[Continued from Part 1]
I wake up, not quite able to remember how I got here, or how long I’d been asleep. I’m not even sure I’m awake now — it is pitch dark, and I have that drowsy, warm feeling I have right when I’m on the edge of dreams. I feel like I’m swathed in soft blankets. I stretch, luxuriating in the the safe, secure environment. I contemplate going back to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream…
Yet, something penetrates the muffled stillness of my blankets. Something like… the beating of drums! In a rush, the memories of the previous… day? week? decade?… come crashing upon me. I remember leaving my home, my mother… the men crowding around me, and ushering me into a car… then nothing. Blackness. LIke this. And silence.
But, silent no longer. Ignoring the pleas of my body to rest, remain, give in, I begin to struggle towards the sound. My movements hampered by the endless blankets, I make slow progress. In fact, the sound fades, implying I’m heading the wrong way. At least that implies some sort of direction. I laboriously invert myself, attempting to keep my bearings, and am rewarding by increasing volume along my new track. For a time the way even gets easier; I can’t quite stand, but at least I can crawl instead of merely wriggle my way forward.
The drumbeats grow louder, and I can even begin to hear human voices chanting, calling to me from outside. I become excited at their nearness; I must be almost there among them! Then, unexpectedly, my hopes are dashed: I’ve hit a blank wall. Frantically, I search to the left and right, but the blankness continues, curving back. I wonder whether there’s an entrance somewhere else, but instinctively realize that the sound is the only anchor I have, and I dare not lose it. I pound on the wall to let them know I’m almost there, and am rewarded by a brief cheer. Then the chanting continues, louder and even more insistent. I can hear the words now: Come! Come! Come!
Inspired, I try a new tack. I can’t go up, but perhaps I can go down. I scrabble away at the blankets, and manage to rip away the seams that held them to the wall. Elated at my newfound ability to actually change my environment, I dig deeper and deeper until I find what I’m looking for: a small window buried deep beneath layers of blankets.
Yet, my joy is short lived as my probing arm soon discovers it is not a portal, but a tunnel. And one barely large enough to fit through, if that. Nonetheless, having come this far I dare not turn back. For a moment I wonder if my clothes and belt will fit through, only to realize I have none! In the comfort of the blankets I did not notice, but now my nakedness makes the harsh tunnel all the more forboding. Nevertheless, the sound calls to me, and I can but follow.
The shoulders are the most difficult part, but somehow I squeeze into the tunnel, which fortunately is slightly elastic, and apparently lubricated, so my abrasions are minor. Unfortunately, it is longer than I thought, and after I travel two body lengths or so without apparent change, the chanting appears to diminish. I cry out, afraid that they’ve given up on me, or that I’ve somehow gone the wrong way.
Suddenly, the tunnel appears to disintegrate around me into a blinding light. Strong arms pull up the roof and lift me up. For a moment, I freeze in the bitter winter night, then someone throws a warmed bearskin blanket over me. As yet I can still see nothing, between the light of what seems a dozen flashlights, my frozen-over tears, and what I now realize is the absence of my glasses. I am led sightless over what appears to be an outdoor trail, picking my way carefully over the occasional sharp rock. Finally, we enter what feels like a small cabin, where I am seated on a small (thankfully padded) stool. Then my hand is released, and all the lights go out.
For a time, I simply sit and enjoy my newfound freedom after my ordeal in the chamber of blankets. Then, as I hear the soft breathing of the men around me, I realize that the ritual is far from over. There’s a sense of… suspense. Waiting, perhaps. But for what? I strain my eyes for a clue, but all is black; if there’s any windows, they must be covered up, else the night is cloudy and moonless.
Then suddenly, a light flares. A simple match: not enough to see by, but easily bright enough to be seen in the darkness. There’s a shuffling of feet, as of men making way for the match, which seems to be floating closer on its own. No, I can just make out a hand holding it, the only tangible object in a land of light and dark.
The hand drifts closer, and stops about 10 feet away. I hold my breath as I stare at it, unsure what will happen next, or what is expected of me.
Suddenly, the hand gives a quick shake, and the light goes out. I give an involuntary gasp at this loss of my sole reference point, but the darkness is quickly filled by renewed chanting. There are many voices, but each is so soft and indistinct I can’t make out any words over the drumbeat. Then finally I hear the Voice which first called to me, chanting as before, with the chorus in counterpoint:
Ernest Prabhakar, who once was a child, you have come as boy (come as a boy) You have traveled through birth, been raised up and clothed, (raised up and clothed) We honor and praise thee for all you have done (all you have done) But now is the time for the boy to be man (Man! Man! Man!) Ernie Prabhakar, will you be a man? (Man! Man! Man!)
The drumbeat stops, and the room fills with expected silence. Shivering despite my robe, I know this is the time for me to choose. Yet, I don’t know what is expected of me. Should I claim manhood now, despite my doubts? Or admit my weakness, and ask for help? Or just wait until someone gives me a clue?
