And The Salem Chorus
The exorcism of Father Jonathan began in the first week of April and
ended only in the second week of May. Totally unforeseen by David,
the exorcism of Jonathan proved to be relatively easy. It was David
himself who was in jeopardy. His sanity, his religious belief, and
his bodily life were in maximum danger. But thanks to David’s
sufferings, we can form a better idea of the mechanics of
possession-at least of one type of possession: how it starts, how it
progresses, and where, in the final analysis, the free choice of the
possessed comes into play.
While the exorcism of Jonathan was recorded on tape, for the details
of David’s four-week marathon struggle with himself we have to rely
on the diary he kept so punctiliously during that time, together
with what he told others of his experience, and my own conversations
When David and Jonathan left the marriage party on Massepiq beach,
David drove directly to the seminary, where Jonathan and he stayed
until the beginning of the exorcism.
As they drove, Jonathan had one persistent question for David: what
was the importance of starting before the sun was high in the sky?
David was frank: he did not know exactly; he might never know; but,
with only his instincts to go on, David was certain that the light
of the noonday sun had somehow become for Jonathan a vehicle for an
evil influence. “For you, Jonathan, it has become contaminated,”
David said tersely.
Jonathan wept at the implication of David’s words. The light and
warmth of the sun itself, the most beautiful things in Jonathan’s
world, had become evil for him. Still, following David’s
instructions, Jonathan kept the blinds drawn in his room at the
seminary. He went outside to take fresh air only in the evening and
at night. He avoided the high noonday sun.
The pre-exorcism preparations to which Father David had become
accustomed in his work as an exorcist in the diocese were completed
by the end of March. Some of these steps-medical checkup,
examination by psychologists, family background-had been taken
during Jonathan’s spectacular seizure the previous autumn. With
cursory additions, the preparations were completed. It remained to
choose a place, fix a day, and appoint assistants.
David had an inner conviction that there would be little physical
violence but much mental stress and a deep strain on his own spirit.
He therefore asked a young psychiatrist friend and a middle-aged
medical doctor to be his assistants. He had the services of his
young priest assistant, Father Thomas, who was to succeed him in
June as diocesan exorcist.
The choice of the place of exorcism presented a problem. David
favored the seminary oratory or a room in a remote wing of the
seminary. Jonathan pleaded for the exorcism to take place in his
mother’s house, where he had been born and reared. All his
associations, his beginnings, and his high hopes dwelt in that house
that his father had designed and built himself. Besides, it stood in
its own plot of land and enjoyed a privacy unavailable at the
The bishop, ever calm, decided for them. “Whatever must come out,
had better come out privately and discreetly. I don’t want half my
young seminarians getting nervous and running off half-cocked,” he
said to David. He added something which David had not expected from
this worldly man whose chief claim to fame was his financial
wizardry: “No superstition, mind you, Father David”-this with an
arching of the eyebrows-“but his rather built the house and raised
his family there. He also has an interest in the whole matter. His
ties are to it, surely.”
David reflected on the bishop’s last remark; it bore out what he had
surmised in other possession cases: there was an intimate connection
between definite locales and the exorcism of evil spirits.
They all agreed that Jonathan should remain at the seminary under
surveillance by David and his young assistant priest until the eve
of April 1, the day chosen for the exorcism. As that day approached,
Jonathan became more and more listless, ate little, and relied more
heavily on sleeping pills in order to secure a good night’s rest.
At 10:00 P.M. on March 31, David drove him to his mother’s house.
They were joined
there that night by the assistants-a precaution David took, again by
instinct. At 4:00
A.M. the following morning, awakened by some noise, they found
dressed and searching in the drawers of the kitchen closet. Whether
he was looking
for a knife to use on himself or others, or whether-as he said-he
was preparing some
food, David could never be sure. Anyway, since all were awake, David
asked Jonathan’s mother to make some breakfast. By 6:00 A.M. they
were ready to begin.
The arrangements were simple. The room had been cleared of
furniture. Its terrazzo floor was bare of any carpet or rug. The
window shutters were closed. Jonathan preferred to take a kneeling
position, face sunk in his hands, at the small table on which David
had placed his crucifix, the holy-water flask, the two candles, and
the ritual book. The tape recorder was placed by the window. David
wore cassock, surplice, and stole. He made no solemn entry. Standing
at the opposite side of the table to Jonathan, his assistants
gathered around them both, he got down right away to the business in
hand. He recited the opening prayer, put down his book, looked
straight at Jonathan, and spoke.
“Jonathan, before we go any further, I want to ask that you, in
front of these witnesses, state quite clearly that you are here of
your own accord, and .that you wish me in the name of Jesus and with
the authority of his Church to exorcise whatever evil spirits may
possess you or hold any part of you, body and soul, in captivity.
Answer me.” David looked at Jonathan’s bowed head. He could not see
his face, only that golden hair, little strips of his forehead
between the long, artistic fingers, and Jonathan’s graceful hands
cupping his face.
“Jonathan, please answer us,” he said after a silence. David held
his breath in growing suspense.
“I consent to be here”-Jonathan’s voice was deep and melodious-
“wishing that whatever evil or error is present be exorcised.” David
x breathed easily again. But his uneasiness returned almost
as Jonathan added: “Evil is subtle. Injustice is ancient. All wrongs
must be righted. This is true Exorcism.”
“We are talking, Jonathan, precisely and only of Satan, the Prince
of Darkness, the Angel of Light,” David hastened to say with
severity. He noticed that Jonathan stirred a little, as if listening
intently. “We are proposing to discover that presence and to expel
it by the power of Jesus. Do you consent?”
A pause. Then when David was about to put his next question,
Jonathan started again. “Poor Jesus! Poor, poor Jesus! Served so
badly. Described so poorly. Disfigured so brashly. Poor Jesus! Poor,
David stopped abruptly. Jonathan’s voice was still bell-like and
silvery. David decided to take another tack.
“Now, Jonathan, by the power invested in me by the Church of Jesus,
and in the name of Jesus, I wish to put you a second question. Have
you knowingly, consciously, within your living memory, ever conceded
anything to, or agreed, or even trifled with the Evil One?”
Jonathan’s voice came back, musical and calm. “To do that to Jesus
would be a betrayal of myself, of my flock, of Jesus’ goodness, of
the world, of life itself, of our eternal peace . . .”
“Jonathan, I want an answer, an unequivocal answer to my question.
This is important.”
“On the contrary, Jesus has come to me, and I have become his
priest. Praise Jesus!
Praise the Lord of our world!”
David had to be satisfied with this answer, so he went on to the
“Then, Jonathan, we will repeat, first, the Credo, and then your
David hoped in this way to avoid the necessity of going through the
formal ritual of
Exorcism. After all, he reasoned, if Jonathan could answer thus far
satisfactorily, then the possession might just be a partial thing.
David took up the first phrases of the Credo. “I believe in God, the
Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” There he paused,
waiting for Jonathan. But Jonathan had seemingly started before he
had ended the phrases, and all that David could hear were the words
“the Earth.” He started the next phrase, “And in Jesus Christ,” but
broke off because Jonathan was still talking on.
“Two or three billion years ago, the Earth. Each one of us 50
trillion cells. 150 million in Caesar’s day. 3,600 million in our
day. 200 million tons of men, women, and children. Two trillion tons
of animal life ...”
“Jonathan, let’s get on with it . . .”
“All so that Jesus can emerge. Oh, beautiful Omega! Praise Jesus!
Praise the Lord of this world with which we are all, all 200 million
tons of us, are one.”
David stopped and looked hard at Jonathan. He still had his face
sunk in his hands and was still talking.
“Oh, what they’ve done to it. Jews and Christians. These
Judeo-Christians.” Jonathan’s voice now sank to a whisper of
disgust. “The pontiff of creation-that’s what they made every man
and woman.” Jonathan’s shoulders shook; he was sobbing.
Again as before, David felt a strangely welcoming agreement in
himself for each statement of Jonathan’s. Some hidden part of him he
had not known was saying again with insistence, “Yes! Yes!”
Jonathan’s voice took on a speed and haste of assertion. “And what
started as a pioneering weed, a trial species with toads and cock
robins, zooming upward to the Jesus Point, suddenly turned and made
the planet its playground, the stage of its jig-acting, its domain.”
The voice sank again to a whispered prayer. “Poor Jesus! Poor world!
Praise the Lord of the World for Light! Poor Jesus!”
The surge of agreement in David started to sour. What was it Father
G. had said? David’s memory started to spin and turn. Panic seized
him. He rummaged desperately through his recollections like a man
plowing through a pile of old papers in search of a sorely needed
document. He searched back to the beginning, back to the first
instructions bustly Father G. had ever given him. What was it?
Jonathan’s voice broke in on him.
“Father David, you are not with me. Please be with me!” It was
insistent. David glanced again at the graceful hands covering the
face and intertwined with the golden hair. Jonathan looked like an
angel of God clad in light, doing penance on his knees for the sins
of men. David wanted to say to him: “Yes! Jonathan, don’t fear! I am
with you! Yes!” The words rose to his lips like a drink offered. But
a quick wave of uneasiness hit him again; and again that question
came back like a boomerang: What did Father G. warn him against?
