trout [ 9 ] October 2001
Richard Nightingale [ 1, 2, 3



I lay on my comfortless bed, half-waking, half-dreaming, half-drifting off into recaptured oblivion, images snared in a cocoon of limned rapture. The fixed images stood still momentarily, then jumped discordantly, and then melted into a stream of moving pictures. The past scenarios dissolved into the fabric of the present. Time had no apparent rationale. It seemed an outrage to my finer sensibilities.

I had been dry, on the wagon, abstinent for well on 6 months. Yet my endeavours seemed marred by inward violent disturbances. My peace of mind would be involuntarily shattered by re-visitations of Les Temps Perdus.

Always dreaming was centred on my dying. The dream sometimes took benevolent forms; at other times - more frightening - it assumed a cruel shape. Most often, I was thrust into the midst of a huge battle on a darkling plain, of golden warriors, till bloody death caught them and dispatched them into the quiet domain away from the life. Always my final dreaming moments were the same: the hands, bigger, stronger than mine own, that grabbed my shoulder, the violent shove of my head and neck backwards like a spastic puppet, the hands that clutched a thick club against the white of an afternoon sky that fell to silence and stillness as the club met my skull in a moment.

On this day as I lay half-sleeping on a straitened palliasse the dream assumed a quite different dimension. Dissipated was the darkening plain where ignorant armies clashed by night. In its stead, a vast seamless vista of swirling mists, dismal swamps, vicious crevasses, treacherous ditches. In the last great yawning chasm I was pitched like a weightless dummy. And I kept on falling, falling, tumbling, turning, tossing. Swirling mists obscured my line of sight. It seemed as if I was drowning in swirling clouds of mist, fine drops of water scented like the orange-blossom of Drambuie. My mouth lay open. The aromatic fogs invaded my parched throat and lay in seductive cloaks on the desiccated terrain of my poor tongue.

I continued to fall. I stretched out my limbs to try to touch something firm and tangible. But to no avail. I kept on tumbling downward, the curtains of honeydew caressing my skin. It seemed as if I was drowning in an aerated maelstrom of delicious wickedness. The world itself seemed to be bursting into churning spumes of orange-scented bubbles. I kept on falling and twisting and turning. I seemed to be drowning in an ocean of billowing soft orange blossom petals. I stuck out my tongue. The silk smoothness of a zillion fine orange drops caressed its pitted surface. I continued to fall. Unimpeded. Total free-fall. It was curiously peaceful at first. But then a swirling cloud of nausea engulfed my gut. I felt a prowling desire to vomit. The curtains of mist took on sinister shapes. Now my descent slowed to a fitful ebb and flow as my outstretched limbs bumped into a swarming tangle of a thousand skin-peeled bloated bodies. On and on the driving drops pitted into my skin, drummed through my skull. The surging flood seemed to last an eternity. What was left of my mind was squeezed like toothpaste. Then, mercifully, oblivion, black-curtained night enveloped my fevered consciousness. Exhausted nothingness, stretching out to the end of time! To the utmost edge of space, into the heart of darkness.

I recall waking in a strange dim space. I was not on my bed. My toes touched the warming stony grit of sand. I could hear the soft gentle lap of water caressing a nearby shore. I seemed to be on some foreign beach. But I did not open my eyes. I could not do it for fear of some unspeakable horror. With my numbed fingers I pinched my thigh. I felt flesh. Yes, it was flesh, but soft, soggy, like plastic, like pliant dough. But my body felt spongy. My mind oozed like warm putty. It was as if my watery nightmare had soaked off my shield of skin, peeled off my outer defence system. A convulsive shudder surged through my rubberised body as I recalled a memory echo:

"God gave Noah a rainbow sign. No more water. The fire next time."

Some sort of instinctive panic seized my stricken frame. "No more water, the fire next time." Was I beached on the banks of the River Styx awaiting the dumb stoic ferryman to take me to the gateway of Upper Hell? Or was I in limbo, a place of eternal ambiguity, of never-ending waiting? Or was this just the waterlogged imaginings of the raw soft kernel of my mind?
An idle tramp-like figure emerged through the foggy certain of my interior consciousness. It moved closer and bent towards my inner ear and mouthed not the old refrain, but words of sphinx-like ambiguity:

"The trouble about becoming an alcoholic is that ordinary states of consciousness are simply a torment. I suppose that is being an alcoholic. Sin is a sort of unconsciousness, a not knowing."

