oxford blackfriars churchShort Stories

Nihil Sine Deo

Should one search inside or outside themselves, one will find nothing. For through this searching nothing is found. Ask and you shall receive, but not with words; with patience: ask calmly, steadily, without moving, or hoping, without saying or wishing, ask by simply being. Do not question when or how It comes to you, for you will know without any doubt. All the bones and veins in your body will know. All anxiety will leave you and your flesh will relax. Your body will be under no tension. All agony will depart from your heart and all worry will abandon your mind, and you shall feel light and at peace, contempt with the whole universe.

And then, right before death will embrace you, as it will embrace us all, right then, in the bright final moment, with your eyes closed, you will see It: the light of all love, a love that cannot be described in words – be them of poetry or of song – a love which cries with the stars and with the trees, a love that offers itself even to those who seek to destroy it, a love that shines a light in the darkest abyss of our existence, a flame in the coldest catacomb – the path to exit even the heaviest jail. But do not search for this, even if it is tempting, and it is tempting.

Do not search. Do not search. That is the secret. Ask patiently by waiting for it. And It shall come, that I promise you.

Remove the shackles of progress, of development, of becoming. Remove the chains of philosophy, the prison of art and the illusion of science. Abandon yourself to the path of faith, for it is in this abandonment that true freedom is found, within God – for God and with God.

Why God? God, we were told, is dead – and we have killed Him!

Indeed, we did. We sure did. And in the world over which we hung the corpse of God, we made everything in our own image, and it was not good, it was not perfect and it was not harmonious; for how could it be any good, or beautiful, or perfect, when we cannot create anything but only imitate. We killed God and God allowed us to kill Him out of love for us: to allow us to see our own limitations. And lost we have been ever since; even in the aesthetics of our thought…

We put man on the throne of God. We put man in the sacred place of morality, and we trusted man to legislate over us, and it was slaughter and pain. We believed in our promises of beauty, fraternity and certainty but, poor, poor people that we are, we delivered none of that, did we?

Now we come crawling back, on our death beds, back to God – to the Everything from which we left because we believed that we were greater than our limitations. We were not. We are not. And so the search began: looking through science, philosophy and art for a way back to God. We searched and searched, on our knees we searched, crying we searched, dying we searched, not realising that through this search nothing was to be found.

The only thing we had to do is to ask by praying. To pray is not to accept defeat, but to accept that we are much more than aimless animals that come from nowhere and go nowhere. And so, pray, calmly, steadily, without moving or hoping, without saying or wishing, pray by simply being.’

It was a glorious Sunday morning when Father John finished the mass in the Blackfriars Church in Oxford. The lithe, golden sun beams shined through the stained glass, reaching the faithful in their wooden chairs, falling on the polished brown wood, on their pale faces and on the thick winter coats. As it was usually the custom, after the mass, Father John would wait for the people to exist the church and salute them with a shake of hand and a small nod.

One young man with blonde hair, a set of emerald eyes and symmetric red lips waited for everyone to leave. Then, with confident steps, he approached the priest:

‘Father, the sermon was beautiful. How did you come up with those words. I mean, how does one reach such a deep level of theological insight?’

Father John looked at the young man, smiled and replied, almost whispering:

‘Well, those words were not mine.’ The young man followed the priest attentively and nodded solemnly, awaiting the continuation of his explanation. ‘When I was about your age, I was a young and untrained priest, full of doubts and questions. I was always reading books and writing thoughts which I believed were profound and that would eventually get me closer to God and help those that came to mass to do the same. Until one day…’

‘I was called for what appeared to be the final confession and communion of an old man. He was 98 and, when I got to his house, the nurse let me in and guided me to his room. I entered the place and saw him in a hospital bed covered in white sheets. His body was almost a skeleton. The only thing the man could move was his right arm in which he held an old rosary made of black rope. Around him there was nothing, just the dingy walls that looked down on him, as if death has climbed up in the corner above his head and was waiting to strike.’

Outside the church, the birds were singing, and the sun was high up in the sky, glowing warm light into the icy air of Winter. People dressed in colourful winter clothes were casually walking the cobble pavements of Oxford, seeking a cosy place to drink a cup of tea and observe the passing of time.

‘I entered the room quite timidly. I felt the end in the air. I pulled a chair and sat down next to him. His head did not move, only his fingers as he continued to pray the rosary. I started the confession and, after saying the introductory prayers, I asked him when was his last confession. He slowly turned his head towards me. His eyes were dark, but an unusual glitter was flickering in that darkness. An unusual feeling of unease gripped my entire body. For a second, all my muscles tensed, and my heart slowed down. I sensed a cold current passing through my entire being. But, just as fast as this force attacked me, it left my body, and it was followed by the sincerest emotion of happiness and joy I have ever experienced.’

‘After we finished and the man received the communion, I asked him if he needed anything else. He then replied: “I already have everything right here”, and slightly lifted the rosary. Perhaps it was my curious and sceptical nature, but I replied: “Are you sure?” The man then stopped from praying, kissed the rosary as a sign of respect, and, looking me right in the eyes, said: “No. But God is. The prayer is the way to God’s certainty. He knows all that there is, so I do not have to”. And then, with his jaw trembling, moving his long and unkept grey beard up and down, the man whispered, as if it was his last breath: “Nihil Sine Deo”.’

Father John paused. The young man’s body was warm with emotion. He swallowed his saliva loudly. The church was quiet and empty. Only a few grey rays were touching the pavement. A tranquillity that is characteristic of empty places of worship took over the small sanctuary, hugging its stone walls with growing, thin shadows.

‘In that dying bed, I saw the image of holiness. From that moment on, I never searched for anything. And all it was given to me: God showed me the way in everything. The words which I wrote for the sermon came to me. They were not mine. I was inspired. Inspiration and revelation are the ways of faith; it is how God works, how the world of the soul speaks to us. Nothing that we do can be done without God. Nihil Sine Deo.’

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