Anchorite

She looked out of the small window in the door, her only connection to the outside world. For over two decades she’d been kept in this tiny apartment, alone to work. It would be nearly another decade before she would be released, her job done.

It wasn’t quite imprisonment, but there was some truth to the monastic term “cell” that was used to describe her place. It had the basics –toilet, tub, and a kitchenette, along with a bed and a desk. Just enough and not too much. It was hers and hers alone.

Only that which could fit through the tiny window in the door could be given to her or from her. That was fine because she made most of what she needed from raw materials – fabric, grain, it made no difference to her.She had the time to sew or bake as the occasion warranted. She learned it was useful time – it didn’t take away from her writing. When she felt that the well of words was dry, she filled it up by being creative in other ways. Plenty a solution was found when her hands were busy making.

It looked dark in there to outsiders but that was to dissuade them. It wouldn’t do to have people want to follow her in this life. It wasn’t easy or for those who had no discipline. It was a quiet life, with tiny pleasures that came when they wanted to. There was little glory in it, but there was a lot of grace. Here she learned the value of patience and of practice – the slow sure path to the only kind of perfection available on this side of eternity.

In her cell was all the light she needed, provided by the Light of the world. Every day the Spirit of God would descend like a September cloud upon her chest of drawers, between the two angel candlesticks. No one else ever saw this. No one else would ever believe it either.

Her bureau wasn’t just a place to keep her clothes. It was also the Ark of the covenant, the site of the mercy seat. Plenty of folks thought it was lost, but that was because the trail had gone cold all those centuries ago. God knew it wouldn’t do to keep such a thing around. Even then it had become an idol, a stand in, a replacement for the One who visited there.So God hid it from people’s minds, making it lost to those who sought it.

It had been in Jeanne’s family for a century or more. Her great-grandfather found it in an antique shop in Normandy and knew right away what it was. A modest price, and to the casual eye it was just a chest of drawers and nothing else. Certainly not a holy thing, the holy thing.

It hadn’t been brought to Normandy. Truth be told, the shop owner was surprised to see this item when Jeanne’s ancestor asked for help loading it onto his wagon. But she was always misplacing things in her labyrinthine shop anyways. Maybe her partner had brought it in on one of her rare days off. Perhaps it was time for a real vacation, she mused, but how to find the time? The shop wouldn’t run itself.

Jeanne’s ancestor could see the Ark for what it was because he wasn’t in a hurry to be anywhere else. It appeared to him, showed him what it truly was, only because he was content in a way that the world didn’t teach.He wasn’t in a hurry to be anywhere else, be anyone else. So when it came time to pass it on, he did nothing. The chest / Ark would find the right person, or it would leave the family and go somewhere else. Wasn’t that the way with the Spirit? It made no sense to assume the mantle of glory would pass on to the next generation. It wasn’t hereditary like a monarchy. The only monarch was God, not a human. It was only logical that God would crown any one of his children – or none at all.

Jean was grateful the Ark had made it to her, but it wasn’t an accident. Her parents and grandparents in that line had been very centered and calm and had taught her how to live the same way. It was like a double inheritance, now that she thought about it – a calm presence and the presence of God. It was how she was able to be locked away in her cell all these years.And yet, she looked forward to the time when the harvest was right and she could teach the world all that God had taught her face-to-face.

(Written 10/8/18)

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Gateway

The house was built up around the doorway, not the other way around. Much like how paved roads developed from foot paths, it was easier to follow the path of least resistance, or the path that was most efficient.

That doorway had been an arch, a gateway to an elevated position. It worked a change in status, a never going back. Those who walked across that threshold were forever transformed.

Was it the place itself that caused the transformation, or the act of it? Was simply walking up those steps and under the arch enough of the sign – a decision made and cemented by the physical act? Or was there something to the years of bare feet crossing this threshold with the same firm intention, the same true heart? Like water wearing a groove in a river bed, the channel simply grew deeper and more sure, more able to hold true to its path.

For centuries there was just this place. No steps, no archway – and certainly no door or walls. Nobody questioned it. It was never used accidentally or irreverently. But then times changed. People moved away from the village. Customs were not passed down intact. Things that adults took for granted as fact were not taught to the children. They assumed they knew, forgetting or never realizing their own quiet and subtle indoctrination.

Ways of being together in community, the ways that marked each group as separate and distinct, weren’t automatic. They could not be presumed to be known. They required careful and deliberate teaching, but not the overt kind. You couldn’t teach someone how you lived together the same way you’d teach the rules of the road or a language. No, that teaching was hidden in the unspoken language, through tone, through how you held your body, through the look on your face. That was taught in the under-language, but it still must be taught.

Had the communication breakdown happened when the families became decentralized? New couples moved away from hometowns, in search of jobs or change. Both wife and husband worked instead of just one, because there were so many more things they had to buy. If they’d stayed put they could have gotten family to help instead of having to hire it out to strangers. Babysitting or home repair weren’t cheap, and caused a strain on already meager resources.

Or had the transmission of culture disintegrated because of the influx of others from elsewhere? While one group of couples left, another came to fill in the gap, both in search of greener pastures, not realizing that one person‘s trash was indeed another one’s treasure.

Perhaps it was a bit of both, or something more. No matter, the fact was a fact – and the fact was that the majority of the town didn’t know the whys and the wherefore of the village’s unique tradition. Rather than have someone accidentally be changed, the older villagers chose to enclose the area, to make it impossible to cross unless the initiate was truly ready. It wouldn’t do to have someone accidentally become something they weren’t ready for.

