Sam was born a Catholic. He knew his catechism, attended mass without fail- even when he had fallen and needed a steel plate in his head. That week he had attended with only a bandage between the outside world and his exposed brain. His friends, of which there were many would often joke as he sipped his Coca-Cola throughout the lads night out, that cut him open and the word Catholic would run through him like a stick of Dublin Rock.
Yet he had a secret. One that he had dared not tell a living soul, which is an ironic phrase to use, as he did not believe in a soul or in indeed the afterlife. If you caught him on a good day he would tell you he believed a wise man called Jesus was once crucified in Jerusalem but he would not go so far as to state that man was in any way the Son of God.
In fact, despite desperate pleadings and nights spent in fervent prayer, he would struggle to even confirm that he held any belief in any form of deity.
Sam, before you assert him to be hypocrite, knew his problem. Admittedly he did not go around broadcasting it, but that does not make his dilemma any less sincere; and it was simple. He wanted, often so desperately it hurt, to believe. He just couldn’t find that faith that seemed to imbue so many of his friends.
So it was with some shock that he first realised that it didn’t matter. In fact none of it mattered. It was a discovery made at the doctors. He was in for a follow up scan- to check that his head injury had successfully healed. As he was lying in the scanning tube, he heard a hum deep inside of him.
Perhaps the word hum was not quite right. More of an audible tingle.
As he lay there he found himself wondering what it was all about- nights spent at bible study, at prayer meetings, at youth groups. And he noticed that the tingle seemed to cry out- it doesn’t!
It wasn’t until the doctor gave him the news that it made sense.
“There is a shadow in the scan. A lump. You mustn’t worry yourself but we will have to keep a close eye on it and maybe do some tests.” the doctor had said. He hadn’t even looked up from the images before him but the worry was written all over on his face.
That night he realised that it could all be over tomorrow. If there was a God, and right now it didn’t feel like there was, then he clearly didn’t care about what was happening to him.
He lay there that night in his room. Feeling the tingle- although maybe hum was more of the right word now- maybe his initial instinct had been correct. He felt a hole deep inside of him open up and a rush of icy wind sweep through his torso. He pulled his covers close round him and felt the warm salty tears begin to trace down his cheeks. It struck him as funny, in a macabre sort of way, that they may never know what it is like to carry a beard.
He closed his eyes and saw, in the corner of his mind a glow. White hot, like the sun. He opened them and looked around the room. There was only darkness. No-one there- no light. Just himself, alone in his bed.
He wished his parents were there- someone he could talk to, if they would understand. But he knew they were at mass.
“Futile.” he thought. Suddenly the full impact of the word struck him. He began to feel himself sweat and the room spun. He thought he was going to vomit and rushed to the washbasin in the corner of his room. The hum grew louder. He wanted to shout above it to someone, anyone. But instead clutched at the basin. Trying to steady himself against the onslaught of cold scientific reality.
It was then that he happened to glance in the mirror. At first he thought it was a trick of the light. But then he began to see- deep inside him a glow. It lit the corners of his eyes, it was there in his brow. A light deep inside, deep in the centre of his head. At the heart of the hum.
He stared in disbelief, questions turning over in his brain. It was then that he vomited.
The next thing he knew it was morning. He lay watching the light fingers of dawn scratch his windowsill beneath his curtains. He didn’t know how long he had been awake, only that there was comfort in those fingers. A new day. A new beginning. New opportunities. There was only a slight buzz in his head. Nothing a Paracetamol could not cure. And it was obvious the whole incident had been a nightmare, brought on by the worry of what the doctor had said to him.
He rose quietly and dressed himself for school. He could not let this challenge him. He had been through rough times, worse than this. He had to be strong.
He felt the old desires rush back, rushing over him in waves. The desire to have something certain in his life. To know for sure.
He didn’t look in the mirror that morning- not even to brush his hair. He just couldn’t.
But he couldn’t escape the glow. He began seeing it in everyone. Mr Booker, his chemistry teacher, Miss Prior, English teacher. Even Mr Evans his mathematics teacher- the one who hated everyone equally and never gave a merit no matter how hard you worked. It was there. And each time he saw it, each time he passed by, he felt his head surge as if it were a magnet- reaching out…
It made him dizzy.
“Are you feeling ok, Sam?” Christine asked him.
He didn’t even realise she knew his name. On another day he would have felt warmth- after all she was incredibly pretty and ‘out of his league’. Today his head just surged. He saw the light in her glow brighter and the pull was almost irresistible. He broke away, rushed to the waste paper bin and vomited.
“Nice work, Sam!” he thought.
When he came to, he was surrounded by shadows. They milled around him like ants on a heap- each doing…something. He tried to make out their faces but he could not see past the glow that seemed to emanate from inside each of them.
The glow inside of him sang now. He felt it resonate with a tune he had heard somewhere before but could not place. It was a chorus so complex and yet so simple that he felt his mind fit to burst. He asked his mind if this was ‘the Numinous’ but his mind would not, or could not, answer.
It grew inside of him, grew till it was no longer inside his head. His fingers tingled and he could not feel. It was a numbness borne out of a sensory overload. His head danced. The throb had become a melody of sounds and colours. If he tried to pick out anything it was became an infinite rainbow of colour. He tried to speak but sounds came out in vivid streams of purples and greens: so purple, so green that they faded into a brilliant white. He could smell the honeysuckle outside of the room- it was the colour of a Mozart piano concerto. It danced paint all over a canvas in his mind- till the canvas turned a brilliant white. It shone.
He heard the voices fuss around him. His mother was crying he reached out to comfort her but she receded into the orchestral lights that surrounded him. A hand brushed his shoulder sending a chord of vibrant purple through his entire body. He turned his head to see who it was but saw only the bright light at the centre of the shadows mind. He fought the urge to panic but realised with a certainty that he could not fathom, that there was no panic. Only a calm the colour of violets.
The lights grew and he saw within the white, swirling flecks of deepest blue and time rushing backward in a dizzying whirl. He could only wonder at the magnificence of it all.
Then from the centre of the light he heard a voice- calm and commanding. It spoke with the gravity of all knowledge. It spoke in hues so clear that he could not colour them.
“Let there be light.”
For a second there was a light so intense that he felt sure it would consume him and then it rushed to a single source. He felt his mind pull against him and the hum inside his head pulled and detach itself. It was as if it was returning to somewhere it had been before. Spinning in front of him was a source so bright, so powerful that he knew- the first time it could be only one thing- the face of God.
And then it exploded- in a cataclysmic shower of fireworks spinning outward. He was sure he would be burned. But the fingers of fire touched him and he felt only warmth and security as they buried themselves inside of him and inside each of the shadows that surrounded him. Deep inside they burned, like embers. Shrapnel of a Deity so powerful…
He wanted to scream out that it was okay. But it was all he could to lie there. And then it was all gone. Somewhere far away he heard his name called. He wanted to reassure the voice that he was there but he felt himself lifting, drawn by the light that rose as the fire in the shadows dimmed.
The certainty he had longed for, prayed for, would have given everything for what was there now. He had seen the face of God and it was mighty. He closed his eyes and felt comforting arms enfold him.
And he knew it would all be okay.