"Enough!" I cried. "Be gone, horrid vision!" The cry galvanized my will. I prised open one eyelid, then cautiously the other. I was in a grey space somewhere. No! I was on a sandy beach. The veil of water that curtained my outer eye still altered my perception. I was yet seeing as through a glass darkly. A sky of dim clouds almost covered the upper space. The only brightness came from a shaft of fluted light beams shooting through a hole in the upper layer. Black raging clouds coursed across the leaden ceiling. A vast streak of lightning fractured the indigo curtain. A spot of water splattered on my cheek. And another.

A horripilating thought seized me: "But what of... what of the promise of no more water? Was there about to come upon this desolate place the scourge of fire?"

I jumped to my feet. I felt relief. I appeared to be intact. I made a step. The sand crunched beneath the balls of my feet. I stumbled forward, half fell, recovered my balance, and stood quite still.

I was on the rock-jumbled but sandy shore of a little cove. To my right the inky sea stretched to a steely grey horizon. Above me loomed close at hand a hard many-surfaced cliff. A few bowed pohutakawa arched their sturdy limbs across its jagged face. Here and there, at random intervals, blurs of soft scarlet points of needle-like florets smudged the dull green canopies of leaves. My eye scanned their reassuring frames, their striated bark that at some points fell like an old man's wispy beard. I leapt forward. I rushed across the crunching stones and sand towards a huge pohutakawa anchored firmly in the base of the cliff.

"My Lord and my God," I thought. A tree. A magnificent pohutakawa. In flower. It must be summer. I hugged its hairy branches in pure delight. Look at this tree. I drew my whole frame close to its furry bark and squeezed it tight. Look at this wonderful thing. This too, too solid thing. This beautiful shape. Oh it is too too marvellous. I hugged it in a surge of ecstasy. Look at this creature of Nature. My Lord and my God. And then aloud, "My God!" I cried in sheer joy. "It's real, it's alive, it's too too wonderful." I enwrapped my soft arms around its rough form and sighed, "So I'm alive too."

I slowly let my arms drop, and gently turned about to face the sea and the sky. With a bounteous surge of optimism I allowed my frame to slowly subside and sink lower, my legs bending as I moved to collapse onto the sand and stones. For a long moment I sat quite still and gazed out over the mackerel-dappled sea and the steel-grey sky. A curious stillness permeated the air, punctuated only by the soft curling lap of the tide as it slurped around the base of ochre-coloured rocks and the occasional shriek of a diving oyster-catcher, a streak of black and white feathers, its long sharp yellow beak slicing the air with incisive purpose.

"My Lord and my God!" I said aloud. I closed my eyes and gently into the air gave thanks for what seemed a happy release from a dismal eternity of bleak horror. "Glory be to God for dappled things, For skies as coupled as a brindled cow..." My prayer of gratitude sloped off into nothingness. I lay still for a moment. Then a surge of triumph engulfed me. I jumped to my feet and stumbled across the multi-coloured stones. A shout of joy erupted from my throat: "Yes and Yes; and Yes and Yes; YES, YES, YES!" I skipped along the pebbly shore. I felt the firm roundness of the tones imprinting on the soles of my feet. The solid firmness of their smooth shapes was a re-affirmation that the world was tangible, real and permanent. I stopped for a moment and burrowed my toes into a shoal of sand. Their coarseness grazed my skin. My toes groveled deeper, kicking up the sharp gritty lumps into jumbled pyramids and mounds, until I was sunk to my ankles. I was anchoring myself into the very substance of the earth. The world about me was real and substantial. "Yippee!" I hollered. And again, "Yippee! Yippee!" I grounded my feet on a firming base and leapt into the air. I lurched forward and began to run and gambol and hop. What joy. What glee.

"Callooh! Callay!" I chortled in my joy.

I changed my pace to a slow amble. The wet stones were almost glistening raven-black and dull-sheened ochre. The dry stones were almost a uniform grey. I bent down and picked up some stones. They were so similar, yet so dissimilar, like counters in a game played by some god. The shapes, very like, very never exactly the same. Each one, if carefully examined, revealed some tiny significant individually mark, a shallow depression or chipped end, a short almost invisible line. I thought, what do my thoughts matter, what do their details matter, what does it matter whether Jesus Christ redeemed the world or not, it doesn't matter. Our minds can't grasp such things, it's all too obscure, too vague, the whole matrix shifts and we shift with it. What does anything matter except helping myself and helping one or two people who are nearby, doing what is obvious? We can see so little of the great game. Look at these stones. My Lord and my God. I said aloud, "My God."

