Olga Park

Susan McCaslin

 

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OLGA PARK TIMELINE

1891 (February 24):  Olga Park was born Mary Olga Bracewell in Gargrave (North Yorkshire), England.

1910:  Park and her family emigrated to British Columbia, Canada.

1914:  Park began to receive unsolicited psycho-spiritual experiences of the Cosmic Christ and other beings from the life beyond death or “heavenly realms.”

1917 (March 24):  Olga Bracewell married James Fleming Park, a Vancouver banker originally from Glasgow, Scotland, in St. Luke’s Anglican Church, South Vancouver, British Columbia.

1919:  Park gave birth to her son Robert Bruce Park.

1922 (June 4):  Park gave birth to James Samuel Park who died a few days later. Olga had an out-of-body experience at the time of Jamie’s birth.

1923–1940:  Olga became active in St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Vancouver in the 1920s, but continued having visions and direct mystical experiences, which she mostly kept to herself. She carefully recorded the details of her interior experiences, and eventually developed a regular morning and evening practice of contemplative prayer.

1941–1963:  In the mid-1940s, Park received the words and music for a mystical communion service she practiced for the rest of her life in the privacy of her home. She corresponded with the Psychical Research Society in England, became the Canadian representative of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical Research,
1956–1963 ( Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies n.d.) , and was a member of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship (Evanston, Illinois) during the same period.

1960:  Park published Between Time and Eternity (Vantage Press).

1964:  Park moved to a small cottage in Port Moody, British Columbia where she devoted the rest of her life to living as a solitary contemplative, and to the regular practice of the mystical communion ritual given to her by her Teacher from the life beyond death.

1968:  Park self-published Man, The Temple of God .

1969: Park self-published The Book of Admonition and Poetry .

1974: Park self-published An Open Door .

1978: When she broke her ankle, Park moved from the cottage to live with a friend in Vancouver. She continued to receive visits from seekers and learners, sharing her wisdom and contemplative practices with others.

1983: Park transitioned to a care center for the elderly in Vancouver where she received regular visitors.

1985: Park died in December due to advanced age and complications of an undiagnosed stomach condition. Despite intense pain at the end of her life, she passed away peacefully in the presence of a friend.

BIOGRAPHY

Mary Olga Park (who preferred to go by Olga) was born on February 24, 1891 in Gargrave, North Yorkshire, England. Her mother,Ellen Bracewell, was a nanny for the local gentry and her father, Bruce Bracewell, was a tradesman and interior decorator for great manor homes in England. His ancestors had been weavers. Olga loved reading, showed an early talent in music, and possessed a clear and pure soprano voice. She attended various schools in the suburbs of Birmingham until the age of fourteen when she won a scholarship to Aston Pupil Teachers’ Centre for three years, intending to become a teacher.

As a child, Park attended prayer meetings until Darwinian debates broke up her local Wesleyan Methodist church. Some members left because they found a literalist interpretation of the origins of humanity in the book of Genesis incompatible with the more recent findings of geological science. Olga’s cousins were high Anglican, and despite parental disapproval, she sneaked off with her cousins to attend the St. Thomas Anglican Church nearby, drawn by the music, liturgy and sacramentalism.

Then, in 1910, Olga and her family made a life-changing move to Canada. Her father decided to leave behind everything he had built in England in hopes of improving his prospects. The unsolicited psycho-spiritual experiences Park described in her self-published books, Between Time and Eternity (1960) and An Open Door (1972), began a few years later around 1914.

The transition to Vancouver was difficult, as Olga was forced to abandon a promising singing career in England where she had social connections and educational opportunities. She described Vancouver of the early days as a place of pioneer conditions with few cultural amenities.

In 1917, Olga married James Fleming Park, a Vancouver banker who was originally from Glasgow, Scotland. They lived in various residences in Vancouver. Throughout this period, she taught Sunday school in an Anglican church, developing an innovative educational curriculum for youth. There she became friends with the rector at that time, a man of progressive spiritualunderstanding, Charles Sydney McGaffin, who after his death became her spiritual partner working with her from the life beyond death.

