bright gift

This post was written for Beauty from Chaos.

The women ran from the tomb as the angel chased after them, flapping his wings sharply.

‘Wait!’  Zadkiel ordered, catching Sariel’s wings in his own.

‘But they don’t believe me!  They are running way. They won’t tell anyone.  They are too afraid.’   Sariel’s words tumbled in breathless panic.  ‘They do believe you.  They will believe you.  You just need to wait.’

Sariel watched the women as they ran across the hill, and his wings dropped.  ‘But it’s never been like this before.  My wings flap, and my word is effective. My wings close, and it is done.’

‘Yes, with death.’ Zadkiel said gently, ‘But when the word is life, it takes longer.  They have to choose…’   Sariel looked disappointed.  Zadkeil went on: ‘You knew that it would be different now, yes?’

‘Yes.’ Sariel whispered, a bit embarrassed. ‘So what do I do now?’

Zadkiel pondered.  He knew he had to slow Sariel down.
‘Do you remember — in the beginning?  Before you learned to close your wings:  what was it like then?’

Sariel was reluctant.  He had blocked that memory for a long time.  He could feel Zadkiel prowling about in his mind, uncovering the loss of it.

‘It was simple.  No one was afraid.  The blossom died to give way for the leaf.  The leaf died to nourish the root.  The root gathered strength to send out a new branch.  Most of the time we just played.’

‘Yes.’ Zadkiel said, realizing how simple Sariel’s complexity really was. ‘So help them remember.’

Sariel looked for the women, and saw that they had stopped running.  They sat with their backs against cool stone, catching their breath.  In front of them, there was a tree in blossom, which they didn’t see.

‘There.  The tree.  I can show them.’
Sariel gathered his skirts and began to run.
‘Wait!’ Zadkiel cried, slowing him down again.  ‘You need to go gently.  Don’t show yourself at first.’  Sariel was getting impatient: ‘But you always do.’  ‘Yes, but I’ve been living with them a long time. I know how to fit in.  Don’t show yourself at first; just touch them with your wing.’

Sariel stood back from the women, and stretched his wing till the tip brushed Mary’s arm.  He saw her shudder, and drew back in alarm.  ‘It’s all right.’  Zadkiel said, ‘they take fright easily and are slow to let it go.  Go gently.’  So Sariel tried again.

He stretched out his wing and willed Mary to look at the tree.  He focused all his being on blossom, and on his desire for her to see.  When he shook with the strain of it, he felt her move.  She bent her neck and brushed her hair from her eyes, then looked up.

Zadkiel saw her eyes soften as they fell on the tree. ‘Good,’ he said to Sariel.  ‘Very good.  Now: fill her mind with something familiar. Sing her a song.’

Sariel reached — naturally enough — for a Sanctus:  sharp as glass, with refracted rhythms.

‘Wait!’ Zadkiel cried again.  Sariel fell silent and looked perplexed.  Zadkiel continued: ‘That one is too hard.  She needs something familiar.’

Sariel thought for a moment and summoned a fiddle:
Tra -li- laa, la-li-laa, l’ laa.
‘Better.’ Zadkiel said, as he took up the song.

They sang till the gold light shimmered.  They sang till the women relaxed.  They sang till they drew breath and dropped their shoulders and turned their faces to the sun.

‘Now,’ Zadkiel said.  ‘Tell them again.’

Sariel stepped forward and let himself be seen.  The women flinched only a bit.

‘Do not be afraid.  He is Risen.  Go and tell the others what you have seen.’

Mary reached out, tentatively, and let her hand trail down the dark shimmer of his wing.  Her eyes widened, and at last she understood.

Jophiel was watching, now, too as Mary stood and ran quickly toward the town.  Sariel deserved his Sanctus.

Jophiel nodded and the choir began.  Light shattered the last darkness, and Sariel stood amazed as his wings turned bright.

turning point

This post was written for Beauty from Chaos, but accidentally posted here.
I’ve decided to leave it on both blogs, in case it was all Zadkiel’s doing.

