Chapter 7 of 21. If you haven’t read the earlier chapters, please read them first.  You can find them here: The Willow, a serialized novel.

 

The vibration was pounding, pulling Rachel out of the deep sleep she’d been in. Although she was surrounded by silence, it felt as if she were waking up in the middle of a rock concert, feeling the bass pulsating through her body. Even without opening her eyes, Rachel could tell that her room was full of light. Knowing that the drapes were drawn, the realization that she didn’t know where the light was coming from, shocked her awake. In one motion she opened her eyes and sat up in bed.

Standing before Rachel was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. He was completely naked but there was nothing sexual about him. The light that filled the room was emanating from him, flooding out of his pores. His skin appeared iridescent. Though the light was bright, it was not blinding; rather than having to shield her eyes, she couldn’t look away.

“I have come from our Lord to bring you a message,” the man said. His voice was deep, and booming, almost operatic. Although he spoke the words, they felt sung.

Rachel was unable to answer. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t form the words she wanted to say. It was as if a wind were blowing straight at her with such force that she was unable to move the breath from her mouth to form a sound.

“You are pregnant with a son,” the man continued. “You shall name him Matthew. He may scare you at times, but know that he was born to do God’s work, so never fear him. Protect him, and clear a path before him that allows him to do the work that he will be directed to do, for his birth is for serving the world.”

The man vanished and Rachel was left alone in the dark. After ten minutes of staring into nothingness, turning the angel’s visit over and over again in her mind, she remembered where she was. She looked down and saw her husband fast asleep next to her. How could he have missed this?

Rachel stared at her husband’s sleeping eyes until at last they opened. Seeing that the color had drained from his wife’s face, Daniel sat up.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” he asked.

Rachel began to explain what had happened, but no sounds left her mouth. She continued to form the words with her lips as if she were talking.

“Rachel? Rachel you’re not… you are not using your voice.”

Rachel stared questioningly for a moment at Daniel, and then continued to talk with silent words.

“Rachel!” Daniel, fully awake now, felt fear creeping into his mind. “Rachel, listen to yourself. There are no words leaving your mouth.”

Rachel began to talk again and then stopped. Rachel touched her right hand to her mouth and again began to talk and immediately stopped. She looked up at Daniel confused. After a moment, she took his hands and put them on her stomach. Opening her mouth widely so that her husband could read her lips, she mouthed the word, baby.

“You’re pregnant?” Daniel asked. They’d been trying to have a baby for years.

Rachel walked over to her dresser and pulled a piece of paper from a journal she had sitting there. In big, capital letters she wrote, A GIFT FROM GOD.

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Daniel had no doubt that Rachel was pregnant, believing that she must have felt the changes in her body, but her vision story was hard to accept. It was easier for Daniel to believe that his wife had had a psychotic breakdown. Her voice never came back, and they developed their own sign language to get through the day.

Rachel didn’t even consider going back to work after her vision. She believed that her most important job would be protecting the prophet that was growing within her.

Daniel never considered having his wife evaluated. He was too concerned with losing his baby, to call his wife’s sanity into question. Instead he went along with whatever choices she made, humoring her, and acting like he believed that a prophet was on the way. But, the stress of his wife’s behavior was eating at him.

Rachel took to constant prayer. She constructed an altar in the corner of their bedroom and sat in front of it for twelve hours a day. She was constantly engaged in either singing hymns, saying the rosary, or simply sitting with eyes closed and remembering her vision of the angel. She was constantly trying to recreate the feeling she had while sitting in the angel’s presence.

Daniel couldn’t understand Rachel’s sudden devotion as they had only gone to church two or three times a year over the last twelve years of their marriage. It seemed to him like her very nature had changed. Although never meek, her personality had always been deferential, always seeking to help others first. Her posture had always been slightly hunched forward. Now she was overcome with confidence, her back was always straight, and though she bowed her head in prayer, her spine never curved. She was sure in all of her actions. Daniel had no idea who was living in his wife’s body, but he never considered any option other than going along with whatever Rachel wanted.

