He took everything away from me—all the obstructions, all the accretions, all the cataracts and clothes and scales-- everything but the truth. And revealing it; raising it high enough even for me to see, I finally see I am hanging naked on a cross. The place I have always been.
The sight explaining so much: explaining the ache in my hands and feet; explaining the stretching rack in my shoulders; explaining the piercing in my chest; explaining the tired collapse of my unbroken bones; explaining the bitter aftertaste of every drink; explaining everything and everything and everything.
And I cry with relief, “It is finished!"
I am ready to go home. I am ready to be free. I am ready to let go of this cursed tree and leap into the air. And if ever again I land, I will land in a new life. I will love this world like Christ. I will walk through the petrified forest of crosses shouldering my own as I go. I will lay my hand on every bloody trunk. I will set up my cross and willingly scale to the top. I will hang there again, yet this time helping thieves see and understand and live. Thank you Father for letting me see the whole world!
"Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Because for every choice outside of paradise, there are actually two.
There is the choice one sees and the choice one doesn’t.
The choice to obey in spite of what one thinks...or not. And to obey is to take what one thinks at the fork in the road, lay it down, and sacrifice it.
Underlying every fork in the road is a more important fork in a more important road. A spiritual fork in a spiritual road. A road to life or death.
Those who mourn and repent will be saved. Those who don’t will be destroyed.
Those who mourn and repent for all the detestable things going on inside the temple will be saved.
The one out of seven—the writer—the marker—will mark the foreheads of those who mourn. And they will be spared. The other six are warriors who will pursue and destroy everyone else.
Similar to Cain’s mark, in a way. Tied to Seven and Multiples of seven.
It also connects to Paul’s Road to Damascus/ lightening bolt experience. A question lurks within: Is it a curse or a blessing to be spared? To see. To see your blindness. To be blind. To live knowing of your murderous heart. It is to be Cain. “Why did I live?” It is to be Paul and suddenly know, as if struck in the head with one of Stephen’s stones, of the detestable practices inside your own temple.
It is to be marked in the head with a lightening scar. To be the boy who lived. To be this thing that cannot be killed from the outside. The mark brings with it seven-fold mayhem and seven hoarcruxes of death. The blood soaking in the earth moans and screams in your ears.
What is this mark then?
Is it a mark for life or death?
Both, in a way. The ego, my divine mark, as such, can not be killed from the outside. It may be flattened, squeezed, shattered, shrunk, and kicked; but it cannot be killed. Yet my strange invincibility also chains me to Death; brings death to the world; both the Death I cause and the Death I escape. What to do with this marked thing? This monstrosity of consciousness. Touched by hate, and love and choice. Marked in a place visible to myself in a mirror only. What now? This mark! What to do about it? What now?!
There is only one solution: Death.
Death to the undying ego--death to the undead.
But since the almighty God himself has protected the bearer of this mark, like Job, from outside asphyxiation by Satan, the only possible death left to me is death by oxygenation, conflagration, immolation, and explosion; death by life, death by Christ--a death by my own voluntary choice.
Only by laying down, only in letting go, only by a Way hidden in the pattern of flaming blades swirling over Eden, may the marked one become finally and forever accessible to his Savior—Breaking the chains of death. Bringing Life in the Savior. Bringing life to the world.
What is the mark?
It is a mark for redemption.
Except ye become as little children.
(Apocatastasis: starting over; restoration of an initial state.)
(Jesus as the alpha and the omega. The omega and the alpha.)
Jesus bends the straight line of time and experienced reality from a straight line into a circle or a horseshoe. And the end and the beginning look at each other, They are the closest to each other. Jesus crosses that divide. It is the rebirth. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “I know how to get where you want to go, but you can’t start from here. Anywhere you are on this circle is further from the place I am; and the place you should be. The closest place to the end is the beginning.”
Apocatastasis: starting over; restoration of an initial state.
