The first farmers to settle in Washington State referred to the large swaths of desert with odd rock formations as the scablands. Mile-long channels criss-cross layers of bedrock in coulees, grand formations of stone rising suddenly and shockingly from flatlands dotted with sagebrush and tumbleweeds turning over and over again rapidly in the rising air. At sunset, magnificent colors in hues of red and orange shone in the spacious heavens, their radiance sometimes magnified by the presence of volcanic ash drifting in stratus clouds. At night, the full moon lit the landscape, heightening the colorful contrasts of the land’s features as noctural creatures hunted and scavenged for sustenance. A grizzly bear prowled for berries. A wild boar with a tall, erect mane snorted at its mate. A colony of bats used echolocation to prey on tiny insects.
Moses Coulee, the largest channel in the state, is forty miles long and rises to canyon walls of a height reaching some 500 feet. The coulee’s mouth empties into the Columbia River at the Great Gravel Bar. For uncounted hundreds of years prior to the mid-19th century when the Colville Indians settled in North Central Washington, aboriginal tribes passed through the Channeled Scablands. Perhaps long ago some nomads made their way through the land to some 2,700 miles south, towards the heart of Mesoamerica where ancient astrologers created calendars to help them prophecy the interconnected activities of humankind and deities. Long ago, their calendarists predicted the end of civilization as it is known, and the rise of something new and uncertain, in the early decades of the time period that we know as the 21st Century CE. In fact, some of these astrologers anticipated that the end of their calendar in 2012 CE would be linked to the return of Quetzocoatl, the feathered-serpent deity, who was prophecied to rise up in Ce Acatl.
In Seattle of 2017 CE, a descendant of these ancient astrologers lived quietly in a tiny apartment where he read and wrote about Integral Spirituality among other things. Tucked away in his notebooks was a largely unpublished calendar based on a prototype for a Universal Language. The 47-year-old Mexican-American man read an article published in the National Geographic enitled, “Formed by Megafloods, This Place Fooled Scientists for Decades.” Therein, a writer explained that the conventional wisdom among geologists regarding the geological features of Eastern Washington was wrong, and only very recently have geologists come to accept the atonishing truth about this peculiar area: this place of ancient soil survived an ice-age flood of an unimaginable scale. Ten million years ago, enormous swaths of lava cooled, contracted, and cracked vertically. These features were then ripped away section-by-section by a powerful force unlike anything that anyone alive has ever seen. Geologists have come to accept that the Channeled Scablands have witnessed the largest flood ever to happen on the Earth. Natives knew the area 50 miles east of Moses Coulee as Houaph, meaning “willow”. There, there could be found a salty and shallow lake which flows from the northeastern Columbia River Plateau to empty into the Columbia River and eventually to empty in the Pacific Ocean. In the nineteenth century, white settlers renamed the town Moses Lake, after the Chief of the Sinkiuse tribe.
Neither the aboriginal nomads nor the white settlers had guessed the truth about the lands they occupied. They did not imagine that long ago 500 cubic miles of water swept across the landscape in a gigantic water-wall hundreds of feet deep. It may have reached to the far ends of the Earth, wiping away everything in its path in hours and days. They did not see the megaflood which was ten times as voluminous as the collective flow of all the rivers in the whole world. The so-called Missoula Floods were so powerful they created their own earthquakes as they bellowed like a thousand thunderstorms across the landscape.
All that happened long ago, before Joseph Mark Perez was born on September 3, 1969, at 7:10 P.M., in Good Samaritan Hospital adjunct to the likely epicenter of the Missoula Floods. About a decade earlier, a man named Peter Perez purchased and operated a farm on the outskirts of Moses Lake. He had immigrated from Mexico as a teenager and lived in the United States all the rest of his life. He married Mildred Whatley, a woman who shared European as well as Mexican heritage. Peter’s potato crops flourished for a decade in the well-drained, loose, loam soil. His five sons and daughters spent many hours working on the farm alongside laborers, especially his middle son Robert, Joseph’s father, who partnered in the farm’s ownership with his father and an uncle. Robert Andrew Perez was a high school graduate and Air Force veteran who returned to the United States from service in Okanawa during a time of peace. Around 1970, Peter decided to sell the farm so he could retire and move to Salinas, California. Robert studied carpentry and welding and became employed at a sugar-beet processing plant. The factory closed just a few years later when sugar prices plunged, leaving Robert unable to find another job.
When Robert was 24 years old, he married Margaret Diaz from Wapato, Washington, a woman one year older than him. They remained married for nearly twenty years and lived together in Moses Lake. Margaret was the third-youngest daughter in a large Mexican-American family. According to family lore, her uncles on the Lara side of the family painted the ceilings of cathedrals in Guadalajara. Margaret’s parents Juan and Tomasa Diaz were Mexican immigrants who entered the United States in the 1920s. Juan had a small grocery store for a time and he also worked in a coal mine. Later he supported his large family by performing farmwork in Wyoming and Washington. As a child, Margaret worked long hours every summer in the hop fields or fruit orchards of the Yakima valley. Margaret’s father died when she was just a teenager and her older siblings were forced to drop out of school to earn money. Margaret earned her high school diploma and attended a school for secretaries, and later she enjoyed a long and happy career as a legal and executive secretary in Moses Lake. The Perez family dwelt in a three-bedroom home in the Knolls Vista neighborhood until Bob and Margaret divorced.