Rachel refused to leave the house, lest they befall an accident that hurt the baby, so they got a midwife to help with the upcoming birth. Rachel had insisted that the midwife come from the nearby Sisters of the Cross monastery.

The nun that was sent, Sister Helen, was younger than Rachel, but had delivered many babies before. In fact, Sister Helen had just finished her obstetrics residency when she had felt the Spirit’s call to the church, five years earlier.

Sister Helen fell in love with Rachel instantly. Although Rachel didn’t share the story of her vision, Sister Helen could see that there was something holy about Rachel. Sister Helen began spending more and more time with Rachel, coming early so that they could pray together.

Seeing the new bond between his wife and the nun, Daniel was overcome by frustration. By the time that the pregnancy had come to term, Daniel had developed an ulcer and his hair had turned completely grey. Rachel, however, seemed to be getting younger and younger.

Everything changed when Matthew was born. When Daniel saw his baby for the first time, he discovered his purpose in life. For Daniel, his love for Matthew had nothing to do with him being divine, but simply because Matthew was his son. Daniel developed a love for Matthew unlike anything he had experienced before; a love that he had previously never imagined possible.

Matthew was a Daddy’s boy from the beginning. Although Rachel, and even Sister Helen, who still visited at least weekly after the baby was born, doted over Matthew like he could do no wrong, it was Daniel and Matthew who became best friends.

Matthew was a normal child, running, playing and even throwing temper tantrums from time to time. Daniel barely noticed his wife and her religious routines anymore. They each had their own relationship with their son and little relationship with each other, and they were at peace with it.

Rachel insisted that Matthew be home schooled. She didn’t want him to become polluted by the games and frivolity of other kids; he got enough of those behaviors from his father. Sister Helen was more than happy to help with Matthew’s education, coming to their house at least three times a week for classes.

His first year of schooling went smoothly. Matthew was smart and picked up reading, writing and basic math quickly. From the outside, Matthew seemed just like a normal kid.

Everything changed shortly after Matthew turned six. Daniel and Rachel, awakened by the sound of their son screaming in terror, raced to his room and found him sitting on his knees, his eyes rolled back in his head, and blood streaming from his hands, feet and the side of his stomach.

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Matthew’s visions became a nightly affair. Every time he would try to fall asleep he would have dreams about the Passion of the Christ. His mind would follow Christ’s footsteps as he walked from Jerusalem to Mount Calvary, carrying the cross. When Christ’s hands and feet were nailed to the cross, Matthew would scream in pain, feeling it in his own hands and feet and would roll out of bed, begging for mercy. When Christ’s side was punctured by a spear, blood would stream from Matthew’s own side. Many nights he simply passed out. The other nights he would be shaken awake by his parents, who took to sleeping in Matthew’s room with him.

After two weeks, Sister Helen noticed the paleness of Matthew’s skin and the dark bags under his eyes. The boy’s enthusiasm had completely disappeared, and he would become irritated whenever he felt someone was wasting his time. Sister Helen demanded that Rachel tell him what was going on. Rachel told Sister Helen the whole story, about her original vision and about the nightly stigmata. Sister Helen insisted that Matthew come and stay at the monastery with her and the sister’s where they could look after Matthew properly. At their wits end, Daniel and Rachel agreed, knowing that they didn’t possess the power to help their son by themselves.

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At the monastery, Matthew was able to spend his days studying and praying, and his nights with torturous visions, without anyone freaking out about it. As he got older, his story spread, and people began to visit him from all over the world. When visitors came to talk, he would make time for them, telling them about his experiences, but was not particularly interested in meeting anyone. Matthew instead, was consumed by his studies. He wanted to learn everything he could about the world. Whether it was the sciences, literature, scriptures, politics, languages or music, he ate up as much knowledge as he possibly could.

