The Firebird LX

LX

With a slight inclination of her head the dark-haired maiden indicated the low arch through which the blood-stained stream left the hall.  Without a word my friend and I stepped down into the water and followed it into the shadows.  Ducking beneath the mossy stonework of the wall, we stepped out into the cold.

The snow was flying thick and fast when we emerged among the heavily frosted trees of the orchard.  Squinting ahead, I saw the stream go flowing straight as an arrow down an irrigation ditch between two rows of yellow pear trees.  Above our heads the branches were alive with the silver wings of a thousand wood pigeons that cooed and clucked softly among the snow-covered fruits.

Glancing upward I realized that the Firebird had reappeared in the sky.  I saw his flaming eye fix itself upon me as, stooping in flight, he dispersed the darkness with a single downward sweep of one flaming wing.  Joining hands, my friend and I followed him out of the orchard and up the wooded slope beyond.  Despite the cold and the snow, the water through which we waded (it never rose any higher than our knees) was as warm as a bath.

Soon we found ourselves once more among the wonders of the Christmas forest.  The Firebird’s red-gold glare filtered down through the decorated pine boughs on every side.  Snowflakes danced and glittered in the intermittent beams, illuminating the surface of the water.  Multi-colored gemstones flashed among the pebbles beneath our feet.

But these marvels soon gave way to others.  For we had not gone far before the richly ornamented evergreens gave way to a stand of towering oaks, elms, and alders, their twisted branches clothed in a light green mist of freshly budding spring leaves.  The snow ceased.  A light breeze caressed my cheeks and tangled my hair.  The banks on either side of the stream changed in a moment from frosty white to velvety green, and the spaces between the tree boles burst into a profusion of color as primroses and asters poked their heads up from beneath the ground.

My friend squeezed my hand and I turned to look up into his face.  What was my surprise to see that he too was undergoing a transformation!  He had grown taller, his hands and arms more sinewy and muscular, his hair darker and thicker.  On his chin appeared a faint shadow as of the first downy growth of beard.  I touched his face, staring with wonder into his deep blue eyes.  He gazed back at me and smiled.

Then we pressed on through the warm spring air.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Firebird LIX

knight-001

LIX

Within the circle of light at the hall’s end was a raised dais.  Upon the dais stood a great square four-poster bed of dark, intricately carved wood beneath a high-heaped bower of fragrant lily flowers.  The canopy, curtains, and coverlets of the bed were all of scarlet silk richly worked with thread of bright red-gold.  The sheets that lay turned back upon the coverlet were of the purest white satin.

As we approached the dais, we became aware of several objects lying on the floor beside the great bed:  a battered helmet with a soiled and torn white sleeve affixed to its crest; a blood-stained and shattered lance; a belt from which hung a great sword in a scabbard laced with bands of white cloth; and a long, pointed white shield emblazoned with a red cross and notched with the blows of many hostile weapons.

When we drew near to the foot of the bed, my friend and I were arrested in our progress by the sudden realization that a figure lay there under the satin sheets:  a tall, fair-haired man with prominent cheek bones, a high, serene forehead, a long, straight nose, and a square-set jaw and chin.  He lay absolutely motionless, his eyes shut, his head propped high on three white pillows, his large sinewy hands spread out before him over the bedclothes.  Bare were his shoulders, and the linen strips that bound his gently rising and falling chest were stained a deep red.  Through gaps in the bandages a stream of bright red blood flowed down along his right side.  Over the scarlet coverlet and the edge of the bed it poured, collecting at last in a large silver basin whence it trickled into a brook of clear bubbling water that ran out from beneath the foot of the bed.

Lully, lully, lully — again the voices of the children singing somewhere in the wood.  At the sound, the man in the bed stirred and sighed deeply.  We watched him for a few moments, marking the painful twitchings and workings of his mouth and jaw; then followed with our eyes the flow of the bloodstained stream as it ran across the dais, into the darker, further corners of the hall, and out through a low arch in the wall.

In that instant we became aware of the presence of another figure:  a dark-haired maiden in a white gown who, stepping out of the shadows, came and stood by the knight at the side of the great carven bed.  In the long tapered fingers of her right hand she held a silver needle threaded with a fine strand of silk.  With this thread and needle she began to mend his bleeding wounds.

