BEYOND THE EDGE

“How far are we from the edge?” she asked me.

“What edge?” I said.

“The edge of the earth.”

“There isn’t an edge, it just goes on and on and around and around forever,” I replied.

She paused and thought for a while. I could tell she was thinking because her forehead was wrinkled and her head was tilted to the left and her eyes were studying the clouds above us. Finally she said, “well I wish there was an edge, cause I would jump off it.”

I thought this was a wonderful thing to say. I imagined a cliff that leads to nowhere, just down into nothingness, and I wondered if I would jump. Then I remembered that scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, where Reepicheep, that small but noble mouse, sailed to the edge of the sea just to see where it led. This is the very essence of adventure, I think. It all starts with an idea that defies logic, that goes against science or math, that insults the enlightened man, but that captures the mind in a way that no concept or number could, and it sparks the most incredible adventure. And what is life without adventure? 

I think following God is an adventure. Maybe that’s my favorite part of being a Christian, is that sense that I’ll never have it all figured out, that I’ll always be left with questions. For some people that might be frustrating, and it is for me too sometimes, but then I think about the edge of the world, and maybe God is beyond that cliff. Maybe that’s what heaven is, the place beyond the edge, and my whole life is leading up to that moment of death, when I finally make the leap.

Magic

I’ll never understand the magic of story, the power of words woven together to make something that didn’t exist before. It truly is one of the most miraculous things, and I think it’s a gift. The way you feel when you read something that moves you, the empathy you feel for the characters you know only by name on the page, the deep sorrow and awe you feel when you finish a book… it’s all so mysterious. 

I just read the last chapter of C.S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It’s one of my favorites. I am amazed not only by the words Lewis uses and the picture he paints, but by the feel of the chapter. When I read that chapter, I can’t help but feel sad and happy, dread and hope. It’s a chapter that tears you apart and puts you back together in seven short pages. I read it slow and fast at the same time, hoping it will never end yet wishing to read the final sentence. This chapter makes me worship. No joke, I am holding back tears as I write this, thinking about the glory of God, who created story and language and art and beauty and asks us not to hold these things back, but to express them and to help others express them. And isn’t that the job of the storyteller, to usher God’s children into His presence and show them how to bow before His throne?

This is a noble and sacred thing, to create, and I hope I never waste this gift.

Visceral

Hold my bleeding heart and keep it beating

Sometimes I can’t tell if I am breathing

These groanings in my chest, they are greedy

But really it’s just you that I’m needing

 

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:22-23

rain is beautiful, isn’t it?

Everybody’s broken and I’m no different.

I feel unworthy, deficient.

The great lie in my heart: I’ve gotta be perfect to serve.

Truth is the best of us are really just the worst of us.

I face addictions too, you know, I face temptations just like you. I’m insecure, afraid, just trying to make it to the next day.

The true test of faith is what you do with shame; do you let it sit and simmer, or do you give yourself some grace?

I wish life were easier, but it only gets harder.

I hope I can learn to see beauty in pain, oh, I just can’t wait til I can dance in the rain.

re: turn

i feel lost, i feel hopeless, i feel broken, even though i know deep down
that i’m chosen.
even still, in my heart, i am frozen.

you tell me not to fight, that you’ve spoken. all these lies hold no weight, for
you have risen. all my chains are on the ground, they have fallen!

look, look, look where i am and where i started! redemption’s story being told
though i’ve parted.

“return to me,” says the Lord, “return to me.”

Everything is Grace

A gentle rain upon my face…

that is grace.

A vicious downpour that leaves no trace…

that is grace.