I let them fall clunkety-clunk to their companions beneath me. I gazed about me as if looking for some recognition, some affirmation of my discovery. There was nothing. And then a gently eddy of wide ruffled the surface of the sea. Little specks of spray jetted up from the crests of the gently swelling waves. The wind was rising steadily and the sky inked a dull purple. Clouds began breaking into soft jumbled heaps of blackish dough. Patches of iridescent blue bridged the interstices of the fractured clouds. Light in sharp bands of sword-like definition poured downward on to the speckled sea. I stared motionless at these pillars of sparkling silver. I turned. My watery eye beheld a near-vertical rainbow stretching upwards from the sea to the heavens above. The rainbow colours were not bright and garish, but gently soft and misty. There was a soft growling of thunder. I could see the glowing whiteness of the wave-crests out to sea. Near to the horizon the sea was a luxurious purple, spotted with regular lines of emerald green. At the horizon it was deepest indigo. Near to the shore, where my view was framed by rising heaps of lumpy ochre rock, there was a band of lighter green, flecked with icy pure foamy caps.

I turned around casting my eye towards the headland. The wind continued to rise. Branches of pohutakawa moved in a giddying swirl. Their scarlet shrouds danced in a swaying pavanne with the waving wind. Then I realized that I saw the tiny figure of a human being moving around the yellow rocks. It was coming towards me. I was not alone. I began to feel frightened. The figure advanced slowly and cautiously as if it was a stalking some rare and interesting shore-bird. I made to step gingerly towards the looming figure to gain a better sight for I was uncertain whether it was a figment of my ravaged imagination. But figure remained constant in my vision, only larger as it came closer. I stood stock-still. The figure was carrying a long branch as a walking stick. It stopped a few metres short of me. I knew then who it was.

Jesus was standing but a short distance from me, one hand pressed around the grainy wood of the walking stick. I did not dare to raise my eyes to his face. his hand was pale and bony, the skin rough as if chapped. The he said my name, "Richard," and I raised my eyes and simultaneously fell on my knees on the sand.

He was leaning on the stick and gazed down at me. He had a strangely elongated head and a strange pallor, a pallor of something that had been long deprived of light, a shadowed leaf, a deep-sea fish, a grub inside a fruit. He was beardless, with wispy blond hair, not very long, and he was trim and of medium height, dressed in shapeless yellow-white trousers and a shirt of a similar colour, open at the neck, with rolled-up sleeves. He wore plimsolls upon his feet with no socks. Though the shape of the head seemed almost grotesque, the face was beautiful. It did not resemble any painting that I had ever seen. The mouth was thoughtful and tender and the eyes large and remarkable luminous. I did not notice all these details at once, but I remembered them well later, except that I could not recall the colour of the eyes. They were a brilliant darkish colour, a sort of blackish or reddish blue I felt inclined to call it later.

I felt very afraid and yet filled with a thrilling passionate joyful feeling that passed through me like an electric current that made me absolutely still. He said again, "Richard...."

"Sir." I had never used this mode of address before in my life. Why did I not call him "Lord," I wondered, or "Master"?

"Who am I?"

"You are the Christ," I said. "The son of the Living God."
He said, "Get up."

I rose awkwardly and moved ever so slightly forward, facing him across a strip of compacted sand. As soon as my knees lost contact with the wet, clammy sand I began to feel different, more vulnerable and terrified. I trembled. I looked into his face, and whereas before I had seemed only to see the luminous eyes and the tender mouth. I now saw his expression that was quizzical, almost humorous.
"How do you know?"

I said, "Who else could you be Sir? Unless you are the other One." This seemed a terribly rude thing to say. I lowered my eyes, ashamed, unable to sustain his gaze. I looked at the white hand that rested upon the walking stick. It was un-scarred.

