The Firebird XXI

Rope Toss 2 001


I had drifted closer to the raft by now and could see the men more clearly.  All were thin and gaunt in appearance, and seemed exhausted with the toil of rowing.  Their clothes were in tatters, soaked with sea water and encrusted with salt.  Some had blood-stained rags wrapped around their heads, arms, or legs.  One of the company lay in the middle of the raft under a soiled canvas tarpaulin, apparently too weak or too ill to move.  Never in my life had I seen such a haggard group of faces.  Despair flickered in their eyes like a dying flame.  The cold, hopeless expressions with which they regarded me struck me to the heart.

“How can this be?” I stammered.  “I already told you – the Firebird directed me this way!  The three ladies provided my needs for the journey.  The Watchers in the Valley told me that he is coming and that he would surely meet me at the rising of the sun!”

“Where is the sign of his coming?” growled one of the gray figures aboard the raft.

Behind him another man laughed bitterly.  “Perhaps he comes for you but not for us,” he said.

Hopelessness flooded in upon me like the wide ocean.  These men are right, I thought.  What they are telling me is nothing new.  I have thought and felt all these same things myself.  Their faces alone are proof enough of what they say.  Where I am going, they have already been and have nothing to show for it.

“Will you take me with you?” I said.  “Will you help me get back to land?”

Again the steersman scowled.  “Things are tight aboard this vessel,” he said.  “Overcrowded already.”

A sudden breath of wind ruffled the ragged sail and caused me to shiver all over beneath his stern gaze.

“Still,” he went on thoughtfully, “What you’ve got, we need.  Take John here,” he added, pointing to the man lying under the tarpaulin.  “That cloak of yours would do him good.”

With that, he uncoiled a length of rope and tossed the end to me across the water.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Sunrise Service

Poet's Corner 001

Sunrise Service


Barbarians within the gates

Wait patiently their chance to pounce,

While loyalties and loves and hates

And blind allegiances announce

With urgent importunity

The time to poise on razor-edge

And seize the opportunity

Along the teetering temple-ledge.


While in at that same portal rides

Astride the gentle burden-beast

The king of beasts and all besides

Towards the sacrificial feast.

Now blood and horn and burning flesh

Upon the altar crimp and broil,   

Burn and bubble through the mesh

Of firepan and brazen coil.


The darkness falls; a cry rings out.

Then just as soon the shout falls still.

And in the next the rabble rout

Goes driving up the hollow hill,

The cross before, the mob behind,

A knife concealed in every boot.

A veil on every face, the blind

Rush blindly to the judgment-moot.


One hangs there between earth and sky;

A great black thumb blots out the sun. 

Rocks split and tumble.  Day’s bright eye

Is swallowed up.  Cold rivers run

And steam through cracked and crumbled stone.

The dead come forth and go abroad – 

Joint on joint, and bone to bone,

Skin on sinew, flesh and blood.


The tomb is sealed.  The darkness covers

Weary watchers watching hours

Come and go; corruption hovers

In the air like threatening showers.

All gladness gone, all joy lies crushed

Like trodden grass.  All life is done.

But then, as all the world lies hushed,

Hope springs afresh with morning’s sun.


 Star 001


Pilgrim 2 001

                                     What though the tempest round me roar?

                                    I know the truth, it liveth.

                                    What though the darkness round me blows?

                                    Songs in the night it giveth.

                                    No storm can shake my inmost calm

                                    While to that Rock I’m clinging;

                                    Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,

                                    How can I keep from singing?

                                                                    — Quaker hymn


  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


There is nothing new under the sun.  Disaster, strife, bloodshed, racial tensions, national rivalries, trials and tribulations — all are regular features of life in a fallen world.  Anyone who follows the news knows that things of this sort happen every day – not just today, and not just in Brussels or Paris.  The Pilgrim realizes this.  He understands that the land through which he travels and in which he sojourns is an uncertain, unstable, and dangerous place.

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars,” says the Chief of all Pilgrims in what is often referred to as His “mini-apocalypse.”  In making this assertion, did He imagine Himself to be describing anything unusual?  Certainly not.  He was only talking about the status quo.  Why else should He have added, “See that you are not troubled”?

