Twenty-odd years ago, during the time that we knew my Mom was sick with the cancer that would kill her, an amazing series of events happened.
It started one night when I was preparing to go to bed. I had turned off all the lights except one, a floor lamp by the stairs leading up to my room. When I turned the small knob to switch it off, the bulb made a small popping sound and stopped working. I went in to find another light bulb and replaced it.
I went upstairs and went to bed. That night I had a very intense dream. I dreamed that I was standing, tied up to a post, my arms behind my back, in total darkness. I was being attacked, tormented, assaulted. I knew in my heart that my tormentor was an agent of evil in its most malicious sense. As far as I knew I was alone, defenseless, and in great danger.
In my fear and terror, I remembered to say the Lord’s Prayer.
In that moment there was a flash of orange light, like the light of the sparks from a foundry. The light was like the spray from a waterfall after a spring rainstorm.
Then the lights came on and my bonds had disappeared along with my tormentors. I could see that I was in something like a concrete underground parking garage, with many pillars and no natural light. I was free to go.
I looked to my right and there was another person there, who I realized had also just been freed from the same torment. We talked for a moment. I commented that it was strange that God didn’t send anyone to save me. I was a little upset that I had to do it all myself.
The stranger smiled and said “No, he sent Saint John.”
I was short with him and said “If he’d sent Saint John, there would have been stars.”
The stranger smiled again, patient with me, and said “Look” and pointed at the concrete floor. There, fading away, slowly, were orange stars. They were the light that had spilled out when I’d prayed the Lord’s Prayer and we were released.
I woke up suddenly.
Thoughts raced through my head. What was that? Was that real? What does it mean? Saint John?
Still dazed by the vividness of my dream I went to my bookshelf. I pulled down my saint book that I had gotten just a few weeks before from a friend for Christmas. I’d not had time to read all the entries and I was surprised to find there were so many saints named John.
I read through each one, and came across Saint John of Nepomucen.
John was the confessor to Emperor Wenceslas and his wife in 14th century Prague. The story is that he heard the Empress’ confession and the Emperor wanted to know what she said, suspecting her of adultery. John took his duty of being a confessor seriously and refused to tell. After other clashes between the two men, the Emperor had John tortured, ultimately having him bound up like a wheel, where his heels were tied to his head. He was thrown in the nearby river and legend has it that seven stars appeared in the water over where he was drowned.
He is the patron saint of confessors, and the star is his symbol.
I spent the following day in a haze.
That night I again was preparing to go to bed. I again went to turn off the lamp near the stairs, the lamp with the brand-new light bulb I had put in it the night before.
When I turned the knob, there was a huge popping sound, and an explosion of orange sparks like I had seen in my dream the night before. The room was plunged into darkness.
I stood there, motionless, not daring to breathe.
Finally I recovered and carefully walked away, certain that I would step on a piece of glass from the shattered light bulb. I went to another lamp and turned it on, and brought a flashlight to help me spot the shards.
The bulb was intact. That explosion of orange light was not the sign of damage or destruction. It was a sign to me that my dream was real.
It was a sign to me that God is always with me, protecting me, even when I am helpless, even when I am alone.
It was a sign also to take seriously the role of confessor.