All Is Well

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… So Donal lives a present power of heat and light in the place. Most of his early friends are gone, but he wears yet the same solemn look, with the same hovering smile. It seems to say to those who can read it, “I know in whom I have believed” … “God is,” he will say, coming out of one of his talking moods; “God is, and all is well.” When he has said that, he never says anything more, but listens only to those about him. He never disputes, rarely seeks to convince. “I will do what I can to let what light I have shine; but disputation is smoke, and serves only to obscure the light. It is to no profit – and I do like,” he will say, “to give and to get the good of things!”

    — George MacDonald, Donal Grant


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I understand not living with hatred.  I understand how that can be corrupting, I got that.  I don’t understand how you gun down my wife, my mother, my father, my child, and when I see you three days later I say that I forgive you – I don’t understand that …

     Forgiveness is a big part of – especially post-civil rights movement – is a big part of African-American Christianity, and I wasn’t raised within the Christian church, I wasn’t raised within any church.  Forgiveness is a huge, huge part of it, coming out of the civil rights movement, but I can’t access that at all.   

    – Ta-Nehisi Coates, speaking to Terry Gross on WHYY’s Fresh Air, July 13, 2015 

 * * * * * * * * * * * *


If my readers will permit me for the moment to slip into the first person, I have a confession to make.  Sorry as I am to have to admit it, I haven’t always found it easy to speak in complimentary terms of some of my fellow Christians.

Perhaps it would be more accurate — and more to the point — to say that I haven’t always found it easy to forgive them.  Especially American Christians.  Especially contemporary American Christians.  I haven’t found it easy to forgive them for the glitz and the glamour.  For the success schemes and the motivational hype.  For the patriotism and jingoism, the conformism and materialism, the politicizing power-plays and downright lack of compassion.  To put it another way, I’ve been hard pressed to reconcile their version of the faith with my own understanding of the Pilgrim Path.  (Just for the record, I haven’t found it easy to forgive myself, either.)

Now that that’s out in the open, I have another confession to make.  Over the past several years, a number of incidents have been played out on the national and international stage that have caused me to re-evaluate.  Shocking and terrible things.  Dreadful things that have happened to Christian people, to which those same Christian people have responded in such a meek, humble, unassuming, and Christ-like way that I’ve been forced, in spite of my innate cantankerousness and cynicism, to feel unabashedly proud of their witness.  These believers have shown themselves to be true Pilgrims in the earth.  I can only hope to be worthy of their example someday.

The first of these tragic incidents took place nearly a decade ago.  On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk truck driver deeply embittered over the death of his own infant daughter, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, and told all the girls – ten of them – to lie down facing the blackboard.  After ordering the boys and the adults to leave, Roberts apologized for what he was about to do, explaining, “I’m angry at God, and I need to punish some Christian girls to get even with Him.”  Then he raised his shotgun and started shooting.  By the time the state police arrived, Roberts himself and two of the girls were dead.  Three more died later that night.

The Amish community’s response?  Incredibly, in the midst of their shock and grief, they extended grace and compassion to the killer’s family.  On the very afternoon of the shooting, the grandfather of one of the slain girls said he forgave Charles Roberts.  Later the same day, Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain.  As a result, the hundreds of reporters who descended upon Lancaster County to cover the brutal murder came away with a very different story – a story of forgiveness and suffering love.

The second incident occurred earlier this year.  On Sunday, February 15, 2015, the Libyan branch of ISIS released a video depicting their brutal murder of twenty-one Coptic Christians.  These men, who were drawn from among the poorest of Egypt’s poor, had been working as day-laborers in Libya when they were kidnapped by Islamic State forces.  They were their families’ sole support.  They had literally nothing except the thing for which they died – their belief in Jesus – and they died because they would not let it go.

The thirty-five days following the initial kidnapping were days of fear and silent torment for the families back at home.  When the news came that their sons, brothers, and fathers had been executed, they were shattered.  But that’s where this story takes an unexpected turn.  As these Egyptian Christians tell it, it was only a matter of hours before their grief gave way to rejoicing.   Somehow or other, they found themselves praising God for the martyrs’ homegoing.  Some of them actually felt a sense of gratitude towards ISIS for ushering their loved ones into Christ’s presence.  What’s more, they repeatedly expressed an earnest desire to pray for the terrorists’ spiritual enlightenment and salvation.  Their deepest wish was that the members of ISIS might also come to know the love and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus.

That leads us to Charleston.

