He was there: in the deepest recesses of my memory, in the earliest visions of a time now past, when I thought I saw him in the sweep of the sky and the cool touch of the living earth on bare feet. He is still here: sometimes a tangible presence, sometimes little more than a whispering voice intertwined with my own soul and spirit. He will one day return: and will strip away the mortal flesh that obscures my vision, so that I may see him for who he is.
Winter descended, but it was a dry and barren time: dusty, dirty. The rains ceased and the birds flew away. There was no hint of damp in the air. Only a gritty haze lingered in the atmosphere and it scoured skin and eyes. It was a winter that would last forever, so it seemed, so that the years lost the hope and life of the seasons. The upward spiral of life was lost from view. Where was the presence of the patterns, where time continues but repeats the cycles of growth and decay and rebirth? Lost were the subtle but predictable alterations in bird song and insect song, the sprouting of new leaves on ancient trees, the storms, the sun, the living world continually reminding me that he was out there, somewhere. I lost him in the winter.
The dark night fell, and though dotted with stars I could not see them. I could not even lift my head to search them out. My eyes were turned inward. I saw nothing but starless darkness, dark and the crushing force of invisible storms. Hatred and rage. Loss and loneliness. I thought he abandoned me. The inward gaze produced nothing, only this sensation of falling inside out, and the vile chasm of deteriorating soul gaped and swallowed all hope. I looked over that cliff, over and over, tempted to leap out over its side and see what lay in the impenetrable dark beyond. Was he there? I wondered, thinking that perhaps if I followed the path into the lightless valley I would find him there, waiting.
I wore a cloak and set forth, groping blindly in the endless night. Winter ceased, and all became nothing. No longer was there the promise of even a future spring, because all the seasons had stopped, the cycles gone, and the dark complete. Where I ran my hands along the walls the blood poured from my numbed flesh. I hated him, and yet I wanted to find him. If only to ask where he went, why he left, why he let me lose him. The blood flowed, punishment and sacrifice, the tribute required by the rocky walls.
Then, a voice, positioned somewhere on the walls I could feel but not see, the voice cold and gentle, drawing me in: “You try to pay the tribute, but your blood is not worth enough. You must pay more.”
Dim light suffused the surroundings, and I could see that the path had so far led through a steep-walled valley, where the jagged and sharp rocks had left deep cuts in my skin. Ahead was a long, dusty path wound between dry hedges of tangled thorns. The thorns and thick branches wound up and over me, obscuring the sky. There was no escape, only a long and dismal path ahead.
The voice continued, “These thorns will draw more blood from you than the stones, the blood you deserve to pay for your imperfections, but they will also poison you. No matter where you walk, you will die. You will become so weak that you can go no further. Or you will lose your blood. Or you will succumb to the poison.” It seemed as though the disembodied speaker smiled as it spoke these words. It revelled in my despair.
I was defeated. I could walk, and walk, and crawl on my hands and knees when the branches grew so thick and low they nearly touched the barren earth, and travel on until I collapsed. Or I could throw myself hard against the thorns and let them draw me into death; but death held no promise of release. Perhaps the voice that both guided and taunted me could be found also in the realm of death. I chose to walk onwards and avoid the thorns, though sometimes they caught me and released their burning toxins into my wasting muscles, only to leave me more fragile. I walked this path for years becoming weaker and weaker. No water flowed here, no food to be found. Blood lost and flesh carved and bones protruding from the tattered ruins of my cloak. The voice was joined by other voices. The voice took on its own body, a ruined and corporeal shadow of a rotting human form with clawed fingers and tattered leathery black wings hanging limply from its shoulder blades.
It was vile, and it hated me: “Throw yourself into the briars, embrace the death that is your due. I hate you, because there is nothing in you to love.”
There were days when I crawled, and cried, and tears mingled with the blood that flowed almost constantly from my limbs. The voice, the daemon – for I had no other name for it – continued its rants. “You deserve this, but you are too weak to accept it. You are disgusting.”
Thorns and daemons, endless nothing and numbness, the world reduced to countless years of crawling through a wilderness. Sometimes I thought that I loved my captor, rotten and vile though it was. In those times the cruelty would ease, and the daemon would let me walk in silence.
Yet, I suffered and weakened beyond comprehension, so that my mind and vision were reduced to a blur and my body fell to pieces, I finally collapsed into the dust. I begged the earth consume these bones, and take me into the cool soil. There was no end in sight. The daemon came to me, put its foot on my chest, and pressed down until I could hardly breathe. It smiled, its skin barely covering the jagged-toothed skull and hollow sockets for its yellow eyes. “This is the end,” he said softly. “You should never have lasted this far, but you are too weak. You forgot why you came here. You are mine, now.”
My chest heaved, unable to breathe in the dry air under the force of his feet. My heart and mind raced and there, as the last echo of his words faded from my ears, I remembered. I remembered who it was I sought. He was somewhere out there. I could not find him, but he was why I came here. I needed him. I had not forgotten, for the memory of him remained embedded in my spirit.
The daemon could see the flash of memories running through my eyes. Its smile faded and turned to loathing. “You would dare think of him? He left you. He left you to suffer here because he hated you. He sees you for what you are, you hideous thing not even deserving of a name. He is the one who planted this valley of thorns. He does not want you. He has given you to me,” it said, hissing as it spoke rapidly and urgently. Distracted, the pressure from its foot eased on my chest and I breathed deeply. “You may be right, but I must hear it from him, not from you.”
The daemon scowled, but stepped aside. I looked along the path and saw a point where the tangled branches and sharp thorns opened out into an empty wasteland. I crawled, too weak to stand and walk. The daemon walked alongside but did not touch me. “You must not go, or you will never know the power I can give you,” it said, urgency rising in the voice I had known for so long as cold, scheming and disembodied. Now it took on a hint of emotion. It seemed that fear was disguised in its voice as it said, “This was a test. Nothing but a test. You will be rewarded with all you can imagine if you let me take you. Just don’t return to him.”
I had to keep thinking of him, though, and I held him before my mind’s eye. I could return to him? The daemon said so. I found myself at the end of the path, and before me a vast wasteland opened up. My eyes ached in the brightness of the light. The daemon’s voice was silent, now, as though the thoughts in my mind had pushed it away. I could not see it anywhere, but I feared that if I remained it would return, only stronger and able to destroy me. I continued to crawl, out into the open desert, a living and breathing desert dotted with plants and birds and reptiles. This was a harsh and wild place, but fully alive, with a life that revived my broken body. The life was tangible: a moving and gentle presence. He was here. Of that, I was certain. I sensed him, his presence caught up with the moving life that swirled over this land. The seasons moved here, nature restored to its patterns and cycles. He was here in the living desert.
I found him by the water.
He was just as I imagined. He was young, yet ancient, with eyes that looked upon all time as if it were all at once. He saw it all. He saw, even now, the sight of me carved by the rocks and poisoned by the thorns, as though it were continually happening. He was weeping. I could not understand why. I sat at his feet and waited, and he placed a hand upon my shoulder. I hoped that he would answer my questions, but until he did, I would sit with him while he wept. Maybe, one day, the tears would dry up, and he would speak, but for now, I was content. He was here. His presence was all that mattered.
24 July 2012
On July 24, 2002, I asked Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Saviour. I wrote this short creative piece on July 24, 2012, as I reflected on the experience of finding faith.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
(New King James Version)