Truly,

every breath, every step, every touch, every taste,

every single little thing…

is GRACE

Abounding sin is the terror of the world, but abounding grace is the hope of mankind.” -A. W. Tozer

A Desert Soul, Part 4

We walked for a mile in silence. Jack’s steps were light and I noticed he was barely sweating at all; I on the other hand, if invertebrate, could have been wrung out like a wet towel, filling many buckets with my sweat. My steps were still sinking deep into the sand as well, and with every step I cursed Jack and this blazing dream and God even. All I wanted was to return to my ordinary day, to go out and buy a coffee – maybe a croissant – and go about my day! God, did that sound lovely! My mouth nearly drooled at the thought. Suddenly I realized I was extremely thirsty, for I hadn’t drunk water since this whole nightmare began. I contemplated asking Jack if he had water, but of course he didn’t have a water bottle. And why would he? He was an angel; do they even drink? Aren’t they satiated by God alone?

I sneered at my own thought. All this was rather uncomfortable, was it not? What, in the end, would I draw away from this hellish experience? As soon as I was returned to my ordinarity, I would forget this whole thing – Jack, the two colleagues, the drunkard, and this hot desert.

This thought reminded me of my temporariness in this world. Surely I would be returned to Earth soon! This gave me hope to keep trudging, for I was exhausted and ready to collapse into the burning sand. I also reminded myself that it was cold on Earth right now and I would need my coat upon return, so with renewed passion, I gripped my coat and caught up to Jack, whose pace was difficult to match.

We came upon a scene which, in retrospect, is rather comical. In the moment, however, it hit way too close to home.

There was, on the cliff wall (for we had followed the wall of the ravine the whole time) was a worn ladder made from some sort of tied together twine. It looked suspicious and altogether not fit for climbing. There was upon it, however, a large man with a gigantic pack on his back. Furthermore, he was grasping in his left hand a staff, leaving his right arm alone to support and balance the weight that he carried. His situation was such that I thought several times he would fall, for he was tipping this way and that due to so much pressure on his back. And without both hands to properly climb the ladder, he swayed and rocked the ladder violently. And with every sway, an item from his pack would linger precariously close to tipping out and falling back down the wall; the man was no less than 20 feet above the ground.

Indeed, he would have made quicker progress, but for the fact that each time he swung to the right or to the left and noticed one of his precious collectables about to fall, he would do everything within his effort to clutch at it until it was once more secure in his pack. This he did a hundred times within the first minute of us observing him from below.

“Surely we must do something!” said I to Jack, cringing with every shake and stagger, “he’s going to fall!”

“Sadly nothing can be done for this poor old fool,” Jack responded.

“Nothing! Well, surely someone in his right mind might coax him down!”

“Do you not think this man is of a stable frame of mind?”

“Well certainly I don’t! Just look at him, he values his belongings more than his very life!”

“Ah, does he now?” And as Jack said it, I knew the tremor in his voice was meant to challenge my own way of thinking, for I was still holding on to my coat. Inside I boiled but outwardly kept my cool, feinting oblivion.

“Well very well, you may interact with the fellow,” said Jack, snapping his fingers. I was inserted into this new realm, the realm without Jack. I very much liked not having to bother with Jack’s judgmental attitude.

I approached the cliffside and looked up at the man, who had made no progress – in fact he may have traveled down a rung or two!

“Good sir!” I hollered up at the man. No response. “Good sir!” I tried again, louder this time.

“Ay, is somebody there?” the man called down without looking down.

“Hello good sir! Might I suggest you come down from there?”

“Well why on earth would I do that? I need to make it up!”

“I fear that if you continue, you shall fall and greatly injure yourself!”

“Ha! Never have I been one to follow fear’s whims. I am a conquerer!”

He tried to continue up the ladder, but only managed to knock loose a badminton racket from his bag, which he managed to catch with his foot, pinching the racket between his foot and the wall. It was quite impressive, I must say, but he nearly lost his balance and fell. The next minute was riveting to watch, as he precariously reached down with his left hand to grab the racket. The trick was that he was already holding his staff with his left hand, so in order to free his hand, he clenched the staff between his knees and grabbed the racket, then placed it back into his pack and wielded the staff once more.