Although Matthew spent as little time with other people as possible, at the age of sixteen he finally met someone who captured his curiosity. That was when an old Catholic astrologer, Benjamin Thomas, visited him and explained that he had written the Pope about Matthew’s coming birth years ago. Benjamin had set up a network of donors and politicians who were ready to follow Matthew’s mission to the ends of the earth.

“My mission,” Matthew had laughed. “I have no mission. I just want to live in poverty like Christ lived, and learn about the world that our Father has given us.”

“I am sorry, but that is not your fate,” Benjamin had told. “You were born for the good of the world. Your life is not yours alone. Whether you follow the path that I have cleared for you, or you make your own way, you will not be able to live a life other than one of service to humanity.”

Humanity, Matthew had repeated to himself. There was something very noble in that word. But at sixteen, Matthew was not prepared to give up on his own desires, so he waved off Benjamin’s plans for him with a shrug. He did however, convince Benjamin to teach him about astrology. For the next two years, Benjamin visited Matthew four times a week in order to teach him everything that he knew. Matthew learned how to predict the coming of others like him, but struggled with what the purpose of his life should actually be.

For Benjamin, he just wanted to spend as much time around Matthew as possible. Benjamin needed Matthew to trust him, so that he could help Matthew to follow his destiny. Benjamin’s life’s mission would only find fruition if Matthew took the reigns of the chariot Benjamin had prepared for him. Together they could restore order to a world spinning out of control.

Wanting to find his own answers, Matthew decided that he would have to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. So on his eighteenth birthday, against the wishes of Sister Helen and the other nuns, Matthew set out for forty days of fasting in the desert.

“How can you handle forty days of fasting when your body is already so weak,” pleaded Sister Helen.

“I was born for a reason,” said Matthew. “I have to figure out what that reason is. For years, I’ve been reliving the Passion of the Christ. I need to relive his spiritual upliftment as well. If I’m meant to know Christ, let me walk where he walked.”

Sister Helen knew that there was no point in arguing with Matthew. He’d always been a stubborn child. Now that he was eighteen, Sister Helen harbored a hidden fear that she might never see him again. For that reason, it was especially hard to let him go.

————————————————–

The monastery was a beautiful site that contained three living quarters, a church, a kitchen with a dining hall connected, and a tool shack that had been converted into living quarters for Matthew. There was a river that ran along the southern side of the compound. Although the monastery gardens were lush, if you followed the river west as it wound through the Arizona foothills, the vegetation went from scarce to none.

After deciding to fast for forty days, Matthew followed the river into the hills looking for a spot to make his encampment in solitude. He brought no provisions. He didn’t even know how he would count the days, but he was certain that his Father in heaven would take care of him.

After walking eight miles through ninety-degree heat, Matthew saw a cave in the hills that looked perfect for performing his meditation. He took a bath in the river, filling his stomach with the fresh river water and feeling drunk off of it after not eating all day. Matthew found a sharp rock and in the side of the cave he etched one line to mark his first day. Then he sat for meditation and repeated his rosary for three hours until he fell asleep.

The next morning, Matthew awoke with the rays of the sun entering the cave. Feeling fresh and invigorated, he started what would become his daily routine. He first had a bath in the river, and then meditated for 6 hours along the shore. He then got up and slowly walked back and forth along the river shore for the next two hours while contemplating life’s mysteries. When his legs grew tired, he returned to the cave for another six hours of meditation. After the sunset, he spent another hour in meditative walking before retiring to the cave to say his rosary until he fell asleep.

Usually Matthew would awake in the morning and find that he had slept the whole night sitting up, leaning against the side of the cave. Other nights, he would find that he’d fallen over and had slowly rolled in his sleep until he was lying right next to the river shore.

Thirty-two days passed like this, and Matthew left thirty-two lines etched into the side of the cave. Matthew was the happiest he had ever been. Free of the thoughts and complications that other people brought to the world, he was finally resting in his own relationship with the Lord. Matthew was at peace.

