I sank to my knees, barely aware of the motion compared to the psychic assault on my mind. Images flashed in my awareness, related to the older man with the firm grip on my arm, and I knew that my being was laid bare to him as well. But this was a new experience, and one for which I was thoroughly unprepared.
A call from Conor on a Friday night was unexpected. To have him invite me to church was downright freaky. Once I got past my initial shock and he explained that he’d been invited to sing a hymn in the original Irish as part of a Catholic mass on St. Patrick’s Day, it made a little more sense. Of course, told him I’d be happy to attend, and we arranged to meet the next day.
I cleaned myself up better than usual that morning – combed my hair down, put on a nice shirt and slacks. I still packed my usual gear along with me – I know better than to go out completely unprepared – but I also knew my usual street gear and appearance would make the congregation at an established Catholic church a bit nervous.
St. Patrick’s in Dallas is actually a modern looking church. It’s not one of the storied gothic cathedrals, but it’s solid and you can tell that it has history. I trotted up the steps, slowing as I went. Churches (especially older churches) tend to have fairly solid thresholds – faith has a power that rivals the oldest multi-generational homes (there’s a reason for all the legends about Holy Ground). While a priest can consecrate such ground on his own, large numbers of believers over time do the job better. While I didn’t expect any trouble at a daytime church service, I’d rather not leave my abilities at the door.
For better or worse, that leads to the catch-22 of church thresholds. As I approached the front doors, a smiling greeter opened them wide and welcomed me inside. I smiled and thanked him, feeling the now disarmed threshold slide over me, leaving my abilities intact. I took a bulletin and made my way inside. I spotted Conor towards the front and caught his eye, but there wasn’t extra room near him, so I took a seat about halfway back.
The service went much as I expected – lots of standing and sitting, rites and readings straight out of the old playbook. It had been awhile since I’d visited a large church like this. Smaller congregations were more the norm for modern Lutheran churches, so I was a little surprised by the subtle vibrations of holy power that I felt during some of the readings and responses. I knew that there probably weren’t any others like me in the congregation, but a mass of people, each with a little bit of faith, was still impressive.
As the service progressed, I pondered whether I should take communion or not. As the sacrament started, I could see that Conor declined to partake, but then I noticed Elena! She was as uncomfortable as could be, and I couldn’t tell if she took communion. I hoped that she did, but I also know she’s conflicted about it. The fact that she came was a step in the right direction, but I didn’t expect her to stick around to talk about it after service. Maybe the next time she stops by for reloads…
Anyway, the fact I was wavering about it would probably surprise many people, but St. Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians that you have to be careful with communion – that you can damn yourself if you’re not in the right place when you take it. Doctrinal differences matter – especially in this regard – so I’ve always been cautious about taking communion at non-Lutheran churches. My mind was made up for me when I got to the communion rail. As the plate came closer to me, I could feel a slight aura about it – the Reverend’s blessing had some oomph to it, but I also noted that it felt … well, it felt “off” to me.
1 Corinthians 11:27-30 – Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
Now don’t get me wrong. The blessing on the bread and wine was just that – a blessing. But something about it wasn’t right for me. The theology and beliefs of Catholic and Protestant were just different enough that I knew it would be a bad idea for me to partake. For me – not for the rest of this Catholic congregation, and maybe not even for other Christians. But for me… I just kept my hands down and received a blessing. A slight touch of power washed over me in a perfectly warm, embracing fashion, and I think the Reverend was startled when it happened. That’ll be a conversation after service…
We got to the end of the service and Conor made his way to the front. I pulled one of the phonetic cards out of the pew to attempt to sing along with him, but quickly gave up and just enjoyed Conor’s performance. He didn’t produce any “magic” as he sang, but his pure performance had power in and of itself, especially since the hymn was about St. Patrick, at St. Patrick’s church. The congregants around me came to much the same conclusion about singing as I had, and were equally enraptured by Conor’s performance.
The service now finished, I made a point to stop by and catch Conor quickly – I had a feeling that my conversation with the Reverend would go a bit longer. We chatted briefly, but I could tell that he was eager to get out to the …secular… festivities. I wished him well, thanked him for gracing us with his performance, and mingled a bit while the crowd thinned out.
As expected, the Reverend came and found me. “Pastor Consprite?”
I was surprised that he knew my name. “That’s me, Reverend. I don’t recall that we’ve met.” I shook his hand, and his grip was firm. Very firm. And he didn’t let go. I looked up at him to question, but when I caught his eyes… well, they caught me.
A rush of images flooded my mind, and I instinctively realized that I was seeing him – flashes of his experiences, his personality, and more prominently, his strong connection to God. I could also tell that he was seeing similar information about me. As the connection between us closed, I found myself on the floor, my mind reeling, especially from the last thing I’d seen… the afterimage of a medieval-looking hammer. I whispered the word “Malleus” even as I heard the Reverend whisper “ Thoth.”
The Reverend not only still had a grip on my hand, but was still standing, despite an easy thirty-year difference in our ages. The pounding headache that I was left with after the mental contact was intense, to say the least. As he pulled me back to my feet, he apologized. “Son, with the company you keep, I was sure you’d been through that before.” As I carefully shook my head, he guided me towards his office. “Let’s have you sit down and we can talk some more.”
I flopped gratefully into a chair in his office, and he poured me a glass of water before taking his own seat. I noted (with some small satisfaction) that he took a moment to rub his temples before proceeding with our conversation. “I have to apologize again. I had no idea that you’d not experienced a soulgaze.”