What had he said? What was it? Jonathan’s voice broke in again.
“Father G. is past and gone.” David was shocked by Jonathan’s
reading of his own inmost thoughts. “Back to the womb of all of us.
Let the dead bury the dead, Father David. You and I. We live. Let us
walk in the light, while we have it.”
Jonathan talked on now, intermingling Scripture with his words.
David turned away
as if warding off some influence coming at him from Jonathan; and
his mind reeled as
he tried to regain his lost ground. He looked up at the ceiling. He
felt at bay: there was
only Jonathan and himself, and between them a strange ether, an
invisible corridor of
communication. And, all the while, his memory was still groping and
overtime, looking for a firm hold for his mind and will. Ah! At
last! That’s what
Father G. had said: “The Angel of Light.” That’s what he wanted to
Angel of Light.” And Father G. had warned him, too: “Your great
danger, David, is that you think too much. Too much of the old
cerebellum in you. Listen to your heart. The Lord speaks to your
A strong feeling of relief passed over David. A space was being
opened up inside him-free, untrammeled, easy, roomy, fresh, private
-untouched by that coiling dark pathway of communication between him
Then a sharp word-his own name pronounced like the snapping of a
horsewhip-hit his ears.
“David! David!” It was Jonathan. This time the voice had an
admonitory note, the tone used by a master or a superior. The roles
were curiously reversed.
David heard his young assistant priest whispering in his ear:
“David, he’s shaking. Do you think he’s all right? The doctor is
afraid . . .” David motioned to him, and looked at Jonathan again
closely. Jonathan’s face was still hidden in his hands, but he
seemed to David and the assistants to be racked with sobs and
David decided to try another approach. He had to get a toehold.
Somehow he had to get Jonathan to resist the evil spirit possessing
him; he had to force that spirit out into the open. And he had to
keep control of himself in order to do that.
In retrospect, given David’s nature, his action was almost
inevitable. And given the reality of his situation as distinct from
that of Jonathan, what followed was both inevitable and necessary.
He drew near Jonathan. Commiseration and compassion were uppermost
in his mind.
He put a hand lightly on Jonathan’s shoulder and spoke.
“Jonathan, my friend. Don’t give in to sorrow. I will never leave
off or abandon my efforts. I will not desert you now until . . .”
“I know you won’t . . .” Jonathan’s voice seemed to be forced out
between the violent contraction of his chest and throat. “I know you
won’t because”-Jonathan paused and drew a deep breath-“my brother,
you can’t. You can’t.” It was a dreadful rasp, a curious hiss that
reached like a hand inside David’s mind. David started to withdraw
his hand; and as he did, he felt strange impulses in his mind: a
fierce persuasion beat at him that he and Jonathan were the only
sane people in that room. The others, his young colleague, the
doctor, the psychiatrist, were mannequins, plastic models of
reality, picaresque heroes in a cosmic joke. Only Jonathan and
himself. Only Jonathan and David.
“You’ve got it, David!” whispered Jonathan. A rasp. A hiss.
Who was in control?
“Got what?” David hardly had the words out of his mouth when he felt
some understanding beyond words, some common current of thought, as
if David and Jonathan were sharing a common brain or some higher
intuitive faculty that dispensed with the need for word of mouth.
“Got what?” David said it over and over again. It was a sort of cry,
a protest against deception. For in those moments it all became
clear to him. He knew for the first time: he himself was being
slowly pervaded by the same spirit of evil which held Jonathan; and
he understood Jonathan knew that also.
Jonathan lifted his face suddenly and looked at David. His right
hand, with the crooked index finger, came down tightly on David’s
hand as it rested on his own shoulder. David was like a man who saw
a ghost: suddenly pale, shrunken, staring eyes, tight-lipped, short
of breath, sweating profusely. For the face he saw on Jonathan was
wreathed and twisted, not by sorrow or tears of pain, but in smiles
and merriment. He had not been racked with sobs but with suppressed
laughter. And that laughter now broke from his lips with a gust of
relief. He shouted into David’s face.
“You’re the same as me, David! Father David!” David’s young
assistant, Thomas, drew near to David. The doctor and the
psychiatrist fell back, overcome by surprise, looking incredulously
from David to Jonathan and back to David. David shrugged off the
offer of help from Father Thomas.
“You have adopted the Lord of Light, like I have, you old fool!”
shrieked Jonathan between his cackling laughter. He loosened his
grip on David’s hand and rose to his feet. “Physician, cure
Jonathan roared in amusement. His laughter filled the little room;
he doubled over in merriment, slapping his knee, tears running down
his face. “Ha-ha! David, you’re a joke. You’re a soul-fellow of
mine. You don’t believe one goddamn lousy thing of that childish
hocus-pocus.” Each word hit David like a physical blow. “Hoc est
corpus meum! You’re as liberated as I am, man. You belong to the New
Being and the New Time.”
Suddenly Jonathan quieted down. “And you were trying to exorcise
me?” The contempt that replaced the laughter was enormous. He leaned
forward, thrusting his face close to David’s. In a slow, deliberate
tone, emphasizing every word: “Get out of here, you puny weakling!
Get out of here with these scarecrows you brought with you. Go bind
up your wounds. Go find if your sugary Jesus will cure you. G-e-t
o-u-t!” The last two words were two slowly delivered, heavily loaded
syllables of contempt and dismissal.
David was now like a man trying to stand up after a heavy physical
blow. “Come, Father David,” the younger priest said quietly but
urgently, as he took in the look of superiority and command in
Jonathan’s face. “Let’s go, David,” said the doctor.
David turned for an instant and looked at Jonathan. The others saw
no fear on David’s face, only puzzlement and pain. Their look
followed David’s. There stood Jonathan watching their retreat. His
whole appearance had changed. His head was uplifted. He was standing
tall and erect. His golden hair fell around his shoulders like a
halo catching the winking light of the candles. His blue eyes were
shining with hazy light. His right hand was raised in such a way
that his stiffened index finger was laid across his throat. His left
hand hung by his side.
“Go in darkness, you fool!” Jonathan screamed in a high falsetto.
His right hand descended in a vicious gesture and swept the
candlesticks off the table onto the floor. The candles went out and
the room was in semidarkness. The young priest had the door open.
All four men moved out quickly. “In darkness! Fools!” Jonathan’s
voice pursued them. As they emerged, they suddenly realized that the
temperature of the day was already hot; inside, in the room, they
had been cold.
David literally stumbled into the lighted hallway and leaned against
the wall. Beside the hatrack, Jonathan’s mother was sitting in a
straight-backed ornamental chair. Her hands held a rosary on her
lap. Her head, eyes closed, was bowed. After a few moments, she
raised her head and, without looking around at David, she spoke in a
quiet voice full of resigned sorrow.
“He’s right. My son. The devil’s slave. He is right, Father David.
You need cleansing. God help you.” Then, as if she sensed some
apprehension in David and the others for her sanity or her faith,
she added: “I am his mother. No harm can come to me.” It was an
instinctual thing she said, but David was certain she was correct.
David stumbled past her. Nobody looked at her. His companions eased
David into a car and drove him to the seminary. Once in his room, he
sat wearily with the young priest for about half an hour.
“What are we going to do, Father David?” Thomas finally asked. David
reply. He was now wholly occupied with himself and with the black
reality he had
discovered inside himself. He looked at the young priest and felt
strangely out of place. What had he in common with that fresh face,
the black cassock, the white round collar, and-above all-that look
in the young priest’s eyes? What was that look, anyway? He screwed
up his eyes staring at Thomas. What was that look? Had he ever had
it himself? Was it all a joke? A mere charade or piece of imposed
childishness? Young priests must believe -like young children. Then
they grow up-as children do.
And then they stop having that look. Stop “believing”?
“You are surrounded by quotation marks, Thomas,” he said stupidly to
the younger priest. Then he lapsed into silence still staring at his
colleague. What in the hell was believing anyway? That inane look!
What was that look! As if all was sugar and spice and goo and
kindness and pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die and infantile trust. Why
was that look so open and wide-eyed?
“Stop looking like a fool!” David shot the words at Thomas. Then he
realized what he had done. “Sorry, Thomas,” he mumbled lamely,
seeing the young face pale. David began to cry in silence.
“Father David,” Thomas drew in a breath. “I have no experience. But
you need a rest.
Let me phone your family.” David nodded helplessly.
In the early afternoon David was driven up to Coos County, back to
his home on the farm. His parents were delighted to see him. They
now lived alone except for one sleep-in help and a gardener who
stayed at the farm.
That night David went to bed in the room he had occupied during his
childhood and youth. But some time after midnight he woke up covered
with perspiration and shaking like a leaf. He did not know why, but
a deep sense of foreboding filled his mind. He got up, went down to
the kitchen, and heated some milk. As he returned to his room, he
stopped at the door of Old Edward’s room. He stood there for a
moment, sipping the milk and thinking in a vague, undirected way. As
he describes it now, his mind was still clearing, like a jumbled TV
picture slowly coming into focus. Then, with nothing particular in
mind, but only by some blind impulse, he opened the door of the
room, reached for the light switch, and stepped inside.