As she bent to her task, her patient stirred again and opened one eye.  Turning in the bed, he fixed that eye upon us and we saw that it was no eye at all, but rather a bright point of light, a star of endlessly flowering unfolding brightness, a window into worlds beyond all worlds, even beyond this place of final wonders and shining dreams.  In that light a standing stone appeared, a tall stela of granite, just behind the maiden and within reach of her left hand.  Upon the stone we saw two words graven as if with a chisel of iron:

Corpus Christi

 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Unspeakable Blessedness

“I am sometimes so taken with astonishment … at the unspeakable blessedness of some passing minute, that I could not have the heart to be unthankful even if I knew for certain there was nothing besides:  nothing before that minute or after it, for ever and ever.  And that minute, nothing too, as soon as it was over.”

       — E. R. Eddison, A Fish Dinner in Memison 

The Firebird LVIII

the-hall-001

LVIII

At length we saw a clearing in the wood.  A shower of diamonds and rubies fell rattling at my feet as I brushed aside a low branch and peered out beyond the fringe of trees into the open space.  At the center of a large paved square in the midst of a thickly planted orchard stood a large, high-built, steep-roofed hall, its walls of white stone and heavy timbers, its gables of carved and painted oak.  The trees around it, which stood in neatly serried ranks, hung heavy with apples, pears, plums, and brightly flashing gems.

Looking up at my companion, I saw my own feelings of curiosity and expectancy reflected in his expression.  Without a word, we joined hands and stepped out into the clearing.  All was silent as we approached the imposing structure; no one stood on guard to keep the entrance.  Seeing that one of the leaves of the massive double door stood ajar, we put our shoulders to it and shoved.  It swung open as easily and noiselessly as a feather on the breeze.

Standing on the threshold and staring into the darkness within, we were overtaken from behind by a stiff blast of wind sweeping down out of the sky.  Something soft and cold touched my cheek.  I looked up to see snow just beginning to fall in the clearing, lightly frosting the trees and fruits of the stately orchard with a fine and glistening white dust.  At the same instant a breath of air from within the hall, warm and scented with pine and roses, struck us full in the face and filled our nostrils with a heady sweetness.  As if from a great distance we heard the voices of the children rising up again from the depths of the forest beyond the great house:

 

                       Lully lullay, thou tiny child,

                       Bye bye, lully lullay …

 

The warm and spicy sweetness of the air drew us in through the doorway, under the low ceiling of a paneled vestibule, and out into a vast, lofty, echoing space like the nave of a grand cathedral.  As our eyes grew accustomed to the dimness we saw two rows of massy wooden pillars, huge as tree boles, marching down the length of the building in evenly spaced ranks and converging in a pool of light at the far end of the hall.  Toward this spot we slowly made our way with light and reverent tread, careful all the while – though we hardly knew why – to preserve the velvety silence of the place.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Never Out of Season

Books 001

“It is never out of season to protest against that coarse familiarity with sacred things which is busy on the lip, and idle in the heart; or against the confounding of Christianity with any class of persons who, in the words of Swift, have just enough religion to make them hate, and not enough to make them love, one another.”

Charles Dickens, Preface to the Cheap Edition of The Pickwick Papers, 1847

The Firebird LVII

christmas-forest-001

LVII

Here began the last and most wondrous leg of my fantastic journey, filled with marvels no tongue can tell.  Here, as I threaded my way among the radiant portents of the silent shining trees, I felt as if a great hand were gathering up the all the varied strands of my serpentine wanderings and weaving them together into one magnificent pattern, a pattern wild, free, tangled, and yet as beautiful, significant, and permanent as the borders in an illuminated medieval manuscript.  This, I know, must seem a strange way to speak about my feelings as I traveled through that wood at the world’s end, but I know no other words to describe the impression it left upon my soul.