I said, "Your wounds, Sir ..."
"I have no wounds. My wounds are imaginary"
"But indeed you were wounded, Sir," I said, raising my eyes. "Indeed you were. They pierced your hands and feet with nails and your side with a spear. They shot your kneecaps off, they drove a red-hot needle into your liver, they blinded you with ammonia and gave you electric shocks - "

"You are getting mixed up, Richard. Your mind is a jumble. You are confusing richly imagined tales of my anguish and torment with highly coloured accounts of the Inquisition and the Holocaust." He said this without emotion. His face remained curiously bland and unfeeling. It had the cast of a stoic. "And they did not piece my hands. They drove the nails through my wrists. The flesh of the hands would have torn away." I looked at the wrist. The wrist was un-scarred too.

"You do not see my wounds. If there were wounds they have healed. If there was suffering it has gone and is nothing."

"But your pain ... is not that..."

"The point?" He paused and smiled. A wry twinkle flecked his eyes. "No. But no, though it has proved so interesting to you all."

"But then - what was it...?" I said. I could not find words for the terrible pressure of my questions. I thought, I have such a chance to ask but I cannot find the right thing to say.

I shifted awkwardly my feet. Overhead a gull wheeled streamlined in a rush of air. For a brief moment the focus of my concentration centred on the sea to my left. I was straining to gain some relativity, some sense of my placement, some figuring of my reality, some order in this strange visitation. But all I felt on that darkling beach was the soft grazing sound of the wind-lashed waves upon the shingle like a scratching of chalk upon a board. And I felt upon the darkening beach a shuddering sense of my utter vulnerability, among these silent rocks, beside this self-absorbed and alien sea.

I turned back. The tall gaunt figure of Jesus was still standing there. He smiled, "Do not fear, I know who you are. But do not be afeard. Yes, pain is a scandal and a task, but it is a shadow that passes! Death is a teaching. Indeed it is one of my names. Dying is anguish and appalling. Death is a triumph." His face took on a quiet glow. I felt comforted. The sea was lapping thirstily a few metres from where we stood. The wind tossed back some strands of his wispy straight blond hair. His hair was just long enough to touch the collar of his open shirt. He now put his hands behind his back and leaned towards me. His dark luminous eyes stared into me. His mouth took on a whimsical shape. He looked as if he was teasing me. I felt re-assured and quietly confident. I moved my crossed arms from their defensive embrace of my chest and planted my hands on the jutting ledge of my pelvis.

He continued. His words have a gentle calming assurance "Do not fear. All that concerns your salvation I know."

"So there is salvation?" I said.

"Oh yes." But he said it almost carelessly

"Sir, what shall I do to be saved?" I leaned forward, anticipating a wonderful answer.

He looked at me for a moment. A puzzled frown creased his forehead. "You must do it all yourself, you know."

The nonchalant dismissal of my plea irritated me. "What do you mean?" I glanced anxiously at the sea, at the cliff, at the pohutakawa, at the sea-birds, at the sand, anywhere but on his bemused face. I fretted. I scraped the sand with my toes. Then I said, "I can't. " Then I cried, "Oh my dear, my dear."

I felt forlorn. I thought, "He is here, he is here." I threw a fretful searching look at his quiet serene face. I quaked. I turned my head from that figure of enigmatic countenance. I searched the terrain of his wrinkled visage for another sign of assurance. But there was none. Just becalmed stoicism. And huge warming dark pools of friendly eyes that embraced my prickly flesh, and soothed my jerking nerves.

The light was fading. There was a long withdrawing silence. The night-wide soughed across the restless sea and the naked shingles of the beach. A gull screeched overhead. The darkening boughs of the pohutakawa creaked and moaned. The surging sea scoured the shingle close by. I stood my distance. I fixed my gaze upon his stony face. "Do not go away from me. How could I live without you now that you have come. If you are going to leave me, let me die now."

"Come, come, Richard, you will die soon enough." He chided me. I felt like a willful, spoilt child. He spoke briskly. "As for salvation, anything that you can think about it is as imaginary as my wounds. I am not a magician, I never was. You know what to do. Do right, refrain from wrong. Strive for goodness. Seek the truth: the honest recognition of truth is painful, but better than the frenzied and aggressive manufacture of lies. Do not dwell in the false illusion that lies can comfort and console. Avoid niceness, prettiness, sentimentality, consolation, symptomatic amelioration. They are second best to virtue and goodness, tough love and pure thoughts. Live at peace with your past. Live quietly with your sense of guilt and despair. Sit quietly beside them, as it were, and regard the frightful wound to your self-esteem as the removal of deep illusions which existed before and which this change has rent asunder. Avoid intolerance, superiority and its close cousin, grandiosity. Above all, be humble. Humility is endless. Do it with grace. Accept God's will and be thankful. Pray. The rest of your journey will be worthwhile. The remains of the day’s feast are not just crumbs under the table. There is a hearty supper awaiting you in the adjoining high chamber. Take heart. The world has not ended." His words ended. But a warm ambience hung in the darkening air. I felt enwrapped, engaged, empowered, enabled. I gave him a requited look of steady acceptance. He returned my acknowledgement with a quiet nod of his wind-tousled hair. He flicked the fallen fringe of blond locks away from his eyes.