On the evening of June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a twenty-one-year-old white supremacist, walked into a Bible Study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.  Concealed in his fanny pack he carried a Glock 41. 45-caliber handgun.  After receiving a warm welcome from the members of the church, Roof sat listening to Pastor Clementa Pinckney expounding the Scriptures for a full hour before producing his weapon and opening fire, killing nine of the fourteen people in attendance.  Pastor Pinckney was one of the first to die.  The motive for Roof’s unspeakable crime?  Pure, unmitigated racial hatred.  “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country,” he told his victims (six of whom were women themselves).  “You have to go.”

What can be done about this kind of senseless violence?  Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, one of the most notorious of all high-profile mainstream American establishment Christians, has the obvious answer:  more guns.  Things like this wouldn’t happen, insists Huckabee, if instead of welcoming strangers into the church with open arms, Christians would simply take the initiative to arm themselves against them.  “Frankly,” he maintains, “the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a weapon that is equal or superior to the one he’s using.”

There’s sound worldly wisdom in what Huckabee says, of course.  Unfortunately, that wisdom is at complete odds with the way of the Pilgrim.  The Christians at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church took a different tack.  From beginning to end they responded to the hater with love.  As a matter of fact, Roof has admitted that he nearly abandoned his insidious plan because the church members were “so nice to him.”  And their “niceness” didn’t stop there.  When Roof appeared in Charleston County court via video conference at a bond hearing following his arrest, survivors of the shooting and relatives of five of the victims spoke to him directly, telling him that they forgave him and that they were praying for his soul.  Guns were the last thing on their mind.

Is this hard to understand?    Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic, thinks so.  On the July 13 edition of NPR’s Fresh Air, Coates told interviewer Terry Gross that he “can’t access” this kind of forgiveness.  And who can blame him?  From a certain perspective, what he says makes perfect sense.  After all, Coates, like Huckabee, is operating on the basis of the categories, assumptions, and parameters of the kosmos.  Like any self-respecting American, he takes it for granted that it’s sheer stupidity to be weak and vulnerable, to let people walk all over you, to endure pain, insult, offense, or loss without seeking revenge, to give love in exchange for hate.  As a stranger to the Pilgrim life, he is incapable of perceiving the in-breaking reality of the topsy-turvy invisible Kingdom of God, nor can he comprehend what it means to follow the Suffering Servant who said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Meanwhile, the Pilgrims at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church are working from an entirely different frame of reference.


The Sword of Paracelsus: Epilogue

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It is a night to remember, and Morgan will not forget it.

Nine of them around the dining room table. Nine pilgrims on the threshold. The least likely, least expected, most stunning and impossible gathering of a lifetime. And he is a part of it.

A week ago it would have been unthinkable. A mere seven days by the calendar on his mother’s kitchen wall. Yet here they all are.

At the head of the table, his father: tall, godlike, silver-haired, shaven, and impeccable in a blue Oxford shirt and gray flannel jacket.

Beside him, his mother: a ministering angel, porcelain-skinned, crowned with gold, hovering over the evening meal like the evening star.

Next, his grandmother: stately and serene, shockingly rational, more like Grandma Moses than Grandma Wilma.

And then Moira, leaning on her husband’s arm, a look of sad resignation softening her sharp features; George, talking loudly and gesturing broadly; Peter Alcuin, nodding agreeably; and Baxter Knowles, eyes rolling and tongue clucking while his mother admonishes him to eat his peas.

Too awestruck to eat, Morgan lays his fork aside, leans back in his chair, and listens. Bits of conversation reach his ears unbidden.

“… Nothing more to be done …”

“… Land of the Sun’s Going.”

“… Cold case files …”

“… Inisfail …”

“… LAPD.”

“… Not even a forwarding address.”

The evening is slipping fast away. His father has risen. He is standing at the head of the table, addressing the entire group, saying something about Jacob’s Pillow and Pillar. He is quoting a rhyming couplet:


     Thy pillow was but type and shade at best,

     But we the Substance have, and on Him rest.


“And thus,” he concludes, “are accomplished the miracles of the One.”

There is a low murmur around the table. The speaker reaches into the deep side-pocket of his coat. And now he is beckoning—beckoning for Morgan to come forward.

Morgan shoves back his chair and gets to his feet. His heart too full to speak, he scuffles to the head of the table. There he stands, facing his father, a nameless longing burning deep inside.

“Take it,” says John Izaak with a smile.