And what exactly happened at that gateway? What did initiates become? They were not given a new title or a new name. Their new membership in this unique club was never notarized. There were no meetings, fees, or dues. But there was most certainly a change that came over them, a palpable difference. Perhaps it was the lightness of the heart, or a twinkling of the eye, but they were different.

Once they crossed that threshold they ceased being alone. All fear left them, all doubt, all pain. Once they crossed over they were not the same person because they were more than just a person. They were joined, made whole, reunited. They were one with the Creator. It was Nirvana. It was heaven on earth. It was Zen. Sure, they still carried water and chopped wood. It wasn’t like they sat around all day thinking about God. They didn’t have to. Once they crossed over, they shared the mind of God, which was even better. There was no need to stop working, because work itself became a delight, a way to yoke action with thought – a way to bring forth God’s light into the world.

But why wall this up? Why put a doorway? Wouldn’t everyone want this bliss, this grace,? It turned out that the person had to be prepared and willing to accept this change. Otherwise it was like trying to move a dozen people into an efficiency apartment. There was no room for you to move around, no space to think or rest. Unprepared, a newly expanded person often went mad. Some had delusions of grander, when in reality they weren’t even adequate. Some thought they were God. Some thought they were Moses, or Elijah, or Jesus. The mental hospitals and homeless shelters in the big city begin to fill up with these lost souls, these broken vessels, because the people of the village shunned them. They didn’t know what had happened, didn’t know that these people had crossed through the gateway prematurely, unready, unknowing. All the villagers knew was that they suddenly had strangers in their midst, people who looked like their friends and neighbors but acted like aliens. They no longer fit inside their bodies or community, so they left, pushed out. A village this small could not function with people that broken. So to prevent further losses, the elders made the gateway into a sanctuary, a shrine, unlocked only on ember days and solstices. Those who had already become whole would wait inside on those days and welcome their newest members.

Not everyone crossed the threshold. Not everyone wanted to. Not everyone was up to it. Not everyone knew what it was. But for those who crossed, their lives were never the same again.

Written mid November 2017

Morning has broken

The mist lay over the land like a comforter smoothing away the edges. Sounds traveled less at these times, but few beings knew this. Those who were nocturnal were already snuggled down, deep in their burrows. Those who were diurnal had not yet roused by this time.

The chill of the October air swirled about the massive buck, and steam poured from his nostrils. They tested the air, flared a bit at an uncommon scent. Sharp, like fear, like the smell of anger. His ears perked up now, alert to this new concern. He could hear nothing amiss, but his nose had never been wrong.

No one had appointed him protector of the forest. This was a job he had inherited when the last old buck died. Every forest had one – a keeper, a protector. He simply knew to patrol the boundaries,to protect the sanctity of the forest. Nobody else knew his task. It was silent, secret. He insured the peace of the forest home for all the residents –animals and plants.

The trees were his wards too. When he marked them with his scent he was bringing special attention to them – this one needed healing by being noticed. Or this one needed to be left alone by the other deer.

The moose and bear weren’t the same – theymarked what they wanted, when they wanted. No rhyme and certainly no reasonthere. But they were asleep in many ways.

He had the burden of being awake, and being alone. This was a task that was best performed with full attention, or not at all.

It was time to check out that smell. It wasn’t going away and it felt like it would only get bigger. He walked towards it,carefully, slowly, eager to not make a sound. His tall slim legs deftly maneuvered around the branches in the forest, placing his hooves precisely, no sound created to alert others. While he was unwilling to call attention to his duty, he was also unwilling to alert whatever was making this scent – not until it was time.

It took nearly an hour to make his way there. By then his ears could hear the noise. And then he saw it – some huge yellow monster, with round feet and a huge single arm, grabbing at the dirt in massive, greedy grabs. Another yellow monster, arms wrapping around 40 foot trees and stripping off their branches as if they were saplings. His eyes grew wide – what were these beasts who were eating his home? They were the source of the smell, that burning, the smoke, the terror.

The blood that ran through them was from the remains of animals who died long ago – long before this forest was populated with his kind. It was from larger animals, ones that lived in warmer times. The blood of these yellow monsters was made from death, from decay. And yet, the breath from these immense yellow animals would bring about the change that made life possible for them again.

The dinosaurs were having their revenge, now, a millennia later. They had been reborn as the fuel that powered these machines that were destroying the earth for mammals – making it too warm for warm blooded animals, making it perfect for reptiles and larger-than-life lizards.These ghosts had possessed the people, making them crave oil, haunting them to create gasoline, pursuing them to make more and more, to destroy more and more.

The ancient stag knew madness when he saw it. It had stalked his forest in years past. He knew it was a force that was beyond reason.It was a hunger, an emptiness, a vacuum. It was an empty void that could never be filled. Things could never ever be enough – food, power, property. That kind of emptiness only lead to more cravings, not less. It was like scratching at hives – it only made you itch more.

The stag returned to the forest and thought about what to do. The machines could be destroyed, but the people would only bring more. A show of force from the bigger animals – the bears, the mountain lions – would only bring hunters with guns.

The next morning he knew. He went to talk to the trees in that area and explained to them how they needed to give up their spirits. The wood needed to be rotten inside and for that the tree spirit had to leave. Then the wood wouldn’t be valuable anymore. Then he talked to the soil around the area, to soften up to the two legged, to make it impossible for them to scout deeper into the forest. Not quite as bad as quicksand, but better than mud for grabbing it shoes. Enough of that and maybe the people would leave.

He had no way to ensure they wouldn’t come back in the future, but by then he would be gone. Another stag would have taken his place as guardian of these hills, his home. Another stag would have to stand against this incessant encroachment, this greedy grabbing.

(Written early October 2018) (inspired by artwork by Dan McCarthy)