On the thirty-third day, when Matthew sat for meditation, his mind became completely absorbed. Visions of the history of the world flashed before him. He saw God-men and women being born in every country, leading people towards truth. He saw that, supported by this truth, the world had flourished into reflections of God’s love, but that this was often hard to see when polluted by the filter of the human mind. The oneness of all of creation finally became a vision that dawned before him, and then disappeared. Matthew’s own identity also disappeared. Gone was his sense of I and mine, gone was any world to be a part of, gone was even his meditating body. Left, there was only consciousness.

Immersed in this consciousness, Matthew experienced a bliss that he had never imagined possible.

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After days lost within God-consciousness, a rumbling in the atmosphere slowly brought Matthew back to his physical awareness. His body was stiff, and ached all over. He tried to open his eyes but his eyelids were heavy. Matthew felt as if the earth was shaking. As thoughts started to creep back into his mind, he wondered if an earthquake was happening and if he would be buried alive in the cave. Matthew forced himself to open eyes.

Before him stood darkness; not a physical form, but a black hole that was violently sucking in and spitting out black rays of atmosphere. Matthew couldn’t feel the ground beneath him, nor see the cave that surrounded him. All that he could see was the darkness before him. Angry, violent, rays of negativity were hurling against and through Matthew’s body.

“My Lord shall protect me,” Matthew whispered to himself.

The rumbling subsided and the darkness formed into the shadow of a man; as if dark clouds, just light enough to make out, formed the shifting shape of a man moving through the blackness that surrounded them.

The shadow man presented before Matthew the shifting shapes of women and men. The figures were changing and changing as if trying to find the exact form that would be tempting to Matthew. The forms reached out and caressed Matthew’s body, trying to stimulate a sexual or emotional arousal.

Matthew looked straight into the darkness and said, “When all are my brothers and sisters, to whom can I feel partiality?”

A tender voice, though still dark, still malicious, broke through the silence. “With me by your side, my brother, the whole of this world shall be under our sway.”

Anger flashed within Matthew as he boldly said, “I desire no other power than to attract the love of my Father in heaven.”

The darkness, sensing Matthew’s anger, found a way into his heart. Images of the God-men and women he had seen earlier passed before Matthew and his defenses started to lower. After witnessing the heights of religious leaders’ service to the world, he was shown the ways that these beautiful souls were then persecuted. Tears started to flow down Matthew’s face.

“The sins of these tormentors disgrace us all,” said Matthew, with a heavy heart.

He was then shown the image of his most beloved Jesus as he struggled through the streets carrying the giant cross that he was to be crucified with.

“What kind of people could do this?” asked Matthew.

“That is the way of the world,” said the darkness as it found its way into Matthews psyche. “For humans are cold, selfish creatures, turning from the love that God is showering upon them and converting God’s glory into images of their own imagined brilliance.”

“Yes,” said Matthew.

“Humans continue to be born that try to change the direction of God’s light and traditions, but God doesn’t change with the times. There is no one brave enough to carry God’s torch in this world. There is no one left to root out the false prophets and protect the world that God has created.”

“I will protect his world,” said Matthew.

“I know you will,” said the darkness, satisfied in its deceit, “for you were born for that purpose.” There was no easier way than mixing truth with lies, to manipulate the heart of a man. In his anger, Matthew forgot the love that pervaded Jesus’ teachings and sought only to right the wrongs that were part and parcel of Jesus’ story.

“How should I begin?” asked Matthew.

“I will send you a servant with the answers. You will know him when you see him.”

“I will await his arrival.”

In an instant, the darkness receded into the black hole and Matthew passed out onto the ground.

Days later, Matthew felt a nudge on his shoulder and opened his eyes. Before him knelt Benjamin.

“My Lord,” said Benjamin, “there is much to do.”

“I am ready,” said Matthew as he sat up. “I am ready to do what must be done.”

 

 

I’ll see you next Friday for chapter 8.

 

Featured image via http://www.wallpaperbetter.com

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