His father holds out his hand. There is something in it. The something is hard to recognize at first. It looks like a bundle of rags. It is in fact a sheaf of makeshift paper. The leaves are tied together at the edges with bits of frayed string. At the top of the first sheet, in a bold hand and letters the color of dried blood, stands a title: John Izaak: Journal of My Imprisonment.

Morgan reaches out and takes it. He squeezes his father’s hand. “Thank you,” he says in a husky voice. “I’ll treasure it always.”

Another murmur. He leaves the dining room and walks to the front door. He steps out onto the porch. The stars are shining brightly. A faint gleam plays over the ruins of St. Halistan’s tower. Far away, at the bottom of the long slope to the sea, lights flash and twinkle at the Fisherman’s Wharf.

Morgan smiles. He wipes his eyes. Then he opens the leather bag hanging at his waist and slips the precious journal inside. And as he does, his fingers touch something else—something soft and sheer as gossamer. A something that almost is and nearly isn’t. The Feth Fiada.

His hand is on the doorknob. His heart is pounding softly. His eyes strain into the dim and distant West.

“Thank you,” he says again, whispering his gratitude into the cool, surrounding darkness.

And then he turns, slips inside the warm house, and rejoins the buzzing party at the table.

The End


 Sunset 001

The Sword of Paracelsus: Dust to Dust, Part 3

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“Dee!” cried John Izaak, making a lunge for the door. But Morgan was quicker.

“Stop!” he screamed, throwing himself against his father with all his weight and thrusting him back towards the rear of the cave. “Don’t do it, Dad! Don’t go out there!”

John Izaak gripped his son by the shoulders and stared down at him with a bewildered expression on his face. “But why, Morgan? What is it? What happened to Dee?”

Morgan slumped to the ground and hugged his father’s knees.

“I had forgotten!” he said in a despairing tone of voice. “Mrs. A warned us about this, too! She said this kind of thing can happen to people who go to the Sidhe and then come back again! She told us a story about a young warrior named Oisin. He went away to the world of Faerie, and when he returned he was a decrepit old man!”

“And how did she explain that?”

“It’s because time is different in the Sidhe! You can’t ever tell how it will match up with time in our world. It’s always changing! In the story, Oisin had been gone about a hundred years and didn’t even know it! With Eny it was the other way round: she left Santa Piedra after right school and got home in time for dinner, but she felt she’d been in Faerie for months and months!”

“I see,” mused his father. He closed his eyes and seemed to be thinking. At last he opened them and said, “Nothing bad happened to her, did it?”

“Well … no,” Morgan admitted.

“And what about Baxter?” his father pressed. “He walked out of here a few minutes ago. No problem. Right?”

“That’s true, but—”

“But what?”

“Dad! Don’t you see? You were in the Morrigu’s tower a really long time.” He bit his lip and nodded towards the pile of dust on the threshold. “I couldn’t bear to have that happen to you! Not after everything I’ve gone through to find you!”

“But you’re forgetting that John Dee was an unnaturally old man. Over four hundred years old! I guess I’ve been in the Sidhe about eleven or twelve years. That’s not enough to turn me to dust. Is it?”

“I told you! It doesn’t work that way. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”

“Well, then,” said John Izaak. “What do you suggest we do? We can’t very well stay here.”

“We’ll go back! We can live with the Danaans. Or the Fir Bolg! They’ll take us in!”

His father glanced over his shoulder at the two boulders and the sloping wall at the rear of the cave. “How?”

Morgan was at a loss. His eyes seemed to go dark. “Oh, I don’t know!” he cried bitterly, getting to his feet and stumbling over to the wall. “Don’t ask me! All I know is that you can’t go out there! I just can’t take that chance! I—”

All at once a thought struck him. Standing away from the wall, he reached down and touched his belt. Yes—the miraculous bolg was still hanging there! Quickly opening the flap, he rummaged around inside.

“Wait a minute!” he shouted. “I’ve got the answer!”

With that he drew out the Feth Fiada. With a flourish and a cry of triumph, he held it up before his father’s eyes. The magical cloak flowed down over his fingertips like a skein of weightless satin, like a vibrant curtain of silver mist, shimmering subtly in the dim light of the cavern.

“We can travel between the worlds with this!” he said. “We can do it right now! In a heartbeat! She said so!”

John Izaak walked slowly over to his son and put an arm around his shoulder. “Morgan,” he said. “I don’t want to go.”

“You don’t—what?”

“I’m not going back to the Otherworld. Not now. Not ever. Not for anything.”

“But—you mean you wouldn’t—not even for me?”

His father shook his head.