In Vancouver during the late 1950s and early 1960s Olga Park was exposed to Theosophical and Spiritualist concepts and practices. She briefly attended Spiritualist meetings and adopted some of their terminology, but chose not to self-identify as a Theosophist or Spiritualist. She saw herself as a Christian mystic on a contemplative path.

In mid-life, she embarked on a detailed study of the New Testament scriptures to discern what the historical Jesus might have actually said and taught versus the interpretation the developing Christian church in the early centuries imposed on his life and teachings. In many ways, she anticipated the scholarship of Jesus historians like John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg and others. Eventually, she left the institutional church because she felt much of what she called the “Churchianity” of her times was not aligned with the actual life and teachings of the Jesus she served based on her visionary awareness.

In 1964, after her husband’s death in 1959, Park moved out of her son’s home to a one-room cottage in Port Moody on the Burrard Inlet east of Vancouver to devote herself to contemplation. During this time until the end of her life, her mystical experiences and visions intensified. After her removal to the cottage, interested seekers of all ages and walks of life who heard of her by word of mouth or picked up her books began to visit. Some became her “learners” and received instruction in the practice of solitary communion she had received as well as the mystical understanding on which it was based.

Olga had numerous extraordinary visions throughout her long life, along with many other varieties of mystical experience. As sherecounted in Between Time and Eternity, these came entirely unsought, and at first she was uncomfortable with them. It was only in her later years that she spoke of them to friends, and compiled her spiritual records for distribution to acquaintances who expressed interest. By this time such experiences were so extensive that she simply accepted their unusualness, and hoped they would be of help to others.

A key thread through all of Olga Park’s visions was that they related to the purpose of life on earth and her sense of the Cosmic Christ’s ongoing role in the spiritual evolution of humanity. While her experiences were received within a Christian context, they addressed spiritual principles that transcend religious and ideological boundaries. In 1972 Park reflected on her rich spiritual life and recounted some of the themes interwoven among these mystical experiences in her book An Open Door .

Olga continued living alone at the cottage until 1978, when at the age of 87 she moved to Vancouver due to frail health after breaking an ankle. There she resided in a friend’s basement suite until January 1983 when she moved to a care center for the elderly in Vancouver. Olga died in December 1985 at the age of ninety-four. Her son, Robert, died a few years later. Her two grandchildren, Jim and Valerie Park, and a great-grandson survive her.

TEACHINGS/DOCTRINES

As a mystic wary of institutional church structures and religious organizations, Olga insisted she did not wish to form a “group-structure,” certainly not one involving dues, membership, official status, or doctrine. She emphasized the importance of direct interior experience over uniformity of belief. Park made it clear she did not intend to found a church or religious movement.

Throughout her life, Olga had out of body experiences, visionary awareness, precognition, “third-eye” seeing, and daily communication with the life beyond death. At times she would channel the voice of a friend or contact in the spirit world. She integrated these experiences into her life in a way that sustained a balance between thinking and feeling, and always affirmed the importance of rationality. She taught that growth in divine wisdom and love was the ultimate purpose of such heightened states, not the states themselves.

Park shared freely her interior visions and insights as well as specific pragmatic spiritual practices to any who inquired. She did not believe in proselytizing, and emphasized the importance of responding to genuine inquirers. She taught that establishing a regular time and place for prayer and contemplation would expand consciousness and enable seekers to receive their own direct illumination and guidance.

Over her lifetime Olga had at least a hundred students of diverse ages, demographics, and religious backgrounds who were drawn to her mostly by word of mouth. Most often, she met with her learners one-on-one at her cottage in Port Moody, British Columbia, but frequently in groups of about two to four people at a time. Some were neighbors or friends of neighbors. About ten percent were middle-aged housewives, sometimes accompanied by their husbands. A number of middle-aged men sought her out as well. one a Dutch immigrant to Canada and photographer. Park was also visited by several educators from local colleges and universities in the fields of Religious Studies, English Literature, and Philosophy who heard of her through their students or colleagues. The majority of her students were working-class people from middle-class and some upper-middle-class backgrounds.

