was again holding the small vial of amrita when an inner voice well-known to me spoke very loudly and clearly: “Take this amrita to Ron Roth.”  Having long since learned to trust that voice, I went ahead and reserved my space in the next 5-day intensive; it would be the opportunity to check out whether Ron’s program was right for me, and more importantly, to fulfill the inner directive.

From the perspective of a decade later, I marvel when I think about my first intensive. It was the last “small intensive” Ron would give; the number of attendees still well below the 100 mark. The setting was Starved Rock, a rustic conference center in the middle of a state park in Illinois several hours from Chicago. In the years to come, the intensives would move to a large facility in Oak Brook, a suburb of Chicago, that allowed the quickly growing numbers being drawn from all over the country and nations beyond to reach between three and five hundred at each event. At that as-yet relatively small gathering, I met numerous people who would become important players in my life and my ministry; all of them were there at that first intensive and for some, it was also their first experience. Now it seems obvious that a karmic community was being called together; then it was just an interesting assembly of seekers and healers.

At that time, Ron was still teaching with a blackboard, and conducting what he called “healing clinics.” In later years, this form of clinic was subsumed by deeper and deeper spiritual practices that rarely had him calling individuals up for solo work; but at that juncture, such work was still the heart of the experience. At that intensive, Ron was using his model of The Five Stages of Prayer and Healing as the basis of the week. The teachings were powerful and to this day I regard the Five Stages he defined as among the most useful perspective anyone on a conscious spiritual journey can have.

I emphasize at this juncture that what drew me to Ron was a) the guidance I’d been given to give him amrita, and b) his teachings. I hadn’t paid much, if any attention at all, to the fact that in front of me stood one of the more phenomenal (as in, “a fully open conduit for spiritual phenomena”) healers of our era. (Ron would never call them phenomena; to him they were graces, or the biblical fruits of the Spirit). I was not one who needed any convincing about the existence of either spiritual phenomena or miraculous healing. I had just come from being with Sai Baba, after all; seeing and hearing enough miracle stories to last the rest of my life; so the fact that someone could be healed by spiritual means was not a revelation.

It was, however, a return to something I had left behind when I left the fundamentalist Christian world after a brief experience in it when I was 18. l had been exposed to spiritual healing in that world, and it came wrapped in an “only-through-being-saved-by-Jesus” package. When I left fundamentalism behind, I also left the world of spiritual healing behind with it; but that world had been re-opened gradually, culminating in my coming to know first of Sai Baba, and then of many other Indian mystics. Now, here I was, back in the paradigm of Christian spiritual healing for the first time in twenty-some years.

Dressed in his casual attire, a sweater and khakis, Ron asked for a volunteer, someone who had experienced pain for 20 years or more. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to get a volunteer, one of many he would work with during the five days.

Next, he asked for any doctors or chiropractors in the audience who would like to come up for a closer look. There were two chiropractors who volunteered. Both examined the person visually and gave similar reports of a rotated pelvis (I cannot remember the exact terminology, only that portion of it.)

He asked the man some questions about the kind of pain he had, and how it manifested. Then he asked him, as I was to hear him ask individuals and groups countless times later, to bend forward as far as he could and stop the instant he felt any pain. The man’s ability was extremely limited.

Ron stepped back and in a calm, soft, but firm voice, pointing with his finger as he narrowed his focus onto the volunteer patient, I heard him for the first time say the words: “Come Holy Spirit; move through this body...Body, heal! Bones, align...”

There were no histrionics, as had been a sort of requirement in the culture of fundamentalist healing services as I remembered them. No demons were called out amidst fits of coughing and cries to Jesus pleading for protection. There was no carnival atmosphere; nothing more than Ron in a sweater and khakis saying: “body, heal!”  He then asked the man to bend over again, stopping the second he felt any pain. The man leaned forward, and went much further down than he had before. The chiropractors were asked to report on what they now observed. They were shaking their heads and smiling ruefully as they reported that the hips had rotated back into proper position, almost. “Almost?” Ron said with a twinkle that was to become very familiar to me, “I think we can do better than that. Let’s try a little more.”

He turned his attention again to the man, again uttered a soft but firm prayer, what I was later to learn from him were prayers of decree: (“body, heal!)  and again asked the man to bend forward. He did so, this time practically touching the floor, free of pain. The chiropractors verified that the alignment had completely changed; and the man was sent back to his seat with Ron’s oft-repeated injunction: “Sit down and be grateful.” (To God, not to Ron.)

A parade of people with a variety of ailments were called up. Ron often said he liked to start clinics with the structural problems of bones and pain, because these were things that often produced instantaneous results, and were important faith-builders for people to see what was possible. He took special delight in dealing with those who had one leg shorter than the other; a condition which he said was most often caused by shortened ligaments. Whatever the cause, he would have the person sit in a chair, would have someone visually measure the difference between their leg lengths, and would pray over them while an assistant held their uneven limbs by the ankles. Often he would quip: “We have to be careful! Once I accidentally grew someone’s leg out too far so it was uneven on the other side! That was ok though; we just grew the other one to match it!” Then, he would point his finger down the length of the person’s leg as he began: “Come, Holy Spirit...” and more often than not, witnesses could observe that the legs did indeed match in length.

I noted that when Ron worked on someone, there was always an assistant standing nearby, ready to catch the person should they fall over. The falling over was in response to the transmission of spiritual energy they received, and Ron called it: “Resting in the Spirit.” This was his response to the more commonly used term in fundamentalist circles: “Slain in the Spirit”; in which people “went down under the Power”. I had witnessed this years ago, but once again, in this environment, when it did occur, it was very calm, quiet and peaceful. Ron explained to newcomers that sometimes, particularly if there was something being healed that someone was not able to yet deal with on a conscious level, the Holy Spirit would have them “rest in the Spirit” until the work was done. The person usually collapsed gently, and the logistics were managed such that there was always space for people to “go down” if it happened—which it often did. Ron would instruct people not to be concerned, and to leave the people alone until they were ready to get up on their own.

Glancing at his watch, Ron suddenly looked up and said: “Time for lunch!,” and, leaving a few bodies still lying on the floor, he rapidly made his way to the exit, followed by everyone else. I was to learn that Ron, at six feet and change, loved to eat, and by lunchtime was usually starving. I believe he fasted through breakfast or ate very lightly before healing clinics or services and was thus famished by the end of the session; I also believe that part of that was a result of the energies coursing through him, literally burning fuel he needed to replenish.

Over lunch and at other breaks throughout the days, I met people and asked what had brought them there. Many came because they themselves, or someone they knew had experienced a dramatic healing of a physical ailment through Ron; everything from chronic ailments to cancers. One woman told me of her life in a back brace for years before attending a weekend event wherein she was called up, and it was quite obvious that she no longer had a brace, or the pain her condition has caused for many miserable years.

Others, and it seemed that the people I was most drawn to were these—had been drawn not because of their own search for physical healing; but because in the healings they recognized a holy and Christ-like vibration, and it was the vibration, the Presence, that drew them; and the teachings which helped anchor spiritual growth

I was enjoying the event on many levels, but it was not till the first full evening service that I realized I had walked through an extraordinary door. What I had witnessed that first morning was just the appetizer; I had not yet experienced the full power of the Holy Spirit when it used Ron Roth as a vehicle. That phenomena was generally reserved for the the worship and healing services, which had a different flavor and intensity to them from the clinic such as I had just seen for the first time.

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©2010 Rev. Nettie M. Spiwack

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