The room was much the same as it had been the evening of Edward’s
death, except for one change: a large photograph of Edward, taken a
few months before he had passed away, hung over the mantelpiece. It
looked down at David. He sat for about an hour in that room. Then,
under the same blind impulse, still unhurriedly, he went to his own
room, transferred his bedclothes and personal effects to Edward’s
room, and then went to sleep there.
David stayed almost four weeks on the farm. In the beginning, he
went out every day for long walks and to do some manual work on the
farm. Sometimes he passed by the copse at the west end of the house,
but never entered it. He would stand a while ruminating and then go
on his way. He looked up some old friends, and spent a good part of
the evenings with his parents.
Toward the end of the first week, this loose and varied schedule
changed. He began to spend most of the day and night in his room,
coming out for his meals, rarely going outside the house. Then about
the third week, he did not emerge at all except to use the bathroom.
He did not open the shutters in his room. He ate sparingly, and
toward the end lived on milk and biscuits and some dried fruit which
his mother left on a tray outside the door of his room.
From the beginning of his stay he had warned his parents not to be
alarmed by his
living habits. On his first day there, he had gone to see Father
Joseph, the local priest,
whom he had taught in the seminary. During the last ten days of
David’s stay at the farm, that priest was the only human being who
visited and spoke with David.
David kept a minutely detailed diary during those four weeks; and,
except for certain moments when he lost control of himself (of those
moments he has no clear recollection), there is a more or less
continuous chronology of events-the inner experience David went
through and the external phenomena that marked this crucial period.
During all this time, down in Manchester, Jonathan lived at home
with his mother.
Comparison of how David and Jonathan spent specific days and hours
during those weeks has been difficult to achieve, but there is clear
indication that certain states through which David passed
coincided-sometimes to the hour-with strange moments and behavior in
Jonathan’s life. Our chief intent, however, is to trace David’s
experience, for, in the technical language of theology, Father David
M. was deprived of all conscious belief. His religious faith was
tested in an assault which nearly succeeded in robbing him of it
all. Mentally and emotionally, he found himself in the state of one
without any religious belief whatever. To this extent, David, who
still felt that his vocation as priest was valid, had handed over
his mind and emotions to some form of possession.
There would have been no struggle, much less any agony, if David’s
will had not remained stubbornly attached to his religious beliefs.
Inch by inch, figuratively speaking, he had to fight for survival of
his faith against a spirit to which he himself had granted entry and
which now made a bid to take him over completely. Consciously he had
been admitting ideas and persuasions for a long time. He had not
realized until now that all such motivating ideas and persuasions,
for all their guise of “objectivity,” had a moral dimension and a
relation to spirit-good and evil. He had failed all along to realize
that nothing is morally neutral. With these ideas, persuasions, and
deficiencies as a most suitable vehicle, there had entered him some
spirit, alien to him, but now claiming full control over him.
During those four weeks on the Coos farm, David’s entire life as a
believer flashed by him continually and ever more intensely like
photographs being flipped with the thumb-childhood, schooldays,
seminary training, ordination, doctoral studies, anthropology trips,
lectures, what he had written in articles and books, the
conversations he had held, constantly changing panels. When he
reached the end, they began all over again.
Cameos. Little scenes. Faces long forgotten. Words and sentences
echoing back in half-complete fashion. Vivid memories. Each one with
an individual conclusion. The day he told Sister Antonio in the
convent school that Jesus could not possibly fit into the communion
wafer. David was eight years old. Sister had patted his head:
“David, be a good boy. We know what is right.” They had given him no
choice and no answer. No choice. No choice, rang the silent echo.
His interview with the bishop for acceptance into the seminary: “If
you become a priest, you are called to a perfection of spirit not
granted to the majority of Christians.” Spirit is not elitist. Not
elitist. Not elitist. Not elitist, went the echo.
The echoes rang through the hall of years in David’s brain, as the
“photographs” continued to flash before him.
He remembered the moment he became convinced that there were no
about Jesus written during Jesus’ own lifetime. In the four Gospels,
the Acts of the
Apostles, and the letters of Paul, there was only what men and women
thought they knew 30, 40, 60 years after Jesus’ death. Even if they
knew, how could David be sure that they knew? He was thinking and
what they thought and believed. “I have no records. It sounds like
delusion.” Delusion. Delusion. Delusion. The word was a hammer blow
in David’s whorl of memories.
Then another flash of memory, another change, another bit of evil.
Eleven years before, David had gone on a tour through the places
where Jesus had lived and died. Immediately afterward, he had
visited Rome and spent long days viewing its monuments, basilicas,
and treasures. He followed the ceremonies in St. Peter’s Basilica.
As he started home for America, one question dominated everything
What possible relationship could there be between Jesus’ obscure
life on that stark, poverty-stricken, barren land, and the panoply
and glory of papal Rome? Perhaps he understood only now, but he had
come to a covert conclusion on that home journey: there was no real
relationship. Now his memory kept on repeating with little bursts of
pain: no relationship, no relationship, no relationship.
Four years before, he had opened up an ancient tomb in northeastern
Turkey. Inside, he and the other archeologists had found a buried
chieftain surrounded by the bones of men and animals slaughtered for
his funeral. The bones, the weapons, the utensils, the dust, and the
pathos of it all had gripped him. These had been men like himself.
They had had no knowledge of Jesus. How could they be judged for not
knowing anything about Jesus and Christianity? Surely what David had
thought of Jesus was too small a concept? Surely the truth was
greater than any dogma? Than any concept of Jesus as man or as God,
or any form that Jesus took? It had to be so. Otherwise, there was
no sense in anything. Greater than Jesus. Greater than Jesus.
Greater than Jesus. Another jarring echo ringing in his memory.
There gradually emerged a fatal thread that stitched together all
the echoing resentments, all the complaints of reason, all the
arrogance of logic stripped to its own marrow. And the fabric of
faith slipped away unnoticed as this new cloth draped his mind and
soul. The thread was David’s acceptance of Teilhard de Chardin’s
theories. Accepting them, he could no longer tolerate the break
between the material nature of the world, on the one hand, and Jesus
as savior, on the other hand.
Materiality and divinity were one; the
material world together with man’s consciousness and will, both
emerging from sheer materiality as automatically as a hen from an
egg; and Jesus’ divinity emerging from his human being as naturally
as an oak tree from an acorn, as inevitably as water flowing
Jesus-so suddenly integral to the universe, so intimate with its
being, so totally physical-was different from what religious dogma
had said he was, greater than Christian belief had ever before
understood. Jesus, each man, each woman, all were brothers to the
boulders, sisters of the stars, “co-beings” with all animals and
plants. All understanding became easy. It all came down to the atom;
and it all came up from the atom as well. Everything fell into
So much for Teilhard, David thought bitterly.
With an anguish he could not assuage, David realized the
consequences of all this only now in the lonely struggle and painful
vigil for his soul. Any real reverence and awe had evaporated from
his religious mentality. For the world around him he had only a
sense of joyous kinship-mingled with a certain foreboding. For
Jesus, only a satisfying feeling of triumph, just as for any ancient
and beloved hero. For the Mass, an indulgent feeling akin to what he
experienced when observing commemorative services on any July
Fourth. The Crucifixion and the death of Jesus were glorious events
in the past, ancient demonstrations of heroic love, not an
ever-present source of personal forgiveness and not an unshakable
hope for any future.
Isolated with his thoughts and memories, David’s question for
himself was not where or how things had gone wrong, but how to
retrieve his strength in faith. As the years passed continually by
his view like so many panels from right to left, David seemed to be
close up to them, scrutinizing each detail.
As the days passed, those panels in the panorama moved faster and
faster, on and on, repeating over and over. He could still read the
details. Each phrase sounded and receded as its corresponding panel
came and went. No choice. Not elitist. Delusion. No relationship.
Greater than Jesus. Brothers to the boulders.
Sometime after midnight at the beginning of the third week at the
Coos farm, David seemed suddenly to be drawing away from his
close-up scrutiny of the changing panels, or they were withdrawing
from him, receding into some background darkness he had not noticed
before. He realized he had not been looking at panels passing
horizontally in front of him from right to left. He had been close
to a revolving sphere that was now drawing away from him. Distancing
itself from him and still revolving, it depicted all the phases of
his life continuously and without interruption around the smooth
convex surface of that brightly lit ball.
From its dreamy depths came the sounds of all his yesteryears-
words, voices, languages, music, crying, laughing. The sphere had a
mesmeric quality of a carousel giving off a creamy light. David
seemed to be looking at himself out there.
Yet a tiny voice kept whispering within him: Why me? Why am I
attacked? Why me? Where is Jesus? What is Jesus? And all around that
revolving sphere lay the unfathomable velvet of a night he had never
Staring at the sphere, he knew that in some mysterious way he was
staring at the self he had become. Of the room around him, the feel
of the chair in which he sat, the rub of his clothes against his
skin, of such things finally he was not even indirectly conscious.
