Terry got up from his comfortable chair to answer the door. He saw pretty much what he expected: an elderly, somewhat scholarly man, at least six inches shorter than he, but just as thin, with a giveaway fleck of white at his neck under his heavy coat.
“Good evening to you, sir. I’m looking for Sarah Long. Am I in the right place?” The voice certainly wasn’t American, let alone the Latino he expected. It was pure blarney. This guy was either a very good actor, or he was as Irish as the Guinness itself.
“Sure,” Terry admitted. “Please come in, Father…”
“Nolan,” he supplied. “But, please, let us not stand on ceremony. I’m Edward Nolan.”
“That’s not a very Irish starter, Edward,” Terry observed, quite respectfully though.
“You’d be right there, sir. And I take it you are Mr. Gunn.”
“Yep. But, please,” he tried to mimic Nolan. “Let us not stand on ceremony; it’s Terry.”
“And so it is then,” Nolan agreed, with the merest hint of a smile acknowledging Terry’s less than convincing attempt at an Irish accent.
Having completed the ritual with the shaking of hands, Terry stepped back into the room to allow Nolan to enter. The priest looked a bit like a drowned rat in a dark overcoat. Obviously, the weather had not improved outside. “May I take your hat and coat?”
“Thank you.” He allowed Terry to help him remove his coat.
Terry extended his arm in Sarah’s direction, which led to a customary introduction. “This is Sarah,” he said as he placed the priest’s hat on their small kitchen bench and hung the coat across on the bathroom door, allowing the water to drip onto the tiled floor. “Sarah, Edward Nolan. I’m not exactly sure what other titles he might go by, but I suspect there are a few.” The new arrival nodded slightly in Terry’s direction before extending his hand towards Sarah, which she accepted.
“Very observant of you, Terry,” the priest added casually. “And the top of the evening to you, Miss Long.”
It was a pleasant handshake, firm but with nothing to prove on either side.
“Sarah, please,” she said. “Please sit down and make yourself comfortable. Can I offer you something Fa…Edward?”
“Make it Eddie, please. Edward is so…formal.”
She thought he was going to say “English.”
Eddie Nolan looked at the half empty bottle of red wine and two glasses on the coffee table. “Why thank you. I could enjoy a glass of that red if there’s any left in the bottle.”
“Of course.” Sarah said, busying herself taking a third glass from the cupboard, pouring the wine, and passing it across to him. “We know so little about Californian wines, but we took a punt on this one, and it seems more than passable.” Then she seated herself again, tucking her long legs up under herself. Terry, who had reclaimed his seat, picked up his glass, matching the Irishman as the latter raised his glass in a silent toast.
How on earth do you start a serious talk on this sort of stuff with a total stranger?
“Have you been in California long, Eddie?” she asked.
Nolan sampled the wine and nodded his approval. “About five years,” he said. He leaned forward and placed the glass on the table. “And I hope I’ll be here for a whole lot longer. I came to help out with Religious Studies at UCLA, and I love the place. I like this area even more. I’m thinking of retiring down here by the sea in a few years if I can arrange it. Is it not a beautiful spot?”
Sarah appreciated he was trying to make it easy for them. “It certainly is,” she agreed. “But forgive us, Eddie, we’re on something of an unusual search here. I’m very grateful for your coming all the way out here, but I’m naturally a little uncertain how this is supposed to work. Perhaps you might start by telling us how you came to meet Ramón.”
“Well put, m’dear,” he said without any apparent offence at her directness. “Ramón is an interesting young man, is he not? You were lucky to have found him as part of your ‘unusual search’. I don’t know how much you learned about him. He tends to keep things to himself.”
He stopped briefly to sample another mouthful of wine. “That’s another thing you were lucky to find,” he said as he returned the glass to the table. Terry decided Nolan was right about that, at least, and decided to do likewise. But Sarah remained still and quiet, waiting to hear more from their guest.
“But back to Ramón,” Eddie continued. “He began training to be a priest several years ago, but then decided not to carry on. I can’t go into his reasons, but I can tell you that he carried on studying at UCLA, and that’s where I met him. He was a student of mine for nearly three years.”
“Can I ask what he told you when he rang you about us?” she asked.