I felt I was sinking into the warm pool of his wondrous eyes. I gave a sign and closed my eyes for a moment. A warm quiet surge of assurance welled up in my rigid frame. I felt at one with the world, with this stranger who had crossed my storm-tossed path.

His renewed voice startled me into alertness. I opened my eyes. "What am I holding in my closed hand?" he said. I saw he was holding his right hand, closed, up against his chest.

I thought, then said with confidence, remembering Julian of Norwich's experience with her Lord. "A hazelnut, Sir."

"No." He opened his hand. I moved closer, the first time in our encounter that I had attempted to close the gap between us. I now felt something like perfect trust. I saw that it was an elliptical grey stone, a little chipped at the end, and veined with a jagged line of ochre. It was one of the seaside stones which had so much appalled me upon the beach the other night with Heather.

I stared at the stone. Then I said slowly, quizzically, "Is it so small?"

"Yes, Richard."

‘Everything that is, so little...’ the words of St. Julian coursed through my thoughts.


"But, Sir. How can it not perish, how can it be, how can it not perish? How can it be, if all this…?"

"Ah my dear child, you want some wonderful answer don't you?"

Yes, I thought, I do. I fretted with childish impatience. I pawed the sand. A gull cawed overhead. Darkness seeped around us. The wind keened. The pohutakawa branches graunched. The sand sawed on the shingle. The light faded around us. Yet there was a gentle glow of fading whiteness about our immediate vicinity. It was as if there was some curious independent force of energy that enveloped our proximate space.

"Have you not been shown enough?" he queried.

"No, no I want more," I beseeched. "More, more. Tell me ... what you are ... where you are..."

The faintest of replies drifted across the wind. I moved closer to catch the displaced words. "Where do I live? I live nowhere. Have you not heard it said that birds have their nests, foxes have their holes, whales have their pods and dolphins their ocean pockets; seals are twice blessed - they have hollows in the sand and pools amongst the rocks -"

"Yes, yes, the sea, the sea, " I interrupted. "But you, where is your -? "

"Be still. Listen. It is not too far beyond your imagining to know from whence I came, and to what I belong. I am all things and no thing. Wait, do not be so abashed. Did you not know that water figures prominently in my provenance. How else did little Moses survive the Nile engulfing his cradle of reeds. And you know I turned back the waters of the Red Sea. Yet there is no mystery there. No miracle. Just a certain understanding of the tides." He chuckled. "And my disciples saw me leap from coracle to coracle on the Sea of Galilee. And they believed that I walked on water." A belly laugh erupted. I felt dazed. But this telling of plain truth, empirical first-hand evidence made credible the silly nonsense of the Biblical anecdotes. "Yes, yes, the sea, the sea, yes." He continued, "Did you know that Plato was descended from Poseidon on his father's side? You have dolphins, seals here in this gulf of warm waters?"

"Yes," I nodded. "I saw a school of dolphin yesterday. But seals? I think I have seen just one."

"Seals, yes" he continued. "Did you know that in Ireland, in the wild west of Galway, they say that some people are descended from seals. But do not look so disbelieving. The sea is so powerful it can conjure up all the most wonderful imaginings. Here in this land, your tangata whenua are descended from that brat Maui who was the headstrong offspring of Tangaroa, the God of the Sea, and Papa-tu-a-nuku, the Goddess of the Land." I was lost. He seemed to have such a command of this whakapapa. He was indeed all things to all men. But to me, standing there in the fading twilight he had a quiet dignity, a blessed assurance, a radiant dignity. "But you, sir, where is your...?" I interjected his recitation.

He returned my half-uttered question with a steady firm reply, "I have no home."

"Oh sir, you have a home!" I said.

"You mean - "

"Love is my meaning," I said.