“Sir,” I called up once more, “why don’t you let a few things go? You’re endangering your safety for the sake of your objects!”

“Indeed I am, but let me assure you, kind gentleman, that all of my possessions are of great worth!”

“Well, would you at least loose your staff so you have 2 free hands to climb the ladder?”

“Loose my– well!” huffed the man, “I could simply never do such a thing! This staff holds very dear sentiment to my heart and dropping it would be the cruelest thing I’d ever done.”

“Well, what about lightening your pack a little bit, then? Tell you what, why don’t you come back down and I’ll help you sort out your belongings, and then you can return up the ladder with ease!”

“You speak as a simpleton I’m afraid. You know nothing of the value of my possessions and if you did I’m positive you’d agree with me. Now, if you’ll leave me be, I’m almost to the top!”

It was then that Jack fetched me back and we both watched the fool climb the ladder hopelessly. He was nowhere near the summit.

“Will he ever reach the top?” I asked.

“I guess not.”

“A shame.”

“And what about you, John?” Jack turned to me as he said this.

“Well what about me?” I replied.

“Are you ready to drop your possessions?”

“This is hardly about me! Besides, the poor old man is carrying more weight than I! One shouldn’t compare the two of us!” I waved my hand in Jack’s face and turned my attention back to the man on the ladder. I never felt Jack’s gaze leave me, however, and it was quite uncomfortable.

“John, face the truth. You’ve been carrying around more weight than just your coat. You know I’m not only talking about physical things – the man’s pack represents more than just his physical belongings. You’ve been bearing many things upon your shoulders, since you were a child even!”

“You don’t know me and I wish you’d stop pretending you do!”

“You always blamed yourself for your father’s drinking habit, didn’t you?”

I turned to Jack, rage in my eyes, unable to form words. Jack continued, though I silently begged him to stop.

“And when your parents divorced, you promised yourself you’d never make the same mistakes… but here we are. You’ve been carrying these wounds like you’ve been carrying that coat, and you refuse to let go. Why is that, John?”

Like salt to an open wound were Jack’s words to my heart. I was crying now. I felt in that moment naked, completely exposed, weak, vulnerable, and I hated it. I hated Jack for doing this to me. Above all, I hated myself.

“It’s time to let go. It’s time to drop the coat. ‘Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’”

I felt like a little child. I was weak, dependent, unable to provide for myself. I was a failure. I had done the very thing I promised I’d never do. I promised I’d never hurt someone the way my father hurt my mother. And yet, I was no different from him… no better.

“Love and hate cannot coexist within your heart. You must rid yourself of one to make room for the other.”

How did Jack do that? How did he pierce my mind and soul and speak so eloquently into it? I didn’t know and for a moment I didn’t care. My eyes began to open to the truth of it all – just a sliver, mind you – it would take years before I began to fully understand the depravity of my heart, but there in the desert the door to my soul was cracked open, letting in a sliver of light.

I dropped my coat.

Oh the joy that embraced me in that moment! I danced a silly dance there on the hot sand, yet I barely even felt the sand on my feet anymore! What once had burned so painfully now seemed like nothing! My steps were not deep as they were before – no, they were light like Jack’s! I felt freer than I’d ever felt before. Greater than that, I felt the overwhelming power of love rush over me and take my breath away. I was speechless!

I looked at Jack, awe in my eyes and happiness inflating my chest. He looked back at me the same and we embraced.

“Now do you believe?”

I believed.

A Desert Soul, Part 3

We walked along in silence for a good while; I was deep in thought about the previous occurrences. What do they mean? Who is this Jack fellow? Am I dreaming? I concluded quite unsatisfactorily that I must be hallucinating and this was all one bizarre trip. Somehow my breakfast had been poisoned and I was passed out on the floor of my house. I say “unsatisfactorily” because this explanation begs the question: “can you reason about a hallucination trip whilst you are hallucinating?” My answer for the moment – until I could have time to really sit down and ponder it fully – was that I was overthinking it and that’s exactly the sort of thing one would do during a hallucination. Let it be said here, I had never been the one to experiment too deeply with drugs.