At least twenty percent of the people attracted to Olga Park were youth. Her first learner, a young man from England who sought her out after picking up one of her self-published books in an esoteric bookstore in Vancouver, later returned to England to specialize in the sale of organic fertilizers. Many university students interested in spirituality or religion sought her out. In the early 1970s, a number of her learners were hippies, part of the countercultural movement on the West Coast of North America. A striking number of these young people went on to become artists: among them a poet, a potter, a writer on spirituality, and a glassblower. One of her grandson’s friends, who attended to Park’s needs when she broke an ankle, later became a professional nurse. Park also engaged briefly with two teenaged girls who visited regularly for a time in the early 1970s. A young potter and visual artist working with prisoners at a local prison put her in contact with an inquiring inmate with whom she corresponded for a time.

More than half of Olga’s students were nominally Christian or had Christian upbringings, but many had grown disaffected by conventional religion because of its focus on belief and dogma. These were seeking a spiritual practice that enabled them to discover correlations between the contemplative traditions of Christianity and those of other spiritual traditions, particularly those of Asia like Buddhism and Hinduism. Park was open to those who called themselves agnostics, atheists, or those from other religions.

Meetings with Park were seemingly informal, beginning with conversation and tea. However, she would soon begin to share her mystical experiences and visions, offering insights into their meaning and purpose. Then she would receive questions, and dialogue would ensue. After a number of visits, students would often be invited to participate in her weekly communion partaking at her altar in an alcove of the cottage. There she would explain the symbols and meaning of the communion ritual and teach the songs and prayers that led up to and out of what she called “the Holy Silence” (“The Communion Service” n.d.). If they chose, students would then continue practicing the communion ritual in the privacy of their homes. The words, songs, and instructions for her communion service are available on her website (Olga Park: Twentieth-Century Mystic n.d. ).

Olga was devoted to the being who manifested to her early in her adult life as the Cosmic Christ, and felt herself dedicated to the path he had established on earth during his incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth. She saw the Jesus of her visions as still actively at work addressing our emerging planetary crisis. She did not accept the doctrine that it is essential for everyone to accept the Christian Jesus in order to be “saved.” Rather, she saw the Cosmic Christ as a human being who had attained mastery of spiritual principles during his lifetime, and whose life and teachings were in alignment with the principles and teachings of other leaders and founders of world religions. He had attained the status of the Cosmic Christ but was not God incarnate. This Jesus was for her a poet and wisdom teacher, as evidenced by his parables and oral wisdom sayings, and a scientist in the oldest sense of the word “science” as integrated knowing.

She taught that Western materialist science and linear thinking have shut many out from more inclusive, intuitive knowing. The Christ was her supreme teacher, because he had attained mastery of the life forces through many incarnations. Yet she drew on the wisdom of the world’s religions East and West in her interpretation of her visions and of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, noting the interconnections among the various wisdom traditions. She was both grounded in her Christian heritage and inter-spiritual daily. In her later life, Olga communed with presences from the life beyond death and experienced visions
frequently, on almost a or weekly basis. Some of Olga’s most significant visions are described in her own words on a website containing her self-published writings: the story of the psychic vase and its shattering; a viewing of the panorama of religions throughout the ages; an experience of the Cosmic Christ as Osiris in the Great Pyramid of Giza; an out-of-body tour of the Church of Christ of the Future; an account of the Temple of God Consciousness; and her receiving of third-eye vision (“The Communion Service” n.d.).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

In the early 1970s, it was revealed to Olga through a series of visions that she was commissioned to instruct others in the partaking of bread and wine at a home prayer table, which, she suggested, could be located in a niche or corner of one’s room. The purpose of this practice, for both herself and her learners, was to accelerate spiritual growth toward maturity (spiritual integration) and to establish a balance between contemplation and action in one’s daily life. Her students were invited to follow suit by setting up their own prayer tables or dedicated places as convenient and committing themselves to regular times of prayer, meditation, and communion. When they again visited Olga at the cottage they would discuss the insights and possible transformations in their lives that proceeded from their practice.