Nor was He troubled – deeply saddened, certainly, but not troubled – when, at another time, He received news of a couple of particularly disastrous “current events.”  In the first instance, a group of worshiping Galileans had been slaughtered by Pilate’s Roman soldiers within the very precincts of the Jewish Temple.  In the second, a tower had suddenly collapsed, killing eighteen people.  In both cases the Master’s response was the same.  He began by asking, “Do you suppose these men were worse sinners than anyone else that this happened to them?”  The answer, of course, was no – on the contrary, such occurrences are to be regarded as “business as usual.”  Then, instead of whipping His hearers into a frenzy by shouting, “Now is the time to panic!  We need more security!  Arm yourselves!  The end is near!” – instead of this, He gave the conversation a very different twist.  He refocused His hearers’ attention upon the question of their eternal destiny and relationship with God:  “Unless you repent,” He declared, “you will all likewise perish.”

Tension, bloodshed, disaster, death – this was pretty much the situation in Jerusalem at the beginning of what is now called Holy Week.  It was a time not unlike our own:  a time of civil unrest and international strife, ethnic and racial violence, revolutionary activities, and “terrorist” plots.  Armed and highly organized Zealots were biding their time, waiting in the shadows, laying plans for the bloody overthrow of the Roman overlords.  Occupying forces were beefing up security measures as tens of thousands of visitors poured into the city.  Relations between the police and the masses were stretched nearly to the breaking point.  People in Judea were looking desperately for a leader capable of responding directly to these dire circumstances with confidence and power.  They wanted a King strong enough to restore the nation to greatness and tough enough to protect common citizens from their enemies.  They expected the Man on the donkey to take things in hand and do something about the situation.  But He didn’t.  He was on a pilgrimage.  He had His own mission to fulfill.

His response on this occasion was much the same as it had been when He was told about the fallen tower and the slaughtered Galileans.  In spite of everything, He fixed His mind on the eternal and set His face like flint to go forward to His destiny.  Perhaps it was His example in this instance that later inspired one of His weak-kneed followers – the one ironically nick-named “the Rock” – to write the following words:  “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness …?”  That’s the question that really matters.

The old saying “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is truer than most of us know.  It sums up the story of Holy Week.  In the midst of political turmoil, unrest, tense relations between hostile factions, and violent street altercations, a gentle Man rode into town on the back of a harmless donkey.  Instead of overcoming and conquering all these negative forces, He was swallowed up and destroyed by them.  But that wasn’t the end of the story.  For following the blackness of Friday and the blank confusion of Saturday came Resurrection Sunday.

That’s the way it was then.  That’s the way it is now and always will be.  Such is the Pilgrim’s peculiar hope.  And this is the time to hold on to it as never before.




The Firebird XX

Raft 001


I had just finished an apple (they seemed the size of melons now) and was scouting the dark waters ahead when I spied another black spot approaching through the murk.  It was not long before I was able to make out its shape, dimly silhouetted against the dull glow in the east.  It appeared to be a log raft. Its square sail hung limp, for there was no wind, and I could hear the muffled sound of oars slapping the wave-tops in the distance.  Not a lamp nor a lantern shone upon it, but I was able to discern the shadowy figures of men moving about the flat deck.  In particular, I could see the man at the steering oar and hear his voice as he shouted out orders to the others.

More out of habit than anything else, for I fully expected to hear the voice of the small gray bird at any moment telling me to “let it pass,” I waved my lamp from side to side above my head and hailed the men on the raft.  To my surprise they saw me and steered in my direction.  They rowed up rather close and hove-to a short distance away.  Their faces appeared strange and ghoulish in the yellow glow of my clay lamp.

“Who are you and what’s your business?” called the steersman, leaning on his steering oar and jutting his huge bony jaw at me over the water.

“I am heading into the sunrise of Christmas morning,” I answered, shading the glare of the lamp with my hand so as to see him better.  “The Firebird brought me this far.  I am seeking him whom the Watchers say is to come.”

A murmur drifted to me over the waves from the dark figures aboard the raft.  The steersman grunted, rubbed his chin with the back of his hand, and looked grim.