“That’s not true,” said Jack.

“What?”

“It’s not true… in fact, you have experimented quite heavily in drugs, haven’t you?”

“I–well… well yes but… how did you…?”

“Remember, John, you are in a supernatural dimension, being led by a supernatural being… I can read your mind. Your hypothesis that you are hallucinating is completely outlandish and honestly makes you sound quite silly.”

It was the first time Jack had used my name and it startled me for I had not offered my name to begin with. I was bothered by that for the rest of my journey.

“All of my experimentation was in college and I haven’t fooled around with those kinds of substances in years!” Said I, feeling the need to justify the shame I felt.

“Ah, maybe so with what might be called ‘hard drugs’, but what about alcohol, John?”

“Stop using my name! You don’t know me, you’re just a figment of my imagination, now why don’t you get off your power trip and send me back!”

There was an awkward pause. I felt downright justified in my lashing out – he was asking for it, the self-righteous jerk! As if Jack had never drunk before! I seethed inwardly as we trekked on. Moments later, I once again began to justify my position.

“Well of course I drink here and there, but it’s rarely in excess and when it is I have a jolly good reason, now don’t I? Show me another man who’s gone through a divorce like I have and tell me he doesn’t down a few shots every now and again!” I began this sentence to myself, muttering in obscene rage, but as I continued on and gained confidence, I lifted my voice, unashamed of who heard me. At this, Jack spun around to confront me, eyes glimmering.

“Ah, good! Very good! Now we get down to your heart (at this he jabbed my chest with his extended index finger). Here is how we get to the root of your pain!”

“You know nothing about pain!” I nearly screamed, “You’re just an angel after all! You just sit up in your clouds and laugh at us from above!” Immediately I regretted my statement, for I knew he would capitalize on my logical inconsistency, which he did.

“Ah, so you admit that I’m an angel – a supernatural being!”

Too proud to show weakness, I continued to dig my own grave. “Well, what else could you be? You read minds, you know my past! What’s your angle, anyway? What do you want from me?”

“My angle?” Said Jack, turning back around and continuing down the slope, which had grown much less sharp – in fact, we were near the bottom. “I exist to do the will of Him who sent me.”

“God.”

“That’s right.”

I guffawed softly.

Presently we reached the bottom of the basin. I was relieved to not be in danger of losing my footing and falling to my death, however, upon looking back up the cliff wall, I was reminded that in order to get out of this god-forsaken ravine, we would have to climb back up. I did not look forward to that in the least.

Before I had time to grumble about this further, Jack and I came upon a man, heavily clothed as was I, holding a bottle and stumbling around aimlessly. He was singing rather loudly and swaying to some melody that was in his head. A ways to our left, a woman followed, dragging her feet in the sand, obviously exhausted and suffering from dehydration.

Jack turned to me, “Unlike the last conversation we overheard, this time you will be visible to both of them and able to interact with them.” Before I had time to balk, he snapped his fingers and he disappeared – well I guess technically I disappeared, for I had been teleported to the other dimension, but from my perspective, it was just Jack disappearing.

My first interaction in this new dimension was with the drunkard. He addressed me first.

“Well hellow there gentl-y-man, do you have a name or are you an apparition?”

“Uh, John’s the name.”

“Well hellow there John!” he said much too excitedly, “I wish I could help you with your fine quest, but I have important work to do, so best leave me be! Cheers!” He took a swig from his bottle.

It was then that I was approached by the woman, who perked up considerably when she saw me.

“Please, sir, would you tell me which direction you came from? My brother and I are horribly lost and in dire need of water!”

I turned to look behind me so I could explain the little steep pathway which Jack and I had taken to get down into the valley, but when I did I realized that suddenly I was lost as well! Behind me there was no sign of a path. I circled in all directions, searching for a familiar scene, but all that greeted me was hot sand as far as the eye could see. I was discombobulated, and I began to panic.