“Of course. He said the two of you were here because you, Sarah, had a dream and felt that the man the media have christened the Angel of Mercy would come to California. And Ramón believes the ‘angel’ may have done so.”
“That’s a good summary. But Ramón didn’t know I had a sense of connection with this ‘angel’ before the dream.” She thought about including the necklace, but decided against it. Rather she would move on cautiously.
Nolan didn’t seem at all concerned or surprised. Instead, he said, “I see. Can you tell me about those times?”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to do so just yet, Eddie. You see, we suspect certain people are very interested in the fact that I have this ‘connection’. I have no idea of their agenda, or why they should pretend they don’t exist. In fact, I don’t even know for sure they do exist. So I feel the need to be a little circumspect in what I say to relative strangers.”
“Like me?” Nolan smiled. “I quite understand, Sarah. If only half of what Ramón told me is true, I suggest you continue being ‘a little circumspect’.”
“Thank you for understanding,” She said, then changed direction. “Can I ask what experience you have in this whole area?”
The priest smiled again, almost as if she had said something funny, but not quite. She saw it and realised he didn’t want her to think he wasn’t taking her seriously.
“I don’t think any of us have much experience in it, Sarah. You’re talking about the whole area of the supernatural. It’s not just your dreams. There are plenty of people who could talk to you about their theories on the meanings of dreams. But you could probably tell them a great deal more about what made you follow up your particular dream. No, we need to look at this a little wider, to the whole area of understanding the supernatural. This angel is clearly doing things outside of our reality. And, somehow, he connects with you. I don’t know too many people who could explain that.”
“So why did Ramón suggest I talk to you, and why have you come all the way down here to do that?” They weren’t deep penetrating questions. She just wanted to know how he would answer her.
“Ramón and I talked of many things when he was a student,” the priest answered. “The Church would consider some of those things quite normal. Others, well…” he paused, “…maybe not.”
To say Sarah was surprised was an understatement. “You mean he’s had something like this happen to him?”
Nolan looked at her and smiled gently. “My dear Sarah,” he said quietly, “Like you, there are things I’m not willing to disclose. I’m sure you understand.”
“Of course, Eddie. You’re a priest. You have to maintain the confidences of many people.”
“True,” he went on. “But I can say I helped Ramón to talk through some of his experiences. You can draw your own conclusions about what they may have been. Or you could always ask him yourself.”
That left Sarah feeling stranded, not knowing what to say or do next. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye. It was Terry refilling his glass. She sent a silent plea for his advice, but all she got in return was his “you’re on your own, girl” look. She had to admit Eddie being here was her idea.
Eddie saw it too. “I see you are still not totally comfortable with things, Sarah. Perhaps I could ask you some questions, and you can decide if you want to answer them,” he suggested.
Sarah relaxed if only slightly. “Okay,” she said carefully.
Nolan began. “Did these previous times when you felt you were connected to this angel make you want to travel somewhere? You know, like all the way to California?”
“No, they didn’t.” She knew she should justify her answer, if only to herself, and needed to think it through before doing so. “But they did help me to put some of the pieces together to suspect many of these things were being done by the same person. It wasn’t my idea to go to Phuket. That was Terry’s idea.”
“What was different about the dream that made you want to come here?”
Sarah tried to recapture her dream and its impact on her. For his part, Nolan didn’t try to hurry her. He seemed happy enough to take another sip of wine as he waited.
“It had to be the sheer power of the dream,” she said. “I’ve never had, or heard, anything like it before—or since. I could see those hills,” she pointed in the general direction of La Conchita. “I could feel people’s anguish, even though I didn’t know what would happen. I had full control over what I was seeing. I could see from any angle and any distance. It was just so incredibly real.”
Eddie could see she was becoming distressed by the reminders, but continued gently. “But why did you come to this part of California, rather than somewhere else?”
Was there something in the pictures I saw? If not, where did the idea come from?
“I’m sorry, Eddie. I really can’t remember, but I must have got it from somewhere. After all, we did come here, and so did he.”
“So it would appear,” he said. “Tell me, Sarah, do you have any strong feeling or beliefs about spiritual matters?”
She smiled. “I was wondering when that would come up.”
