Point of Entry

A Spiritual Autobiography

September 2010


I had already used up my second,
by the time I was born.

It is a thing of waking.

They say at first she hardly moved. But who would ever know she still carried the roar of the ocean inside her.

So many months they have to wait to see if she has a mind.

Something about her eyes. Though Paul McElroy[1] tells her mother "her eyes are beautiful" - there is something about the eyes.

When she talks early, they have one less thing to worry about.
But will she walk?

Pneumonia tries to take her. Whiskey is given a drop at a time. And with soldier-fighting prayer surrounding her, she breathes.

A gnat dreams of the trumpets of elephants.
And this is a piece about waking.

She begins to walk at two.


In the beginning was the Word. It was there before she was born. It was there after she was born. It was there when she slept. There when she awoke. How long before she would have thought to say so.

She had remembered the Presence of Love. Later, she would see reproductions of drawings and paintings that revealed The Living Presence. She was safe during the thoughts of this Presence.

One winter, I saw the wonder of frost painting on the sunporch windows and began to add incised lines for my own forms. My sister, Geraldine, saw what I was doing; ran to tell our mother. Something from the Presence spoke into me that this is The Way.

The way to.
The way from.


It was there, always just under the consciousness. At times she would try to approach, and would step back. It might be more, larger and beyond her present soul size. She could see it in her parents' faces when she would fall down the narrow stair with no banister and bloody her nose.

Something new from listening. Is she seven?

Alone in the sandbox , away from any visible human. Drawing in the sand, making the streets of the town. Sky, a soft light gray diffusing tangible reality. She thinks the sandbox streets into canals, like those in Italy with bird-tail gondolas. The air touches with pinpoint drops of rain. Then, all is still.

Startled by a voice, she turns to see where it comes from. No one there. The voice, authoritative, embedded with a loving, saying: You did not just begin when you were born. You are much much older than this you.

She must not tell. It would only cause trouble.


Between the hard covers of the cloth-bound book were stories from the Bible for children from a bygone era, filled with detailed ink drawings, interspersed with full-color reproductions pasted in. One, a composition with a young boy in a short white gown, kneeling in a profiled innocence. His hair, like my own. He, Samuel, saying Yes. I told myself the boy is four. As I was at four. He and I were each other. We had both said Yes.


Mother taught school in the Silverdale area in a one-room schoolhouse for a short time before she married at 22. Before I knew the title: “Teacher,” to be one, I felt what it meant as I watched her hand holding the pencil at the kitchen table as she wrote the grocery list in a smooth longhand . Not yet in school, on my own, I try to write, imitating the rolling motion of her wrist sending out the flowing slanted magic. Her light movement, simple, subtle.

I see in dismay, on my own lined page, only a series of mmmmmmm’s. A residue of the first learning to pronounce out loud: Ma-ma? No rises and falls or changes of shapes of letters spelling radish, lettuce, orange or chocolate.


When you are not yet three, young and loving Aunt Priscilla tells you that for a birthday present your mother will be bringing home a baby brother. You wonder: Do I want a baby brother for a birthday gift?


There was no beginning of a certain knowledge for you. You seemed to have known before you were born: God is real and one of His names is Jesus. There is nothing you could or would try to hide from Him. This knowledge seems to be so fused in your thought that it mutes your consciousness about what you could not do that almost everyone else can do. And you ask your mother or your father questions on a dimension which puzzle them.

There is children's radio. The Singing Lady sent out a book for children: When the Great Were Small. In the stories of Mozart, da Vinci and others, you find yourself among them, as naturally as if you are at a family reunion on a summer lawn, free to go to one or another to talk with them, to be touched by their and your give and take of attention. There, also, you are strong and unscarred, whole and lovable. Part of their various beauties.


In your family's Children's Bible with many pictures, one in particularly rich color captivates you. A very young Samuel kneels in profile. You think he is four when God speaks to him and you know Samuel is you. So the Word comes again through an artist. A painter. It is another book-message to store in the Knowing.

You must wait, the doctor said, until you are six to go to school. They think then you can be stronger. But you travel easily with God to many places, practicing to touch, like Jesus, to take people's tears away.