“This is no sunrise you’re headed for,” he glowered.  “The sun is running away from you!  That’s the sunset – not the sunrise!  You’re travelling west – not east!”

West!  The thought of it struck me speechless.  What could I say in return?  I could not deny that my own observations seemed to bear out the truth of his words.

“And that’s not all,” he continued.  “It’s not just the sunset you’re headed for – it’s the very end of the world!  If you don’t turn back, you’ll soon fall over the edge!”

“If Leviathan doesn’t get you first!” muttered one of his companions.

“That’s right,” agreed a third.  “That’s why we’re rowing as hard as we can in the opposite direction!”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


Pilgrim 2 001

I arise today through a mighty strength …

             — St. Patrick, The Lorica  

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Patrick, celebrated today chiefly as the patron saint of beer busts and Guinness guzzlers, would be more than a little surprised at his modern reputation.  It’s true that an old Irish song makes him out to have been a great tippler himself –

No wonder that them Irish boys should be so gay and frisky,

Sure St. Pat he taught them that as well as making whiskey.

No wonder that the saint himself should understand distillin’,

For his mother kept a shebeen shop near the town of Enniskillen.

                                                (“Patrick Was A Gentleman”)

— but, for all that, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the real St. Patrick ever indulged in such frivolities.  We do know that he lived a life of hardship and rigorous spiritual discipline, and that he often devoted long night vigils to serious study and intense communion with God.  If ever there were a true Pilgrim in the earth, it was Patrick of Ireland.

Though the same song claims that “his father was a Gallagher and his mother was a Grady,” the fact of the matter is that Patrick was not Irish at all.  He was actually an alien, a stranger and sojourner in the Emerald Isle, a foreigner on a desperate mission, a suffering servant and slave to both man and God.  Son of the Decurion Calpurnius and his wife Concessa, Patricius or Patrick (known as Sucat in the ancient Brythonic tongue) was born into luxury as a Roman citizen somewhere near the west coast of Britain around the year 387.

When about sixteen years of age, Patrick was captured by Irish sea raiders and sold into slavery in Dalaradia, a kingdom of Ulidia (modern Ulster) in Northern Ireland, near the mountains of Antrim.  There he served a cruel master named Miliucc who shaved his head, dressed him in rags, beat him, cursed him, fed him with the animals, and put him to work herding sheep and swine on the slopes of Slieve Miss (modern Slemish).

Patrick had been raised in the Christian faith, but, like many of us who grow up in “religious” homes, it was not until he found himself plunged into the depths of pain, sorrow, and despair that he experienced the power and reality of God in a deep and meaningful way.  In his Confession he tells us that it was there on the hillside among the sheep, pelted by rain, snow, and hail, hounded by hunger, and tormented by thoughts of his long lost home, that he first became acquainted with his true Master.  There he learned to pray and discovered that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Stripped of everything else in which a human being might place his trust, he put his confidence in God alone.  In his loneliness, he pledged his life to the service of his Creator.

Since there were no “shebeen shops” in the neighborhood, the young shepherd had to sustain himself on what some might call meager fare:  a diet of watchings, fastings, and prayer.  One night when he was about twenty-two, a voice came to him as he dozed among the rocks:  “You have fasted well and will soon go to your own country.  Behold, your ship is ready.”

Trusting in the vision, Patrick immediately set out for the sea-coast.  After a journey of more than two hundred miles, he came to a port where lay a ship bound for Britain and the Continent.  When the penniless slave asked for passage, the sailors turned him away with harsh words.  But as he was shuffling off in confusion and despondency, one of them had a change of heart and called him back.  “We’ll take you on good faith,” he said.  “You can pay us when you’re able.”

The next twenty years are something of a blur.  We know that, in large part, Patrick spent them studying the Scriptures and taking orders in the church, probably in Wales and other parts of Britain, possibly for a time in northern France.  What is absolutely certain is that, after nearly two decades of preparing himself for ministry, another vision came to him in the night watches.  This time an angelic courier brought him a packet of letters.  In one of them he read the words, “The Voice of the Irish.”  That was all, but it was enough.  Patrick knew exactly what it meant.