He smiled back at her. “When what would come up?” he turned her jibe back at her. “Me asking about spiritual things? I’m sure you would have been disappointed if I didn’t. As you yourself pointed out, I am a priest.”
Eddie had clearly been down this path before. He wasn’t even a little embarrassed by his place in the debate; he seemed to relish it. Not so for Sarah, who had not been down this path before.
“You mean, do I believe in God, or something like that?”
“Not necessarily,” he said a little offhandedly. “People carry all manner of baggage when it comes to words like ‘God’, or even the idea of ‘believing’. Such terms are emotionally loaded and can mean very different things to many different people. So no, I was just asking if you had any particular views on spiritual matters generally.”
He wasn’t the one applying the pressure. Quite the opposite. And she appreciated his efforts to make things as easy as he could for her.
“No, not really.” But as soon as she spoke, Sarah felt she had to do more than brush away his question. Something compelled her to take the process more seriously—if she wanted to get the answers she sought. “No, let me rephrase that. Until a few days ago, I certainly would have said no. I didn’t even read the horoscopes. People were entitled to their beliefs, but I didn’t have to buy into them myself. But now…”
“Please!” He held up his hand. This time there was no glass in it. “Before we get into now, can we just finish off how we got there?”
“What do you mean?” Her doubts were threatening to return. “You want to know why I don’t believe in any religion?” Does he have some sort of agenda here?
His smile remained, now accompanied by a slow shaking of its head. “Not to pass judgement, Sarah,” its owner said. “I just want some idea of what baggage you may have on board before all this began.”
“Yes, baggage. Or, if you prefer, filters. We all carry our own internal filters. A friend of mine talks about layers of coloured cellophane. We all see life and events through those filters. But, of course, you already know that. You couldn’t succeed as a journalist without knowing that. So if we can identify some of those filters, then we may better understand your dream and your response to it.”
“I see what you’re getting at,” she said while still being cautious. She looked across at Terry who was trying his best to look disinterested, but failing miserably. The old guy has him hooked too!
“So, as they say in the customs hall, please open your baggage, ma’am.” Eddie was a lot better at feigning an American accent than either of them. But then, he’d lived in the US for five years.
“It’s not so much that I don’t believe in a God,” she said. “I just have no time for organised religion. I’ve seen too much of the hurt it generates. Look at your birth country, for example, or the September 11 attacks here in the US. I’ve seen the results of Hindus fighting Muslims in India. All religions talk a lot about peace and love, but somehow their adherents end up wanting to kill one another. I don’t have a problem with peace and love, Eddie; but I do have a problem with those who claim to preach it.”
If she thought that would put him back in his box, she was mistaken.
“Okay, that’s the organised religion bit,” he said. “Many people would agree with you. But now go beyond that. Do you have any feelings about the supernatural?”
“What? You mean ghosts and all that?”
“We could begin there.” Eddie was being very non-committal. Or perhaps he was trying to give her as much room as she needed to unpack her bags.
“I guess I’ve seen enough, especially in the third world, to accept things happen that we can’t explain through science or our western understanding. But like I said earlier, I’m enough of a home-grown girl to be pretty sceptical about some of it.”
His smile nodded its encouragement again. “What about psychics or people who claim to work in the paranormal?”
His questions weren’t getting any easier. The best she could manage was, “Again, I really don’t know. People do things I don’t understand, but I suspect there are a lot of phoneys in that area too.”
“So you concede the spiritual realm may exist, even if some people use it as an excuse to manipulate the gullible.”
She couldn’t really fault his summary. “Yes, I guess you could say that.”
“And what about dreams?” he said. “Have you had unusual experiences with them before?”
“No, not really. Perhaps the odd case of déjà vu, but that’s all. I mean I know I have dreams, but most of them have gone by the time I wake up. Sorry, I guess I’m not much help.”
“That’s fine. And thank you for being so honest. It can’t be easy talking about such things with a complete stranger.”
She relaxed and favoured him with a smile. “No, it’s not,” she said. “But it’s what I expect other people to do every day. No wonder some of them are a bit sensitive.”
“Who knows. Maybe next time, you’ll be a little more sensitive too?”