Tears. You see and feel expressions in the faces, the eyes, of your parents. You remember something in your father that you do not put into words. His love is intense. He fights inside against that which makes you not be able to run, or to be able to lift your head straight up when lying down. Your trouble with stairs. His weapon is prayer and pursuing with action what comes from it. He is a man of peace. But you have seen his arm muscles flex when he is thinking. And you sense how he is disciplined in his silences.

There are winds of voices, parts of conversations you hear. Some Church Member has said, They must have sinned somehow to have a child born like that. When the doctor advises that your hair be cut because it is thick and heavy, another Church Member said directly, You know what happened to Samson, how he lost all his strength.

New feelings rise up. You want to stand between accusers and your parents. And the "logic" connecting Samson to this is dumbfounding. The proof being that your sister had her hair cut before you did, and her muscles are as strong as ever.


When I was seven, something happened over a period of months, maybe longer, earth-shaking to our family. It shaped all seven of us in ways I still try to define. It only came to me this morning that I could try to describe it in terms of “star war stuff”

At seven, I was immersed in the heavy atmosphere of one of the darkest periods of our small hidden church’s American history. A storm originating in another dimension had increasingly pushed and pulled us away from a gospel of peace to a gospel of force – on its own parishioners.

Other groups had been caught, over the centuries by this same spiritual virus. Women and girls, the most targeted in this storm. And male leaders, the instruments, wittingly or unwittingly, used this insidious power, not seeing it for the evil it was.

My father, a man of peace and courage. A man of prayer, aware of the growing magnitude of this battle from “from the sky”. He grappled with it in debate with others in the church. He searched it out, digging further into Biblical study with men outside our local groups, until he lost sleep, couldn’t take time to eat. Couldn’t rest.

The vortex of the whirlwind lifted him out from his grounding . He found himself in the presence of a physician, after many weeks, who told him: “You have to make a decision.”

He chose to stand with his own rooted integrity. But he would have to deal with the flattening done by that storm, in the churches and in his own family.


When I turned twelve I determined to study all the Biblical sections where Jesus healed people. I entered the bedroom my first sister and I shared, closed the door and pulled down the shade. No one must know I was this serious in my search. . . .

One Sunday after a Sunday School class, one from seven of us spoke up: Why not agree to get baptized together. She was the oldest, I, one month younger. All agreed without debate. It was a hard thing to do. The church rules and doctrines had been drastically changed on lines harder, off course, from the church’s foundation during the European break from the official Catholic Church.


The only way I could go through Baptism with integrity was to talk it over with the One who led me thus far: The Master himself. The Christ Alive. I’d always been his student. He knew my heart. That I wanted to make my parents happy. Their own unnecessary pain caused by rules added to scripture as I read it – I wanted to relieve as much as I could. And I was glad to let my love for The Christ be stated in the ceremony. But to put on clothing and hairdo not fit for children . . .

"So in baptism they said: 'Do you
choose Christ and / (or) the church?'
And she said: “I choose Christ.
(I can't handle the church.)”


Paul McElroy was the hired hand who lived with the Gross family at the time of Sylvia’s birth.--LG

Sylvia’s father experienced a mental crisis around 1935/36 that hospitalized him for anumber of months. He came to the realization that it was time for him to act out of his own conscience, rather than to accept what a few other church leaders were demanding, including dress restrictions. He emerged the stronger for it, and then became a respected and steady church leader in his own right up to the time of his death in 1976. Sylvia wrote a poem about her father’s experiences, “Time, Capsuled.”--LG

About the Author

Sylvia Bubalo

Sylvia Gross Bubalo (Goshen College 1951) was a visual artist and poet. Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Sylvia Gross studied at Goshen College and the Art Institute of Chicago, where she met Vladimir Bubalo, an artist, whom she married. The Bubalos devoted their lives to art, and saw their work as an expression of a spiritual vocation. They lived in Chicago, Scottdale (Pennsylvania), Seattle, and Goshen, Indiana. After Vladimir died in 1988, Sylvia turned from painting to poetry. She died in 2007 in Goshen, Indiana. Her work is the subject of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing, Vol. 2, No. 5. The issue includes an extensive biography, an autobiography, and reflections on her life and work.