Olga taught the importance of establishing a special place and time dedicated to prayer and meditation. She emphasized that a person’s psychic and spiritual energies could be easily disrupted by the constant comings and goings of everyday life, and that it was therefore important to build a temple or sacred place within the soul that was at one with Creative Spirit. She saw her prayer table as more of a dining table for communion rather than an altar or place of sacrifice, as a sacred space where partakers receive healing, comfort, and guidance, surrender their daily concerns to a higher power, and offer prayers for others.

In addition to her practice of morning and evening prayer, Olga developed a communion service that she said was given to her by her Teacher and guide in the other life whom she associated with the author (or source) for the accounts in the Gospel of John. She taught her practice to any of her students who requested to participate at the cottage in groups of no more than two or three. Many of them then decided to continue practicing it in their own homes. For a time, some of the students practiced communion at home with one other student, but most of them practiced in solitude. They did not form an established group apart from Park during her lifetime or after her death, but some met together to discuss her ideas, practices, and her non-literal approaches to the Bible.

Olga rejected the doctrine that Jesus’ execution by the Romans was a sacrifice God required of his “only Son” in order to forgive humankind for their sins. In Olga’s ritual, the bread symbolizes the “Word of life revealed from heaven,” and the wine “the love of Christ and the fellowship of heaven.” The service consisted of an interweaving of hymns and scriptures that led up to and out of the Holy Silence. The purpose of the service was to activate higher levels of consciousness within each participant. She taught that this Holy Silence was at the center of everyone’s being, and was the generative source of all life where we are interconnected and one.

Additionally, she taught that the purpose of entering the Silence was to cultivate the “hearing of the Voice.” This inner hearing was not a ringing in the ear by a voice perceived as external from the self, but an emergence of wisdom-knowing from the innermost core of each person. She taught one could receive guidance from the innermost core of oneself that is simultaneously the core or hidden center of the cosmos. Her teaching was based on the sense that the microcosm or small order of things is essentially one with the cosmic order or larger order of things. Therefore, the hearing of the Voice was for her not a matter of external guidance bestowed by a God outside the world or the individual self, but a Presence indwelling each person and alive within all things.

LEADERSHIP

As a spiritual leader, Olga encouraged her students to trust their own interior guidance. One of her constant expressions was, “Don’t take my word for it. Test it out for yourself to see if it works.”

She encouraged the full development of the individuality of each of her learners. Yet those close to her believed she spoke with such authenticity on the intensity and quality of her visions that it was evident she lived in many dimensions at once, negotiating them with grace. Many of her students noticed that when they arrived at the cottage, Park would often begin talking insightfully about an issue or question with which they had been struggling; yet she insisted she did not read minds but was simply “attuned from within” to what was going on with each person.

She often compared what she called spiritual “at-one-ment” or “attunement” to being linked up to a specific bandwidth as received on a radio. She also taught that “all is by mediation,” and saw herself as one who had the capacity to mediate between one dimension and another. During some of her early out-of-body experiences she had been taken by her guide in the afterlife (the figure she called her Teacher) to assist others in their transition from life on earth to the life beyond death.

Olga’s continuous direct encounters with beings and teachers from the life beyond death convinced her that consciousness survives death. Much of her teaching focused on how to awaken and develop what she called “a three-fold consciousness,” a balance of body, soul (including mind and emotions), and spirit. Her students often commented that mere association with Olga stimulated visionary or mystical awareness in them.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

Olga Park’s greatest challenge, her call to a solitary, contemplative life, involved some degree of loneliness in the early years. Feeling out of tune with the materialist, linear thinking of her era (the assumption that what we can see and measure empirically is the entirety of reality) she nevertheless continued to keep careful records of her interior experiences.

Her preference to work with small groups of people drawn to her and her desire to step outside large institutional structures meant that she would not lead a movement. However, her hidden life, and her teachings on the importance of a regular practice of prayer and praise, had profound repercussions in the lives of many. Her papers and writings are now being collected in the archives at the University of Manitoba. She lived by Jesus’ teaching that a teacher scatters seed, unaware of the hidden repercussions of acts that at first seem small.