Suddenly Morgan saw red. “I’ll make you, then!” he said, whirling the cloak above his head. “She said I could whisk you away just by throwing this over your shoulder! And I will!”

Again John Izaak shook his head. He smiled sadly.

“I love you, Morgan,” he said. “And I’m indebted to you. You came after me when I was helpless. For that I owe you more than I can ever repay. But now—well, what I want now is to see your mother. That’s the longing of my heart.”

Mom! How could he have forgotten about her? Suddenly Morgan saw her pale eyes before him. He saw her sweet face framed by a halo of fine angel-like hair. He realized how he’d missed her and how much he wanted to see her again.       

“But you—I mean, you can’t—you don’t want to disintegrate, do you?”

“Listen to me, son. For the chance of seeing her again, I’ll take that risk. And a hundred others like it. A thousand times over. Can you understand that?”

All at once a light went on in his brain. He could. And he did. Oh, yes!—he’d risk it himself, he thought! A hundred times! A thousand times! A million times!

Suddenly shy in his father’s presence, he bent his head and put the Feth Fiada back into the bolg. Looking up tentatively, he took his dad’s hand.

“Come on, then,” he said. “What are we waiting for?”

Once more John Izaak smiled. And then, hand in hand, they ducked beneath the cave’s low, stony lintel, stepped over the heap of dust on the threshold, and walked out into the fading light on the shore.

Sunset 001

The Sword of Paracelsus: Dust to Dust, Part 2

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“Not exactly what you’d expect from a kid like that, is it?” said a voice from over Morgan’s shoulder.

He looked up. This time it was his father.

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” said John Izaak. “People can change in amazing ways when they get into tight, hot spots.”

Morgan tried to smile back. “The crucible. Right?”

His dad nodded. “True transmutation. Why, anybody would suppose you’d been reading Jacob Boehme!”

Morgan got up, put his arms around his father’s waist, and leaned his head against his chest. As he did, the tears began to flow again. Hard as he tried, he could not hold them back this time.

“I can tell you a lot about the Philosopher’s Stone,” said John Izaak, speaking very softly. “I’m also well versed in the lore of the Gral and the Sword. I know a good deal about Lia Fail, too—at least the part of its history that has to do with Jacob’s Pillow Stone. But I don’t understand what’s happened to Eny and Simon.”

Morgan looked up through his tears. “Why can’t anything ever go right without something else going wrong?” he said bitterly.

“What do you mean?”

Morgan felt hot anger welling up in the midst of his grief. “Mom got better, but then we lost the Stone. After that I started trying to find you. I wanted to find you more than anything in the world, and I did! And now that I’ve found you, I’ve lost Eny!” And the tears flowed afresh.

“I see,” John Izaak said gently, stroking his son’s hair. “And yet I don’t. Exactly where did Eny go?”

Morgan sniffed and wiped his eyes. “I should have realized! How many times did they try to tell me? All of them! The very first time I ever heard of Lia Fail, Mrs. A was explaining that the Stone could never rest until it came to the land of the sun’s going. Simon Brach agreed: ‘The Stone seeks its own destiny.’ The bard said the same thing in his song. But I think Eny knew it better than anyone else. She’s the one who told me, ‘Lia Fail travels the path foretold, no matter what we say or do: the Stone takes the road of its own choosing. We don’t control it. It decides.’”

“Apparently she was right.”

“Eny’s like that, Dad. She knows things. She sees what other people can’t see. And now I understand why. It’s because her destiny is tied to the Stone’s! It always has been! She is the Maiden of Perfect Purity, and she belongs in Inisfail! That’s where she’s gone! I should have been able to figure it out on my own! She tried to tell me—just last night! But I was too stupid to listen.”

Again he buried his face in his father’s ragged coat. But this time there were no tears.

“Dad,” he said after a while, “now that I’ve told you what you wanted to know—”

“Yes, son?”

“Well … there’s something I want you to tell me.”

His father stood back and held him at arm’s length. “Name it.”

“When we were in the Morrigu’s tower,” Morgan proceeded slowly, “you asked me how I got hold of the Sword of Paracelsus.”

“So I did.”

“And now I’m going to ask you the same thing.”

John Izaak rubbed his chin and chuckled softly. “A puzzle, isn’t it? Four hundred years is a long, long time.”

“Four hundred years?”

“That’s how long the sword was lost. Before I bought it.”

Bought it?”

“Mm hm. At an exhibition and auction of alchemical artifacts in St. Louis.”

“But—who lost it?”

At this point old John Dee stepped up and interposed himself.