Robert and Margaret raised four children together: Debra, daughter; Robert Jr., son; John, son; and Joseph, son. Debra, John, and Joseph were graduated from Moses Lake High School, and Robert earned his general equivalency diploma from a school in Oregon. Joseph’s older siblings recall their childhood environment as difficult and conflict-ridden. They recall having experienced physical and emotional abuse from their father, who possessed at times mood swings and a wild temper. The four siblings fought frequently in dynamics that reflected their dysfunctional relationship with their father, who played favorites. Joseph considers his father to have been a hothead, but does not believe that he was personally abused. He regards his childhood relationship with his father a basically positive and does not remember his childhood as an unhappy one up until “the Volcano years” (the years prior to and after Mt. St. Helens’s eruption in 1980, when his parents fought and divorced).
Joseph’s mother Margaret was religious and faithfully transmitted her Roman Catholic tradition, but he was bored by mass and attended mostly out of a desire to please her. His father was nominally Baptist; but if he had any religious convictions, Joseph never heard about them. His family rarely spoke about religious matters. They were second-generation Mexican-Americans among whom piety is often considered important, just so long as it doesn’t deviate too much from the respectable American forms. Joseph attended religious education comprised of weekly catechism classes at Our Lady of Fatima called CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine).
Joseph accepted without much questioning his church’s teachings regarding God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, and so forth. The Church taught that God so loved the world that He sacrificed His only begotten son, born Jesus of Nazareth, to die on a cross to redeem the world from sin. But Joseph doesn’t recall thinking too much about doctrine. As he grew older, some things about the world eventually began to strike him as perplexing. He had been taught that religion was supposed to be about things of great importance: the salvation of souls, the reason why we’re all here, the source of morality, the fountain of social virtue, and so forth. But few people seemed to actually live their lives in ways that reflected the teachings of the religious authorities. His friends included Mormons, evangelical Christians, Pentecostals, Methodists, and Presbyterians. Joseph got the firm impression that their churches taught a few different things but that one’s denomination had more to do with accidents of birth than considered choices. Most people took on the religion they were given by their parents. They acted like religion was just another ethnocentric label to wear, like being a doctor, a Latino, or an American. But Joseph felt differently. He felt stirred in his soul to discover why the world was the way it was on a deeper level than other people usually looked at it. He couldn’t tell a soul why he was so moved to spirituality: he possessed secret sexual longings that conflicted with his religion.
When Joseph was 16, he began to take a serious interest in religious faith. The key event was his attendance at a spiritual retreat as part of the CCD Confirmation class. He even began to consider doing some sort of ministry later in life. He attended the Confirmation class with his best friend during his childhood years, a boy named Keith. While they were in high school together, Keith lost control of his car on an icy patch of highway. The car crashed into a semi-truck and Keith was killed instantly. Joseph had some familiarity with death, but losing his best friend brought mortality closer to home than ever before. Joseph grieved and said his goodbyes to Keith at his funeral mass. At the service, the priest revealed that Keith had recently confided in him that he had felt deeply moved spiritually in recent weeks. Joseph sensed that something had changed for his friend on the retreat. Joseph had felt it too.
In the months that followed Keith’s funeral, Joseph began to seek answers to questions about faith. Religion wasn’t taught in public schools, and the official CCD textbooks weren’t of much use, so he began to look for answers on his own. He read the New Testament for the first time and checked out a book from the library on Roman Catholic theology. The book claimed that the existence of God was known by reason alone and that modern philosophers beginning with Descartes and Kant committed a grave philosophical error in denying this basic truth. Joseph didn’t know what to think about these things. The book was far more philosophical and sophisticated in its approach to religion than anything he had ever encountered. Reading the book filled his head with more questions than answers. Joseph applied to several prestigious colleges and hoped to receive enough financial aid to attend them, if he could get admitted and if his mother would permit him to move so far away from home. His questions about the meaning of life could not be resolved while he lived in Moses Lake, so at the age of 18, he brought them with him to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start his initial year at Harvard University.
Flash forward. In the early morning hours of January 1, 2018, as Joseph neared completion of the first draft of Lingua-U: The Unitive Metalanguage, he found himself contemplating the Missoula Flood. Suddenly, he heard a woman’s voice coming out of the ether. She said to him:
I was there! I saw it… I wanted to be alive with you then; I knew you were on your way. I waited in the glorious meadow of my own construction. All was gone. You were just a dream. You were my hero. You were my man. You made my life interesting though you were not yet helpful. I waited until you made yourself known. You made yourself a blizzard so ferocious that I wept until I died.
Joseph listened unflinchingly to the witchy voice. He is haunted by a past he does not understand. He responded tenderly and uncertainly. Hers was not the first or last voice to speak to him coming out of The Great Mystery.