Devil’s Advocate

Sunday, May 28th, 2017 – 1:46 am

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? – (Matt. 27:46)

I scanned the small herd of Southampton Methodists for a hint of connection or substance to the God they sang about. I remained fully unpersuaded.

Toward the front sat my fat middle school gym teacher. His glare proved he still spotted me these years later and the furrowed brow showed memory of my misdeeds. They were manifold and many, of course, but in particular included helping trash the gym over summer break. The janitor had left the front door of the school wide open as we were driving by one afternoon on our bikes. We never considered resisting the temptation to enter uninvited and take possession. We sprinted into vandal mode with the efficiency and timing of soldiers. We were in and out of the school in minutes. We did vile things to that coach’s office and desk.

Ever the people watcher and student, it took me a few minutes in church that Sunday to decide that nobody of note had spark or proof of life. None could even mildly interest me with their good news. I struggled to tune out the hymns and nausea from the beer and whiskey of the night before.

A month before that, my father had leaned in with ultimatums. He offered to send me to military school, a psychiatrist or kill me. I suggested a fourth option of church. My older brother Paul was pulling it off for real and I could fake anything.

In between lines of Wesley and the last of the coke, I heaved and weaved in my stink and pew. With the dismissal, it was like I was born again and I was the first to hit the door. I lit my cigarette and walked across the street into the North End Cemetery. I knew it well as I strolled it with no sound mind or sight on many a lost New York night.

More comfortable with bones and headstones, I pulled out the tab of acid I bought from a stranger behind the museum and I stuck it on my tongue.

I meandered back to familiar sight of dad’s crossed arms and furrowed brows.

He asked why I walked to the cemetery. I said I was bored. He told me it was time to go. I said I decided to walk home.

I figured it would give plenty of time to gauge the strength of the LSD and enjoy it a bit before I got back home and to deal anew with dad’s bullshit.

It was a four mile stretch fit for a hurricane and fifteen year old.

Hours or maybe years later, I climbed up near infinite steps to my house with seizing calves and steeped in salty regret.

I walked in on a mother not unlike many of my own. She sat silently at something akin to a sewing machine, the only soul showing in an almost living room.

She asked how was my walk.

I told her it was fine, but she could see I was lying. I was drenched and scared, pulling punches on lies to throw out a few tells.

Keep an eye on me.

I layed down on the couch next to her and tried closing my eyes, but I kept feeling soft thumps on my chest and back that were out of sync with my racing heart. Invisible checks and balances to my hubris and self destruction.

I looked up to a mother figure hoisting a white collared shirt of her blue collared husband. She lifted it high for a view of her sewing handiwork. Just outside the window in front of her bloomed the biggest and bluest rhododendrons.

Then I opened another set of eyes.

Diving and weaving around the room at breakneck speeds were several small blurs, more marked by absence in our reality than by their presence. They were faster than bats in speed, able to stop in midair. They were impossible to look directly upon. Once my eyes focused where they floated, the swooping shadows would shift afresh from sight.

Each time one hovered nearby, I would watch it slam into my chest and fly back out of me.

Mind the expanding.

Some weeks before this, my dad and I had watched the Exorcist together.

My brother Paul did not like it. I insisted I loved it and that the book was even better. I ran upstairs to my colored pencils and within minutes had hung over my headboard a strikingly accurate version of Regan possessed. Inspired. Almost impossibly accurate from mere memory. I taped it just below my poster of the grim reaper and the number six six six splayed in gothic font.

That night, I half awoke to black clouds hovering above my bed. They asked if they could enter into me and I agreed.

Family said I really changed after that. My father told me years later that was around the time he realized someone would die soon if we stayed on Long Island. He knew we had to leave before my self destruction claimed his life or my own.

That acid washed Sunday, mom stared for a moment at my twitching and tossing and asked what was wrong.

I closed my eyes again and said “it’s nothing, I’m fine.”

A year later, I told the Lord that if He was real, I was sorry for ruining my life. That morning, I had heard a voice say my father had killed before and I shared the same fixed fate.

When I prayed, an Ocala hotel room that I thought was silent suddenly emptied with a rushing sound like a swarm of bees. It exposed a peace and quiet I’d not felt or heard for years.

My heart was filled for the first time with love and forgiveness. I prayed God would forgive my father for all he had done. The times he beat me bloody. The time he strangled me unconscious while screaming he was going to kill me.

My heart felt a grace and peace unlike anything I’d ever known.

A week after that prayer, I utterly ignored my dad’s insistences to not get baptised at a pentecostal church in Port Charlotte. When I got home, I cornered him on the couch and told him he needed to “pray the sinner’s prayer, whatever the hell that is. I don’t know, but Paul will lead you.”

Dad started to stand, but hovered in an almost seated position a few seconds before collapsing again into the sofa. Paul prayed with him. He told us months later that he was about to tell us to go to hell when he felt an invisible hand on his shoulder forcing him to sit back down.

Two years later, I was lying on my parent’s couch in their Fairview, Oregon living room well after midnight. I had wept for hours, asking the spirit of the Lord why He had left me.

I had been studying the Bible voraciously for years, researching and praying many hours a day, parsing Greek and Hebrew. We left our first Portland church for not being evangelical enough for us. The pastor refused to let me start a door to door ministry or homeless ministry. We started attending another charismatic church in Portland where I started both those ministries.

That night, I had a dream. God had shoved two burning torches into my hands and told me to follow a path before me. As I followed it, others in the dark fringe turned to see my flames. But everything suddenly faded to black.

I awoke to my first ever seizure. I was eighteen. My head was rapidly shaking up and down. I reached up and grabbed the sides of my head to stop it from convulsing.

I quit drinking a year and a half ago. I was not gracious about it. I sat on my uncle’s Florida couch and informed God. He broke His decades of silence to tell me three things.

He reminded me of my dream at eighteen. He told me I would burn brighter than ever before, but my race would be cut short.

He reminded me of a verse in Luke that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” He warned me to quickly reach out to as many people as possible.

Then I saw an image of old man walking with a small group of women. They were helping him finish write his books. In the vision, I was hunched over and walking with a cane.

Six months later, a friend at my daughter’s wedding asked why my hands were shaking.

With fear and trembling, I looked away and said “it’s nothing, I’m fine.”

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