Her smile graduated to a laugh. “Somehow, I doubt that,” she said. “In our game, we can’t pussyfoot around. We ask questions people don’t want to answer. That means we sometimes have to confront and provoke people well past the point of rudeness. You could say we hurt people’s feelings for a living. Wow, Eddie! That’s probably the first such confession you’ve heard this week.”
Nolan chuckled softly to himself and at himself. His eyes laughed too, she noticed. That’s a good sign. He’s someone who has learned not to take themselves too seriously. I wonder if my eyes dance like that when someone tells me what they think of me.
The break was over, and Eddie got back down to business. “You said the dream you had about California was unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before—in terms of intensity, clarity, and its impact on you. Have you had anything remotely like that again since then?”
For once she didn’t have to think about the answer. “No, nothing like that.”
“Where do you think such an unusual dream came from?”
Sarah didn’t know how to answer him, and didn’t want to confess her ignorance, or consider the only possible answer. Eddie noticed her hesitation, but said nothing. He left the vacuum for her to fill.
“Given what happened when we got here, I would have to say the dream was not only real, but it also gave me forewarning of something which hadn’t happened,” she said very carefully. “Man can’t see the future, so I guess the dream had to come from outside of man. If we, if you, choose to call such a place ‘the spiritual realm’, well, Eddie, fine. It’s as good a label as any. All I know is that it came from a place I’ve never been.”
Eddie had his eyes closed as he listened to her answer. He kept them closed for a few moments after she had finished as if listening to something. Or perhaps he was trying to make sense of her answer. When he finally opened his eyes again, he said, “That’s a very interesting way of putting it, to be sure. It’s also quite accurate if I may say so. But I wonder if a more important question right now might be, ‘Are you interested in going there now, or at some time in the future?’”
A frown of concentration was creeping over her face as Sarah struggled with the question. “I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking me.”
“Well, you yourself said your dream had to have come from somewhere you’d never been. If you want to learn more about it and what else that place may have to tell you, then you may have to make it a place you have been. Can you see what I’m getting at?”
She knew, deep inside, Eddie the man posed no threat to her. But his ideas, these things he talked so casually about, they came on a horse of a very different colour.
Sarah liked to know where she was going and liked to have confidence in all the things that made her who she was. But there he sat, blithely suggesting she should disappear into the unknown with no tools or experience to help her.
“If anyone had said that a couple of weeks ago, I’d have laughed at him and secretly consigned him to the loony bin. This is the 21st Century for heaven’s sake.”
“But now?” he prodded gently.
“Well, now, I’ve had that damned dream—and what followed. Now I’m nowhere near as sure.”
Eddie paused again to enjoy the last of the wine. Terry, who had been very quiet during the whole exchange, silently offered to refill his glass. The priest smiled his thanks, but shook his head. It seemed inappropriate given the way their conversation was heading. Then he looked back to Sarah with his best professional expression.
“Do you recall what you said a moment ago in your answer?” he asked.
“You mean about the damned dream and not being sure?” she asked.
“No, before that. If my memory is functioning as it should, I heard you say something like ‘This is the 21st Century for heaven’s sake.’ Does that strike you as an interesting statement?”
“Why?” She wasn’t with him.
“I hear two references to the spiritual realm in it.”
Sarah thought for another moment or two before saying, “You mean when I said, ‘for heaven’s sake’?”
“Yes, that’s the one. And you said ‘21st Century’. We rarely stop to reflect on the 21st century of what or since what. I accept they are common expressions, but whether we like it or not or even acknowledge the connection, both refer to spiritual ideas.”
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Sarah glanced across towards Terry again, once again hoping for something—what was it, moral support? But no chance. Terry was still sitting there with a stupid, all-knowing grin, which said, ‘you’re getting shown how to interview someone, to be sure’. As if I didn’t know. This guy Nolan could make a very good living teaching people how to ask questions, box them into a corner they can’t escape, and then hit them over the head with their own words. Isn’t that what you do? a small voice in the back of her head asked.
Much as Sarah wanted to escape the heat, she couldn’t let go. “Let’s suppose,” she said, “just for a moment, I wanted to find the place my dreams came from. What would I have to do?”
“I’ll not pretend that’s an easy question to answer,” he replied. “People who are a whole lot smarter than I am have tried, and I doubt they would agree on what they learned. I don’t mean that some were right and some were wrong. Perhaps they merely discovered different things.”