So great was his confidence in the God of the vision that he did not hesitate for a moment to obey what he understood to be its message.  In an instant he saw plainly that his apostolate and ministry were to be spent among the Irish, a people he had every reason to regard with hatred and fear.  Those who had enslaved and humiliated him were calling out to him to “come over and help them.”  From that point forward his course was clear.

The rest, as they say, is history – a history that, unfortunately, is known to precious few.  Patrick’s was the first of many peregrinations to be made by successive generations of Irish and Celtic Pilgrims – men like Columba, Columbanus, Brendan, Aidan, and Cuthbert.   Historians agree that these pilgrimages changed the face of Europe.  But none of them would have come about were it not for Patrick’s unquestioning confidence in the One who called him to so difficult a task – the confidence that, in later life, inspired him to pen the following words:

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven …

Christ to shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding …


Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me …

Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me.


 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


The Firebird XIX


Apple 001


I was awakened at last by a voice whispering in my ear:

“Eat.  It is long since you have taken anything, and you must eat if you are to reach your journey’s end.

I obeyed, hardly knowing what I was doing, for my mind was still a blur.  Drawing the basket of apples from the folds of my cloak, I looked inside and found that it still contained seven apples.  But how much larger those apples seemed to have grown!  The basket, too, looked bigger than before.

Without stopping to puzzle over this apparent change in the relative size of things – for I was indeed thoroughly famished – I reached in and took out one of the bright green apples.  But just as I was about to bite into it, I stopped short, arrested by the sight of my own hand.  How small it looked with the great apple in its palm!  I wondered at the skin, so smooth against the smooth skin of the fruit, and marveled at how like the two skins seemed to have become.  This fair, smooth hand was mine without a doubt, and yet it had undergone an unmistakable change.  It seemed the hand of a small child beside the huge apple, which appeared to have grown to the size of a grapefruit.

I ate with great relish.  Again the golden juice refreshed and strengthened me, cooling my lips and tongue, quenching my thirst, satisfying my hunger, and warming me from the inside out.  The glow returned to the wound in my heart and I was comforted.

As was my habit, I would have devoured the apple completely but for a very strange thing that now met my eye.  At its core I saw a bit of paper, rolled up into a scroll, like a note thrust into a bottle by a shipwrecked mariner.  As soon as I unrolled the paper I knew immediately what it was:  the first page of the little book I had read in my room when the walls and ceiling were transformed into reflecting glass.

“Keep this paper with you,” said the voice at my ear.  It was, of course, the voice of the small gray bird.  “Hide it within the folds of your cloak, inside your nightgown, next to your skin.  Do not let go of it.”

I did as the bird said.

On and on I went, then, and just as before time passed without seeming to pass at all.  I knew that it was passing, at least insofar as I understand the meaning of the words, for I continued moving forward, carried by the current which grew ever stronger.  I went through the cycle of watching, sleeping, waking, and eating over and over again, but the light of the approaching sunrise never changed.  It seemed as if the great fire below the horizon was moving away from me at exactly the same rate as I was pursuing.

Meanwhile, the little scrolls of paper continued to appear in the cores of the apples I ate, occasionally at first, then with greater frequency as I continued on my way.  When unrolled, each scroll turned out to be yet another page of the little book.  You will have some idea how long I traveled and how many apples I ate when I say that eventually I had collected all of the pages and had the entire book tucked away inside my clothing and next to my heart.

From time to time I saw things.  As I watched, blotches of darkness on the waters ahead would grow larger and clearer as I moved closer, and then take shape as rocks, small islands, buoys, boats, ships, or the backs of great sea creatures.  In the beginning I grew highly excited at each of these sightings, desperately hoping that each might prove to be my salvation.  But always the voice of the small gray bird would speak to me and say, “Let it pass.”  And so I did.

 * * * * * * * * * *


Pilgrim 2 001

They went forth to battle, but they always fell …

                  – Shaemus O’Sheel 


 * * * * * * * * * * * *


“We’re gonna start winning so much,” claims a current contender for the office of President of the United States, “that you’re gonna be sick and tired of winning!  You’re gonna get bored of winning!  But you know what?  We’re gonna keep winning anyway!”