Jesus is the alpha and the omega--the omega and the alpha.
The Redeemer bends the straight line of time and experienced reality into a circle or a horseshoe. In this reality, the end and the beginning actually look at each other. They are the closest to each other. And it is the figure of Christ which crosses that divide. It is the rebirth. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “I know how to get where you want to go, but you can’t start from here. Anywhere you are on this circle is further from the place I am, and the place you should be. The closest place to the end is the beginning.”
Except ye become as little children.
Crime is not a disease although it is treated as such. Like a patient with a disease, the criminal afflicted with crime is held in a sterilized environment waiting for remission or relapse; passively accepting life as a prisoner, asking the arbitrary and unanswerable question, "How much longer?" But crime is not passive and is not cured with passive measures. Behind it all is an active choice whose only cure is an active choice.
So what about a weak, lukewarm, anxious, unheroic life that never hits a bullseye (in short: a life of sin)?
This also is an active choice. It is not passive.
This is also a crime.
To be a mediocre Christian is impossible. It simply means to be a mediocre person. To live (or die) like a patient resigned to his distant fate--a mere innocent victim with a diagnosis of original sin waiting for its cure--is the sin. It is the choice to passively sit by as the disease takes its toll; choosing to live one's entire life in hospice because there is nothing else to do except wait. "Look, maybe I am in remission for awhile! Oh no, of course not, I have relapsed! The cure is not here and first, but out there and last! Well, at least I have a disease to blame it on!"
No! to be a sinner "neither hot nor cold" is not nearly as tepid and passive as it sounds. It is an active and thriving participation in the most heinous crime of all: the murder of LIFE. To live out a grayish mediocrity before the red blood and flowing water of Christ on the cross is a hatred of life. It is an act of violence against goodness, truth, and beauty--a choice to live opposite: to live in bland, dull, fearful clinginess.
A million tiny willful violations slowly accumulate into a life of empty insanity. And it takes a counterbalanced choice--a violent choice-- worth a million insanities to jump out of it:
It is Jonah's violent leap into the stormy sea that cures its rage and saves the foundering ship. It is Christ's headlong flight into the torrential furnace of Old Jerusalem and down the gullets of beasts that snuffs out fires in three days. It is always a singular act of volition, in bright opposition to all “common sense,” that everything terrible with a mouth regrets devouring. It quells and sickens the heart-fires of Old Jerusalems, Old Covenants, and Old Kings. It is then the irrevocable happens--from the depths comes a distant song:
“I lift my eyes to the hills.”
The earth lurches.
The Old Men, The Beasts, and The She-dragons have no choice but to hurl the new born back to shore.
New Jerusalem is here.
I cried twice yesterday. Once in sadness. Once in laughter.
We are pinned to the ground by the serpent who once looked like us. Our achilles spiked through, the nail driven deep in to the earth—forever to the spot where our shadow begins. And yet we also reach; stretch our hands to the stars: we aim , we point—our finger almost touching the Father. This is life. Tethered to a star, tethered to the earth. Will we tear in two?
The firstborns have a name I do not know. It is marked on their thigh, each one has a name. I look at my thigh: on the left it is “Maher Shalal” on the right it is “Hash Baz.”
This is where the sacrifices to the River Gods and Thunder Gods go. They did not disappear, they—the sucklings—are here.
How does it come out? That new person. That changed life. The ampule must be broken, to release the ammonium—to wake up. The glass case must be shattered in case of emergency. You are trapped in a room on fire with the glass case unbroken, the hatchet unused. Why? The paintings on the wall are melting. The smiling faces in flames. The trophies are ash. Are you not willing to break the walls down—even to escape—to save your life?
The king of commitment chains himself with links made of adamantine. Unbreakable. Is it comfortable?
