A Saving Vision of the Night
Praise God, whose is the might. If any should read this, be it known, when I returned from evening prayer, the last of my life, I found a man standing in my room. His skin was blackened and he smelled of smoke, but when I looked closely I could see his face and stature were my own. Upon his chest he wore a flaming sword.
I did not challenge him, for I knew before he spoke that he was a messenger, but whether of God (let him be praised, for he hath made the world and given us to cleanse it) or the Devil (let him be scorned, for he bringeth impurity into the world), I could not tell, for does not the scripture say: For my name’s sake even the angels have their wounds?
I waited and beheld. His appearance was of smoke, but of smoke so tightly bound as to resemble flesh. He regarded me silently, as if he, too, wondered whose servant I might be. Praise God, I am the Lord’s, as you shall know on the morrow, for his in all the universe is the might, to create and to destroy.
At last he spoke.
“Praise God!” he cried. “I am permitted to appear to you, from beyond the borders of the grave, though you shall have none, to warn and to plead, for the thing you design to do is not of God.”
At these words, I began to suspect that here was an angel of lies, for is not it written in the book of prayer: Oh, Lord, deliver me from mouths whose tongues are honeyed, but whose breath is poison to the lungs? But I could not yet be sure, for it is also said: The words of sorrow may be the words of life; words that seem arrows to the ears may be a soothing ointment to the heart.
I did not speak. Again he looked on me as if in doubt.
“Hear me,” he urged. “Hear me and be saved. It is in your heart that God has called you among all men to be the weapon of his ire. Your courage is acceptable to him. Your obedience to that which you suppose to be his will is acceptable to him. But life is not given you to take, for the scripture says: Hurt not the fruit of the woman’s womb. Life is the Lord’s. The Lord is life. By his command the elements combine. Only by his command shall they be sundered.”
He reasoned well, but the scripture also says: When I command it, strike. When I say kill, obey. You are the arrows in his bow. Your arms are the swords in his hand. By you shall he cleanse the earth and write his word in heart, on head and on the tongue. By you shall filth be rooted out, even by death if they will not repent.
Still I did not speak, for as the scriptures say: When angels call, men shall not answer with their tongues. And in another place: Join not the Devil in discourse. He that speaketh with the fiend walks by his own device into the snare. The snares of Satan are an iron band.
“Listen to me!” he railed, so like the noticed and rejected fiend. “It is not too late. Praise God, the merciful, who blesses with his might. I who have walked this path and tasted bile pled for grace and have been saved, but only if I turn you from the path. Praise God, for his might is in the miles and in the hours. He guideth suns and knoweth the secret ways of space, for all they are the craft of his hand, the thought and yearning of his heart. He reacheth all places and seeth all times. Nothing shall hide from him, in time or space. The sands do not stand or flow, but that he guideth them to and fro, but that his fingers feel each one, each in its stillness and its flight."
These were new scriptures. They rang true, but I had not read them in any canon. And I was no prophet that they should be revealed to me.
“No longer doubt!” he screamed. “All time is God’s to give and lend, but I have been given just this once and just this hour. Turn from the darkness and the fire. You have been deceived. It is God you praise, but the Devil you serve.”
I put my hands to my ears. “Be gone!” I cried.
Panic seized him.
“Proud, blind fool! They said it would be so. You would not believe, though your own dead self returned from the scattered places of the grave. You will damn us both, for we are one. I have seen our error and by the grace of God come to deter you from your course, that the innocent may be spared and that we may yet kneel before God, not in shame, but in honor, for we may yet serve the Maker in life, whereas we only offend him in the death you choose.”
I confess, at these words I wavered. Is not the way of life the better way? Do not the scriptures say: Two paths there are, but one leads to rejoicing and one to endless pining for the first? But they also say: Let not the shadow guide the feet, let not the pressure of the wind lead you to right or left, let no lie tempt your feet backward from the path of right. Do they not say: Lord, I have set my course toward the sun. No wind, no wave shall overcome me now, for I sail to thee. If I fail, it shall be death that breaks me, not despair?
He continued to plead, but I knew him now. I shut my ears, my eyes and my heart. Though he shouted like thunder, I would not hear. Though his words beat like surges at the gate, the gate did not open and did not fall.
Yet I cringed in my anguish. “Be gone! Depart from me! Return to hell and tell your master, if you are not the master himself, no man of my house has changed his course once set. I serve the only God. Be gone!”
Silence surrounded me. I dared a glance. He stood as in defeat, his shoulders slumped, his hands at his sides like torn rags, his face as sagging as a flag, the flag of a defeated army on a carrion field, stirred by no wind and by no survivors.
“My own words,” he groaned. “Will you not listen, you twice-damned fool? But God is just. He knows our hearts. Too late I see the evil in my heart. We cannot be saved. O God of mercy and of might, I surrender wholly to thy will!”
With that, he drew his sword, the sword of flame strapped like a breastplate to his chest. His fire was glorious, but I was not deceived. Does not the scripture say: Even the Devil flies in light?
(c) Mark Penny 2006