As soon as the birds sang, Jesus slipped out of the house and went down to the stream.  Zadkiel watched him from beneath his wing, then rose to follow.  It was getting warmer, at least.  But hot days and cold nights still made for wet grass, and Zadkiel went reluctantly down the path.

By the time Zadkiel got there, Jesus was leaning against a tree, looking out at the water.  As usual, he’d found a stone, and was turning it over and over in his hand.

Zadkiel felt weary.  They were getting close now, and there were moments when he didn’t want the job he’d been given. He walked past Jesus to the water’s edge, and stooped down to trail his fingertips through the ripples.

Jesus watched him for a while, and registered his own surprise.  Usually it was the other way round:  Zadkiel watching, Jesus longing for the bright splash of grace.  He set down his stone and went to Zadkiel’s side.   The angel smiled, but did not move, and his eyes went out to the far shore.

‘Peter thinks that I am the messiah,’ Jesus said suddenly.
‘I heard.’ Zadkiel muttered.
‘I told him not to say.’
‘Yes, that was probably wise.’

Both of them, now, were trailing their fingers through the water, relishing the cool of it against the warmth of the sun.

Zadkiel looked at Jesus, cautiously, and summoned his will.  He could do this…
‘And you?  What do you think?  Are you the messiah?’

It was Jesus’ turn to look away.  He turned from the stream and walked up the bank.  He saw a dead branch lying there, picked it up and gave it a tentative swing.

‘When I was young, some of the boys would play “Messiah”.  They’d find a stick, like this, and they’d steal a pot to wear as a helmet. Then they’d round us all up, with stories of how unfair the world was, and claim that they would be the one to change it.  Sticks, pots, off we’d go to prepare for battle.’  Jesus threw down the stick he’d been swinging and turned to face Zadkiel.  ‘The thing is: I hated it.  It never felt right.  Violence breeds violence, and killing people doesn’t really tell me much about God’s love.’

‘No,’ Zadkiel said, ‘I can see that.  So, if you were the messiah?’

Jesus sat down, looked at the stream.  Further up, the women were beginning to gather, filling their jugs.

‘There was a song my mother used to sing — a sort of lullaby when I couldn’t sleep.  A song of trust in what God was doing, of light coming to the nations.’

‘Yes.  I remember.  Simeon had taught her.’

‘Simeon.  She used to talk about him.  She loved remembering that day they took me to the temple and Simeon raised me in his arms and sang, and Anna laughed and shouted that God was good.  They were so startled by it that they forgot about the doves, and went home carrying them still.  We had those doves for years.  It was one of her favourite stories.’ Jesus paused, remembering.  ‘But sometimes, if I asked her about it at the wrong moment, it felt different.  She’d say all the same things, but her eyes would be different.  She seemed afraid.’

Zadkiel turned away from Jesus, and went back to the stream.  He watched the light dance and thought how Jophiel would be noting the rhythms of it.  He wished he were anywhere but here.

‘Yes, well, Simeon said a lot of things that day.’

Jesus was getting annoyed now.  This wasn’t like Zadkiel at all.  He went to him, and put his hand on his shoulder, forcing Zadkiel to look at him.

‘What is it?  What did he say?’
‘Oh, just the usual sort of thing.  The sort of thing Peter said.  And that you would be opposed.’

Jesus laughed harshly, ‘is that all?  Well that proved true enough.  Opposed at every turn.  I’m getting used to it by now.’

Zadkiel looked relieved.  Maybe they could stop here, and go back to looking at the water?  But no. Jesus was still thinking, and when he spoke it was less bravely: ‘But there was something else too, wasn’t there? Opposition doesn’t explain the look in her eyes.’

Zadkiel looked at Jesus, and knew he would have to tell him.  ‘Simeon saw it all.  He had met so many mothers.  He told her that a sword would pierce her own soul too.’

Jesus looked confused, as he turned Simeon’s words over and over in his mind, and then he seemed to realise. ‘When we played,’ he said, ‘when it was my turn to be “Messiah”?  I never swung my stick.  I just carried it, and they followed.’