Olga’s decision not to promote herself as the leader of a movement flowed out of a considered understanding that the insights and teachings of the original founders of many religions have often been diminished or even perverted by the institutional structures that grew up around them. She argued that when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the creeds and doctrines of the church often misrepresented the life and teachings of Jesus, the Jewish mystical teacher. She felt that Jesus’ legacy would not have necessarily died without the church, but that it could have been carried on through smaller, more diverse groups of practitioners. Therefore, her legacy is not merely based on her own personal charisma, but on her teaching about the value of a regular practice of contemplation and communion, which can be carried out in one’s home or ordinary circumstances by individuals and small groups. Her teaching on how to open to the presence of the Cosmic Christ and to come to embody this Christ-consciousness is expressed in her extensive writings, many of which have not yet been published at this time.

Olga’s teachings remain clearly within the Christian mystical streams. Because her concepts and practices fell within the more esoteric side of Christianity, she was not fully understood during her lifetime. However, she was both a mystic and an activist, as she served as the Canadian representative for the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychic and Spiritual Research when she was in her sixties, and attempted to open discussion in liberal Christian churches in Vancouver about life beyond death. She felt her path paralleled that of the Quakers who focus on the awakening of the inner light in each individual rather than relying on a priesthood or spiritual hierarchy.

Olga Park lived and taught what now might be called an evolutionary spirituality, a sense that human consciousness evolves within a larger, sustaining cosmic consciousness. She noted that evolving beyond egotism and self-centeredness individually and collectively begins and ends with humility, a desire to serve something greater than our narrowly conceived selves. Olga’s God or Creative Spirit was not a punitive or patriarchal Being managing the world from outside or beyond, but a loving Presence, both immanent and transcendent, personal and transpersonal, who uses our mistakes and fragilities to create newness, truth, and beauty. Divine spirit was for her that in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

REFERENCES

Buckwold, Jarad. 2013. Olga Park: An Inventory of Her Records at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections. Accessed from http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/collections/complete_holdings/ead/html/Olga-Park_2011.shtml#a14.

Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies. n.d. Accessed from http://www.churchesfellowship.co.uk/ on 15 December 2015.

Longhurst, Brian. 2012. Seek Ye First the Kingdom: One Man’s Journey with the Living Jesus. Portland: Six Degrees Publishing Group.

McCaslin, Susan. 2014. Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga. Toronto: Inanna Publications.

Olga Park: Twentieth-Century Mystic. n.d. (Website created by Susan McCaslin containing Olga Park’s self-published writings). Accessed from http://olgapark.weebly.com/ on 16 June 2017.

Park, Olga Mary Bracewell. 1960. Between Time and Eternity. New York: Vantage Press. Accessed from http://olgapark.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/2/3/102360766/between_time_and_eternity.pdf  on 16 June 2017.

Park, Olga. 1968. Man, the Temple of God. Accessed from http://olgapark.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/2/3/102360766/man_the_temple_of_god.pdf on 16 June 2017.

Park, Olga. 1969. The Book of Admonition and Poetry. Accessed from http://olgapark.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/2/3/102360766/book_of_admonitions_and_poetry.pdf on 16 June 2017.

Park, Olga. 1974. An Open Door. Accessed from http://olgapark.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/2/3/102360766/an_open_door.pdf on 16 June 2017.

Todd, Douglas. 2015. “A Journey into Parapsychology,” September 10. The Search. Online blog with the Vancouver Sun . Accessed from http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2015/09/10/a-vancouver-womans-journey-into-parapsychology/ on 18 December 2015.

SUPPLEMENTARY RESOURCES

Mary Olga Park fonds. University of British Columbia Library Rare Books and Special Collections. Available at http://rbscarchives.library.ubc.ca/index.php/mary-olga-park-fonds.

Mary Olga Park fonds. University of British Columbia Library Rare Books and Special Collections. Collection Description. Available at http://rbscarchives.library.ubc.ca/downloads/mary-olga-park-fonds.pdf

Post Date:
18 December 2015

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