John C. Mannone

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The Cleansing

Just before boarding my plane for the flight back, my little sister gave me a slim, pocket Bible.

Crisis of faith is not unusual for many. War, disease, famine, pestilence. Those four horsemen can surely make one wonder if there’s a God, let alone a Redeemer. I have no simple answers. I can’t prove a priori God exists, but I sense Him. Nature tells me that; I see His handiwork. I am constantly awed by the universe and its language of expressed beauty, its mathematics.

Even the moon howled that night
as the pine needles poked the black
sky and the moon bled crimson
while owls shrieked into the silence.

My crisis of faith was Christ. In particular, did I believe he was God? I was and still am committed to evidence, the scientific method that tests and challenges the veracity of data, and also to apply a methodology of language for literary texts. The world of science and the world of the sacred may operate with different philosophies. One deals with the concrete, the other with abstraction, but both pursue the truth. The rules are not interchangeable. We cannot, nor ever will, prove the existence of God as if He were a mathematical entity. But circumstantial evidence is often more powerful than direct evidence. It has no agenda.

My faith eclipsed the darkness
and made it flee. I wrestled with it
all night. It wasn’t like Jacob’s
sparring with the angel of the Lord.

Just before sliding out of my car, I awkwardly stopped, half in, half out, juggling groceries; felt compelled to reach into my flight bag and fetch that Bible my sister had given me months earlier. I stuffed it into my shirt pocket and went inside the apartment.

I opened it to where she had left its tassel—in the Book of John—presumed marked for me; my eyes scanned the onion-skin thin pages, but not guided as normal to the words at the top of the left page, but rather to the middle of the right page inked with heavy letters. I thought nothing of the text until I had learned that my sister did not deliberately mark the page for me. For a long moment, my tongue was numbed with silence.

A wave of cold, then hot, surged throughout my whole body, moving from the top of my head all the way down to my toes—an adrenaline pulse amplified a hundred times—as I read the red-lettered words, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in the Father, believe also in me!” The words coaxed tears. The God of this universe, creator of Heaven and Earth, had just visited my heart with His own words of scripture.

His spirit slipped into me, to fight
the principalities of darkness: those ravenous
lions that prowl. Unrelenting. Stalking
me even into the recesses of midnight.

Thoughts sped as light; time dilated. I saw myself outside my body simply pondering the evidence with a scale in my hands. Is He or is he not deity? There was no longer any blindness. I could see the balance tip without hesitation. Gravity cannot deny truth. Nor can light hide my inhumanity.

That night, He washed the leprosy from
my heart, cleansed my flesh. As I showered,
my reflection in the chrome mirrored the ugly
things of my past, but blurred with pure steam

on the shower faucets. The tarnish
of wickedness lingered, clawed at my soul.
Glared with its green eyes. Hatred
daggered me. Almost cut me to shards.

I had been warned that this might happen. C. S. Lewis wrote about it, but this was far more sinister than his fictional demons. I was warned of the enemy’s indictments, his assault with lies. Cunning killers.

I prayed to overcome their fangs;
their taste for blood not sated.
I was covered in blood
and absolved. Finally washed.

I was completely washed in the precious blood of the Lamb. When I was finished and pulled away the shower curtain, the evil image simply evaporated with the mist.

John C. Mannone has work in/forthcoming in Adanna, Anacua, Number One, Artemis, Poetry South, and others. He won a Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Appalachian literature (2017) and served as the celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (2018). He’s a retired professor of physics living near Knoxville, TN.

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