Mister Natch 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 with him.

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 seminary.

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 Jonathan fully 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 immediately, 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?”

“I 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, poor Jesus!”

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 next stage.

“Then, Jonathan, we will repeat, first, the Credo, and then your baptismal vows.”

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 working 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 remember. “The 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 heart.”

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 and Jonathan.

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 sorrow.

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 yourself!”

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 made no 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 reliable records 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 believed and thought they knew 30, 40, 60 years after Jesus’ death. Even if they believed they knew, how could David be sure that they knew? He was thinking and believing only 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 for him:

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 downward.

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 place.

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 known.

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 felt any 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 framework sodden with emptiness through which rushed gusts of an alien influence he could neither 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 himself.

David stood up and pointed Joseph to an armchair when the priest entered. “Have a seat, Father.” Their eyes did not meet while he spoke.

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 inkling.

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 spent.

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 mood.

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 curious sound.

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 sad.

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 physical reactions.

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, for that 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 possessed.”

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 gone.

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. And more.

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 syllables.

Mister Natch . . . Mister Natch . . . Mister Natch . . . Mister Natch ...

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 achieved.

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.


Then, in 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 contending for 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 surfaces.

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 happy.

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 divinity.

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 intellectual.

“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, rationales, 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 which corresponded 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 them soundlessly.

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 wounded adversaries.

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 same slavery.”

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 be together.”

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 his nostrils.

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.


Back to Contents