‘Yes.’ Zadkiel said sadly, ‘I remember that too.’

Jesus stood long on the water’s edge with his eyes closed, absorbing the warmth of the sun. ‘I know how it will be, then.  I think I’ve known for a while, really.  I must tell the disciples.’

Zadkiel nodded, and said nothing.  He knelt down to touch the water again, as Jesus turned and walked up the dusty path alone.

elusive angels

How does a story come to be?

I used to think that one must have an idea; that there must be some complex logo-rhythm that would relate character, plot and symbol into a meaningful whole.   But now I am not so sure.

Through Advent and Lent a story has been evolving on the blogs (Love Blooms Bright and Beauty from Chaos).   It is a story about angels, a story about God, and a story about what it means for the Word to become Incarnate.  Sometimes, I’ve been quite pleased with the posts.  I loved Sophia’s insistence in Wisdom Exaulteth and am still amused by sulky Jophiel in Look Again.  It’s too soon to be sure which of the Lent stories I may like.  They are too close and there is insufficient distance to see.

These stories have been fun to write, but I am not really sure where they come from.  Do they form a coherent theology?  Perhaps.  But if so, it is not the theology I would have expected to write, nor would I have realised how much I want an illustrator.

How did angels come to take centre stage?  Certainly not by my planning or intention.

Yet there they are, week after week, telling me their stories, and forcing their way onto the page.  It is fun, and confusing too.  Is there more that needs to be written, or is this it?  Do the characters live for these blogs, or is there something bigger going on here?

I kind of hope that Jophiel and Zadkiel will stick around.  I’d like to see Sophia again too.  But this seems to be their choice and not mine.  I am sure they will stay with us through Good Friday, but have no sense at all what angels might do, come Easter.

lion cub

‘There it is,’ he thought, as he grabbed the rail and leant out towards the water.  A dandelion seed drifted past, tempting, perfect and out of reach.  He watched as it settled on the reeds below, sharp swords against the silky water.  It was beautiful.  He liked it here, by the river.  And he didn’t often get to play this long, or this close to the water below.

‘These railing are good.’  Shiny and black.  Just the right height too.  He glanced around to see who was watching, and then hooked a knee over the bottom rail.  His other leg began to swing.  ‘I wonder what if feels like to fly, to drift on the wind and get caught in the reeds’ He leant as far over the water as he could and reached towards the light.

A slip, a swing, and he’d have learnt what it meant to fly. Briefly.  Before crashing horribly into the river, eight feet below.

I got out of the car, and stayed by the curb.  ‘Hello.  It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?  Are you all alone?’

A lion turned to face me, beautifully striped, except where he’d rubbed the paint off his nose.

He wasn’t sure what to do.  ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ fought nobly with his natural curiosity.  Curiosity won, and he took a step towards me as I let go of my breath in relief. I spoke so my voice would carry, so that someone somewhere might think, ‘where is my child?’.  And finally, I saw her.  A young grandmother dressed in red, struggling with  Little Brother at the far end of the path.

We both walked towards her.  She looked at me, and then at him and said, ‘have you been a naughty boy?’

‘No, not at all.’  I said.  ‘He was just looking at the river.  But it wasn’t safe and there was no one watching him.’

The words were neutral, but the tone was not.  She must have heard what I was thinking:  ‘It was you, madam, who misbehaved.  You, who might have lost him forever.  He is just a cub wanting to play, spying the tall grass.’

He froze and tucked his head; and in that moment a degree of innocence was lost.  He learned well and fast.   To chase a dancing seed and to dangle over the river makes you a naughty boy.  To dream or to fly might make people angry.  Best not. The confusion stung more than the rebuke.

Why was it wrong to follow beauty?  Why shouldn’t he float between heaven and earth?  There was no telling.  But for now, he will learn not to ask.  He will gradually conform, and walk further and further from the edge until he learns to close his eyes to the world around.  But one day, one day, he might be lucky again.  Sunlight will catch on the water and a silken seed slip by.  And he will remember:  I was a lion once.  I thought I could fly.