Monday, August 9, 2010

An Encounter with Darkness.

My summer adventure-ministry is over and now I'm back with the Augustinian community. For those who didn't know: I volunteered for the summer to live as a Innkeeper in a Christian transitional house. It was a great experience and I learned a lot in the process.

I moved back into the community on July 28th, but I was supposed to do so on the 30th. The reason why I did will be explained in this post. Without giving too much detail, there was one young guy who was living in the transitional house who was apparently going through too much trouble. He seems naturally rude and rough in his character. He is a constant liar, almost pathological liar. I suspect that he suffers from Histrionic Personality Disorder, an attention seeker. The last couple of nights that I was there he outright disrespected members of the community, making a big drama show about it, full of Bible throwing, knife pulling and name calling. And the air around the house felt heavy.

The leaders of the transitional house are a deeply devoted and committed couple. They live within walking distance from the transitional house. They sent us a text-message regarding the heavy air, calling us to prayer. I decided to pray the Rosary, but when I decided to do so, a horrible fear invaded my soul. I think it is important for you to know, dear reader, that I'm not one of those fanatics who see the devil in everything. I do believe in the devil and darkness, as Catholic that I am, but I'm very moderate in my beliefs. Some conservatives would call me something close to a Liberal, but I consider myself a moderate. I adhere to the Church's teachings, but I'm not a conservative Catholic. Nor am I a Liberal Catholic who supports abortion, same-sex marriage or even contraception.

Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, onto the story. The fear was telling me to stop praying, that I shouldn't be involved in this. It told me to leave this to those who are more spiritually mature. I wasn't strong enough to deal with this...darkness, this horrible presence that was now pressing against my chest at the recitation of every Hail Marys. I felt its anger, it was getting angrier. There came a point where I was breathing with difficulty. Continuing with the prayer was getting harder. The words didn't come out easily. And the fear, what a horrible thing it was! You feel like there's little you can do about it. It is not the kind of fear that impels you to fight or run. It was a disabling fear. Not the kind that prepares you for battle but weakens you. One that threatens you to a corner and hide your face between your legs and simply hope for the best. It is not one that is taken away by the switch of a light bulb, or by the presence of others. It follows you whenever you go, like the darkest shadow of yourself. It was not in me, but whispering at my back. I have never been so afraid in my life.

It was past 1am in the morning, and I finally finished the rosary. I was afraid of finishing it, fearing that the prayer was the only thing protecting me. I called one of the Innkeepers, who was sleeping. "I don't feel comfortable being alone, can I talk to you?". He kindly accepted. I went to his room and told him "You know I wouldn't wake you up unless it was a serious matter", and told him what had happened. The darkness was still whispering at my back, following me. One of the young guy who lives in the community came to the room as well, expressing that the air felt heavy. We were talking for about fifteen minutes when I heard someone coming into the house. I came out of my friend's room and into the hallway and found out that it were the leaders of the community. The devout couple had come, apparently, to pray. When I met them at the hallway, I asked the leader, who we would call Carlos, if he felt "that". He simply replied, "No, I'm fine." Then he looked me in the eyes and said "Get on your knees". I did, and he went to the living room to pray with his wife. I prayed for a few minutes, still afraid, still with that darkness on my back.

After my brief prayer on the hallway, I went into the living room where I found Carlos praying, prostrated face down on the floor. His wife was in the dining room, talking with the young guy who was previously talking with us. The living room was dark, with only the dim orange lights of the dining room next to it shining softly on the background. As I entered the living room, Carlos got on his knees and looked up to me and said: "I feel your soul very disturbed, what's going on? are you okay?". I told him that I didn't feel good, explaining everything that had happened. He told me to get on my knees again, and he started to pray for me. As he was praying he said "Yes, I feel something heavy" showing me with his hands where it was. Right next to me. He tried to impose his hands on me but couldn't. It was as if something was pulling him back. He tried again but nothing, this time he pulled his hands and shake them in pain. "I can't do it" he said crying. He then called for his wife for help in prayer. The wife came and started praying for me. The young guy, scared, got on his knees and started to pray as well. Through the wife's prayer (and I believe the young's guy prayer as well), Carlos could pray over me again. He extended his hands toward me, almost laying them on me. This time, nothing was pulling him back. As he did, I close my eyes. I felt a force pushing me away from Carlos' hands. After about 15 to 20 minutes of prayer, we felt that the darkness stopped following me. Almost at the end of the prayer, another Innkeeper came down from the third floor above us. He came and prayed for the young guy who was now not feeling so good. We prayed for him, and he started to cry. I was terrified throughout the whole process. But I prayed. I sat down for a while, and started to pray. The young guy, with his eyes filled with tears, looked at me and with an almost commanding voice told me:"Kneel and keep praying". I did so, remembering CS Lewis' view on the importance of position while praying. We finished the prayer with an Our Father. And we all felt better. The darkness was no longer following. But I still felt it, hiding somewhere.

"So should we tell him?"asked Carlos to his wife. She looked at me and said, "we decided to come here because I had a bad feeling about you. We feel that for your security, it is okay if you leave tomorrow instead of Friday". Tomorrow, being at the moment present since it was around 2am in the morning, was Wednesday. The young guy told us that he heard Jesus while in prayer ,telling him that if he wanted Him to liberate him and me, that he should get on his knees, face down, not only asking for it, but imploring it. That he needed to show Him that he has fear of the Lord. He also told us that when we were praying the Our Father he could hear our voices, but another voice as well. It was the most beautiful voice he has ever heard. I still felt the fear, this time more distant, away from me. I felt as though I had just wakened up from a terrible sickness. A similar feeling one feels the next morning after a whole night fighting with a sickness. It feels like you can finally rest, glad that the experience is over. You feel comforted, but still shaken up about it. The feeling continued the next morning. The whole community gathered for prayer the next morning, asking the Holy Spirit to come upon us. It moved in us, and we felt better. I did not sleep in my room that night. I couldn't sleep alone after the experience, but slept in the same room of another Innkeeper. The next day, following the recommendation of the leaders, I moved out of the transitional house.