“Zooks, man!” he protested. “I never lost it! I told thee—I cast it away! At Paracelsus’ bidding!”

Morgan’s father laughed. “So you’ve told me many times. But that doesn’t explain how thing ended up at that exhibit. And just in time for me to find it!”

Dee frowned and wrinkled his brow.

“I know naught of a certainty,” he said, pulling at his scraggly beard. “Yet mayhap that which the lad hath spoken of the Stone is true of the Sword as well. Thou didst not find it. It found thee. It came to thee of itself—at the proper time and for the right purpose. Perchance there is no more we can say.”

John Izaak glanced over at Morgan. “You know what, old friend?” he said, turning to Dee and taking a firm grip of the ancient alchemist’s withered hand. “I believe you’re right! And isn’t that always the way of it? ‘In the fullness of time. A time for every purpose under heaven.’ That’s how it seems to me when I look back over the events of my life.”

For the first time since Morgan had laid eyes on the man, a smile played around the corners of John Dee’s wry mouth.

“Ha!” he laughed. “Marry, it rejoiceth me to hear the words of Scripture in thy mouth! But now methinks the time of our parting is at hand. For mine own appointed hour draweth nigh, and it cometh strong into my mind that somewhere beyond this cavern door, whether near or far, lieth that sceptered isle men call England, and Mortlake, the place I call home. I will not conceal that am heartsick with longing to see them. So I bid thee farewell, my friend, and au revoir, for I cannot but hope that we shall meet again.”

With that he raised John Izaak’s hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he turned and stood for a moment, gazing at the restless waves and the gathering mists and the shining pebbles on the beach. At last, as Morgan and his father watched, he sighed deeply, gathered up the ragged skirts of his robe, and stepped out into the fitful sunlight.

Instantly his body was reduced to a pile of dust and ashes on the threshold of the Cave of the Hands.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Dust to Dust, Part 1

Sword & Stone 2 001


Morgan groaned and turned his face to the wall. Eny, his best and only friend; Eny, his soror mystica; Eny, his most faithful critic, his most trusted adviser, the girl on whom he had pinned so many hopes and dreams (though he wouldn’t have admitted it until this moment): Eny was gone.

And that wasn’t even the worst of it. As he sat there on the cold, hard sand with the salt spray in his nostrils and the stinging tears in his eyes, it suddenly struck him that, this time around, their parting was final and absolute. All in one dreadful, terrifying moment he remembered all the stories he’d heard about the Sidhe, the Stone of Destiny, the Island of Inisfail, and he knew without a doubt that Eny was gone for good.

He had been sitting there a long time, shedding silent tears, when someone laid a hand on his shoulder. Thinking it was father, he rubbed his eyes and looked down. Like any boy his age, he was ashamed to let his father see him crying. But when at last he found the courage to glance up through the blur, he was surprised to see that it was not his father at all.

It was Baxter Knowles.

“Hey,” Baxter mumbled. “I just want to say I’m sorry. I hope you can—well, you know, forgive me. My mom always said I was a pill. Guess she was right.”

Morgan blinked. He opened his mouth to reply but nothing came out.

“I know where we are,” Baxter went on, nodding towards the cavern door. “Home. Those rocks out there, that beach, that curve of shoreline. It’s Santa Piedra. My dad practically owned the place. But he’s gone now. Gone for good.” He laughed a short, harsh laugh; but Morgan thought there was something glinting on his cheek.

“Yeah,” Baxter drawled. “I was thinking I could impress him with that sword of yours. But I was wrong. I’m really, really sorry. I see now that nothing would have impressed him.”

Morgan shook his head uncertainly.

“I need to say thanks, too. You could have left me back there, Izaak—back in that weird woman’s tower. You didn’t. How come?”

Morgan couldn’t speak. His lip was trembling and there was a big lump stuck in his throat.

“That’s okay,” said Baxter. “You don’t have to say anything. I already know the answer. It’s ‘cause you’re the son of your father. You just did what he would have done. Like I said, I think your dad’s a great guy. I only wish—well, never mind. I’d just like to know him better, that’s all. You too,” he added sheepishly.

He stuck out his hand. Morgan took it and squeezed it.

“So,” said Baxter, turning to the door again. “How long do you figure we’ve been gone? No idea? Me neither. But I know my mom will be worried. Better get going. See you later?”

Morgan nodded mutely. Without another word, Baxter ducked under the low-hanging doorway, stepped outside, and went crunching away down the pebbly shore between the rocky cliffs and the briny tide pools.