“Well, that’s really helpful, Eddie,” she said, but her sarcasm was tempered with a grin.
Undaunted, Eddie continued to develop his answer. “Maybe so, but that’s the way it is. I do know we can’t control spiritual things in the same way we try to control things in what we call the natural. I don’t know of any ‘experts’ who can claim to have all the answers. It’s a bit like going to my university and hoping to find one person who knows everything about our world. We have many who know a little about some things and very little about a great many other things. And,” he added with a wry smile, “we usually don’t agree when we think we know about the same things. I suspect it is much the same in matters of the spiritual world. No one has all the answers to all the questions we might ask.”
“But,” he continued, “if you want to know something, then you go to someone who knows more about it than you do. People come to me because of my expertise in medicine, or fixing motors, or ballet, or even golf. I suspect it is even more ‘personal’ when it comes to the things of the spirit. Look at that coffee table. Someone under it would see different things than you and me, but it’s still the same table. I believe that’s how it can be with spiritual things. We’re talking about the same things, but we may see them completely differently.”
“You’re losing me, Eddie,” she said. “What are you trying to say?”
Nolan switched back out of academic mode. “I’m saying I think each person’s journey of discovery is personal. There’s no formula, no text book, and no guide, at least in the normal sense of those terms. Yes, others can help you to process what you may discover, but I have reached the conclusion that, ultimately, it’s a solo voyage.”
“That’s an odd answer,” she said. “I figured you for someone who would be pushing the usual party line.”
Nolan looked at her with a quizzical look. Sarah felt a little embarrassed about the words she so glibly allowed to fall out of her mouth. But having started, she felt she had to carry on. “Well, you know,” she said. “The formula is what we do on Sunday, the Bible is your textbook, and, I presume, the priest knows best.”
Nolan’s eyes sparkled again. “Well, some of us might want that, but if you ever wanted evidence to which we don’t have the answers, then look to what you just said. We all do something different on Sundays, or whichever day we choose to attend a service. We choose to interpret the Scriptures to suit ourselves and always differently from those we want to disagree with. And most of the clergymen I know, and I include the leaders of other faiths, may have a good education, but they are still groping along on their own journeys, which makes it hard to guide others.”
He paused as his passion became more obvious. “Surely,” he said as if presenting the key argument that would convince them, “if we had the answers, then we would see some fruit on the tree.” She was frowning again. “You know, fruit like love, peace, joy—that sort of thing. But I don’t see a whole lot of fruit, do you?”
“Wow,” she said quietly, looking across at the astonishment on Terry’s face. “You don’t mince your words, do you?”
His passion was fading, but enough remained for her to feel it in his words. “I try not to, Sarah. As you can see, I’m getting on, and life here is too short for bad coffee, bad wine and bad information. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no different from all those good and godly people. We’re in different places, but on the same journey. They may choose different paths, but I believe most of them genuinely are looking for answers. I may not agree with their choices, their methods, or their conclusions, but I can’t deny that, like me, they’re looking. And, if none of those wise and godly men and women can find all the answers, why would you expect me to?”
The fire in his eyes had dissipated, allowing her to once again see into the gentle soul she had first encountered. His outburst had startled her, but it left no doubt about how strongly he felt about the subject. Could I feel that strongly about it too? Would I want to be that passionate about something I didn’t understand?
“We can’t all run a sub-four-minute mile, Sarah, but it doesn’t mean we can’t walk. We can’t all win a Formula One race, but most of us can drive a car. We’re not all Cordon Bleu chefs, but quite a few of us can cook. Get the idea?”
“Yes, I think so,” she said. “You’re saying that most of us should be able to discover some spiritual things, even if we won’t know everything.”
“That’s the idea. You know, I started out looking for an answer to why my father had been killed back in the old country. I was a very angry lad. But as I dug down, I began to find answers to all sorts of things I hadn’t gone looking for. They were almost always more important than the things I wanted to know about. And, for me, it’s been a lifetime work.”
Sarah looked at the priest with newfound respect. “And did you ever find what you were looking for, Eddie?” she asked softly.