Now, without either pause or abruptness, the light from that
revolving sphere started to grow dim. More and more of the blackness
around it started to patch its panels with shadows, crow’s-feet of
obscurity, little running lines of invisibility. The self he had
been and known was being volatilized into blackness. David felt
panic, but seemed to be incapable of doing anything about what was
happening to him.
Then he had the feeling that he was no longer looking out or up or
at anything, but that he now was out there hanging in that
blackness. Feeding his helplessness and panic was the conviction
that he was the cause of this black void and that he needed it.
Otherwise, it seemed to him, he would drop into nothingness.
Then finally, all he had ever been or known of himself had
disappeared. The self to which he was now reduced hung by an
invisible thread-but only as long as he could maintain that
blackness. David’s panic was marinated in a tide of sullenness
rising in him, sullenness at being deprived of light, of salvation,
of grace, of beauty, of motives for holiness, of knowledge about
physical symmetry, and all perception of God’s eternity. His
reaction to this sullenness: Why me? He was waiting, expecting,
almost listening. Hours. Days. His waiting became so intense, so
oppressive that he gradually realized he was not waiting of his own
volition. The waiting was being evoked from him by someone or
something outside him. Yet each time he tried to figure out or
imagine who or what was evoking the waiting, his very effort at
imagining clouded everything over. The only thing he could do was
wait, be made to wait, to expect.
And there set in on him a sadness he could not dispel. He no longer
confidence in himself or in anything he knew. For all seemed to be
reduced to a
situation without circumstances, a pattern without a background, a
with emptiness through which rushed gusts of an alien influence he
repel nor control. He was helpless. And eventually he would fall
asleep, awakening only with the light of day streaming in through
the bay window.
In the morning he would know it was all real: he was isolated from
all he had ever made his own and from all he had ever been. And he
had to wait. But, obscurely and earnestly, he realized that whatever
it was he awaited, could come to him only under these conditions.
A conversation David had with Father Joseph at the end of the third
week reveals the crux of David’s struggle and his state of mind
toward the last phase of his four-week test. It was Father Joseph’s
third visit. Each time, he had questioned David about the experience
he was undergoing, and each time he himself had left the house
overwhelmed by a sorrow and inner pain which he found intolerable.
And David had warned him: “Don’t delve very deeply, Father. You can
only get hurt.
And come to see me in the mornings. In the afternoon I doze a
little. Evenings and nights are too much for anybody but me.”
This time, stepping into David’s room from the sunlit corridor
outside, Father Joseph took a moment to get used to the
semidarkness. Little lines of sunlight ran around the edges of the
shutters. In the far corner beside the fireplace, he saw David
sitting at a small table, hunched over a page of writing. A single
candle stood on the table; it was all the light David allowed
David stood up and pointed Joseph to an armchair when the priest
entered. “Have a
seat, Father.” Their eyes did not meet while he
David had not shaved for a couple of days. He was gaunt and
hollow-cheeked. There was very little color in his face. But it was
the immobility of his features that first struck his visitor. His
cheeks, forehead, nose, chin, and neck seemed to be frozen into
motionless-ness, as if too much inner determination and too much
constant resistance had resulted in a total hardening of his
appearance, a setting of his face into an expressionless shape.
His eyes particularly held Father Joseph. They seemed to have grown
larger, the lids, heavier, the whites, whiter, the pupils, darker
than they had been. Obviously David had been crying a good deal. But
at this moment his eyes were clear, steady in gaze, remote in look.
There was no hint of a smile or of any pleasant emotion, but neither
was there any unpleasantness. Nor fear. Nor pain. Nor were David’s
eyes blank. They had an expression; but that expression was totally
unknown to Joseph. He had never seen it before in anybody’s eyes.
And he was at a loss to explain it or describe it. He was looking at
the eyes of someone who had seen things of which he could have no
He knew better than to indulge in pleasantries, even to ask David
how he was. They both sat there in silence, both understanding what
was in the other’s mind.
From outside, some isolated sounds penetrated faintly into the room,
a truck passing on the road, the twittering of some birds, a dog
barking on a distant farm.
“I don’t think the real attack has come yet, Father Joe,” David said
slowly to his visitor, in whose mind this was, in fact, the
uppermost question. Then he added as if to answer a query: “Yes, I
will know, because the others will come at the same time.”
They both waited. David’s visitor knew from previous conversations
who “the others” were. David was convinced that his release from
this trial could only come through the spirits of Salem Old Edward
had mentioned on his deathbed. But somehow or other Old Edward was
now associated in David’s mind with those spirits.
Then David said: “It’s been bad but bearable up to this.” Father
Joseph shot a discreet look at David: his eyes were hooded as he
gazed down at the table. Joseph looked away in an embarrassment he
himself could not understand. David’s voice was deep, very deep, and
every word came out as if a special effort was needed to form it.
“No,” David went on, answering another unspoken query of Joseph’s.
“There is nothing you can do. Must fight it alone. Pray. That’s all.
Pray. A lot. Pray for me.”
There was another long silence. By now, Joseph knew that the silence
between them was chockful of a conversation he could not pin down.
He could not make out how it progressed or what it concerned
exactly. Joseph was a simple man without any subtle ideas and with
no complexities in spirit. His heart and instincts had not been
smothered in any pseudointellectualism. He did realize that it was a
conversation so subtle and intimate that it flew high above all
words, in fact did not need words. It passed between them in another
medium. But Joseph warily refused even to visualize that medium. He
felt that too near an acquaintance with it would mean he would never
be able to talk with words again. Words were beginning to be crude,
vulgar lumps of sound, insensitive, uncouth, meaningless. David and
Joseph were both walking at that moment beyond the thin edge
dividing language from meaning, and meaning was now a cloud
enveloping them both.
Father Joseph waited until he felt from David that he should leave.
Then he started to rise unhurriedly. David said: “Say a Mass for
them. They need prayers. I failed them. Now I need them, their help,
and their forgiveness.” Joseph looked at him questioningly, then
stopped the words rushing to his lips. Joseph now believed that
David had already been “visited.”
For the next week, his fourth at the farm, David’s days and the
greater portion of his nights were spent on the chair by the bay
window. For the last day or so before the final struggle, a curious
silence had fallen over him. It was not ominous or fear-filling. But
it was so profound and so devoid of any movement in his thoughts,
emotions, and memories that the doubt and uncertainty it provoked in
him took on proportions of agonizing anticipation.
Yet no amount of anticipation quite conveyed the anguished reality
of his “visitors” and their “visit.”
The first hint of their presence came about eleven o’clock one
night. All that day a storm had raged around the farm. The storm had
prevented Father Joseph from making his promised weekly visit. David
had spent the time contemplating the sheeting rain and the lightning
flashes from his window. Then, except for a distant rumble of
thunder and an occasional, sudden, whipping shower, the storm was
David sensed the cloak of exhaustion that always fell quietly on the
countryside after it had been thrashed and seared and smothered by
wind, lightning, thunder, and rain. Usually the land shook off that
cloak quickly and resumed its habitual night stance as a repository
of energies hatching, breathing, coiling, exercising, pulsating,
self-renewing, waiting for the sun and the light of the new day.
He waited for the inevitable rustling and quickening in the fields
outside the house. But tonight the silence of exhaustion seemed to
prolong itself. A commanding hand had stopped the course of nature
in order to make way for special visitors. And, in David’s
consciousness, all these changes resided as mere overtones to his
The most acute and self-aware point in his being was still a pulse
of expectancy, of waiting that grew deeper and deeper with the
prolonged silence over the land. Once more David seemed to hang over
that pitch-black void. Waiting seemed once more to be his very
essence, the only reason for his continued existence. “As long as I
can wait . . .” was his mood. Waiting, straining, to hear, to see.
After perhaps an hour, he knew that somewhere near him there was a
At first, when he heard it, his attention did not pick it up. It was
so faint, it might have been the sound and feel of the blood pumping
in his own ears. But after a few seconds, he began to distinguish
it. His body stiffened as the sound grew ever so slightly louder.
He could not identify the sound. Within him, yet in some way
connected with the faint sound, little wisps of memory touched his
consciousness briefly, tantalizing him as they skipped by, leaving
him all the tenser. He seemed to remember. Little splinks, jagged
fragments of shattered mirrors reflecting some shadow life; but he
could not make out exactly what was being recalled to him.
He realized that the act of trying to remember was itself a blockage
to remembering, the act of thinking a hindrance to knowing. At one
point, the sound died away completely. He was suddenly alone. And he
found himself falling back on the chair brusquely. He had been half
out of it, apparently, in his craning forward to listen. His palms
and forehead were wet. And his yearning to know seemed infinitely
Then the sound started again. David realized now it was coming from
no particular direction. Not from outside the house. Not from inside
it. Nor could he say it was coming from all directions at once. He
felt foolishly that in some way or other it was a permanent sound
that had always been there around him. He always had heard it. But
he had never listened to it, or ever allowed himself even to
acknowledge that he heard it.