(To be continued …)

It’s Getting Very Near The End

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Dear Friends,

Only one chapter and a short epilogue remain of The Sword of Paracelsus.  I’m not sure what will happen when it’s finished at last … though I have seriously considered taking Pilgrimagination “off the air” at that time.  Any thoughts or reactions?  Or as my friend Charles Carr used to say, “Is this microphone on?”

The Humble Author of These Pages

Humble Love

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Brothers, have no fear of men’s sin.  Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth …

At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men’s sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love.  Always decide to use humble love.  If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world.  Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it …

If the evil-doing of men moves you to indignation and overwhelming distress, even to a desire for vengeance on the evil-doers, shun above all things that feeling.  Go at once and seek suffering for yourself, as though you were yourself guilty of that wrong.  Accept that suffering and bear it and your heart will find comfort, and you will understand that you too are guilty … 

           —  Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

The Sword of Paracelsus: The Green Island, Part 3

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Morgan shook himself and blinked.  His currach was drifting down a rapidly flowing subterranean stream, through a cavern of rubies and diamonds, under the glow of an inverted forest of sparkling stalactites.  Gone was the all-engulfing darkness.  Gone was the smothering abyss.  Through an opening at the end of the passage, an opening that drew nearer by the moment, he could see splotches of sunlight dancing on the surface of a sparkling sea.

“Morgan!” he heard Eny call from the other boat, which was dashing after Lia Fail some fifty feet ahead of his own.  “Do you see it?”

“See what?” he shouted back.

Eagerly she turned and pointed out through the door at the end of the tunnel.  “The Island!  The Green Island in the West!”

Beyond the mouth of the cave rolled the wide expanse of the ocean.  He leaned forward and stared at it hard, searching its rippling ridges for the object Eny was so anxious to show him.  And as he did, it suddenly dawned upon him:  he knew those blue waters.  He had seen them before.

He wasn’t sure how he knew this.  He just knew that he did.  The ceiling above his head might be studded with Faerie gems, but it was as plain as day that the light outside the cavern was not the light of Faerie at all.  It was the brave yellow light of September in California.  It belonged not to the world of the Tuatha De Danann and Baile Daoine Sidhe, but to the world of La Punta Lira and Santa Piedra Middle School.  And far away, at the very edge of that world, gleaming through a hole in a veil of mist, was the thing Eny was trying to make him see:  a bright speck of green; an island on the horizon, green as the first buds of early spring; a fresh, green land beyond the extremity of the sun’s going.

He turned.  The brave light of the Pacific Ocean was shining clear and strong on his father’s deeply lined face.  It lay like a mantle on the shoulder of old John Dee, whose crinkly eyes were glowing like Christmas morning.  It shone red-gold on Baxter Knowles’s ruddy complexion and rumpled blond hair.  It glinted blue in the corner of Eny’s eye.

He could see her there, standing in the stern of Simon’s currach, waving at him just as she had waved on the day when she moved away to Los Angeles.  He remembered that day with a pang.  He got to his feet and waved back.  But then, without warning, he stumbled and fell as his little boat struck an obstacle and grated to an unexpected halt.

“What was that?” said Baxter.

Morgan glanced over the side.  They had run aground on a shallow bank of sand and gravel not twenty feet from the tunnel’s end.  There was something on the wall beside the cavern door—neither gems nor jewels, but hands.  Hands painted in red ochre.  Morgan knew them, too:  hundreds of waving hands, red hands reaching and sweeping upward towards the ceiling like a chorus of living flame.

He jumped out of the currach.  The sand beneath his feet was cool and dry.  Gone was every trace of the underground stream that had carried their boat to this point.  The Cave of the Hands—for indeed it was La Cueva de los Manos—looked exactly as he remembered it: the sloping ceiling, the dripping gray walls, the pair of squat boulders at the rear of the shadowy chamber.

Sick with a sudden dread, he ran to the door and looked out.  Far across the rolling swells of the Pacific two tiny specks were racing towards the window in the shifting bank of silver-gray fog.  He recognized them at once.  The one was the Stone of Destiny.  He knew this, for he could see the sun sparkling brightly on the broken blade of the Sword of Paracelsus.  The other was Simon’s currach with Eochy and Eny aboard.  Already they were more than halfway to the spot where Green Island gleamed like an emerald through the oscillating hole in the swirling mist.

While he watched, the two specks merged.  As one, they slipped through the aperture on the horizon just as its swirling edges drew together like the mouth of a drawstring bag.  Then the green spark died and the fog bank collapsed.  The mist streamed shoreward like a sheet of bubbling foam.

