The Mysteria, part two: "Ave, Regina Caelorum"
Old church polyphony, lakes of fire, and the queen of heaven
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
A little more than 28 years ago, when Saturn was last where it was, I was sobbing on the floor in a small and cheap Florida duplex. Sounds were coming from the radio that I couldn’t understand, breaking through my mind, chanting from a world that couldn’t possibly exist, yet I knew it must.
I was pressed against the wall next to the table where the radio sat, crying, feeling as if something chained within me was screaming against its bonds.
Two years after sobbing on the floor in that Florida duplex, I was crying again, this time alone in a dorm room on the north shore of Boston. I guess I cried a lot back then. Of course I still cry, but I had many more reasons to cry back then than I do now.
That time, I was shuddering, my whole body quaking, convulsing from I can only name as terror. I was afraid, but “afraid” isn’t strong enough a word. Terror doesn’t even quite feel sufficient. If there were a word that meant both “terror” and “horror” and also a third thing, then that’s how I felt.
It was the middle of my second year of Christian college, and everyone now knew I was gay. That day, the day I was crying, I had been called in by my scholarship advisor. He was an obese middle-aged man with narcolepsy who’d fall asleep mid-sentence. He had several doctorates attached to his name, was also a minister, and was really, really stern—at least when he was awake.
“God’s word is clear abouuuuuttt…” he started, and then powered down.
This happened all the time, and we were all used to it. In the late 80’s, there was a children’s toy called Teddy Ruxpin that moved and mimicked speaking along to audio cassette tapes. Because it was actually just a cassette player, when it powered down and closed its eyes, the voice slowed down, rather than just stopped. When it powered up, it was the same in reverse.
My advisor’s battery had powered down. Sometimes this was just a few seconds, but other times he’d be asleep for quite a few minutes. His words would trail off, and then suddenly start again as if nothing had happened. I waited, awkwardly.
And then he powered up again.
“…hhhhhooomosexuals. They are abominations and go to the lake of fire.” He kept going, powering down and then back up several times before he’d finally finished what he’d had to say. I’d be going to hell, along with all the other enemies of God. And I’d also lose my scholarship.
That wasn’t why I was crying later in my dorm room, though. I was crying because I’d finally found that song I’d heard on the radio two years before. The song broke through me, shattering everything I thought about myself.
And there was someone inside the song.