An enticing thought, perhaps, for dyed-in-the-wool patriots whose main goal in life is to “make this country great again.”  But such posturing is completely foreign to the mindset of the Pilgrim.  Winning may occupy a conspicuous place at the very top of the list of American values, but Pilgrims are more than content to be counted among the “losers” – one of the worst names you can pin on anyone in our current cultural climate.  This is yet another detail in which the perspective of the Kingdom and that of the kosmos stand poles apart.

At the conclusion of his delightful biography of St. Francis of Assisi, God’s Fool, author Julien Green offers what appears to be a somewhat painful confession.  After revealing that Francis had been his boyhood hero (“I want to be Saint Francis!” he once told the priest in charge of his religious instruction and baptism), Green goes on to explain how World War II shattered his idealism and shook his soul “the way one shakes somebody by the shoulders.”  He continues:

Saint Francis kept coming back.  The world at war struck me as one vast atrocity.  My mind gradually came to the conclusion that the Gospel was a failure.  Christ himself had wondered about the faith he would find on earth at his second coming.  The souls he had touched and drawn to him seemed isolated in the storm unleashed by madmen.  Almost at the midpoint between the first Christmas and the hell humanity was writhing in, a man had appeared on earth, another Christ, the Francis of my childhood, but he too had failed.[i]

Failed?  Green himself isn’t altogether comfortable with this idea, and so he closes his book by suggesting that, after all, it may be too soon to pass final judgment on the “success” of the Gospel:

Failed?  Apparently …  He [Francis] was convinced that salvation would come through the Gospel.  The Gospel was eternity, the Gospel had only just begun.  What were twenty centuries in the eyes of God?[ii]

This is a perfectly legitimate observation, and entirely on-target so far as it goes.  Yes, it is true that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day, and that a time is coming when truth will prevail and “every knee shall bow” to the Rightful King.  But this way of resolving the present difficulty leaves out the essential point that, in a very important sense, failure – and not success – is fundamental to the message of the Gospel.

If Francis failed, it was precisely because he was determined to follow in the footsteps of a Master who was Himself an abject failure – at least in the eyes of the world; a Man who, at the moment of crisis, declined to make a grab for power and allowed Himself instead to be led away by His enemies to torture and death on a cross.  If the Word preached by both Teacher and disciple seems to have had very little positive impact on the powers that be and the larger course of world events, it’s because it was never intended for such purposes.  Its goal was to bring in death and defeat – both for the world and for the individual – in order that resurrection might follow:

He who is free in his own nature came in the form of a slave;

He who blesses all creation became accursed;

He who is all righteousness was numbered among transgressors;

Life itself came in the appearance of death.

All this followed because the body which tasted death belonged to no other but to Him who is the Son by nature.[iii]

In the end, it’s all a matter of taking up one’s cross and dying daily.  Clearly not the sort of thing that political candidates have in mind when they talk about “winning until you’re sick and tired of it.”  But then strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

This is the gate through which the Pilgrim seeks to enter.


[i] Julien Green, God’s Fool (San Francisco:  Harper & Row, 1985), 273.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444), On the Unity of Christ.


The Firebird XVIII

Galleon 001



The great ship glowed like the sun itself with lanterns and torches and wondrous crystal lamps.  Her sails were striped with silver and gold and emblazoned in red and white with emblems of the sun and the morning star.  Very tall she stood above the water.  Along her flanks rows of ornately framed and warmly lighted windows opened out from her five lofty decks.

As she drew nearer I could look directly into these windows.  All were hung with curtains of gauzy lace that fluttered delicately in the wind and shimmered like silk reflecting the warm red light within.  Inside I saw the faces of people, laughing, smiling, talking; full, round faces, scrubbed and glowing.  The people were seated at tables laden with fruit, bread, red meat, wine, pastries, cakes, and pies.  I could see the rich clothing they wore, clean and pressed and brightly colored.

As the ship approached a cry burst forth from my cold and desperate heart:  “Help!  Save me!  I’m lost and drifting on the ocean!”  But no one seemed to hear.