Morgan crumpled against the wall with his head in his hands.

Sunset 001

The Sword of Paracelsus: The Green Island, Part 2

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Morgan breathed a sigh of relief.  But in the next instant his ears were assailed by another sound, this one even more dreadful than the whirlpool’s mournful wail.  For over his head, on the tail of the shrieking wind, came a chorus of shrill and desperate cries—the voices of Sengann, Slanga, and Crimthann.  Looking back towards the Morslogh, he saw their currach spinning like a leaf on the cusp of the abyss.  A moment later it was sliding down the sheer glassy slope of the Maelstrom’s inner side, disappearing into the lightless depths without a trace.

“Horrible!” groaned Baxter, covering his eyes.

But Morgan couldn’t help recalling the conclusion of Eny’s story.  “Maybe not,” he said, thinking back to that night—it seemed so long ago!—when he had found her dripping with seawater on the front porch of the duplex in Santa Piedra.  “Remember, we’re in the Sidhe.  Strange things happen here.”

His father eyed him curiously.  “I believe you’re right.  In any case, they’re beyond our help now.  We have to keep on following the Stone, come what may.  Look!  Simon, Eny, and Eochy are still up ahead, right behind Lia Fail!”

Morgan peered at the curving shoreline.  It was bending towards another narrow inlet, and at the head of this inlet appeared something like a small black spot in the face of the white cliff.  The closer they came, the larger it grew.  Eyeing it intently through the spray and the mist, he soon realized that the spot was in fact the mouth of a cave.  A minute more and Lia Fail was plunging straight into this gaping hole in the rock, drawing the two remaining currachs after it.

And now came darkness—a darkness deeper, denser, more impenetrable than anything he had ever known.  Down through the opening in the cliff hurtled the two little boats, in under the shadow of the overhanging rock, along an underground torrent, and into the jaws of a sunless chasm …


     Dark essentiality.  Black bile in dry earth.  Absence of all, negation of none.  Tangible tincture, trembling turba, anguish of anxious Mercury.  Before the beginning, before all time, before the spoken Word—world without end, world without light.        

     Where there is stillness, he thinks, is neither joy nor motion.  For all life, external and internal, consists in poison and light.  Kingdoms in conflict.  Out of the Iliaster and up through the fiery hungry desire.  The seed of the woman and the serpent’s head.  The astrum and the sulphur.  Calcination, Dissolution, and Separation.  Conjunction, Fermentation, Distillation, Coagulation.      

     Time, times, and half a time.  And then a sudden something.  The Flagrat.  A displaying flash, brief as a heartbeat, small as a pinprick.  In the distance, a spark like a heavenly jewel.  The Broken Sword.  The Noble Stone.  The Bridegroom and the Bride.  The Sister and the Spouse.  For the one is the cause of the other, and the love-lubet rules them all.

     Faith, he says, is incessant desire; satisfaction the never-ending ache.  And as he speaks—or is it the voice of another he hears?—the stars blaze overhead.  He lifts his face; they drip with strands of gold.  They rain down beads bright as evening dew.  They swoop and swell in luminous festoons.  Upward heaves the vaulted ceiling.  Downward bend the gleaming spears.  Outward shoot the smooth-bright crystal walls.  And nearer now, just where the stream flows on to the end of the gallery, he sees a light at the end of the long, black tunnel.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: The Green Island, Part 1

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“I’m here, Dad!” shouted Morgan as he pounded down the sandy beach and came panting up to the spot where his father and John Dee were shoving their currach into the water.  “Don’t leave without me!”

“Leave without you?”  John Izaak clasped his son to his side.  “After everything we’ve gone through to find each other?  Not a chance!”

Morgan hugged him back.  It was hard to believe that all this was actually happening.  The morning sun was bright and all his prayers had been granted.  His dream was coming true.  Here he was, his arms wrapped around the father he’d never known and sought for so long.  He smiled to think of what his mom would say when she saw them together.  He wondered why Eny had taken such a dismal view of things the night before.

“Jump in!” his dad said.  “You don’t mind if Baxter rides along, do you?  Ollamh—I mean, Simon—has decided to reduce our fleet by one.  You and I are teaming with Dee and Baxter.  Sengann, Slanga, and Crimthann travel together from this point forward.  More bolgs for storage that way.  Amazing how these leather currachs expand to accommodate the load, isn’t it?”