It took me a few moments to process what he said. “Soulgaze? I thought that was a wizard thing…”
He smiled. “Not exclusively. There are a few non-talents who are granted this… gift. It took me awhile to get used to it, but it’s served me well.”
I didn’t have to struggle to remember what I’d seen in the soulgaze – it felt like it was permanently embedded in my brain. “Served you… in the … Malleus?”
His smile flickered a bit. “You should probably ignore a lot of what you saw. While some is my past, and some is my present, it’s a lot of images and metaphors, and tends to change over time.”
“But you saw part of who I am… Thoth.”
“Yes, true. But I was already aware of that particular tattoo on your arm.”
I sucked in a breath without realizing it, slightly uncomfortable with how much he knew about me. “Who are you?”
He raised his hands, and the easy smile returned. “I’m no one nefarious, if that’s what you’re concerned about – but you should already know that from the soulgaze.” I slowly nodded and he continued. “There are a quite a few clergy in the Metroplex that are ‘in the know,’ and we,” he paused, his voice becoming a little more nasal, “have been watching your career with some interest.”
I couldn’t help smirking. A Star Wars reference? “So you look after us little guys?”
“In a manner of speaking. Although ‘little guy’ would be a poor way to describe yourself, with what you’ve been through.”
Despite myself, I scowled. “Just how long have you been watching me?” There was a thinly veiled reference to my current situation in that statement, and my tone rose as I continued. “Why reveal yourself now? Why not sooner? Where were you while everything went down at LINC?”
The Reverend just sat back and steepled his fingers in front of his face.
I flushed as I sat back. It took over a minute, but I calmed down under his quiet gaze. “I-I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.” I placed the cold glass of water against my temple to ease the returning headache. “Well, for my tone, at least. Those are still valid questions, though.”
He nodded. “They are. And you must understand that I can’t give you all the answers. But you should know that Mr. Holton’s betrayal of your former employer was not on our radar. You uncovered that on your own. And Arthur has been caring for you, has he not?”
I tried not to be surprised that he knew Arthur Smyth. “So you work with the Venatori?”
“On occasion. My association with Arthur is fairly casual, if long-standing.”
I took a sip of water and kept my mouth shut this time. Have I mentioned I’m a quick study?
“People of faith with your type of gifts are rare, Matthew. Extremely rare. As such, the faithful take great interest in your activities, even as we allow you to pursue your own calling. But on occasion, we do have to step in and … limit… the activities of some who take their abilities as holy writ to act as they please.”
I pondered that for a few moments. “So no going all Knights Templar on the Metroplex?”
The reverend cocked an eyebrow at me. “I wouldn’t joke about that too loudly, but yes, in a nutshell.”
“No, again, it’s I who should apologize. I have needed to meet you, but my time and duties haven’t let me get away, and I honestly didn’t expect to see you in my church. I wasn’t quite as mentally prepared for the occasion as I’d hoped to be.”
Wait - I caught him off guard?
“Part of meeting you was to gauge your mental state and capabilities before you became too powerful. To find out if we needed to take some kind of action.” He held up his hands to forestall the questions that were coming with the scowl on my face. “But, it’s also to let you know that you aren’t alone. The faithful are around you and willing to help.”
“As a matter of fact, it was Arthur who approached me about you. He’s been concerned that you haven’t sought out more resources since the events at Christmas. And while the Venatori have considerable monetary resources, for safety reasons they have to be judicious in using them. Individual churches have other resources, and a bit more freedom to use them.”
“For instance, we do sponsor a fairly well-established food pantry-“
I cut him off, more angrily than I intended. “Reverend – I hope that if you know me as well as you claim, you know that I won’t take a handout.”
“Oh, no, son. I fully expect that you’ll earn it.” He smiles – one of those parental I-see-something-that-you-don’t-so-I’m-going-to-help-you-learn smiles. “But also consider this – although much of your work goes unheralded, suffice it to say that it has not gone unnoticed. Our providing for some of your earthly needs is small payment for that work. And if that’s not enough for you,” he motions, indicating the building. “There’s always things that need doing around here. Some help once a month or so?”
I released a breath that I didn’t realize I’d been holding, and a lot of tension that I hadn’t acknowledged as well. The past couple of months had been … tight. While Arthur had worked something out with LINC to take over my apartment, the stipend to cover my food and DART pass was barely enough. I’d had to tap into my meager savings a couple of times, and some of my familiar south Dallas churches had realized my situation and provided some food in exchange for the help I provided them. But regular access to a full-on food pantry would be… well, not to put too fine a point on it – a Godsend.
The reverend opened a drawer at his desk, and handed me a card. It already had my name marked onto it in neat, tight handwriting. “You don’t have to say anything. There will be a bag set aside for you weekly – just show that card. And I’ll plan to see you sometime during the first week of the month to take care of some odd jobs?”
I just nodded as I sat up to accept the card. My throat was tight. How prideful I’d been not to seek out more help sooner – to think that I could handle it on my own! My desire not to overburden Arthur and the Venatori had led me to try (and generally fail) to find solutions on my own, rather than seeing opportunities presented for others to help me.
Proverbs 16:18 – Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
1 Corinthians 10:12 – So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
I also slowly came to another realization – I haven’t really had an earthly mentor in spiritual matters. Brandon surely never fulfilled that role, Arthur is more secular than spiritual, and Barbara is a teacher. The Reverend is someone who is looking out for me… aware of the full scope of my activities… a point of guidance… and also serves a function that I’ve provided, but not sought out as I should. As a tear leaked out of the corner of my eye, I slid out of my chair and sank to my knees in front of his desk. “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It’s been… a long time… since my last confession…”