The Prophet's Way: The Trap

This is an excerpt from "The Prophet's Way," copyright 1997 by Thom Hartmann and Mythical Intelligence Inc.. All rights reserved. Please do not copy or redistribute this in any form.

The Trap

I know my soul hath power to know all things
—Sir John Davies, Nosce Teipsum (1599)

In 1978, Times Square was the sex capital of New York City. The streets around 42nd and 8th Avenue were covered with X-rated book stores, peep shows, and movie houses as if some ancient hand had deposited the seeds of Sodom. In the heat of the city they had sprouted and grown until they filled the streets, competing for gawkers and customers the way overgrown weeds compete for sunlight.

One particular place caught my eye as we drove up 8th Avenue: it was an old movie theater, now shabby and gray with litter swirling across the stained cement sidewalk in the sharp April wind. The marquee that had once advertised Vaudeville shows and feature movies now proclaimed, in huge letters, "LIVE SEX ACTS ON STAGE."

I’d never seen another couple having sex live and in front of me, and it seemed exotic and exciting, stirring my male-animal curiosity. And that part of me that had had a lifelong fascination with psychology wondered what type of person would want to get up on stage and do such a thing for an audience.

The door to the theater was a rounded arch, and a thick black blanket was hung behind it to keep the wind out. The dark, curved opening into the building reminded me of the cartoon mouse holes from the Tom & Jerry cartoons I’d grown up watching on television. Free associating, my mind wandered from mouse holes to mouse traps, and, looking again at the sign as we drove by it, I thought to myself how many people, from King David to myself, had been caught at one time or another in their lives by the trap of sex.

Just as that thought ran through my mind, Herr Müller roused himself and leaned over against me. He grabbed my upper arm with his hand, an urgent and hard grip, chuckled softly as I turned to look at him, and said, "It is a trap."

I gasped, blinking rapidly, and he let go of my arm, settled back into his seat, closed his eyes and pretended to go back to sleep. A faint smile tickled the corners of his mouth.

My first rational thought, as I seized my composure, was to wonder how he did that trick. I looked around the taxi, up and down the street, half expecting to see a theater with the word "trap" prominently displayed. There were none.

Then I thought, well, it was just another good guess on his part. He probably does this all the time, just popping these things out of his mouth, and if he does it often enough he’s bound to amaze people. But that didn’t ring true: he appeared to know exactly what he was saying, and exactly what it meant, and exactly why and when to say it to me.

He’d read my mind.

That’s pretty damn amazing, I thought. What a great trick.

But then I realized the obvious and truly frightening thing that I had at first overlooked: if he knew that thought, then maybe he knew my other thoughts. Thoughts that I would never want another person to know, thoughts that, while I’m sure all humans have, represent our darkest and most embarrassing secrets.

My heart started to race. If he knew those thoughts, if he knew my doubts and weaknesses, if he knew even the sarcastic or judgmental things I’d thought about him in the past few minutes, he would realize what an utterly unworthy person I was. He would hate me, or, even worse, refuse to see me again, which would cut me off from the spiritual insights and knowledge that I was becoming certain he had and I wanted.

As this series of rapid-fire visions raced through my mind, he coughed and opened his eyes. "Something important you should know," he said in a soft voice, his eyes following the people on the street.

I said nothing, fearing the worst.

He turned his body at an angle toward me, and his green-brown eyes looked into mine with a compassion which swept away my fear.

"I am not a magician," he said, "and I do not know other people’s thoughts. Sometimes, however, I receive a direct order to say or do something."

I nodded my head, wondering if he was just trying to calm my concerns. If so, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it: I hadn’t told him that he’d read my mind, yet here he was referring to my next thought, my mental question about what he’d done and how he’d done it.

"The lesson for you, Thomas," he said, putting his hand on my leg for a moment as if to reassure a child, "is that whether another person can know your thoughts is not important. What is important is that you know, every moment of every day, that G–d knows all your thoughts. And, despite that, He will always, always love you, and He will never abandon you." He interlaced his fingers and stretched them out in front of him, looking out at the New York City street scene. "You can only be free when you know that G–d knows your every thought, that He knows you better than even you know yourself. And that He loves you without condition or judgment, even knowing you that well."

I fell back into the seat and closed my eyes hard, fighting back tears. He had so easily and elegantly touched a place deep within me, gone right to the core of my skepticism and fear and hope: an inner barrier broke down and I felt naked and free, frightened and liberated. I looked again at him, sitting on the seat next to me, and decided in that moment that I had to know this man better.

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