“It was actually Sengann’s idea,” grinned Baxter, who was already seated in the boat, lounging against the gunwale with his hands behind his head.  “By the way, Izaak,” he added in a low voice as Morgan climbed in beside him, “your dad’s a great guy.  So who knew?”

Morgan glared at him.  “I could’ve told you,” he said.

By the time they pushed off, Simon’s boat was already halfway across the bay.  Morgan could see Eny leaning out over the bow, her eyes riveted upon the floating Stone.  Hoping to catch up to her, he struck in with his oar and started rowing with all his might.  But it soon became apparent that his efforts were superfluous.  Just as it had happened on the previous afternoon, so this morning Lia Fail seemed to pull the three little boats along by means of a power all its own.  Glancing aft, Morgan caught sight of Sengann’s craft bounding along behind them.

Ahead lay the extreme tip of the Point of Taman, a wooded promontory that plunged abruptly into the sea just where three opposing currents collided in a boiling, churning jumble.  Once beyond this spike of rock, the Stone picked up speed and bent its course abruptly back towards the land.

“Watch it!” yelled Baxter as the currach lurched sharply to the right, throwing Morgan into his lap.  “You don’t need to get that close!”

“Don’t worry!” said Morgan, quickly righting himself.  “I don’t intend to!”

Looking up, he saw that they were now skimming along under the lee of a steep pine-clad ridge.  High cliffs, dark near the water’s edge but rimmed with gold at their bristling crest, loomed overhead.  The jostling currents, so violent and jarring out on the open sea, now smoothed themselves out and joined forces.  Driven by the waves and drawn by the irresistible attraction of Lia Fail, the three little currachs flew along the coast at an exhilarating rate.

“This is great!” whooped Baxter as the boat bounced over the water.  “Kind of like wind-surfing!  Lots more fun than my dad’s yacht!”

But Morgan, whose pulse was already racing in time with the precipitous flight of the Stone, was all but deaf to the other boy’s outbursts.  His head was full of another sound—a terrible, deafening roar that had rushed down upon them the moment they rounded the Point.  He turned and looked out to sea.

“Look!” he cried, grasping his father by the arm.

Even as he spoke, a picture flashed across his mind’s eye.  In a flash he knew exactly what he was seeing.  Eny had described it for him many, many times:  a small island rising out of the ocean like a rocky thumb; and between the island and the shore, so close to their fragile boat that the wind of its gyrations whipped his hair around his head, a swirling, booming funnel of dark green water—a deadly vortex half a mile wide and a thousand fathoms deep.

“Charybdis!” exclaimed old John Dee.  “The Maelstrom!”

“The Morslogh!” countered Morgan.  “Eny called it the Morslogh!”

“To your oars!” shouted his father.  “Everyone lean to starboard and pull towards the shore!”

Morgan did as his father said.  But it didn’t take him long to realize that every paddle stroke away from the Morslogh was taking them closer to the treacherous rocks at the foot of the cliff.  Though hot and sweating with the strain of rowing, he felt chilled to the core with fear.  For a few moments the only question in his mind was whether they would be sucked to the bottom of the ocean or smashed to pieces on the razor-backed reefs.  But then, in a heartbeat, it was over:  almost before he knew what had happened, the invisible magnetism of Lia Fail had snatched the little boat out of danger.

(To be continued …)

New Creation

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… We have taught the fundamental distinction between the original mission of Christ and whatever form a state, including the present one, may take … The discipleship of Jesus Christ as our Brethren try to live it means practicing the healing love of God, not representing his wrath and judgment.  For our conscience, therefore, the old sacred order of creation of family and nation is subordinated to the new creation of the Spirit:  the church of Christ and the kingdom of God.  The discipline of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, who cleanses and unites, replaces the severity of military, political, and legal measures.

— Eberhard Arnold, Letter to Gestapo Officials, Dec. 6, 1933

I Am Not

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“I am not as other men,” he says –

Then shudders, for he thinks he hears

The posturing Pharisee

            In the shadows close at hand.


A pause; he stops; he stands;

Then chases tails of circling thought,

Smoking firebrands, little foxes;

            He ends in ash and stubble.


He returns again to his former place.

“I am not,” he says, “and I will not;”

Then hears their voices close at hand,

            “You shall, or shall not be.”


In terror then he runs, he flees

Before the awful Juggernaut,

He bends beneath the woeful yoke

            And buttons up the collar.


He stretches muscles that are not,

He paints a pleasant face and strains

To climb; he thinks he stands but falls.

            He ends with “I cannot.”