We were taking a walk, my husband and I, in the late afternoon of a sunny day in Autumn. The leaves on the oak trees had turned bright gold from a frost the night before. I began to sing an old Irish hymn, Be Thou My Vision.
Be thou my vision, Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save but thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Suddenly another voice joined mine. My husband and I paused in the sunlit clearing, listening for the other voice. I faltered for a moment, and then continued to sing, as a thin, weathered-looking, bearded man stepped out of the trees and walked toward us.
Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
As he came nearer to us in the clearing. I saw that the man singing with me was dragging a piece of twisted, old chicken wire. Our song died away as he approached and greeted us with a wide smile.
“I prefer that one in ancient Irish,” he said as though we had been long in conversation. With that announcement he burst out singing once again.
Rop tú mo baile, a Choimdiu cride:
ní ní nech aile acht Rí secht nime.
Rop tú mo scrútain i l-ló ‘s i n-aidche;
rop tú ad-chëar im chotlud caidche.
“But you probably don’t know that one, do you?” He grinned at us cheerfully.
“No, sir,” I said, “But it sounded beautiful.”
“Are you Irish?” asked my husband.
“No,” replied the stranger, “Are you?”
We laughed and shook our heads. The stranger chuckled as well. Then there was an awkward pause at which we might have all gone our separate ways, none the wiser. But the stranger spoke again and our story became intertwined.
“It does me good to hear another voice praise the Existing One,” he admitted so sincerely, I was sure there were tears in his eyes. Then he put out his hand and said, “I’m John.”
We introduced ourselves and told him that we lived on the edge of the forest and were out walking. At this point we paused, waiting for John to tell us where he was from and what he was doing in the forest with a piece of old chicken wire.
“You wouldn’t happen to have any old metal sheeting, would you?” he asked my husband seriously.
“Yes, there might be some around you could have,” my husband answered. “Are you building something?”
“A Faraday cage,” John replied. “Would you like to see it?”
“Yes, I would.” My husband responded immediately. “I’ve always wanted to build one myself.”
“Oh!” John replied, pleased. We began to follow him through the trees, further up the mountainside. “Did you know Michael, then?” he asked.
“Do I know Michael Faraday?” my husband was confused.
“Didn’t he live last century?” I asked.
“A very interesting man, was Michael. And a good friend.” John tossed over his shoulder. My husband and I looked at each other with suppressed laughter. John was still speaking.
“Michael was not as uptight as Nicola Tesla. Although, I couldn’t blame either one of them for being overly suspicious. It’s a shame what they did to Nick. He’ll be glad to see the changes next time around.”
“You knew Tesla?” My husband asked.
“Used to play chess with him time to time,” John explained and changed subjects abruptly. “I don’t know why it never dawned on me to try Michael’s cage. I guess I never need it until now. . . here it is. What do you think?”
There, under the tall pines, in deep shade, stood an object about the size of a refrigerator, wrapped in scrap pieces of wire and metal roofing. The frame was made of fallen tree limbs wired together. My husband said nothing at first, he just walked around the object, nodding his head thoughtfully. John watched him and then burst into laughter.
“It looks like a piece of crap!” he announced with hearty humor. We laughed with him, unsure of ourselves. This John-fellow seemed as sane as anyone I’d ever met. And yet. . . what the heck?
“What is it for?” I asked.
“To pray in.” John answered immediately. He made a face at some memory, and then shook his head and explained, “I like to pray.”
“So do I,” I agreed. “But why do you need to pray in a Faraday cage?”
“That’s how they find me,” John explained. “They’ve got this new machine now. When I pray, they’re able to find me. It’s a nuisance to say the least. At first, I just prayed and let them find me, and gave them hell. But then some people died. Good people, too.” His voice trailed away and he looked sad.
“It’s a great idea,” my husband spoke suddenly. “I think it will work.” I looked at him in surprise. John was instantly cheered.
“You think so?” he asked. “Do you think I’ve got enough metal on it yet?”
“It depends on what frequency you’re trying to shield or block,” my husband answered.
“Huh,” John said, with a frown. “Well, I don’t know that.”
“More than one layer of metal will help block multiple frequencies,” my husband explained. “I’d put on three layers, if it was me.”
John smiled his gratitude. “I’ll do that. Thanks for your help.”
“Sure. No problem. This corner needs a piece,” my husband answered, and together the two men bent the most recent piece of chicken wire over a top corner and wired it down. I watched them, my mind racing, trying to make sense of what we’d heard.
“Did you know Bach?” I asked suddenly, in a moment of silence. John peered around the corner of his cage at me. His eyes twinkled.
“Junior or Senior?” he asked. Then, before I could answer, he laughed and said, “No, I’m just joking with you. I didn’t know either father or son. I was in England at the time. Nice music, though.”
“How old are you?” my husband inquired. He was still bending various pieces of broken metal and wire into a tighter mesh around the frame. John was quiet at this question, and appeared to be thinking over his own answer.
“Not sure,” he said at last. “Pretty old. But there isn’t long to go now. Are you ready for Jesus’ Kingdom?”
“So ready!” my husband replied, nodding affirmatively.
“Let this be the day!” I answered.
“Let this be the day,” John echoed. Then he smiled. “I like you people,” he said. “But you’d best go now. Bad things happen to my friends.” My husband reached out and gripped John by one shoulder.
“Hey,” he said, “you’re welcome at our house anytime. God be with you, John.”
“He is. And God be with you. . . until we meet again,” John replied.
With this, we turned and began to walk away, leaving John in the forest with his Faraday cage. I began to sing again, and heard John singing with me until distance separated our voices.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
We did not see our friend John again. I suppose he’s still trying to find a safe place to pray.
Be Thou My Vision: Lyrics attributed to Dallan Forgaill, 8th Century; translated from ancient Irish to English by Mary E. Byrne, 1905, and versed by Eleanor H. Hull, 1912. Music: Slane - Traditional Irish Melody.