He turned his head right and left. He twisted around, listening to
the interior of the room. And with a sudden violence he understood
why the sound seemed to come from no direction. For the first time
in his life, he knew what it was to hear a sound registering in his
brain and mind without any of the normal exterior conditions of
hearing- no sound waves, no exterior source of sound, no function of
his eardrums. Beyond all doubts or caviling, he knew that it was
real sound which could not be heard with the external ear.
The physical strangeness of that new hearing had a mysterious warmth
of reality. It was more real than any other sound he could ever hear
in the physical world. It broke the silence of the night and his
vigil more penetratingly than if a gunshot had exploded outside the
window. Intensely pleasurable, because so secret. Deeply relieving,
because it dismissed the silence around him in a fashion so intimate
to him alone. Absorbing, because it came from no place, yet filled
all his inner hearing. But cowing, because in some transcendent way
it had no tenderness.
That sound was a whole revelation. He now understood that there was
a knowledge of material things and a way of having that knowledge-in
this case, of sounds-which did not come through his senses. His fear
and distrust battled with this realization whenever a stray
sound-the cry of a bird in the night, the hooting of an owl-struck
his hearing in the normal way. These new, fearful, wallowing sounds
seemed to belong to the very substance of audible things and his
hearing of them to be absolutely true hearing. The external sounds
of the night-even the occasional shuffle of his own feet on the
floor-seemed to belong to a fleeting world, artificial, not real at
all, but constructed merely by external stimuli and by his own
The babel of internal sounds was growing, and the “artificial” world
of his normal life appeared to be like a flimsy trellis with wide
gaps or a wall made of widely separated wires. A crude, blustering,
overwhelming new reality was rushing in through the holes.
With that, David began to understand vaguely what possession meant,
inrushing babel was in control of him. He could not eliminate it,
repel it, examine and
analyze it, decide he liked it or disliked it. It allowed him no
reflection or rejection, did not elicit acceptance, caused neither
pleasure nor pain, disgust nor delight. It was neutral. Because
neutral, it was baleful. And it began to shade his mind and will
with its own neutrality of taste and judgment more wasting than an
Arctic wind. Whatever beauty, harmony, and meaning had been
associated in his memory with sound now began to wither. He felt
that withering keenly. He knew its dreadful implications.
“My God! Jesus!” he suddenly screamed to himself without sound. “My
God! If all my senses-sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch-are
invaded like that, I’d be possessed. I’d be possessed. Jesus! I’d be
He tried to say “Jesus” out loud, to cry out some prayer such as the
Hail Mary or the Our Father, some prayer he knew and had said a
couple of thousand times every year for the past 35 or 40 years. But
he heard no sound at all from his own lips. He was sure that he had
pronounced the words. But possession of his hearing was too far
The babel grew louder and louder by infinitesimal but relentless
degrees. The sound itself was without rhythm, David remembers. It
was a combination of thousands of little sounds, literally a babel
of sounds. It grew louder-approached him in that sense. The many
little sounds started to harmonize into two or three particular
syllables he could not rightly distinguish. The sounds grew greater,
but they coalesced at such a slow pace and with what seemed such
interminably long pauses between changes, that a new oppression
began to cramp his mind and body. It was his craning, waiting,
expecting, his anticipation-all stirred into pain by the hard stick
of fear inside him. Yet, within him, some strong, indomitable muscle
of soul held firm.
As the coalescing little voices took shape and rhythm, David began
to hear the beat of
those syllables louder and more distinctly. As the beating rhythm
took body, he found
his body swaying in unison, his feet beating on the floor, his hand
beating on his knee,
his head and shoulders jerking forward and backward. He still could
not make out
the syllables, but the rhythmic beating was animating every part of
his body. His own lips started to pick up a syllable now and then.
The voices grew louder still. Thousands of them. And more thousands.
Falteringly but with greater accuracy his lips searched out the
sounds and fell into unison with the voices that were grating out
those syllables louder and louder and louder. His tension grew. His
physical movements went faster and faster. The sound of the voices
was a roar in his inner hearing now. His own voice picked up the
Mister Natch . . . Mister Natch . . . Mister Natch . . . Mister
A whole army of voices was marching through his brain and soul,
shouting, grating, hitting, screeching that last syllable, Natch!
Natch! Natch! Natch!, until David felt he was going to turn into a
palpitating, jerking string of taut muscles and mad sound.
As the noise reached a crescendo, David had practically let go,
surrendered, was waiting for disintegration through sound. Then a
new and utterly different note echoed through the din. He stopped
slipping, surrendering. Some inner part of him that had not been
tainted now came alive.
The new sound was clear, somewhat like a bell, but he knew no metal
produced that sound; he knew its notes would not die when the hour
sounded and passed. It was a sound that sang rather than rang. It
echoed with a promise of permanence, sustained, continuous. It was a
living sound. And while it had the haunting beauty of tonal silver
speaking musically and without words through purest air, it also
came sheathed in that liquidity and warmth whose message is love
As David’s heart sprang up toward the new song, he began to abhor
all the more that loutish chant, Mister Natch! Mister Natch! Mister
Natch! But still he could not free himself from its violent,
seductive force. And so there formed a void, an abyss, an
unbridgeable chasm whose walls were made of sound, whose floor was
purest pain. One part of his mind became a bed of shaking,
blustering depression; and his will recoiled from it in spasms of
disgust. Another part of his mind was transfused with calm and
secure freedom full of repose, immune to any fleck of darkness.
“Between us and thee there is a great gulf fixed . . . they who
would pass over it, cannot.” Bits of fright shot like electricity
around ragtag phrases trailing in David’s memory.
And sound, always sound. Thumping, roaring, cantankerous, raucous,
reeling round him like coils that deafened him and smothered him.
And then, fresh and far, far above in some region of sunlight and
upland calm out of any possible reach, but reaching him nonetheless,
there was that other note, opposite, intimate, welling with
unimaginable sweetness that wet his face with tears of yearning.
At a certain point, all this immersion in sounding opposites and
echoing contradictions became both diversified and intensified. The
conflict for possession of his hearing was extended to his other
senses and to his inner pooling of senses. As the conflict increased
and seeped through him, the fonts of fear and desire, of repugnance
and attraction welled up until all his senses echoed his agony.
He fell on his knees, his forehead pressed against the cold glass of
the window, his hands locked in prayer, his eyes wide open and
staring out at the night but unseeing of other eyes that watched
from outside. For the next few interminable minutes, the hurricane
contention between good and evil always twisting violently through
our human landscape was funneled and focused on that kneeling figure
of David, and the conflict seized him totally.
Suddenly, at one moment, he was floating on an inland lake of
unruffled waters within delightful valleys carpeted in green woods
and peaceful lawns of wild flowers. Ahead lay an eastern sky, its
clear blue face bronzed by a rising sun. Then just as suddenly, he
was tossing frenetically on a mountain river rushing through a high
gorge into which no sunlight reached.
Nothing seemed to keep him
from drowning or being impaled and crushed on shark-toothed rocks
and ugly-headed crags. His body was carried through cascades and
rapids overhung and hemmed in by gigantic battlements of sheer
cliffs rent with narrow chasms and inhanging precipices. Throughout
this violence, he was pursued by the clomping of Mister Natch and
wooed by the lilting notes of that other music from far above.
Then again, without warning, all the confusing contrasts increased
in speed and variety. He was jammed into a quick-change theater
alternating between horror and relief, beauty and beastliness, life
and death. There was no sense, neither rhyme nor reason to it all.
Now he saw delicate-limbed, silk-clad bodies dancing on a green
platform and starching rhythms on the winds. Then, quick as a flash,
he was scrutinizing eviscerated corpses, open bellies with the guts
plopping and slobbering out on thighs and knees, bodies slit from
chin to chine, severed breasts, gobs of eyes and fingers and hair,
carpets of excrement. Now it was bunches of heavy, ripe fruit draped
between trees or entwined in Spanish moss on a great levee.
the kaleidoscope of insanity that was David’s world in those
excruciating moments, it was heavy canisters of urine pierced with
holes, spraying the gaping eyes and mouths of cadavers, thousands of
cadavers, men, women, children, fetuses, thrown higgledy-piggledy
over a stony plain.
As the bewildering, horrifying sets of images tumbled in front of
his eyes, he felt his
control ebbing. He was only sure of one thing: two forces were
possession of him, and he could not avoid the flooding of his
senses. He could not rid them either of the filth or the beauty. All
his life he had been able to control himself. Now control was gone.
The invasion continued.
The confusion reached his taste and sense of smell; it invaded every
sense and every nuance of his being that was fed by his senses.
Bitter and sweet, acrid and flowing, cesspool and perfume, sting and
caress, animal and human, edible and inedible, vomit and delicacy,
rough and smooth, subtle and pointed, shocking and wafting, dizzying
and calming, aching and pleasuring-the contrasts jangled every taste
bud and nerve in his mouth, throat, nose, and belly.
He reached the point of near-hysteria when his sense of touch was
attacked: every centimeter of his skin was being scraped with rough
scales and stroked with velvet, burned by hot points and pained ,by
icicles, then relaxed and massaged by gentle warmth and frictionless
The storm in his senses grew more and more intense according as each
of the contradictory sensations was pooled within him to make a
jigsaw mosaic of nonsense, confusion, aimlessness, helplessness.