“No. I did not. But I found something I came to value a great deal more, something that made the things I wanted irrelevant. So I forgot about them. It’s like I went out in search of a bucket to carry water and ending up discovering plumbing.”
Sarah’s emotional roller coaster settled into relaxed amusement. She needed it after the ride she’d been on. “That’s an odd way of looking at it, but I think I get your drift. If I want to find out about my dream, I may not get the dream explained, but I might discover something else. And that something else could be more valuable in terms of what this angel is up to.” Sarah wanted to get the focus back on her and Terry and the Angel of Mercy.
I can’t offer any guarantee, Sarah. I’m sorry, I don’t know any other way to find the answers you’re looking for.”
But Sarah wanted more. Having started down this road, she wanted a result. “What do you suggest we do?” She wanted something tangible. So far it was all too fluffy. There was nothing she could grab hold of. “Should we go down to the local medium or set up a séance together?”
Eddie laughed. “Well, I would prefer not to. People can dabble into the spiritual using those tactics. And we can teach small children about fire by giving them a can of petrol and a box of matches. They can do a lot of damage to themselves, and other people, along the way. So, no, Sarah. I suggest it would be wiser to take another route.”
“Strange,” she said with a small smile coming to her lips, “I somehow thought you might.”
“I’m pleased I haven’t disappointed you then,” he replied as his easy smile returned. Her own broadened in harmony with his. “I suggest you consider what’s behind all this—your dream, this angel, you coming here, and perhaps even my coming here to talk with you.”
“I’m sorry, Eddie, you’ve lost me again. What are you suggesting?”
Nolan suddenly seemed more relaxed and confident again as if he’d found a way forward. “I’m suggesting there’s a reason for it all. I’m suggesting something, or someone, sent you the dream for a purpose. Or do you think the whole thing is just some convenient coincidence—or maybe an accident?”
“I want to say I don’t know,” she said. “But I find it hard to believe in coincidences on that scale. But why me? I’m not special. I haven’t done anything that thousands of others haven’t also done.”
“Perhaps, but I suspect you’re missing the point. Haven’t you seen enough to know you’ve been chosen, whether you like it or not. Would spending a lot of time and energy trying to understand why change anything? Why not bypass all that and take it as read?”
Sarah turned to her craggy comrade, hoping for his advice. Terry simply nodded somewhat vaguely. She took it as agreement, but was a long way from being sure.
“Okay,” she said slowly. “But let’s go gently here. You’re saying I’ve been chosen for something connected to this angel. So, either I keep walking into something I don’t understand with no real help or guidance, or I walk away and forget about the whole thing. They’re my only options?”
“I believe that’s exactly how it is, Sarah. You have to choose.” Then as an afterthought, he added, “Perhaps, if you decide to walk away, whoever is behind this will offer it to someone else.”
You cunning old man. You almost had me ready to walk away. “And they’ll get all the recognition for scooping the story.”
She saw no hint of guile in his face when he replied. “That does help clarify your options, doesn’t it? And even if you accept the challenge, I can’t guarantee you’ll get the story or the recognition. Like you, I’ve no idea where it might lead.”
“Is it any wonder others may have said no?” said Sarah. She was thinking aloud.
Nolan smiled a little wider. “No. Indeed not. I wish I could be more helpful, Sarah, but I don’t understand how these things work either. We probably aren’t supposed to.”
“I feel like Neo with the red pill and the blue pill,” she said, thinking about the famous scene in the movie The Matrix.
“It’s an excellent analogy. But you know a lot more than Neo did in the movie.”
“How do you mean?” she countered, quickly—or was it hopefully?
“As I see it,” he said, “the dream gave you a taste of what can happen. You saw it played out. And you know it’s to do with the Angel of Mercy. Is what he’s doing a good thing or a bad thing?”
Without stopping to think about her answer, she replied. “Good, surely.”
“Well then,” he continued, “surely whoever or whatever is behind this angel and your dream is also good.”
“And…” she prompted him for more.
“And…” he echoed, clearly thinking only a fraction of a pace ahead of speaking, “if the force behind it is good, then you might feel more confident about trusting it.”
Her eyes bored into his with an intensity she couldn’t remember having experienced before.