“Oh,” the woman said, drooping her eyes back down to the earth, “I see you are as lost as we are. Very well then. I thought you would be the salvation I have been praying for, but so is my luck. My brother is drunk as I am sure you can tell – the disgusting man – for as long as we’ve been wandering around in search of salvation, he’s been at that bottle. The coward. You do think it cowardly, do you not, that in time of tribulation – in a time when siblings should stick together closer than ever, he chooses liquor over his own sister! I should’ve known he had a bottle or two under that coat of his – why he’s even wearing so many clothes in this dreaded heat to begin with is beyond me… why, sir! Why indeed are you wearing a coat? Are you not dying from heat?”

I didn’t know what to say. I was, of course, dying from heat. It was nothing more than my pride that held my coat to my body but I didn’t dare tell her that! I thought it must be much the same for her brother. I wondered what I would do in their situation. I figured in all honesty I might have chosen the bottle. I felt ashamed and intensely selfish in that moment.

Seeing I was unable to form a response, she went on after her brother, who had made it several more yards away from us as we conversed.

“Wait, ma’am, let me come with you!” I called after her.

“Let them go,” Jack said, for I had been transported back to his side. I looked after the woman and her brother, sorrow filling my heart. This encounter had affected me more than I cared to admit, but pride telling me I must keep up the appearance of strength in the presence of Jack, I came up with a snarky comment.

“So I assume the moral of this story is to quit drinking?”

“No, John, the moral of this story is that a chasing after pleasure leaves you empty and only hurts those around you. Come on, let’s keep going.”

I followed Jack for a few steps only before stopping. Jack, sensing my halt, called from over his shoulder, “why are you stopping, John?”

“I wish you would stop using my name like you know me,” I said. “If I take my coat off, are you positive you won’t take it from me?”

Jack turned to face me. “What would I gain from stealing your coat? Heavens! It’s a hundred degrees out!”

I eyed him skeptically and began to disrobe, beginning with my scarf. My neck, exposed to the open air, began to cool for the first time since entering this cruel world and it was one of the most refreshing feelings I had ever felt. I gained confidence after that and hastily removed my coat, though I struggled since I was still holding my scarf in my left hand. My arms, now exposed to the fresh air, screamed with gratitude. I let out an audible “ah” and I’m sure my face opened for a moment into a smile. Satisfied with my decision, I took a few steps forward, toward Jack. My smile quickly turned into a frown, for I realized I was carrying just the same amount of weight as I had before, and my steps were still tedious.

“You’ll be lighter if you drop them,” Jack said, nodding toward my clothes. He wore an annoying little smirk and I wished to knock it right off him. I’m sure he felt my glare penetrating his soul, but his expression did not change.

“What if I want them later? Who knows, maybe you’ll transport me to some wintry environment next and then I’ll be dreadfully cold.”

Jack’s smile widened ever so slightly before he turned back around and began marching forward once again. I followed, contemplating whether I should just drop my coat and scarf and be done with it.

“What’s the sense in holding onto your pride when I see right through you, John?” said Jack over his shoulder. It was a downright ugly thing to say and it filled me with rage. Deep down I knew he was right though.

A Desert Soul, Part 2

At the edge of the trench were two men in heated discussion. There was much swearing and pointing and obvious frustration on both party’s ends. The man on the right was gripping some papers tightly and pointed at them occasionally as he argued. It appeared as though this man cared a great deal about his papers. The other man, I concluded, was less attached to the papers, as he was holding nothing and in fact, the briefcase which sat nonchalantly at his feet was open and the files in there were strewn recklessly around with no organization. As we approached them, they continued arguing, not seeming to notice us at all.