He laughed. The air filled with a gale of warm radiance. I felt touched by its radiance. I felt touched by its warm embrace "You are witty my child. You have given the wonderful answer. Is that not enough?"

"No, not without you," I said, "not without you."

"You are spoiling your gift already."
"But what am I to believe," I said. "You are so real, you are here, you
are the most real, most un-doubtable of all things - you are the proof, there is no other."

"I prove nothing. You have answered your own question. What more do you want? A miracle?"

"Yes!" I cried.

"You must be the miracle-worker, little one. You must be the proof. The work is yours. You must live your own work. You must work for the spirit. A miracle would be as much benefit and use to you as a glittering diamond to a shipwrecked survivor on a desert island. Sure, I have been credited with miracles in my time, but it really lies in the power of the beholder. If even a dog's tooth is truly worshipped it glows with light. The venerated object is endowed with power, that is the simple sense of the ontological proof. And if there is art enough a lie can enlighten us as well as the truth. What is the truth anyway, that truth? As we know ourselves we are fake objects, fakes, bundles of illusions. Can you determine exactly what you felt or thought or did? Is it all not just a matter of convenience, of expediency?"

His revelation left me stunned. Such a knocking away of the foundations. I was suddenly swept with a feeling of being marooned on a bed of shifting sand.

"I perceive you are puzzled. But do not be afraid." His calming voice reached out to me as the night descended upon us. "I do not have a monopoly on wisdom. I am not a magician. I do not have exclusive right to cures." A loud belly laugh erupted again. It fled upward on a sudden draught of air and rebounded off the cliff.

He continued, "Look around you. Many of your fellow man have experienced a rewarding process of renewal, a way to healing, to some sort of ease, away from the dark pit of dis-ease." And here the voice became almost colloquial, almost street-wise in its basic practical honesty and perception, its winning practicality. "One of my erstwhile companions, I think it was James, yes. . . it was. Yes it was James who handed out some down-to-earth advice, such as:

‘Do not deceive yourself by just listening to God's word, put it into action. Whoever listens to that word but does not put it into practice is like a man who looks in a mirror and sees himself as he is ... and then goes away and forgets what he looks like. As the body without the spirit is dead so also faith without actions is dead ... I will show you my faith by my actions: and not just faith, but humility; the spirit that God placed in us is filled with fierce desires. But the grace that God gives is even stronger. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. So then submit to the will of God. Humble yourself and God will lift you up. A good dose of humility won't knock you out.’ "

I felt a lump in my throat. I looked about me. The night had now totally enveloped us. I swallowed the engorging lump. I felt able to breathe more easily. The warm breezes off the ocean embraced me. A lone gull called out. Its soul-ful cry touched my quick.

"Is that all? Is that enough?" My plea stretched into the night. "I feel I am deep in sin, I live and breathe the horror of it. Help me, I want to be made good."

"Oh, I'm afraid that's impossible," he said looking at me searchingly through the darkening air.

"No, no, please understand, please ... I mean ... I want ... I want to be made clean like you promised. I want to be made innocent, I want to be washed whiter than snow, I want -"

"Go then," he interrupted, "and wash." He pointed toward the sea.

I could hardly walk. I stumbled into the warm tide. It caressed my ankles, and smoothed along the length of my thighs. I sank down quickly into its silky rapture. I plunged into its soft soothing folds. I dived with careless abandon. I felt its sensuousness swim about my caged torso. I lay back, supine, afloat. It felt beneficent. It felt marvellous. The gentle wind-pushed waves washed over my head. I dived below the surface. I swam quickly downward. I was good at breaststroke. Soon I touched the bottom. I plowed my cupped hand through the sandy bottom, felt for a firm base with my feet, and pushed upward. I erupted like a dolphin into the air and fell back. I allowed myself to drift freely through the cleansing tide. Then I turned to the shore and in a few strokes reached the beach. I touched bottom with my feet. I pushed towards the dry shore. The moon has just arisen in the east. It was full and radiant. Its light bathed the beach in lambent tones.

Then I realized that Jesus was not where I had left him. A panic seized me. I searched left and right, there at the end of the beach a receding figure was rounding the headland. I broke into a run. "Stop. Stop!" I hollered. "Stop, wait for me." I galloped along the moonlit sand. Drops of water flew from my mane of hair. "Stop. Wait!" The figure disappeared around the cliff. I doubled my pace, I grew quickly breathless. I rounded the rocky bluff. And there, standing in the shelter of a bay in the cliff I saw him. I ran towards him. He did not move. The distance between us narrowed. I was seized with a heaving shortness of breath "Do not - do not - leave me!" I pulled up a few metres short of him. I looked at him with deep longing. I made to reach out my arm towards him.

