I’ve Never Told Anyone This

God lives in a red metal box and emits a tiny pulse. It took me a long time to discover this. There was nothing miraculous about the discovery itself: I just stepped into the chapel I’d visited and loved for ten years, and there was the box, in a side nook I’d somehow missed. The nook had two red chairs flanking the box, so I walked over and sat down.

Religion gives obscure names to everyday objects, and Catholicism is no exception. The red metal box is a tabernacle. What’s inside is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, not the pressed wafers and wine you’d see if you opened the box. The tiny pulse is—well, I don’t know.

I must have sat with the box/tabernacle for an hour, and somewhere in there the pulse began: subterranean, sensed rather than heard, on a frequency that vibrates the solar plexus. I was startled but not surprised. If you’ve got God’s body and blood in a box, you’d think it would pulse or shimmer or glow or exude warmth or something. You’d be rapt, spirit rising to Spirit, as I was.

* * *

Rapt has happened before. The first time, five of us best friends were talking on the green in our small town, with an intensity of passion I’ve only experienced at thirteen. Passion was a problem back then: I’d somehow learned to follow wherever it led me, and it had led me into dating three girls at once. The girls exchanged notes one night at a party a few evenings before, whispering in the candlelit den of someone’s house and flicking glances at me. The shame that haunted me at the party darkened into judgment as I sat on the green. Hypocrite, it thundered. What have you done to them?

The judgment sent me stumbling across the grass. Halfway to the road I looked up toward the leaden clouds and asked, “Am I a hypocrite?”

I knew no god, so I expected no answer. An answer came anyway. No. You’re just mixed up. That’s OK.

Divine messages inspired the mystics of old to prostrate themselves in public places, levitate across rooms, go still for hours. I spun in spirals, bowed down to an approaching friend, looked up again and felt myself exhale—utterly, from the belly—as though all day long I’d been holding my breath.

* * *

A friend of mine is certain that ghosts are stealing her gardening supplies. She’ll get up from her knees in the dirt and go for a trowel— the trowel she puts in the same toolbox every single time—and it’s gone. Three days later it appears in the next patch to dig up.

Other friends seek me out, once they discover I’m connected with Spirit somehow. They tell me how they talk with dead people, or believe we live in a massive simulation, or hear roses sing.

The one thing they all say: I’ve never told anyone this.

Of course they haven’t. They know what people will say. They’ll say what my friends on the green must have felt and thought when I prostrated myself in front of them: a flash of bewilderment, a furtive glance at one another, then dismissal. Crazy. If I’d done it again, they might have started to keep their distance. But I quickly returned to myself, the self they knew, the self that let them believe nothing about me had changed.

* * *

Many people know my nothing-has-changed self. It holds together well, conventional when viewed in the right light: the wife, the daughter, the house, the cats, the committees I sit on, the conferences I attend. Some people have heard about my connections with Spirit, though not the whole story. But I know what I’d see if I tried to explain my friendship with a dead French nun or my visits to the Virgin Mary shrine near the Berkshires: the facial expression of stone, the bewilderment just behind it, the mental filing of what I just said in a folder with my name on it and the word avoid.

So the voices and red metal boxes and whatnot coexist in the background, playing roles in my life when and how they see fit. It could be worse. The loneliness of I’ve never told anyone this is worse.

* * *

Each time my friends tell me what they’ve never told anyone, they flick me a furtive glance: poised to recoil from shame, hopeful for something else, even welcome. Welcome is what they read on my face—it glows or exudes warmth or something—and they exhale. We become members of a clandestine society, those who raise their children and mow their lawns and hold a secret. A society of safety and camaraderie, you’d think.

Even so, I’ve never told them about the pulse.

Instead I let them talk, which they do in a rush. Out come the inner workings of the massive simulation, the roses’ song, the uncle who died thirty years ago and now shows up in dreams. Every now and then my friends happen on one particular mark of Spirit that enraptures them, like how the whole world glows as a butterfly flits into their field of view. In those moments they show me what rapt is: it makes them bright, it makes them who they are, and who they are, in
that moment, takes my breath away.

* * *

This is how it is with me too. The echoes of these marks of Spirit resound even now, changing me to this day. Decades after the green and my bowing and the bewilderment of my friends, the voice remains my first-ever encounter with something I call God, in a life that’s been full of such encounters. The voice lives in my deep self next to the pulse and the red metal box, which form an image of Mystery at the times I need it most. I at thirteen and I now are two entirely different people, and these treasures are part of the reason why.

They make I’ve never told anyone this worth bearing. They emit the glow that memory bestows on watersheds, guiding my way to where spirit rises to Spirit and rapt takes hold.

Material Calling