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
I have always been mystified by this verse. I have mostly read it as a description of God’s provision: a table set with mercy and blessing after a victorious battle; or something like a future hope to set my eyes on after a life spent battling the enemy. But this verse also has the echo of the ram prepared for Abraham; not in his presence; but just beyond, on the other side of his choice, in the presence of his enemy—which is Abraham himself—his “wanting.” And that lead me to reconsider: This psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd,” the fifth verse included, is about a lamb.
The purpose of the lamb is not be cared for—not to be guided—“for its own sake.” The purpose of the lamb is to be sacrificed.
I now imagine God preparing a table:
All is darkness; all is shadow; all is valley; all is enemy—eyes hungry—hearts devouring. Yet, in the center of the darkness, is a table. A lone figure stands in candle light; the only light in the valley; setting the table. It is the Shepherd. The Father. Waiting. In the presence of the lamb’s enemies—those hungry wolves and snarling lions leaning on their cushions— the shepherd clears the center of the table: the place the lamb will be laid. Like the cross being prepared for Christ. The lamb walks toward it. Accepting. Letting go. Listening. Following. Obeying. The Father, the shepherd, anoints the head of the lamb with oil—marking it—to reveal its purpose, like Jacob poured oil on the stone to reveal the center of the world. The center of the cross. It is time for the purpose of the lamb to be revealed. It is time for the king to satisfy his purpose—to take ultimate responsibility for his kingdom. The lamb lays in the center of the table and exposes his neck. The Father, the shepherd, raises his knife. Blood pours out; stains the wool, covers the threshold between darkness and light; protects, saves—cup after cup—guards all portals from death, opens them to life—to freedom.
And all this done in full view of his enemies— the Philistine, the Pharisee, the Saducee, the Roman, the Pharoah, the king and the governor, the Caesar, the slave, the zealot, the Jew, the gentile, the pious, and the pagan—crowded around the table. What a powerful image! And goodness and mercy follows. THEY FOLLOW. They ensue as a result of lamb’s willing acceptance of the Shepherd’s plan. A plan for victory over the powers of darkness through living sacrifice.
“Where does your amazing strength come from to defeat the enemy?”
Samson replies, “Alright, alright. You keep nagging me and I keep telling little lies about myself, but here is the real truth. My strength lies in my hair.”
NO! WRONG! Samson’ strength was a gift from God. The hair was a gift—a symbol—gifted; given—but still just a material thing. Anything that is given comes from a source. Where the gift comes from—who the gift comes from—the “relationship” to the source—is what infuses it with power. And the source is what replenishes the gift with the power to defeat the enemy—as long as you remain mindful of—have a relationship with— the source. It is just the same with any relationship. The “gift of strength” does not reside in the thing itself. It is a terrible mistake to confuse symbols for the actual treasures—abstractions for the actual gifts, for power. To confuse this, is to disconnect, to shear, to “let a hand touch your head.” And when this disastrous mistake occurs; the symbol is gone, and with it, the gift. Delilah did not trick Samson. Samson was the one playing tricks. And like all tricksters, he relied on distraction, confusion, and lack of attention. Samson tricked himself. Samson betrayed God, and in doing so, betrayed himself. He became blind. Only when he grew the strength of character to talk to the Lord again and ask one last chance to change—to make things right—did he reveal his understanding of who his real enemy was. Samson is the one who had to go—to die. It is the last place anyone wants to look—it is dark, deep, lonely. It was in the filth, in the dust, in the dirt, at the bottom, in the belly of the beast, that he found what he needed most. When Samson finally discovered who was the true enemy, the true betrayer, he knew what to do. “And in his death he defeated more enemies than when ‘he’ was alive.”
I remember feeling like Dorothy waking up at the end of Oz, in her bed with her family surrounding her, for the first time with joy in her heart. The great lesson of “The Wizard of Oz” is not that the source of power resides in the ruby slippers (Dorothy had those on right from the start). The great lesson is that the power to get home springs from one’s deep understanding and admission after defeating the enemies within, that “there’s no place like home.”