There she was: I realized she was me crouched in the beating room, hateful she, a thing that cried piteously ugly she, crying stupidly, screwed up she, she ugly, she stupid, she dumb, nothing deserving.
Dark, glassy the room: no color, but a stink of loathing a stink of putrid fear, foul abhorrence disgust mirrored through the open door of midnight huddled waiting for the next well-deserved blow.
The rustling of leaves: standing many a time at the doorway dreaming she was never there, the she that was me this still-born excrescence, but now she, suddenly shielded with the cloak of pure light of the Ancient One, holy, whose right cannot be denied, his blood the price for she, for me.
Romans 7:14-25 (NET) For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me. So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 8:15 (NET) For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”
2 Corinthians 3: 17-18 (NET) Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
For dVerse: Poetics - Dungeons and Dragons, Sanaa asks that we "play a poetry game called,'Dungeons and Derivatives.' The idea here is to select one (from a list of eight sentences) and to change at least one word or more by replacing it with a derivative. Once you are done, unlock the muse from its dungeon and write a poem with the existing sentence." I chose the line from one of her poems which runs: “The rustling of leaves; I have stood many a time at the doorway of dreaming.” Click on Mr. Linky to read more and join in!
Ribbed, malnutritioned, unhallowed eyes knuckle mine And without turning I see in wintry desert climes A thing to be desired above all others A taste to consume and be consumed by A reign of terror sublime where worms meet flesh Of tree-fruit hung, mouth-watering pulp of initiation Plucked, bitten off, in excess of secret concupiscence
In ravishment of the verboten, for that which I hate, I had done, and thus doing, am undone, the unmaggoted Fruit in its rainbow pride turning to dust and ashes in my mouth. For I have traded a Love without price For emaciated fruited-husks littering the fields of deceit Yet again, an unslumbered hungering malice ever-stalking At my heels, until out it comes, the vinegared indigestible
Bulk of it spilled vomitously, wretched retchings of a fool Words and deeds like knives ungorged flying mercilessly And I with unclean hands, naked in the cool of the evening Hidden, yet sought, drawn to the hallowed treed shade where Gratuitously, there is room for me, manna for me, Bread of life, Water that quenches my thirst, Whose wine-dark blood Spent in mercy divine washes over and covers me so To walk at last in honeyed valleys and orchards free.
Song of Songs 2:3 [She]: As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
It was Good Friday morning and Humble Singh was watching the clock.
He had done this every Good Friday for as long as he could remember, even while his wife, Millie, was still alive and before he had sold his business and moved to live with his son and his family.
It was a quarter to nine. Soon Jesus would arrive, cross-laden, at Golgotha. His face is beaten to a pulp, Jewish and Gentile spit mingles with his blood, and he is struggling with exhaustion and pain as long strips of deeply scored flesh lie open on his back from the scourging, and every nerve in his body screams in anticipation of the crucifixion. The soldiers hurry him along. They conscript a bystander to carry the horizontal beam on his back.
Ten till. Humble sat in his sitting room at the back of the house. Suddenly he leapt up and went into the back garden. Red tulips. Purple hyacinths. Large burgundy magnolia buds like the bruises that covered Christ’s body. The Roman soldiers had mocked him with a purple robe and a crown of thorns while beating him repeatedly. The Jewish priests and their hitting, spitting and slapping needed their scorn driven home. But it was their hour of shame. “His blood be on us and on our children!” the crowd had cried. The mob must have its victim. Even if that victim was pure, blameless. The Lamb of God.
A minute till nine. They lie him down, stripped, arms held down on the cross beam. Humble looks up at a movement in the shrubbery. A bunny had scurried through the open garden gate. Humble hurries to close it. Piercing nails. Blood running free. Writhing agony. Joints stretching in excruciating torture. The crowd gathers round. Women sob. Many watch in satisfaction.
“Humble! Yoo hoo, Humble!” a woman’s voice sings out. It was Prithi, known in the predominantly Asian neighborhood as the “Giddy Widow.” She approaches him with a broad smile and with nowhere to run, unlike the bunny, Humble returns her greeting. She comes into the garden, her heels clicking on the pavement, bangles bouncing on attractively plump arms and her rouged face a pantomime of coquetry.
They wander around the garden, Prithi chatty, Humble surreptitiously checking his watch. It was a large garden, professionally tended, an arbor here, a fish pond there, a large oak in the middle of the grounds, shady trees of cherry, plum, and maple. No olive trees. Unlike that garden where Christ sweated huge drops of blood at what he would be enduring today. “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
There’s a moment in The Understudy1 when the novel shifts focus from what it means to be human to what it means to be religious. It’s a question introduced by an AI that’s a hybrid of microchip and flesh-and-blood tissue. Wondering aloud at his mistaking someone as religious, Attik is asked in turn: Are you a religious man? Are you religious? Without hesitation this organically grown hybrid replies, Of course. Human in every way except for his brain, he knows without a shadow of a doubt that his being is subject to contingencies, therefore dependent on a higher power. He knows too that this is an instinctively religious apprehension.
Attik is no Frankenstein’s monster. Yet this perfect invulnerable being has his fall. He is human after all. His is a body of death, just as the humans who designed him, full of rebellious and covetous desires. As he realizes just how human he is, he recognizes the need for absolution, for peace and reconciliation with the One who gave him and all humanity the gift of being.
Towards the end of the novel, Attik finds himself in the ironic position of a priest.
He knew the ritual. He had the bread and wine. It only wanted a God to make it body and blood now. …
They were all orphans here.
God could make a priest out of anything, metal or mud.
Whatever you were made of, you borrowed your blood, anyway.
Following Attik through the novel, one is following the growth of a religious man and, in a sense, traversing anew old ground, the fall and redemption of mankind, the journey to God. Which is what makes this sparely written scene so poignant and tinged by the piercing cost of sacrifice: the bread is Christ’s own flesh, the wine is Christ’s own blood shed on the cross.
And [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
As Attik intimates, we are all orphans: that is, until we find our home in Christ Jesus by way of his flesh and blood, his body the torn veil into the holy of holies where we can have eternal communion with God.
And as Attik finds, we are all religious, whether or not we choose to acknowledge the contingency of our being or not. We don’t have control over our lives, not even our own desires. We all need to be set free from the bondage of sin and death. And who can deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7: 25)
1For more on this novel see post below; click here for author’s blog.
They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darknesse nor dazling, but one equall light, no noyse nor silence, but one equall musick, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but an equall communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings; but one equall eternity. Keepe us Lord so awake in the duties of our Callings, that we may thus sleepe in thy Peace, and wake in thy glory, and change that infallibility which thou affordest us here, to an Actuall and undeterminable possession of that Kingdome which thy Sonne our Saviour Christ Jesus hath purchased for us, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible Blood. Amen.
I had never heard this 18th-century Christmas carol until very recently but it has since been playing in my mind, at once familiar & fresh. Penned by Richard Hutchins in 1761, it has inspired music by, among many others, Elizabeth Poston in the last century and another performed by Lee Nelson & the Wartburg Choir in 2013. (I’ve posted both versions below.)
The metaphor of the apple tree appears in the Song of Songs, when the bride says of her Beloved: “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,/so is my beloved among the young men./With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song 2:3).