On and on we went, further and higher into the forest, the path growing steeper and the trees more numerous with every step of the way.  My friend and I spoke little, yet I knew somehow that we were at one in our thoughts and feelings.  To our amazement, the lushness and beauty of the undergrowth on the forest floor increased dramatically as the trees drew closer together and the shadows deepened.  At first the plush green carpet of grass between the trunks was starred with an abundance of tiny white flowers; but as we pressed forward the floral growth became more exotic, astonishingly vivid and variegated.  Huge sunflowers bent their yellow heads in blessing above us.  Poinsettias glowed red in the dim light.  Mauve and lavender orchids strung themselves from pine bough to pine bough.  Here and there the garish Bird of Paradise showed its red, yellow, and purple plumes among the branches.  Everywhere nodded the kind lilies.  The poppies, daisies, and primroses turned their smiling faces up to us as we passed.  As the canopy grew thicker and the gloom deepened, tiny lights began to twinkle in the trees.

But these were only the first and least of wonders.  For soon, as we walked on, brightly colored birds of every imaginable hue – scarlet, blue, violet, green, and gold – began to flash across the open spaces athwart our line of advance, singing to us sweetly as we gazed up at them in amazement.  Nor was their singing like the music of the birds on the other side of the sunset; for they sang with human voices and in words of human languages.  Some of those words were familiar and homey.  Others were as beautiful as they were strange and unintelligible.  At moments I caught snatches of verse that I clearly understood, some of which seemed to come down out of long-forgotten corners of my memory.  At other times, though the words were utterly foreign – even otherworldly – they stirred in me nameless thoughts and longings that seemed for that fleeting instant to be but briefly glimpsed outcroppings of the bedrock of my being.  By turns I found myself weeping with nostalgia and sadness and pure joy.

At length I came to the realization that these birds not only sang with human voices, but also had human faces – not cruel and vengeful faces like the Harpies of old, but kind, gentle faces, with soft wrinkles overspreading their features like the ripples on the surface of a clear, deep pool.  As we approached, some of them hopped down to perch on the lower branches of the pines and firs and spoke to us words of greeting, comfort, and encouragement.  Some wore pearled and gem-encrusted crowns upon their heads, others tall mitres embroidered with scarlet cording and thread of gold.

As I looked, I saw that the boughs of the trees were themselves decked with golden crowns and crystal orbs and silver trumpets and other bright ornaments and treasures of every kind.  Nor was that all – for on closer examination I found that the pines and firs were also heavy with ripening fruits of every variety and color:  apples, oranges, pears, peaches, pomegranates, persimmons, and even rich, dark clusters of dusky grapes.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Firebird LVI

Firebird 001

LVI

The bird soared skyward and hovered there a moment, splashing the shifting screen of passing clouds with a spray of burnished gold.  The morning star flashed out and twinkled briefly above the tip of his right wing.  Then he turned and flew off toward the wooded rise, the boy and I following at a brisk pace up the sloping shore, listening all the while to the song of the children as it rose from the distant reaches of the forest.  The grade was steep but unobstructed, grassy rather than rocky.  Everywhere around us were the freshness of the morning dew and the intermittent glitter of the sunlight dancing on the tips of the green grass.

Up and up we climbed toward the belt of pines, their Christmas scent floating down to us on the back of the rippling breeze.  Halfway to our goal I stopped and turned to look out over the swelling breast of the sighing sea.  Gone from that spot at the edge of the lapping waters were the three ladies.  In their place I saw three birds spring into the sky and go winging their way toward the fragrant land.  In the next moment the canopied cradle, wherein lay the wondrous child, rose slowly into the air, bathed in its own soft light.  Then it, too, soared up over the strand, disappearing at last among the green and bristling trees.

At the sight of these wonders my friend and I quickened our gait.  A minute more and we had broken into a run.  Not long after, shouting and laughing, we crashed through a fringe of columbine and sweet meadow grass, splashed through the cold trickle of a tiny brook, and ducked beneath the shadows of the first overhanging boughs.  From somewhere beyond the dark trunks and boles of the trees we heard the voices of the children fading away into the heart of the forest:

                               Come, all who are able!

                                Come, come to the cradle!                          

We pushed on.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Firebird LV

dipper-001

LV

“Now loose the dipper from its golden chain!” cried the small gray bird.  “It is no longer needed here, for the last draught has been drunk.  A place awaits it in the sky.”

