A Review of One Bright Pearl by Robert Kaku Gunn
One Bright Pearl is a pearl of a memoir, a compelling account of a challenging life that gives the reader the opportunity to weigh whether his or her own life is meaningful and true. Viewed in its entirety, Bob Gunn’s life is a spiritual quest, but it is a spiritual quest burdened by sorrows and hardships.
At the heart of spirituality is mystery. How can a loving God allow Bob’s brother Bill to almost die at birth and suffer from cerebral palsy? Why, even before he understands sexuality, is Bob attracted to men? What visits him in church when he has a conversion experience and wants to commit his life to Christ? How can he serve a God who allows the Holocaust or the crippling of his brother?
He grows into a youth bent on helping who wants to be both a minister and a therapist. He first becomes a minister and both joins in and encourages protests against the Vietnam War. The mystery of God who creates a cosmos alive with suffering makes him sympathetic to the God is Dead movement. And, if God is dead, then humankind must step up and take moral responsibility. He explores his gayness, but keeps this secret from his family. Valuing family, he decides to marry a woman but doesn’t tell her of his homoerotic orientation. Curiously, he has a wonderful sex life in his marriage and two daughters whom he loves, but his desire for men continues. He drowns this desire in alcohol, but finally admits he is an alcoholic and goes to Alcoholics Anonymous. Sober, he tells his wife of his sexual orientation.
All this, and so much more follows. He constantly lives beyond his means, seeks the help of Debtors Anonymous, and finally declares bankruptcy. He and his wife separate and ultimately have a bitter divorce. In their teenage years, his older daughter has a psychotic break and his younger daughter makes an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Despite this, by superhuman efforts, he finds his way to become a psychotherapist and, ultimately, earns his PhD from Union Theological Seminary and has his thesis published as a marvelous book titled Journeys into Emptiness: Dogen, Merton, Jung and the Quest for Transformation.
Yet, in the same way his marriage could not be a container for his homosexuality, his Christian ministry can’t contain his spiritual journey. Journeys into Emptiness is in part the outcome of his profound attraction to Zen Buddhism. The journey into emptiness is his own journey, a journey in which each of us becomes a source of god rather than seeking a god without. A landmark on this journey is his formal commitment ceremony to the Way of Zen which takes places at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Temper, New York.
The way to the true self, the pearl that may long be hidden from our sight, is the path to a meaningful life. Bob Gunn writes of ordinary life with great empathy and of philosophical concepts with ease and clarity. The cast of characters he describes, his family, friends, mentors, and sometimes antagonists are all given the three-dimensionality of life. One Bright Pearl will be composed of three volumes, two of which have been written. Volume One, An Unholy Memoir, ends with Bob on his honeymoon with its hopes and secrets. Volume Two, God Is the Source of My Life, continues through his commitment to the Way of Zen. Still to look forward to is Volume Three, The Song of Emptiness, which will move from his commitment to Zen through to the present.