“The blazes, man! How could you possibly bear to abandon our years of hard work at such a time as this! I simply cannot believe my ears, Frederic! This is absolute–“

“Now listen here! I didn’t come all this way just to be reprimanded by my colleague – and best man at my wedding I might add! When did you get so… consumed with your work that you’ve given up on our good graces! If anyone has the right to be flabbergasted, it’s me!”

“Our good graces! Don’t you see the importance of this work! We’re on the brink of breakthrough, Frederic! One more day and we’ll have a moment and as soon as we publish our work, we’ll be famous! Famous, I tell you! And, listen now – no, you listen to me! – It’s not just about fame. It’s about discovery! It’s about knowledge! It’s about advances of science! Can’t you see that? Can’t you open your eyes and look about you–“

“Don, it’s just a map!”

“Just a map! God, Frederic! Don’t you care! Don’t you have an ounce of respect for–“

“Of course I care! But I refuse – I simply refuse – to let cartography of all things – hah! Cartography is what’s coming between us, Don, can’t you see that? Can’t you open your eyes? I simply refuse to let this job ruin a friendship that I’ve cherished for ten years!”

“You just don’t care about your field. You need to find some loyalty. You’re not the man I once knew – captivated by the science of cartography. Enamored by the discovery of new heights, new places, new phenomena! It’s everything, Fred, everything!”

You’re speaking to me about loyalty! It seems to me that you’re the one that needs a lesson in loyalty, Don!”

At this point, the argument dissipated a little as the two men, too annoyed to look at each other, prepared to go their separate ways. I looked at Jack, confused. Not only about the nature of what I just witnessed, but about my nature. Was I invisible? Was I in a separate dimension? Was I awake, was I alive? Jack must have perceived my state of mind from my state of face, for he explained without hesitation that we were just visitors in this desolate world and without his permission, I could not be seen by anyone here. I was a ghost! The thought appalled me, and made me more homesick than I’d felt since my first semester at university!

“Don’t worry, when your time here is finished, you will be transported back to your home on Happy Lane, but God still has a purpose for you here in this world.”

I sneered.

“So what do you think of the two gentlemen?”

“Well,” I responded, “I think the one called Don had a point, if indeed they were so close to a breakthrough in their work. They shouldn’t abandon their objective over a silly disagreement.”

“So you hold no merit for Frederic’s words?”

“He sounded a bit like a woman, didn’t he?” I chuckled to myself. Jack smiled too. “Look, I see the validity of his argument. Friendships are important, but think about the long-term. The advancement of science will have a longer and broader effect than a platonic relationship. Long after the both of them are gone, the world will thank this Don fellow and scoff at Frederic.”

Before Jack could respond, Don and Frederic began once more to babble on. It went like this.

“Oh, Frederic, please don’t tell me you are beginning to see the supernatural side of things! What, next you’ll be telling me you believe in God!”

“Don’t you find it just a tad confusing, the origin of our planet? I’ve done a lot of thinking on the matter and the more I wrestle with it, the less I can come to accept the simplicity of macroevolution.”

“Oh don’t be ridiculous! You call yourself a man of science!”

“Why does science and the supernatural have to be at odds with each other all the time? Huh? Why can’t, just for once, the scientific community come to think about reconciling the two?”

“Because, Frederic, the concept of God is a spit in the face to materialists everywhere! It’s admitting that modern science can’t adequately understand something, and I would argue the opposite!”

“Okay, let us take an example here–“

“There is no point in arguing this right now! What will we accomplish? Up until this point I have thought of you as a great mind. What has happened to you? Where’s the Freddy I know and love? This can’t be him!”

“I thought you should be a lot more open-minded than you’re making yourself out to be right now. At least I had hoped. Remember when you were this bright-eyed kid, hungry for science and knowledge? You were open to new ideas, you challenged your presuppositions, you engaged in conversation! When did you start defending your stubborn mind to the point of shutting out your closest allies?”

“Oh, not this again! Really, you’re still on this whole friendship thing? Can’t you see this is bigger than that! I care more about the future of science, the future of intelligence, than a silly relationship that will end as soon as the both of us are decayed in our graves!”