As if fully understanding what was to be done, the boy unhooked the cup from its leash and raised it over his head.  For a moment he held it there, flashing and sparkling in the shift and play of the mottled light.  Then without a word he reached back and hurled the dipper into the sky.  I watched it go like a streak of lightning through the morning air, surprised to see its speed apparently increasing the further and higher it flew.  Straight through a gap in the ranks of marching clouds it passed, out to a place where the sky was of a particularly clear and deep blue color.  There it stopped and affixed itself to the ceiling of the world.  From where we stood we could see it twinkling down on us serenely from its seat in that pure and lofty dome, glowing with an ever greater intensity, a bright new morning star.

As this star passed momentarily behind an advancing line of fleecy clouds the small gray bird leapt suddenly upward from his perch at the margin of the well.  In the air above our heads he burst into flame and became the terrible Firebird once more.  I heard his voice as I had heard it long ago, like the roar of many waters, calling me to follow his leading.  Turning, I saw the red and flickering light of his blazing wings reflected in the smooth, calm, expectant face of my young companion.  I slipped my hand into his and together we began to walk up the slope, toward the dark eaves of the outermost trees, never taking our eyes off the fiery figure in the sky.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

 

“Theyocracy”

Books 001

“My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy.  I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights, nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate!  If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good.  Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people.  If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang,’ it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyoacracy.”

—  J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters, #52

The Firebird LIV

well-001

LIV

In response to her call my friend sloshed away through the shallow ripples and went running up the beach toward the well.  When he had gone, the golden-haired girl, who still held me in her arms, turned and laid me down in the water at the foot of the cradle.  Feeling impotent, abandoned, and helpless, I burst into a tearful wail.  But in the same moment I realized that I could not remain in that condition long.  At another time – before reaching this place beyond the sunset – I would certainly have surrendered myself wholly to it.  But everything was different now.

So strong was the draw of the well and the wood, so sweet the children’s song, so great the promise of things to come, that I was compelled, quite apart from conscious thought or will, to reach the shore somehow.  With a great cry, I heaved myself up on hands and knees and began to crawl forward, discovering in the process that it cost me surprisingly little effort to do so.  I went slowly at first, splashing and gurgling in the salt water; then faster and faster and with greater assurance until, upon reaching the point where the wavelets lapped the shimmering strand, I found myself rising to my feet and taking off at a run toward the stone well.

The small gray bird blinked at my approach, greeting me with a solemn nod of his head.  Hands outstretched, I ran to the well’s edge and fell laughing against its cool stones just as the boy lowered the silver dipper down into the mossy darkness.  Astounded at my own strength, I pulled myself up over the ledge and peered down into the shaft.  As if in reply, the well breathed its airs of dewy freshness up into my flushed and heated face.  At the smell of the pure spring water a burning thirst awoke within me.  Keen with the desire to taste its cold sweetness, I threw back my head and shouted with joy as my friend, smiling down at me, drew the dipper up by its golden chain and held it to my lips.

What a draught that was!  Transcending all identifiable flavors, yet containing within itself the savor of flower and fruit, of sand and stone, of sharp little blades of grass; pure, clear, and radiant as distilled white light; the essence of heaven in liquid form.  Even before it touched my lips or tongue, its fresh and heady odor, redolent of both the pines on the beach and the tang of the sea, struck itself into my nostrils with such force that it seemed to pierce my brain.  Scales fell from my eyes.  My whole body filled with light.  I felt as if I had begun to see for the first time.

The boy dipped again and drank from the cup himself.  As I watched, a change passed over him such as I had never witnessed before and cannot rightly describe.  His physical form assumed an appearance reminiscent of the vibrant, shimmering bodies of the Watchers in the valley of blue glass at the edge of the sea.  While remaining solid to the touch – this I tested by reaching out and laying a hand on his arm – he grew gradually luminous and transparent.  His face began to shine so that I was tempted to fall down before him in adoration.  But before I could carry out my intention I saw his eyes grow round and suddenly knew that he was beholding the very same changes in me!