“Come on, Eddie. Let’s be clear about this. Are you saying I should take the red pill and climb into the rabbit hole to see how deep it really is?”
His eyes sparkled again as he sat back and raised his hands in a classic defensive posture. “No, Sarah. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. I can’t tell you what to do nor should you allow me or anyone else to decide for you.”
It wasn’t what she wanted to hear. “But that’s what you were suggesting, yes?”
Nolan closed his eyes as if seeking inspiration or, at least, a good answer to her question.
“Perhaps I was, Sarah. You see, I’ve never been given an opportunity like this. Perhaps I was wishing that I was you and speaking as if I could make the decision.”
“You would go on?” she kept pressing him for an answer.
His eyes stopped smiling for a fraction of a moment. For that time they reflected a steel-like quality that somehow embraced both determination and passion. “Yes, my dear,” he said. He paused only briefly before adding, “I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.” She felt a power in his words, spoken directly into her soul. If they were in a movie, she would have heard a crash, and a bolt of lightning would have appeared in the background.
“Can you tell me why?” she asked gently. They weren’t the words of a reporter. She spoke them as one searching for answers in a whole new place.
His smile returned. “I’m not sure you would believe me if I told you, Sarah,” the old priest said wistfully. “My reasons come from my own beliefs, which I know you do not necessarily subscribe to.”
She understood his reticence, but she was desperate. “But I would still like to hear them if you are willing to let me see into that part of you,” she asked.
“Very well, but remember, you asked for it.” The smile had returned, and he was baiting her just a little.
“To understand my reaction, you need to understand how I see what has happened. I don’t know why, but I believe this angel is in fact a man. I’m not saying I don’t believe in angels; I do. I’m a priest, remember. And before you ask, no, I have never seen one. But there is a great deal about angels in the Bible, so I am comfortable that such beings exist.”
Sarah looked across to Terry again. Sure enough, he was also hooked, listening intently to every word the priest said.
“You know, many times in my life I just know certain things to be so. I can’t explain why or argue them in terms of scientific theories. I just know them to be true. I don’t want to make this sound like a sermon, but there are references in the Bible about our learning things in spiritual ways. And I for one am incredibly grateful for that.”
He shuffled in his seat as if to find a way to be more comfortable with what he was saying.
“One of the things I learned in that way was a little more about who God is. I hesitate to use the word ‘God’ because it means so many things to so many people. It’s potentially explosive when we say it. But it’s the only word most of us have to explain the unexplainable. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that any god we could understand wouldn’t be much of a god. When I use the word, it means the One I believe God to be.”
He looked across to see their reactions. Both Sarah and Terry were still showing all the signs of listening intently, so he continued.
“My understanding and knowledge of God are not based on any one of a thousand theories or the writings of as many wise men—even if I have studied many of them. My God—I hope that doesn’t sound too strange, but that is how I see Him—my God is someone I have learned about in my own way and as He has chosen to reveal Himself to me. He is the God who created all things and holds them in balance. And he is so much bigger and more incredible than any one of us can even begin to imagine. I believe He is the One who gave you your dreams, Sarah. He is the One who has chosen you. Everything within me tells me that He is the One who, for reasons best known to Him, has offered you this opportunity. If you look through the Bible, there are many examples of God speaking to ordinary people through dreams. If you see the Bible as more than just a book of old stories, you begin to see the patterns being repeated throughout the ages.”
“You mean like Joan of Arc?” Sarah said. “She had some sort of dream, didn’t she?”
“Indeed, and many people didn’t believe her, did they? Others wanted her out of the way because they considered her crazy, or dangerous, or both. Can you not see that others might see you that way today?”
“But I haven’t had that sort of vision, you know, to lead people against an invading army,” she argued.
“That’s true. But it doesn’t mean the dream you had wasn’t just as real. One of the things I love about the Bible is that there are no formulas. God never seemed to do the same thing the same way more than once. He very rarely did what men expected either.”
Sarah groaned. Just when she felt she could get her head around, even accept, what the man was saying, he shot off into more unchartered waters. For crying out loud! Joan of bloody Arc?
“So you think your God gave me the dream?” she asked, still trying to process the possible implications of such a statement.