Yet, even with all control lost, somehow his mind and will sought an
answer to the ultimate question: Why can’t I resist? What must I do
to repel this? What motivation can I use to expel it all? What do I
do? He realized clearly enough that his time was not up, that all
was not lost yet; that somewhere in him something must be healthy
and active still. For all the while he clung to one thing: the more
intense the distortion became and the tighter the grip exercised on
him, the more the sheer horror and pain paralyzed any initiative in
him-the more beautiful and winning became that song from above.
Its lovely sound was still at immeasurable distances and unreachable
heights. In some way he could not understand, however, it was near
him. He began to fight for the strength to hear it, to listen. It
was not monochrome or single-toned. It was a chant of many voices;
it harmonized some ineffable joy with sweeping clusters of chords
and congregations of soaring grace notes. Adagio, it was grave but
Resounding, it had a coolness clinging to it. At once it had all the
traits of love-its gentle teasing, its collusion and connivance, its
favoritism; and beating within it, there was a steady organ-like
pulsation that ran deeper than the heart of the universe and as high
as the eternal placidness men have always ascribed to unchanging
At one surprising moment in all the din and the pain, David’s heart
leaped. It was his only moment of relief and peace, and it came just
before the climax of his struggle. It was not so much a beguiling
lull that sometimes fools the priest in more ordinary exorcisms. It
was a song he somehow knew, sung by voices he somehow knew. And
although he could not recollect the song or who was singing it, he
knew he was not alone. “Jesus! I’m not alone,” he heard himself
muttering. “I’m not alone!”
He began to distinguish several voices in that gentle song. He knew
them! He knew them! He could not recognize them, but he knew them.
They were friends. Where? When? Who were they? He had known them for
years, he realized. But who were they? And as the new feeling
penetrated to his inner senses and clashed with his loneliness, a
wild seesawing emotion started to filter further and further into
his mind and will and imagination. He found himself babbling
incoherent phrases which were at first unintelligible even to
himself. The phrases seemed to come from some inner faculty he had
always used but never acknowledged, some source of knowledge that he
had neglected for all his years as an adult and a professional
“My Salem chorus . . . my loved ones ...” The phrases were squeezed
out of him by some force and strength of his own, his very own. “My
friends . . . Edward’s friends. . . . Come nearer. . . . Forgive me
. . .”
A tiny eddy of understanding began to form in him as he tapped the
memory of Old Edward’s last days and of the visit to Salem long
years ago. It was just in time. For in that moment there began what
proved to be the last phase of David’s trial.
Moments of terror gripped David immediately: suddenly he felt
everything, everything had been wrenched from his grasp and he could
not find in himself any conscious reason to reject the clamorous and
oppressive influence of Mister Natch. His mind again seemed to be a
mere receptacle. His will-the will he had always relied on
consciously for his discipline in study and his practical decisions-
seemed to be at bay again and unable to carry him to victory.
Terror deepened as his mind became more and more confused, and his
will was overcome and strapped down and immobilized by contradictory
and poisonously neutralizing motives. What poured into his mind and
filled his spirit was like venom.
A pell-mell mob of reasons squealed and screamed within him. Mister
Natch pulsed and rasped horribly: Hoc est corpus meum . . .
Hocus-pocus Jesus is, a crucified donkey. . . . Good and truth is
man’s highest goal. . . . How delightful and human to try the most
unhuman. . . . Jesus, Mary, and . . . Satan, devils can fuck, fuck,
fuck. ... I give you my heart and my . . . God will not allow evil.
. . . Good is as banal as bad, have both. . . . I desire the
salvation of the Cross . . . and I hope to taste the liberty of
blasphemy. . . . I love . . . I hate . . . I believe . . . I
disbelieve. . . . He created Jesus out of slime . . . and said this
my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. David’s will was numbed
with pain and exhaustion. All this while, his senses were attacked
and confused with the same jangling conflict, until in a land of
indescribable idiocy and confusion his touch, his smell, his hearing
all echoed: The good is too good to be true. . . . The evil is too
evil not to be true. . . . What is true?
Now, no solution, no escape, no alternative to the dilemma, no
determining factor, no deciding weight in the balance seemed
possible. Lost. All lost. All that David had studied, every highway
and byway of intellectual reasoning, psychological subtlety,
theological proof, philosophical logic, historical evidence-all
these became like so many objects, not parts of him, only mere
possessions and trash he had accumulated, now thrown into flames
that advanced across the threshold of his very being. Everything he
threw at those flames was seized, melted, dissipated, mere fuel,
unable to resist the burning.
Blackness had almost fully beclouded his mind when David became
aware that one thing still remained. Something that defied the
blackness and the clouding. Something that rose in him strongly,
independently every time that strange, insistent song dominated the
clamor wrapping him around. At first, he was merely aware of the
sound. Then he began to marvel at its strength, and not at its
loudness, for he could not always hear it, but at its persistence in
the middle of his pain and encroaching despair. He tried to reflect
on it and on the strength that rose in him like a responding chord,
but immediately he lost all awareness of it. And, immediately again,
the struggle set in, and his attention turned. And no sooner did he
hear the song again than that strange, autonomous strength within
him rose up. All at once he knew what that strength was. It was his
will. His autonomous will. He himself as a freely-choosing being.
With a sidelong glance of his mind, he dismissed once and for all
that fabric of mental
illusions about psychological motivations, behavioral stimulations,
mentalistic hedges, situational ethics, social loyalties, and
communal shibboleths. All
was dross and already eaten up and disintegrated in the flames of
this experience which might still consume him.
Only his will remained. Only his freedom of spirit to choose held
firm. Only the agony of free choice remained.
“My Salem chorus!” he heard himself say. “My friends! Pray for me.
Ask Jesus for me. Pray for me. I have to choose.”
Now a specific and peculiar agony beset David. He had never known it
before. Indeed, afterwards he wondered for a long time how many real
choices he had made freely in his life before that night. For it was
that agony of choosing freely-totally freely-that was now his. Just
for the sake of choosing. Without any outside stimuli. Without any
background in memory. Without any push from acquired tastes and
persuasions. Without any reason or cause or motive deciding his
choice. Without any gravamen from a desire to live or to die-for at
this moment he was indifferent to both. He was, in a sense, like the
donkey medieval philosophers had fantasized as helpless,
immobilized, and destined to starve because it stood equidistant
from two equivalent bales of hay and could not decide which one to
approach and eat. Totally free choice.
Mister Natch’s clomping rhythm now became the grotesque
accompaniment of an evil and sickening burlesque of distortion. A
satyr face and body loomed in David’s imagination-so real that he
saw it with his eyes. Naked. Obscenely sprawled. Bulbous. The nose
pointing in one askew direction. Two eyes squinting in opposite
directions. Mouth grinning, foaming, crooked. Throat gurgling insane
chuckles. Heavy female breasts blotched with warts, hanging nipples,
blood-red, and pointing like twin penises. Legs apart, streaked with
blood and sperm. One toe doubled back into the crotch scratching and
rubbing frenetically. Twisted, irregular fingers with broken nails
pulling at lumps of hair and gesturing crudely. Clots of caked
excrement around the buttocks.
David caught the odor of cowstalls and open-air privies. He
remembered the devil
figures of the Greeks and the Asmat. He felt the oldest pull
recorded in the history of
the human heart. He felt it as an
ancient seed of evil he had received from all who went before him,
not as a physical gift of terrible import but as a consequence of
his being born of their line and, in a sense, accumulating all the
evil they had transmitted. Not evil acts. Nor evil impulses. Neither
guilts nor shame. Nothing positive. Rather an absence amounting to a
fatal flaw. A deathly lack. A capacity for self-hatred, for suicide,
not because he could not live forever but because he could so live
if only . . . That tantalizing “if only” of mortality which aspires
infinitely without being infinite itself. The fames peccati of the
Latins. The yetzer ha-ra of the Hebrews. “Ye can be as gods knowing
good and evil,” the Serpent had said in the Bible myth-not adding
“but capable only of evil, if left to yourselves.”
He had to choose. The freedom to accept or reject. A proposed step
into a darkness. The song from on high was silent. The clamor of
Mister Natch was stilled. All seemed waiting on his next step. His
own. Only his.
Even to be neutral was a decision. For to be neutral now was to take
refuge in cynicism; to say, “I don’t want to know;” to refuse an
appeal for trust; to be alone; just to be.
For a split second it seemed he should turn back and call for the
consolation of evil-at
least he would be under a tangible control and possessed by that
to one of his deepest urges. But it was only for a second, because
from beyond that
crag of decision he heard-or thought he heard-a great cry coming
across an infinite
distance, not in protest, not in hysteria, not in despair; rather a
cry from a soul driven
to the outermost point of endurance by pain and disgrace and
abandonment. He heard that cry take several forms: “Abba, Father!”
“Mother, behold!” “Lord, Remember me!” “In this sign . . .”