I stepped away from the well, holding one pulsing and shimmering hand up before my face as the effects of that draught of well-water swept over me.  Inside and out, from head to toe, I felt myself growing lighter and stronger.  Trembling, I turned and looked off toward the wood above the beach.  I shook myself, scattering splinters of light across the ground and over the gray stones of the well.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Pilgrim and the State

Pilgrim 2 001

          “Render to all what is due them:  tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

           ”Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

                                           – Romans 13:7, 8

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Those who have closely followed the exposition of Pilgrim values set forth in these pages over the past couple of years (not that the author presumes anybody would do such a thing, of course!) will understand that the most recent installment – “My President or My King?” – is entirely consistent with everything else that has been said here.  It contains nothing new.  The theme it briefly attempts to apply to current events has been examined time and time again, and from a variety of angles, under such headings as “Apatheia,” “Allegiance,” “Death,” “Defeat,” “Defenselessness,” “Failure,” “Indifference,” “Irrelevance,” “Impracticality,” “Kenosis,” “Madness,” “Meekness,” “Martyrdom,” and, in particular, “Anarchy.”  Readers who want know more are referred to these entries.

The last-mentioned post followed author Vernard Eller, late Professor of Religion at the University of La Verne, in describing “Christian Anarchy” as “a Christ-centered disregard for the claims of ‘government’ in all its forms.”  It went on to say that “because he owes allegiance to one Master, and one only, the Pilgrim’s attitude toward every other so-called authority is necessarily ‘disinterested, skeptical, and nonchalant.’”[i]  This provides the background for our assertion that the Pilgrim, as a subject of the One King, “owes no allegiance whatsoever to any earthly president or temporal authority.”

Romans 13:1-7 is often cited in contradiction of this view.  This text is generally understood as bestowing a kind of unqualified divine legitimacy upon the state.[ii]  It’s worth noting what Eller has to say about this.  He makes the highly sensible and rather obvious point that Paul’s instructions to Christians have to be read against the background of the Old Testament perspective on humanly instituted authorities:  that from Babel onward God has never been a “fan” of the state; that in asking Samuel for a king, the people of Israel were in effect rejecting the rule of Yahweh; that God, after warning them they’d be sorry, went ahead and gave them their druthers, determining in the meantime to go on working with them in and through the state despite the setback; that He continues to use rulers of all kinds, both “bad” and “good,” to accomplish His purposes in history without necessarily lending them His stamp of approval; and that, in view of all this, Christians should follow His divine example by cooperating and getting along with (“submitting to”) human authorities so far as it is possible to do so without violating the law of God.

Taking his cues from Karl Barth, Eller insists that the phrase “be subject to” (Romans 13:1) “has absolutely no overtones of ‘recognize the legitimacy of,’ ‘own allegiance to,’ ‘bow down before,’ or anything of the sort.  It is a sheerly neutral and anarchical counsel of ‘not-doing’ – not doing resistance, anger, assault, power play, or anything contrary to the ‘loving the enemy,’ which is, of course, Paul’s main theme.”  He concludes:

 

           This interpretation of Romans 13 reads as anarchically as all get out.  It carefully declines to legitimize either Rome or resistance against Rome.  It will give neither recognition nor honor to any political entity whatever – nation, party, ideology, or cause group.  There is only one Lord of history – and that is God.[iii]

 

It’s crucial to underscore Eller’s point that Romans 13:1-7 has to be read in conjunction with Romans 13:8.  This is often conveniently overlooked.  We are to pay what we owe, says Paul, but he qualifies his statement by adding, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”  And that casts the subject in an entirely different light.

Bottom line:  the Law of God – that law which must never be violated at the behest of any human ruler – can be summed up in a single word:  love.  It is out of love that we “submit” whenever and wherever we can; but it is also in response to love that we say “no thank you” when invited to adopt attitudes, embrace policies, or engage in actions that contradict the very meaning of the word.

_____________________________________________________________________

[i] See Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy, 1-2.

[ii] “The support for this reading falls into a most interesting alignment.  Of course, the Christian Right (along with conservative evangelicalism in general) welcomes this theological view of Romans 13 as confirmation of its own politically conservative commitment to political establishment as being God’s chosen means for governing the world … Yet curiously enough, the Christian Left also accepts, if not welcomes, the legitimizing interpretation – although under an entirely different rationale and for a totally different purpose.”  Christian Anarchy, 196.