My indecision seems to stretch for hours, but probably lasts less than a minute. Out of inspiration — or perhaps desperation — I grab for the only prop offered me: the stool. I stand up, and begin tapping it on the hard floor in a slow beat, matching the one the drums had been using. There’s a sudden hush, then laughter at my temerity and imitation. Soon the original drums start tapping along, and I even hear some humming. I add some syncopation, which the other drummer – drummers? — quickly echo. Then, as the beat picks up, I gather my wits and courage and begin to sing back at them
Men of my youth, I am still just a boy (still just a boy) Yet you all have shown me the meaning of Man (meaning of Man) I honor and praise thee for all you have done (all you have done) But now is the time for the boy to be man (Man! Man! Man!) Men of my youth, will you make me a man? (Man! Man! Man!)
Suddenly the room erupts into whoops and cheers, and the unseen masses press forward in a spontaneous group bear hug. Inside me something screams Yes, knowing I’ve answered correctly, if unexpectedly. I begin hoping that this is the end, that the lights will come and we’ll sit and chat like normal human beings.
Alas, I don’t get off that easily. Once the moment passes, the crowd dissipates, I am led to back to my stool, and the room waits again in silence and darkness. Which is soon broken by another light — this time a Coleman lantern, not merely a match. By its light I see Harold Mitchell, my scoutmaster, carrying it forward. In his other hand he holds a large rock. He comes within about six feet, then begins to slowly pace around in a circle, while chanting:
Son of Earth, receive my gift Man of Dust, receive my blessing I give you a body, young and strong Use it for right, and never for wrong. Nourish and clothe it, and keep it from harm That ye may serve others, with true and strong arm.
Mesmerized, I turn to follow him around the circle, neither speaking nor approaching him until he’s finished. Then, he lays the lantern and rock at the point he started, enters and gives me a quick hug, then departs the way he came. I don’t even try to follow, knowing the ritual has barely started, wondering what comes next.
What comes next is my electronics mentor Dan Pattyn, revealed in a newly lit lantern from the other side of the room. He approaches bearing what seems to be a small, portable electric fan. He circles at the same distance, but in the opposite direction, chanting:
Son of Air, receive my gift Man of Wind, receive my blessing I give you a mind, brilliant and true Fill it with knowledge, learn what to do. Reason and argue, study and debate Embrace all the world, that ye may find your fate
He too finishes, leaving his fan and lantern on the opposite side from the rock before giving me a hug and departing. Having deduced the pattern, I glance to either side wondering whether it will be fire or water.
Water it is: a goldfish bowl, as shown by the lantern in the hand of youth pastor Greg Speck. I can even make out his trademark goofy grin just on the edge of shadows. He comes in from my right, and makes his own circle chanting:
Son of Water, receive my gift Man of Waves, receive my blessing I give you a soul, the wellspring of God Father, Son, and Spirit adored Serve Him and know Him, forsaking all else For in losing thy soul, you will gain thy true self
This time he sprinkles me with the contents — thrice — before setting down his burden, hugging me, and departing. I face the remaining direction, waiting for the Fire. And am not disappointed.
The fourth man comes bearing a candle; in its light I see a face like unto my own: my Father’s. He walks in wearing the biggest grin I’ve ever seen, and begins the final circuit:
Son of Fire, receive my gift Man of Light, receive my blessing The power to create, or else to destroy The bringer of pain, the bringer of joy To bring forth new life, as soon as you can O Son of my flesh, now grown to a Man
As he completes both the circuit and his verse, suddenly the room is filled with sparks as every man presents ignites his own candle, holding it up high so I can see both them and their faces. They crowd in closer, their candles mimicking the dome of the sky as they shape the air around me. My dad pulls forth a dry branch from somewhere and gestures me to take it. I do, and he places a hand on my shoulder to help me to kneel. I kneel expectantly, waiting for my Father to light my torch.
But, to my surprise, he does not. Instead, he steps back to the circle and places his lantern down. The other three Bearers come forth and join hands with him, murmuring prayers. I wobble unsteadily on one knee, wondering if something has gone wrong, or if someone is missing.
Just then there is a thunderous sound, and the cabin door blows open with a resounding crash. I could swear I felt the earth tremble. The air outside is split with lightning, and suddenly the skies are pouring forth rain. Yet, in the midst of all this, a figure suddenly appears, bearing an enormous torch. The light is too bright to make out any features, but there’s no mistaking the Voice which sings out as it strides toward me:
The room and circle has parted to let him enter, and on ‘Done’ he swings his dangerous torch down upon mine. It bursts into flames, and I finally have enough light to peer beneath his hood.
Son of Man, the time has come From this day forth, you shall be My own Stretch forth your hand, and take of the Light Unite mind and body in search of the right Heart, soul and spirit are now become one. By my suffering and death, I declare It Is Done!
I’m expecting to see my own face, age 35 or so; he certainly looks Indian, but this Face is a tad younger, with a beard. Maybe 33. There’s tiny holes in his brow. I realize with a start that it is Jesus. But not the fair-skinned Jesus of European paintings. This Jesus looks like me. And then it dawns on me: this is my Jesus. The Jesus I am destined to be; the one uniquely me, yet totally Him.
I finally enter my Manhood, by receiving the Image of Christ.
The Face peers into my own for an eternal second. Then the flames flare up, and just as suddenly fade, along with every other light in the room. When someone finally thinks to turn on the electric lights, He is gone. The room is filled with ordinary men. Including me. Now a man.
Which, come to think of it, is anything but ordinary.