A conversation I was having with a friend this morning reminded me of this short story I wrote, back when I was in college. I dressed it up in narrative language, but the whole thing was a vivid dream I really had. Thinking back on it now, it seems more true than ever.
Darkness enveloped him.
It was like a fist clenched around his soul, squeezing, crushing. He fought it, struggling, writhing like an insect caught in some unbreakable spider’s web. It poisoned his mind, making him sleepy, his eyes feeling heavy and detached. Mind spinning, he began to become complacent, embracing the darkness, all the while knowing somewhere, deep within, that it was killing him. That little voice in the corner of his consciousness screamed out, searing, pleading, telling him to fight harder. He couldn’t think, thoughts sluggish, mind like wet cement. The answer came to him.
He whispered it, the name.
And then, light, piercing, shattering the darkness, the death grip lost like crumbling sand falling from his aching body. The light so bright he could not see, could not face it. It was pure and sweet, as it touched his skin he felt euphoria, joy, love, emotions in a tangled swirl around a deepening sense of peace.
The light subsided, now revealing its origin to him, arched doorway framing light no less intense but easier now to see. He moved toward it, entering, and now inside, looking, panoramic view of gothic structure, marble columns and gold leaf, ancient wooden pews, the smell of furniture polish and incense washing over him in waves. His footsteps echoed, reverberating off the distant walls as he traversed the course that led him to the altar. Now, kneeling, before a golden tabernacle, red sanctuary candle glowing with a presence always felt but never seen.
On his knees he prayed, supplication and repentance, begging strength and insight, repeating the name.
Behind him, voices enter, kind words and salutations, greetings from friends and queries about things of daily insignificance. He turns to look, over his shoulder, and sees them, coming, the members of the masquerade. Their clothes are unremarkable, flannel and denim and pressed cotton shirts with oxford collars, cheap silk and polyester, rayon and khaki and tweed.
Their faces contorted behind grotesque masks of piety, mocking imitations of reverence and holiness, eyes heavenward, lips parted in prayer or song, frozen facades of ingenuous religious fervor. The masks are tied behind their wagging heads, the mouths beneath them moving slanderously, the eyes behind them gazing lustfully, the minds behind them thinking murderously.
He rises from his post and turns, whispering the name, repeating it in endless succession, feeling the darkness enter this sacred space. The masquerade goes on, them filling up the hallowed halls with insincere hearts, the masks looking heavenward as their mumbling continues, deafening, sickening, confusing.
Again, behind him, footsteps heard, this time from the sanctuary. Wheeling, turns to see the man in black, his vestments cut from plastic like the costume of some child on Halloween, his face behind a sneering mask as well as he commends his audience on their goodness.
And now he knows that this name can be whispered no longer. Like a bullet from a gun to pierce the heart of all that threatening darkness in the unholy masquerade, it issues from his lips, a thunderbolt that deafens all in silence and in awe.
The masks now contort in horror, their ears ringing with the name of truth, and weakened, fall to their ungrateful knees.
Every knee shall bend….
The vested man is urging all to stand again, to rise up, but he has lost his sneer.
Again, the name is called out, directed now at this opponent, a crushing blow to he whose purpose is to represent the very same truth which strikes him now.
Every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth…
The priest falls to his knees, his arms raised to shield his face from unseen blows. The darkness now has lost its hold upon those deceived to believe in its power. Their masks are falling off, and behind them bruised and beaten faces show unmitigated fear.
Once more it issues forth, again the driving blow of truth, aimed at the darkness now deprived of its hosts, collecting in an evil cloud above the polished floor.
Every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth, and below the earth…
The darkness recoils from the blow, and shrieks in rage, inhuman screams, falling to the floor and taking form, a hideous blackened thing. It kneels before the majesty of truth, its own creator, and beats itself unmercifully for the foolishness of its own loss of light and life.
A final time the name resounds, and silence follows, all frozen in their place before the power of this spoken Word.
Every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth, and below the earth, and every tongue shall proclaim the glory of the Lord.
In unison, the huddled mass begins to chant the name, and darkness is destroyed before them, shattering like obsidian beneath the blow of a mighty blade.
He awakened with a start. The fan droned on in his window, attempting to drive away the lazy heat of August through the merciless nights. Outside the crickets chirped, and the brightness of the moon offered comfort from the darkness in his room. He groped beside his bed, hand hitting his alarm clock, then his watch, finally finding the small jar with its crooked lid. Unscrewing it, he dipped his fingers into its cool and holy contents, blessing himself with the water and letting it drip down his forehead before he wiped it off.
As he moved to the bathroom, he shook himself free of the dream. It wasn’t like him to dream so vividly, or to dream at all of things religious. The metaphor pounded in his head in unison with every beat of his pulse, deafening him as he drank from the faucet, lukewarm water coming where the cold should be. He lifted his head and felt it again upon his lips, the holy name.
“Jesus.” He whispered.
No word had ever held such power.