A queer voice came through the night. He said, "Love me if you must, little one, but don't touch me."

I thought, is he real? Is this real flesh? Oh I love him so much, I must touch him, I must kneel and embrace his knees, lie and kiss his feet. But I did not kneel. I took a staggering step forward and tried to touch his arm with my right hand. He moved back and one of my fingers just brushed the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. I felt the texture of the rough material. I felt a searing pain in my hand and my eyes closed and I fell to my knees and then flat to the ground in a sudden faint.


I woke in my bed. I recalled fragments of the beach scene. I leapt quickly out of my bed. I was still wearing my swimming trunks. I went to the window and gazed out. Yes, I thought, I had been to the beach with Angie and Margaret, and swum until I was exhausted. Then I must have fallen asleep on the sun-baked sand. I looked about my little room. There on the bookshelf was a small pile of stones. I saw the elliptical grey stone with the jagged yellow vein and then its chipped end as I turned it over in my hand. I was certain it was the stone that Jesus had shown me. Yet it might just be another. They were all so alike. I shrugged in blessed incomprehension. Then I noticed my burnt finger.

It was early morning. I must have slept all night. The sleep of those who are stilled and tranquil after a washing away of gnawing anxiety. I returned to my bend and drifted off into deep restful slumber. As I descended into that realm, I felt like a composer of soulful music, inventing my own good tunes, but acknowledging that I had to work within the framework of the spheres. The machine of life had hardened my ego. I had been encased in a solid drum. My mind had been in perpetual anguish. My only connection with the outside world happened when the drummer bashed my brains. Towards the end of this imprisonment of my self, I was only audible as a threatening gurgle, a ground bass of endless anxiety. The sound of random chaos itself.

I drifted into a blissful sleep. I awoke two hours later. The mid-morning sun streamed in my window. The chapel bells gonged through the open window. I jumped out of bed and pulled on my jeans and a clean silk shirt. As I tucked in my shirttails I felt the raw abrased skin of my burnt finger. I lifted it towards my eye. Sure it was red. I could not recall how the injury had occurred. My silly fickle cigarette lighter perhaps. But those sorts of silly accidents never happened to me now. They had been a frequent occurrence in my past drunken clumsiness. Its origin must remain shrouded in mystery. I shrugged my shoulders.

I climbed into a pair of new sneakers and laced them firmly around my ankles. Today, for chapel, I was well shod. Other days I just slopped about in jandals or went bare-foot. I felt truly relaxed and cleansed. A calmness enfolded me. I had a sense that today I felt somehow more confident, more assured. Something mysterious had happened to me yesterday, but I could not recall any detail. Ah well, I shrugged, God moves in a mysterious way.

The sounds of friendly voices reached me through the open window. I turned adroitly on my heel and made for the door. I paused on the threshold. I clicked my heels and snapped my finger and thumb in serendipitous syncopation. I murmured a quite benediction to myself, "May God's will be done. Work for the Spirit." Momentarily I wondered where I had heard those words before. I opened the door, walked briskly along the hallway, and stepped out of the foyer into the light of common day, into the warming hubbub of common man.

I felt at peace with the world. I floated down the hill to Chapel. My head was filled with blissful harmonies: "And all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." I looked skyward. The sun kissed my face. I felt snug and secure in the warm embrace of the day. No thing could be better than that. I continued through the open door of the Chapel. I was within its well-lit embracing space. A delicious ripple coursed through my veins:

"….and all manner of thing shall be well,/ By the purification of the motive / In the ground of our beseeching."

The words came out of the space beyond. I stared in requited wonder.

I smiled in return. The words of that stern Anglo-Catholic T.S. Eliot that I had re-read last week bubbled up in my mind:

"The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility:

Humility is endless."

I sat on the chapel bench and closed my eyes. For the moment I was in a safe haven. The afternoon warmth of the walls of the sanctuary touched my skin. I felt safe. I felt secure. Nothing could be better than that. I had been delivered from evil. Deliverance. Serenity. Humility.

Praise God.



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© 2001 Trout &
Richard Nightingale