“Yes, I do. And not just because I’m a priest. It’s because I can’t think of anyone or anything else who could. Do you buy into the idea that it came from a part of your sub-conscious mind? How could your sub-conscious see into the future and know what was going to happen here in the graphic detail you saw in your dream?
I’m sorry, Sarah, but you did ask. I’m telling you why I would go like a shot if I could. The reason for me is simple. If my God is behind it, and He invites me to join him, then I want to be there. I have enough faith in Him and enough passion to be with Him that I would go to any place on the planet if I could help to make that happen. But, at least so far, He has not invited me. But I do believe He has invited you. Does that answer your original question?”
The groaning had stopped. Now she was stunned. Eventually, she was able to say, “Yes, I guess it does. And in a way it sort of helps. But not much.”
“Why so?” the priest asked.
“I’m not at all sure I can answer that, Eddie. If you’re right, if your God is doing this to me…I mean, what for? What does he want? What am I supposed to do about it? It certainly doesn’t make it any less confusing from my point of view. I mean I was confused enough before, and now you start talking about things I’m not sure I believe exist. I mean it’s alright for you to say all that, and I can see how you might believe it. But me…”
“Is that the bit that helps or the not much bit?” he asked with the same wry smile.
“It’s like one of those Russian doll things,” Sarah answered. “You know the ones you unpack one part only to find more inside. But in this case, the thing you’re saying inside is bigger, not smaller. It’s more complicated, not less so. And all I want is a nice simple story about a guy appearing all over the place doing good things. That’s not what you’re talking about at all.”
She looked back at him as if hoping for more. She wasn’t totally disappointed.
“Unless…” he asked.
“Unless my God is also somehow a part of the rest of the story too,” he said quietly.
Here we go again, she thought. But she couldn’t walk away.
“You’ll have to explain that for me.”
“I’m struggling with this myself, Sarah. But if you are having difficulty in seeing how you can receive dreams that accurately predict the future without God or other spiritual forces involved, how are you going to explain your friend, the Angel of Mercy, who just seems to appear and disappear, not to mention healing people along the way? That hardly fits with the way most of us do business.”
Silence. She had to think about that for a few more minutes before conceding. “You’re saying that if I can’t handle the idea of a spiritual dimension in what’s happened to me, then I won’t be able to handle this angel and his story.”
He sounded exhausted as he said, “Something like that. And perhaps that’s why we’re all here talking about it now. Perhaps my job is just to clarify where you are and the decision you might have to make.”
“So help me with that, Eddie. Please. I haven’t a clue about what I’m supposed to do.”
He perked up again to answer her. “Why not think of it this way.” he said. “It’s like you have reached the end of a trial version of a computer game. The trial was free, and now the manufacturer hopes to get you to commit to buying the game, so you can keep on playing. You have seen the process work, but it’s up to you to decide if you want to buy the rest of the game. You know the full game will have all sorts of new levels and challenges; it won’t simply be the same thing over and over again. To find out just what might happen, you have to give something to the manufacturer. If you felt good about what was involved, you can play on. I think you have to decide. Do you want to stay in this, or—as you so eloquently put it—do you want to bail out now and go back into the safety of the matrix?”
“Jesus Christ, Eddie…” she began.
“Quite possibly,” he added before she got the rest of the thought out.
“I’m sorry, Father. Forgive me.” There was nothing contrived in her apology. “I was just trying to get my head around what you’re suggesting. I mean I sat there and had plenty to say about Neo taking the right pill. But you seem to be saying I’m in that place now. It’s a whole lot harder when it’s me and not Keanu Reeves!”
“Just so, Sarah. Perhaps I should leave you to think about it. I suspect I have done all I can and what I came for. Here’s my card. If you want to get hold of me, do it—anytime, 24 hours. I mean it. This is far too important to…I’m sorry, I’m letting my own feelings try to influence you.”
“Thank you,” she said, taking the card and looking carefully at the information on it. “And thank you for coming. You have been most gracious, and I really do appreciate what you have said—even if I don’t fully understand it.”
Terry said nothing as he picked up Eddie’s coat and helped him put it on. He then handed him his hat and reached across to open the door. “Well, good night, and may God bless the pair of you,” Eddie said. He put his hat on as he walked through the door and then tipped it gallantly to her before disappearing into the darkness.