As the vessel moved closer, I could clearly see the image of the sunrise embroidered upon the bosom of her cloud-like mainsail.  And now I could also make out that her figurehead was carved in the shape of the eight-legged horse.

This ship sails into the sunrise! I thought.  Her destination and mine are one and the same!  The people on board are loyal to the rider of the eight-legged horse!  Surely this was predestined!  Surely this is my one hope of safety!  I must get aboard somehow!

With that I began waving my lamp in wide arcs over my head and shouting more loudly than before:  “Help!  Take me aboard!  Take me with you to the place of the Rising Sun!”

I kept this up until the ship at length drew up alongside me, so near that she almost ran me down.  My shouts grew louder and more frantic the closer she came, but no one paid the least attention to them.  The eyes of the people who were feasting behind the lighted windows met mine, and I knew that they had seen me.  Some smiled, ever so faintly, then turned back to the warmth of their food and companionship.  One gaily dressed matron even raised her hand in what I thought might be a slight gesture of greeting.  Then she returned to the animated conversation in which she was engaged with a handsome gentleman in black coat and white tie.  After that the ship passed on into the glow on the horizon while I called after her, flailing my arms wildly above my head and kicking up the water with my feet.

The smiling faces were still visible as the gilded vessel drew away, leaving me alone in its wake.  I could make out the ship’s name now, engraved in gold script on the stern:  Sunrise.

At this my deep grief and frustration surged up into boiling anger:  anger at those smooth faces that smiled and smiled until they were lost in the distance.  They went on smiling until they and the whole ship were swallowed up the blur of light on the horizon.  I suppose they smiled until the topmost tip of the mainmast dropped over the edge of the burnished sky.

“They did not – they would not – take me aboard!” I moaned in disbelief.  “They left me outside – outside in the cold, cold sea, lost, alone, and without hope!”

Then, groaning again, I curled myself into a ball, wrapped the cloak around me, and cried myself to sleep.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Firebird XVII

Let it pass 001



To this day it amazes me to recall what the sight of that boat did to me.  I suddenly became aware of my situation in a new way, and my mood and perspective were entirely altered in an instant.  I was adrift on the open sea, caught in the ocean current, cold, alone, lost, helpless, at the point of death!  Why had I not seen it before?  At the thought, the wound in my heart turned cold.

I must get to that boat! I thought.  Waving the lamp above my head, I cried out frantically once again, “Over here!  This way!  Can’t you see me?”

I could see the boat drawing nearer.  But just when it had come close enough for those aboard to hear my cries and see my light, the voice of the small gray bird spoke to me once again.

“Let it pass,” it said.

“Let it pass?” I nearly choked.  “My one and only hope of reaching safety?  My last chance of escaping alive?”

“Hush,” he said in a stern but even softer tone.  “Let the boat pass.  It is not your only hope.  Look – it is moving in the wrong direction!”

“I don’t care about that!” I spluttered.  “I only want – ”

But I did not finish.  Somehow I realized, without knowing why, that I must do as the bird said.  And so, lowering my lamp, I hid its light in the folds of my cloak.  Then I pulled the hood low over my face and watched very quietly as the boat crested a wave, dipped into the trough, and slipped silently past me.  So close did it pass that I could see the faces of the sailors in the lantern’s glow; kind, friendly faces I thought.  A tear came to my eye and slid down my cheek.  I felt certain now that I was utterly lost.

I drifted on.  And as I drifted, it seemed to me that not merely hours, but days and even weeks went by, and still the light on the horizon did not change.

All this while I had nothing to support or sustain me but my cloak, my lamp, and my basket of apples, and these served me amazingly well.  Not only did the cloak prevent me from sinking – it also kept me warm and comfortable despite my being wet through and through, floating as I was up to my neck in the choppy waters.  My little lamp burned small but bright, never once going out or even dimming, for the water seemed to have no power to extinguish it.  What’s more, the oil never ran low though I had no means of replenishing it.  As often as I grew cold and empty, I had only to eat one of the golden apples to be instantly refreshed and warmed from the inside out.  Here, too, was a miracle:  for no matter how many apples I ate, there were always seven remaining in the basket.

