The Miracle of the Holy Fire by William Holman Hunt
The artist painted and painted. Each stroke was an attack on all he did not believe. She asked him why he was doing it, but he did not know. She believed fire could come from anywhere, even God, and it wasn't important to her to know where these flames originated. What she did want to know from the faithful was just this:
Do you believe?
They entered into the experience, with all of its whirlwind of activity. Some would say confusion, others would call it exuberance. There was a skeptic nearby, spouting nonsense. She was familiar enough with nonsense to translate it into English for the artist. But he had understood it fully. He wanted to stay and talk with the naysayer, but she urged him further into the crowd. No sense in spending any more time with a mocker or joining him, or they'd begin speaking nonsense too.
She was looking into the eyes of anyone who would let her. The celebrants were a mass of languages and cultures, all twirling in their own way, speaking many words or many tongues, or singing with abandon. They chanted and exclaimed and let her know, and him, how they felt.
An old man caught her by the arm. He stared into her eyes. What did not occur to her at first was why. He was looking for something too. He asked her, "What do you believe?"
She quietly said something poetic, metaphoric, and flowery, realizing too late she was speaking beautiful nonsense to someone who knew better.
The man rolled his eyes.
"No need for poetry here, Love. Just speak your mind," he said.
She was intimidated. Embarrassed. Unsure of how to plainly speak her mind. She was accustomed to hidden words. She was fully willing to whisper the truth, but he had asked her to say it like she was talking to someone. To him. It made her uncomfortable.
He pointed to the flame that had been carried in from some mysterious origin.
"What does this mean to you?" He asked.
She told him it means symbolism. It means you can hold the presence of God in your hand. It means this is how you draw Him close. She shrugged, not sure if that was really what she meant.
He smiled again, kindly this time, "It is the other way around. He draws you close. That's what He did for me. And that's why you're here. Your question is not 'What do you believe?' but 'Did He reach you?' "
I guess I was 9 when I first noticed a fog overtaking me. It was like I stepped out of the world. I could see you, but I couldn't feel you. I could hear you, but you weren't listening to me. Disassociation is what they call it now. They being people who think they can pull you out of it with enough sessions or a drug. I wanted to kill myself then and often in the years to follow. I would sit in my dark closet and smash my head against the wall behind me. I wonder what was in that part of my head, because it must be gone now. Maybe I would have given the world the cure for cancer. It is splattered in the closet of a house by a lake in eastern Michigan, if you want it.
I had many friends in my early teens. But my closest friend was death. It held me. It reminded me they didn't really love me. Always its dark arms were around me, waiting for my blood. But it was there and you weren't, so you take what you can get. At least I had arms around me.
I scarred myself with hate. You cannot imagine how much I despised me. Or, maybe right now you remember what it was like. Deep, pursuing destruction was in me and on top of me. If I died I would be free to roam with my friend, death, and live in his love. You could join us in defeat. It's warm there and we will put our arms around you too.
But it wasn't what it seemed. This is how I found out. You'll believe me, I think, but you won't know why.
I was sitting in a crowd, alone with many people. That's the most common feeling on our planet, isn't it? My eyes took them all in, as far as they would go. I was not a part of them. I couldn't be. I was something different. I didn't belong with them, though I longed to. I wanted to be loved. I wanted desperately to be seen. But I was utterly invisible. That day I would finally take my own life. I felt a bit of joy, which was foreign to me, with the decision. I was 15.
The man in the front was going on and on. He was irrelevant to me. A talker, not a doer. A man in a suit with stupid hair and arrogance so thick I could barely see him through it. On and on. Words that said crisply and clearly, "You don't count." Or so I thought.
Then the man stopped talking. He paused for a few moments and looked around the room seriously. He sighed and seemed genuinely concerned. When he spoke he changed my life.
"The Lord has told me someone in the congregation is contemplating suicide." He said.
I froze. I'd been seen!
"Who is it?" He asked. "Stand up."
I did not move. Come on, would you have stood up? But in my heart I was screaming, "Please! Please help me!"
Did God see me?
The man waited patiently. When no one stood up he said, "Well, God knows who you are. We're going to pray for you anyway."
With the booming church voice I hated so much and the goofy, big haired women swaying, those people prayed for God to break the power of the Spirit of Suicide. Hymnals scattered the floor, the crazy people spoke in tongues, all the people I was not a part of lifted me up and they did not even know who I was.
What I noticed first was the back of the metal chair I was holding onto so tightly. It was cold and hard. I could feel it. I hadn't felt anything in so long. I wanted to grab a hold of everything. I wanted to run outside and touch the trees. I wanted to scream and force the new air out of my lungs, the air I could feel for the first time in years. And I loved. I loved the woman with the tambourine behind me. I loved the stupid guy with the glasses in front of me. I loved you. And all these years later, 24 years to be exact, it has not stopped. I love you more than I hated me. I love you with abandon. I want you to feel and engage and love like this. I want you to be free.