It was all David needed to push him, even pursued by his fears, past
that crag. He began to think words again, to open his lips, mouthing
Then panic rose. What if it were all delusion, mocking delusion? The
panic became pandemonium in his brain. But now it was matched and
outstripped by his violent wish to speak, to get those words out in
living sound. Somehow, if it took his last strength, if it cost him
his life, he had to pronounce them audibly. His intentions would not
be humanly real until he did . . . unless he did.
In his agony, still on his knees and still facing the window of his
room, David remained so absorbed in this last effort that he still
did not notice the figure standing outside the window. Father Joseph
had waited at home for the storm to abate, and then set out for the
farm. The only light in the place had been from David’s window. Now
he stood outside trying to guess what was happening to his friend
inside. “Help him. Mother of Jesus. In the name of Jesus, ask for
help for him, please.” He could see David’s lips working silently
and his wide, sightless eyes staring into the night.
Joseph was about to tap on the window or wake up the others in the
house when he heard David cry out loud, at first in a staccato
fashion, then firmly and connectedly and vibrantly: “I choose ... I
will ... I believe. . . . Help my unbelief . . . Jesus! ... I
believe I believe I believe.” Joseph stood stock-still and listened.
He could only see David’s face and hear his words. He could not
enter his consciousness, where the twin chants had once again
sounded to the very depth of his soul.
But it was different for David now. He had chosen, and the result
was instantaneous. He found, not destruction and helplessness and
childish weakness, and not the black slavery of mind and will that
Mister Natch had taunted would be the fruits of belief. Instead, a
great and breathtaking dimension full of relief and distance and
height and depth flooded his mind and will and imagination.
As if the darkness and agony behind him had been but a little
transitory test, the horizons of life and existence were
miraculously clear now. The air was suffused with serene sunlight
and great, calm spaces of blue.
Every scale, measurement, and extension of his life was clothed in
the grace and comeliness of a freedom he had always feared losing
but had never been sure he possessed. Every slope he had climbed as
a young boy-his first attempts at thinking, at feeling, at judging
morally, at self-expression-were now covered in beds of high flowers
scented, like violets and harebells and columbine. Every cranny and
niche where his feet had caught and he had tripped and stumbled
during his early intellectualism at the university were now filled
with springing green grass.
And his greatest wonder was his new sky, his fresh horizon. Over the
years his human sky had become a cast-iron grating-he had been able
to send an odd plea winging through the little holes. But his
horizon itself had become a tall, unscalable mesh of steel; it was
misted with unknowing and agnosticism: with the “We cannot know
exactly” of the pseudointellectual, the “Let’s keep an open mind”
that opens every argument against belief.
Now, suddenly, with his decision made, David’s sky was a dustless
depth of expanding space. His horizon was an open vastness receding,
receding, receding, ever receding, without obstacle or limit or
speck or narrowness. He saw himself immeasurably high up, free of
trammels, on a zenith of desire and volition, clear of all
backward-looking, unhampered by cloying regrets or by wisping mice
of memory gnawing at his untried sexuality and his unexpected whims.
David was in full view of all he ever signified as a human being and
all that being human ever signified for him, at the ancient heart of
man’s millennial weakness and on the peak of man’s gratuitously
given power to be with God, to be of God, and to live forever.
The many figures that had peopled his past he now saw within the
eternal light-Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, Sinanthropos, Homo sapiens,
food gatherers, food producers, Stone Age men, Bronze Agers, Iron
Agers, Jew, Crusader, Muslim, Renaissance Pope, Russian Patriarch,
Greek priest, Catholic cardinal, Asiatic Buddha, African devil,
Satan, Darwin, Freud, Mao, Lenin, the poor of Sekelia, the running
and burning figures in the streets of Hiroshima, the dying babies of
Bombay, the houses in California’s Bel Air, the lecture halls of the
Sorbonne, the villas of Miami Beach, the mines of West Virginia, the
wafer in his own hands at Mass, the lifeless face of Jonathan. . . .
He was just about to fall into prayer when, for an instant, he heard
the two chants again. He was jerked out of his visioning back to the
reality of the chair, the bay window, and the night. The heavenly
chant was now no more than a single prolonged note on a lute,
persistent, limpid, clear, beautiful. Mister Natch’s grating chant
had been diluted and shattered.
By some mysterious proxy, David felt the pangs of an agony he did
not regret. He was, he knew, assisting at the inescapable woe of
some living beings whom he did not know, whom he had to hate, but
whose fate was catastrophic disaster unmitigated by any poignancy or
any pity. Despite the flooding peace and light washing over his
spirit, he found himself following the desperate retreat o* his
The once-muscular, breathing cries of Mister Natch had now narrowed
to a thin, piping wail shot through with trills of terror, arpeggios
of agony running feverishly and irregularly through every note of
protest. That lingering wail seemed to spiral up, twisting and
writhing and curling, an insect shaking poisonous antennae while it
scuttled backward desperately for home cover in the sewer, a snake
whose body was a solid, pulsating pain, stabbing its head upward as
it moved away from the fluid lava of that other resounding note-what
David always described afterward as his “Salem chorus.”
Then he began to feel great distances again. Mister Natch’s clamor
dwindled, always pursued by that chant of Heaven. As it all grew
fainter, David stood up, listening intently. The two chants were
withdrawing from him. He flung open the double windows and looked
out past Joseph’s shoulder, his gaze traveling to the garden and,
beyond, to the countryside, the mountains, the horizon. As the
sounds withdrew, sucked, as it were, into uncharted spaces among the
stars overhead, he searched the sky. The storm center had slipped
away to the Eastern seaboard to be spent over the Atlantic. It was
cold, probably freezing. Up among the stars he tried to follow the
trajectory of those sounds. But the last faint echoes died. All was
quiet. He listened, gazing silently upward. There was no sound.
A slow smile of recognition appeared around his eyes and at the
corners of his mouth, as he heard the rustling energies of the earth
recovering themselves after the storm.
His glance rested finally on Father Joseph, and he motioned him to
step inside. The
moon was already riding high, bright-faced, a warm, yellow hue to
its light. Its very
silence was golden and gentle and confident. He and Joseph were
about to turn away
from the window into the room when a mockingbird started to sing
down in the copse
where Old Edward used to stroll smoking his pipe in the evenings
after dinner. That
song came to David as a message from a world of grace, a hint of
life without ending;
not as Jonathan and as he, David, had taken such sounds of nature;
not as intimations
of molecules endlessly regrouping, but of endless life for each
person, and of love without a shadow.
David sank into his chair and listened. Joseph stood motionless,
afraid to disturb him. He looked away from David out at the sky and
the trees. All night long until the moon sank and the early lights
of the sun streaked from the east, first blue and gray, then red,
the two men stayed there, while only the mockingbird’s song broke
the silence. The song seemed to take on the unruffled calm of
infinity. It filled their ears and minds. It poured into every
corner and cranny of the room where they were. It was surprising,
full of unexpected flights and long, graceful sustainments that
teetered on to the edge of melody, then swung away just in time to
take up new scales. It was not triumphant. It was celebration of
calm, proclamation of continuity, assertion of living’s value,
confirmation of beauty for beauty’s sake, assurance of a morrow as
well as blessing on all yesterdays. It came as annunciation, and
filled their night silence with grace.
Toward the dawn Joseph heard a low whisper and glanced at David. He
was reciting the Ave Maria in the Greek of Paul and Luke and John:
“Chaire Miryam, kecharitomene,” and repeating that long, leaping
compliment the Angel Gabriel paid the Virgin: “Kecharitomene!
Kecharitomene! Kecharitomene! . . , Full of Grace! Full of Grace!
Full of Grace!” Slow tears ran down David’s cheeks.
There was no point, Joseph knew, in disturbing him now. The peace of
silence and that song were all he needed and what he deserved, all
the balm he wanted.
They waited until day broke full and the mockingbird had trilled to
silence in a quick descent. They saw it take off from the trees and
soar up, singing again as it went until it was a mere speck in the
lightening color of the morning sky, alternately sailing and
fluttering, until it faded from sight into silence.
David stirred and moistened his lips. He did not look at Father
Joseph, but just said:
“Let’s make some coffee, Father Joe. Then let’s get over to
Jonathan, before it’s too late.” Father Joseph did not stir. He was
waiting for David’s glance and some word. David turned and smiled at
the other man: “I know now, Joe. I now know.” He paused and looked
out the window again. “It is the same spirit. The same method. The
Joseph glanced at David’s face as he drove. It was firm and
expressionless, save for a certain granite-like set to the jawline.
His cheeks were hollow, but the growth of his beard filled his face
out. The eyes were steady. David seemed driven by some powerful
inner force Joseph felt much more than he understood. It made him a
little afraid. He sensed vaguely a touch of ruthlessness, a
downright and decisive thrust. He looked away from David; and,
without warning, he found himself laughing quietly with a surprising
surge of ironic humor. “What’s the joke, Joe?” It was good to see
David’s mouth soften.
Father Joseph had found himself saying spontaneously, “God help the
poor Devil,” when he saw the determined look on David’s face. David
grinned and threw an admiring look at his companion. “God bless you,
Father Joe. You’re never in any danger. You never took yourself
seriously enough.” Then they both laughed. .