On and off I slept – this could not be helped, for as my ordeal dragged on I grew bored as well as weary – and this further confused my sense of the passage of time.  Eventually a pattern developed:  wrapping myself snugly in the cloak, I would doze for a while; upon waking and finding my stomach empty and my heart cold, I would eat one of the golden apples; then, my spirits being revived, I would raise the clay lamp above my head and try to get my bearings, hoping in my heart of hearts for a sight of another boat.

None ever appeared – none, that is, until at last there came a time when I found myself roused from sleep by a great rush as of the cleaving of many waters and saw the glimmer of lights approaching on the water.  In the excitement of the moment I neglected to eat one of the apples, so that when I lifted my lamp and turned to look, it was with a cold and desperate heart that I beheld the sight that met my eyes.

It was a ship ­– a huge, three-masted vessel, gilded and richly bedecked as a treasure galleon.

 * * * * * * * * * **

Strictest Charity

Books 001

“Considering how much we are all given to discuss the characters of others, and discuss them often not in the strictest spirit of charity, it is singular how little we are inclined to think that others can speak ill-naturedly of us, and how angry and hurt we are when proof reaches us that they have done so.  It is hardly too much to say that we all of us occasionally speak of our dearest friends in a manner in which those dearest friends would very little like to hear themselves mentioned, and that we nevertheless expect that our dearest friends shall invariably speak of us as though they were blind to all our faults, but keenly alive to every shade of our virtues.”

Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, Chapter XX

The Firebird XVI


Splashdown 001


Cold indeed was the wound in my heart, yet not so cold as the waters into which I fell.  Against all expectation, I was not plunged into the icy depths to drown; for as I plummeted seaward my cloak of heaven-blue billowed out around me like a parachute, breaking my fall, so that at last I splashed lightly down upon the tops of the waves and floated there like a cork.

As it had caught the air during my fall, so the cloak continued to hold it on the surface of the water, inflating itself like life-raft or a pillow of foam.  Recovering my senses and looking about me, I discovered that my lamp and my basket of apples were close at hand, also floating easily on the face of the water.  I reached for them and drew them into the folds of the cloak, keenly aware somehow that these gifts might yet prove valuable.  Then up and down, this way and that, I bobbed over the crests of the whitecaps, pelted all the while by rain and hail, a strong current driving me along.  I knew nothing of the direction in which I was headed and was absolutely helpless to do anything about it.

Deep though the darkness was, and thick as were the mists, I was able to see a short distance round about me by the light of my little lamp.  More than once I came alarming close to jagged rocks, but never was I dashed upon them, nor could I reach them in order to pull myself out of the water.

After the current had carried me along for a while I suddenly broke out of the mists and the rain and found myself floating along under the stars.  The glow on the western horizon lay directly ahead.  Behind me the luminous blue mountains were already sinking into the fog from which I had just emerged.  It was clear that the tide was carrying me straight out to sea and on into the sunrise of Christmas morning.

Oddly enough, though the time seemed to stretch into hours, that approaching glow never appeared to grow or change in any way.  It was as if the earth or the sun – one or the other – were standing still.  Soon the light of the mountains died away altogether, but the hint of sunrise before me remained constant.  It was just strong enough to keep me apprised of the direction in which I was moving.

Becoming aware that I was ravenously hungry, I reached for the basket and counted the apples.  There were seven.  I took the first one that came to hand and bit into it deeply.

Never had I tasted such an apple!  It was deliciously ripe and crisp.  As I ate, its sweet golden juice ran around and under my tongue and dribbled from the corners of my mouth.  I ate it up completely, core, seeds, and all.  When I had finished I felt indescribably satisfied and warm in spite of the cold water in which I floated.  Immediately the warmth returned to the wound in my heart and I felt my spirits rise.

Suddenly a point of light, small but bright, appeared on the water ahead of me.  As I watched, it grew in intensity.  It was moving towards me.  Soon I could see the yellow glow of lanterns shimmering on the flapping canvas of a tall sail.  It was a boat!  I picked up my lamp and waved it above my head.

“Here!” I cried.  “I’m over here!”

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