[iii] Ibid., 204.

 

Peace and Safety

Poet's Corner 001

Peace and Safety

 

When we saw him we cried,  

          “Peace and safety!”

But that was before

We knew.

 

Standing in the checkout line

At the reading of the law,

The law concerning those who buy,

Who bid and barter, buy and sell,

We took the mark

And bought the farm;

We cleaned the clock

And swallowed the camel.

We cried, “All clear!”

And cleared the deck.

We battened down the hatches.

 

We built the wall,

Secured the line,

Bolstered the brand,

Bettered the business;

Ate and drank,

Secured the bank,

Banked the profit

Lived and laughed.

 

We laughed and lived

And looked aside

And seized the long

Awaited prize

And so survived;

With foreheads to the fore,

And man against man against man,

While the dark stranger

Goes under the ban.

 

“And that’ll be

Ten and four and six

And six and six and six,”

And straw and mud for bricks

While the dark stranger

Goes under the ban.

 

So in the end,

Our purchased provender bought and bagged,

We bent and spent and went  

Each to his own way

In safety and in peace;

Backwards to the back,

Foreheads to the fore,

Never been here before.

 

Hoping to be spared

Tomorrow.

The Firebird LIII

cradle-2-001

LIII

She fell silent again, but not for long.  I saw her studying me intently and knew that she could see the question in my face.  I needed – or wanted – to know more.  So did my companion, the boy who had been the man on the raft so many long ages ago.  It was he who put my thoughts into words.

“Please,” he said, his face turned up to hers.  “Why the scar over the place of his heart?  What does it mean?”

“More than I can say,” she answered.  “And far more than you are prepared to hear or understand.  But among other things, it means what all scars mean – that he was wounded.  More:  that the wounding, though past and healed, has left its mark.  It means, as I have already told you, that he has become like you.  And in so doing he has opened up the way for you to become what you are now – in other words, like him.  This wound, this drink from the well, this loss of one eye to enhance the power of the other – all of it has made him a tiny child, here beyond the sun, here at the meeting place of sky and sea and land.  Here and everywhere it is Christmas morning.  See!  He is in the cradle!”

With that she smiled, touched one hand to my cheek, and laid the other on the boy’s shoulder.  “Now up the beach!” she said.  “To the well and the wood!  There’s no time to lose!  The others are already far ahead of you!”

Indeed they were.  As if from a great distance I could hear their voices drifting to us from the forested bank:

 

Hush!  Hush!  See how the child is sleeping!

                      Hush!  Hush!  See how he smiles in dreams!

 

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My President or My King?

Pilgrim 2 001

         “… The biblical view is not just apolitical but antipolitical in the sense that it refuses to confer any value on political power, or in the sense that it regards political power as idolatrous, inevitably entailing idolatry.  Christianity offers no justification for political power; on the contrary, it radically questions it.”

                                                 Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

“Not my president.”

For the moment this has become the rallying cry of millions of disgruntled Americans, but it’s nothing new to the Pilgrim.  That’s because the Pilgrim has no president under any circumstances.  Never has had, never will.  The Pilgrim serves a King.  And as a subject of the kingdom of that King he owes no allegiance whatsoever to any earthly president or temporal authority.     

The Master of all Pilgrims, when asked to comment on this sensitive subject, replied with this sorely misunderstood maxim:  Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and unto God that which belongs to God.

This statement has been commonly misinterpreted as implying that the Pilgrim is a person of divided loyalties:  that he owes so much to the State and the civil authority, and so much to God.  Case closed.  But this is not what the Master intended.  On the contrary, in making this enigmatic pronouncement He was actually posing an open-ended question.  He was tossing the conundrum back into the laps of those who hoped to trap Him in His own words.  In effect, He was placing the responsibility squarely on their shoulders and asking:  “How much do you think is owed to Caesar?  How much do you think is owed to God?  How far, if at all, do the two overlap?  To what extent do they cancel one another out?  What will you do when it’s impossible to reconcile or harmonize their conflicting demands?”

We, too, must answer the question:  What happens when the claims of the president run counter to the claims of the King?