They reached Jonathan’s house just after sundown that same day.
David decided against waiting to round up assistants. He knew he
would be in control of this case; he knew he had already bested the
“Mister Natch” that had taken Jonathan so much farther into
possession than David himself had been.
When they drew up at the house, the front door was open. Jonathan’s
mother, Sybil, stood in the doorway, a shawl around her shoulders.
She was not smiling, but not sad, just quietly matter-of-fact.
“You were expected, Father David,” she said, as the two men entered.
“They told me you were coming.” Then, in answer to the query in
David’s eyes, she explained that until early that morning, until
about three o’clock, Jonathan had been all right; that is, he had
remained unchanged. “But,” she continued, “when you were liberated,
he suddenly got very bad.”
Joseph was stunned; he could not believe he had heard her say to
David, “when you were liberated.” But David’s eyes were filled with
understanding as she went on. “I’m not worried about my son’s body.
It’s his soul.”
For some seconds David stood looking at her. Joseph knew he was
excluded from an intimate understanding between these two people.
But he knew too that the price of being included was too dreadful.
On the hall table beside them two candles were already lit. Side by
side with them were crucifix, ritual book already open, holy-water
flask, and stole.
“It shouldn’t be too late yet,” David spoke.
“It shouldn’t be,” she rejoined. Then grimacing gently: “It’s just I
have not long to go myself. And if he must go too, I want us all to
David nodded his head slowly while he stared at the door beyond her.
His mood was part wariness, part musing. Then he returned her gaze,
saying: “You will be, Mother. Have no fear. You will all be
together. The worst is over.”
He slipped the stole around his shoulders, took the ritual book and
holy-water flask in hand. Joseph held the candlesticks. David looked
at the open pages of the ritual. Jonathan’s mother had opened it at
the page where the main prayer started. Stepping past her, he turned
the doorknob and entered Jonathan’s room.
It was shuttered and dark. An unnaturally acrid and fetid odor hit
Jonathan was sitting on the floor in the far corner, his feet
doubled up beneath him. The light from the corridor fell across his
face. David read the terror in his eyes, but it was a frozen terror.
And David knew immediately: Jonathan would do nothing more, would
struggle no more.
Jonathan’s mouth was open. But neither tongue nor teeth were
visible. Joseph placed the candles on the small night table by the
bed. As the light fell on Jonathan, they noticed a curving line of
fresh water drops running from wall to wall. His mother had shaken
holy water recently in a semicircle pinning her son into the corner.
One hand lay by Jonathan’s side, but the other, the one with the
crooked forefinger, lay on his chest in an eerie gesture. He was
deathly still; but his eyes were glued on David’s face and followed
him as he moved closer.
As David stood over him, Jonathan’s eyes were large, bloodshot
whites with little half-moons of black irises glinting up at David.
Joseph expected David to start immediately, but David said nothing.
He stood there.
Jonathan’s crooked forefinger stirred from his chest in a slight
motion toward David.
David looked, still and silent. The forefinger wavered in thin air,
then fell back stiffly. It was a gesture of helplessness. Jonathan’s
mouth opened and closed; he was trying to say something.
Still David did not budge or say anything.
Jonathan moved his head from side to side, his eyes still fixed on
David, as if he was trying to pry himself loose from some ropes of
influence binding him to David. A sudden and visible tremor ran
through his body, and he turned his face and body away from David to
the wall. He was shaking all over. They could barely hear the words
which came muffled and thick from his mouth. “Speak to me, Brother .
“No brother, Satan! No brother!” David’s voice was like a heavy
knife. Joseph winced. David was silent again.
“We too have to possess our habitation, Father ...” the voice began.
“Your habitation is forever in outer darkness. And your father is
the Father of Lies.” The trenchant sneer in David’s voice again hit
even Joseph where it hurt. David, he understood, hated and loathed
more than Joseph ever dreamed a man could hate and loathe.
“Even the Anointed One gave us a place with the swine.”
“As a sign of your filth,” David spat the words out, “and as an
indication of your being buried alive in torments.”
“Listen! . . . Listen!” the voice went on with a deathly note of
desperation. It was almost a wail. “Listen!”
“You will listen and you will obey!” David was not shouting. But
every word exploded from within him as a living missile. “You will
all obey! You will go forth! You will relinquish all possession of
this creature! You will do this in the name of God who created him
and you, and of Jesus of Nazareth who saved him! You will depart and
get back to the uncleanness and agony you chose. You will do it now.
In the name of Jesus. Now. Go. Depart. In the name of Jesus.”
Then David’s voice changed. He was speaking to Jonathan from a
reserve of tenderness and affection clothed in strength that moved
Joseph as deeply as he had been shocked just a moment previously.
“Jonathan! Jonathan! I know you hear me. And hearing me, you hear
the words of Jesus.” Jonathan’s body started to rack and tremble. He
began to stretch out face down on the floor until only his
fingertips touched the corner in which he had been slumped. David
and Joseph moved back a pace.
“I know,” David continued, “what you have been through. I know where
you failed. I know how you were possessed by this unclean spirit.
Jesus has paid for all your sins, as he did for mine. But now you
have to pay. Believe me, I know. I know that only you can finally
consent. With your will, Jonathan. With your will. But you must
consent to suffer the punishment. Do you consent, Jonathan? Do you
consent? Consent! Jonathan! Consent! For the love of Jesus, consent
with your whole will!”
Then to Joseph: “Sprinkle some holy water!” Joseph obeyed. David
opened the ritual book and started to recite the official prayers.
From Jonathan’s mouth there came a howl lasting longer than any
normal breath. David kept reading steadily, while he held up the
crucifix in front of him. According as he progressed in the prayers,
the howl increased, interspersed with dreadful sobs and groans.
But then they heard a thin voice singing. It came from the corridor
outside. Jonathan’s mother was chanting a hymn to the Virgin-the
ancient Gregorian chant of the Salve Regina. As the medieval Latin
syllables reached them in her little voice, Jonathan’s howling and
tremors began bit by bit to diminish. David stopped reading the
prayers; he closed his book and listened.
The timbre of the mother’s voice was quavering, reedlike. Yet, for
David and for Joseph, it reached past their conscious recollections,
past all the censor bonds of their adult life, back to the raw hours
and days and months and years when once upon a time they were
vulnerable to the misery of human unhappiness and when the love they
enjoyed from home and family was their only and quite sufficient
safeguard against all wounds.
Jonathan’s mother was quite literally putting her soul into that
sung prayer. Her
mother’s heart was crying to another mother. And, as far as Joseph
could see, only
these two mothers could appreciate what was now at stake. He had
never been a highly emotional man; but memories crowded up in front
of him, and he was gently stung by nostalgia. Joseph’s enjoyment of
esthetic pleasures had always been limited by an unsubtle mind and
lack of personal culture. To his own mother he had never spoken as
an adult; she died before he matured.
Until this moment, the woman to whom Jonathan’s mother was praying
had been merely a brightly lit and inaccessible star in his
religious firmament: a Galilean Jewess who, without personal merit,
without having thought one thought or said one word or performed one
action, had been privileged with a grace no other human would ever,
will ever, receive-to be totally pleasing to God’s purest holiness
from the very first instant of her personal existence. That had been
the sum of Mary for Father Joseph. This had been all her dignity.
She had never plucked the flowers of evil. She had been preserved.
One of God’s favorites.
Now, listening with David to that chant, he sensed with a speed that
made understanding almost violent what being a mother and what being
a child meant. He grasped the mysterious convivium, the mutual
sharing and togetherness in human living of child and mother, their
presence one to the other. And it dawned on him that that presence
had no parallel elsewhere on the entire landscape of human living-
neither lover to beloved, nor friend to friend, nor citizen to
country, nor man to God.
Now this one mother was singing in prayer to another mother with a
faith and a confidence that no man could summon. He understood: as
mothers who had lived within a filigree work of heartbeat to
heartbeat, breath to breath, movement to movement, sleep to sleep,
wakefulness to.wakefulness, they both had been placed, not at the
periphery, but at the luminous center of a child’s delicate
beginnings in psychophysical life; and both had seen a child pass
across the threshold of birth, quickening to consciousness, to
recognition, to mentalism, to volition, to meaning.
Jonathan’s mother finished the Salve Regina. For a moment there was
silence. Then she improvised a last, spoken prayer. David and
Jonathan heard her say: “You were his mother. You saw him die. You
saw him live again. You understand. You could have died of pain on
either occasion. Help me now.”
Joseph felt helpless against the tears that came to his eyes.
He was aroused by David’s voice speaking quietly. In the corner
David was kneeling beside Jonathan. Jonathan had sat up and was
leaning, not crouching now, with his back to the wall. Both hands
were in David’s.
Joseph turned away to leave the room. He had understood nothing, he
felt. Anyway, it was confession time.
Jonathan had the bleached and windswept look of one whose face has
been torn by pain and weeping, the angelic calm and luminosity-
almost joy-that Joseph had most often seen on the faces of the dying
when, after rebellion and despair, they finally accepted the
inevitable and turned fully to belief and hope.
It was an enviable peace.
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