What do you do when the King is the embodiment of gentleness and meekness but the president is Arrogance Incarnate?

How do you respond:

  • When the King says, “Love your neighbor as yourself;” but the president says, “These aren’t people, they’re animals”?
  • When the King says, “Put away your sword. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword;” but the president says, “I will get rid of gun-free zones in schools”?
  • When the King says, “He who loses his life for My sake will gain it;” but the president says, “I’m the toughest guy. We’re gonna start winning so much that you’re going to be sick and tired of winning”?
  • When the King says, “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself;” but the president says, “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists”?
  • When the King says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy;” but the president says, “As far as I’m concerned, you can go a lot stronger than water-boarding if you’d like.”
  •  When the King says, “Love your enemies, do good to them that persecute you;” but the president says, “I would bomb the sh– out of ‘em”?
  • When the King says, “Blessed are the peacemakers;” but the president says, “I’m really good at war, I love war in a certain way”?
  • When the King says, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations;” but the president says, “Make America Great Again”?
  • When it is said of the King, “He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall;” but the president says, “Nobody builds walls better than I do”?

What do you do in a situation like this?  The Pilgrim knows.  You don’t say, as evangelist Franklin Graham and others of a similar mindset have said, “that prayer – and God’s answer to it – helped Donald Trump and Mike Pence pull off ‘the biggest political upset of our lifetime.'”  On the contrary, like Peter, James, and John, you stand firm and declare, “We must obey God rather than man.”

The Firebird LII

star-eyed-child-001

LII

Within the canopy, under a coverlet of purest white wool edged with red satin, upon a downy pillow embroidered with thread of gold, lay a child of unearthly beauty.  I saw his single eye, as it were a lucent cerulean orb, no bigger than a marble yet deeper than the sky, a little world within itself, cunningly and marvelously made.  Where the other eye should have been was no empty socket or sunken lid, but rather something I cannot quite express – something like a star, a point of light of such intensity that I could not look directly into it, a flower of pure luminescence blossoming and unfolding gently outward.  It was as if I saw again, compressed, miniaturized, and refined within the apple of that eye, the circle of the sun-gate at the edge of the western sea.  The skin of the child’s face was like ivory or marble divinely infused with the suppleness of living flesh, solid and real yet somehow bordering on the immaterial, pellucid and radiant and warm in every pore and cell.

This child lay gazing up at me, his lips parted in the hint of a laughing smile, his little arms stretched out upon the coverlet, his tiny hands open as if in a welcoming gesture.  His gown of white linen was unlaced at the throat, and where the garment stood open I saw the scar of deep wound just above the place of his heart.

Seeing that scar, I turned to the three ladies, my eyes filling with tears.  The dark one knew my thoughts.

“He is much changed since you last saw him,” she said in reply.  “And yet he is the same.  His promise, too, remains and has been kept, and your calling fulfilled.  For look!  Here are the two of you, met together against all hope in this place beyond the setting and the rising of the sun!  You have seen him with your own eyes!  Christmas morning has come in at last!”

At this I smiled, yet still I pointed persistently at the scar.  The lady nodded.

“Yes.  He has been wounded to the heart.  He has also suffered the loss of his eye.  Such is the price he paid for a drink from the well at the edge of the wood.  But mark this!  His loss has not become the cause of darkness, but rather a perpetual spring of near insufferable light.  And if you will accept it, this light is the same light that you and so many others have sought after and followed your whole lives long, whether knowingly or unknowingly.  It is the light by which you have made your way to this place.  That eye – or lack of an eye – is the star before the dawn.  It is the sun-gate at the edge of the sea through which you passed so recently and yet so many ages ago.”

She bent to caress the child’s forehead, then looked up at me and continued.

“That drink from the well, the cost of which was so great, has made him what you see him now to be.  He gave his eye and drank the draught that you and all these others might drink it too.  He drank it long before coming to your window and enticing you to come out.  Indeed, he took that cup before the foundations of this or any other world were laid.

“And now that you have seen and heard these things, there is one thing more you must know:  what you have lived, suffered, seen, and felt in following him to this place has been none of your own doing.  It is only the outbranching and effoliation of the root that was planted when he gave his eye and chose to take that drink.”

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