“There are others, Don! If we don’t make this grand discovery, somebody else will! Somebody else always does. The world isn’t at stake here, but our friendship is! I have come to care less about the grander things in life, and more about the things that affect me personally. I want to have more time for my wife and kids, don’t you?”

“There’s a reason I’m not married!”

“You never approved of me and Marie, did you? I knew it! Okay, well, listen to me carefully. If this is the real you, I want nothing to do with you! And I definitely don’t want anything to do with your scientific discoveries! I hope you enjoy your fame, but Don… I hope you can see some day what’s important in life. And what you’re chasing won’t satisfy you. You’ll be an insatiable beast til the day you die!”

And with that, Frederic was off, shedding his clothes with each step away from his colleague, til he was down to his breeches. With each layer shed, his step became lighter and lighter, til he was actually running – away from Don, away from the ravine.

“And what do you think of that exchange?” Jack asked me.

“Frederic is losing a level-headed friend. It’s quite a shame, really, but this sort of thing happens all the time. The folly of the supernatural is always covered over with the charade of care. The poor Don was only standing up for reality, for the truth… and he got attacked for it. Ah, but so it goes. Persecuted are we who champion science; I’ve come across quite a many Frederic in my day.”

“So how do you explain me?” Jack asked.

To be quite honest, I had been avoiding this purturbance. It had been bothering me since the moment I came face to face with my new reality in this barren land, and I hadn’t yet come up with a conclusion to the matter.

“I can only be explained with the acceptance of the supernatural, for I am not humanly in any sense. I am a messenger of God and you are captured in a supernatural dimension. I’d very much like to hear how you explain this whole experience away using your precious science. But no matter – I’ll let you chew on that for the time being. Let us continue on our journey, down into the ravine. It will be a tad narrow going down, and it might benefit you to shed your coat. I’m sure you’re quite stifled with heat in there.”

“I will keep my coat, thank you.”

“You’re a stubborn man, aren’t you. Well, let’s go.”

And Jack led me down past a dead shrub to a narrow ledge that led precariously down into the gorge. I did not fancy this part of the journey, but seeing no alternative, followed my ‘supernatural’ guide. My coat tore a few times on the way down I’m ashamed to admit.

A Desert Soul, Part 1

I have seen many strange and fantastic sights, I have embarked on many noble adventures, and I have learnt lessons both grand and small from all of my escapades. Here I will submit to you now one such tale of morality which I find not only entrancing but more importantly, nourishing. I mean that in a spiritual sense, of course, and I hope you come to agree with my word choice. So read, dear friend, and be satiated.

My word of advice to the reader is to not close your mind the moment you come across a thing that upsets you – and they will come, believe me – rather, engage with that upsettingness and ask yourself ‘why does that upset me?’ and then dig even further and ask yourself ‘why’ five more times until you come to the very root of your upsettingness. You see, in this world of vast information, one truly finds themselves in this spot of ‘too much’. There is no limit to engaging (and uningaging) content! An unfortunate result of this is what I am calling the ‘don’t like it, won’t read it’ sensation, though others who are smarter than me call it a ‘filter bubble’. The ‘don’t like it, won’t read it’ sensation describes the moment one comes across not only something upsetting, but even something difficult to understand, and the result is an unfortunate letting go of that content and a search of content which agrees with their already-formed presuppositions. There are many works of study on filter bubbles out there on the world wide web, so I am content to leave you with this little understanding of it here and move on with my preamble.

And so I begin my account with some context. I live in an unnamed city (naming it would do one of two things: one, it would ring a bell within your mind and you would exult because you know the place of which I am speaking about; or two, you would shake your head in silent disappointment because you have no idea the place of which I am speaking. Thus, in not wanting to isolate the many for the sake of a few, I leave my city unnamed.) So like I said, I live in a city on a street called ‘Happy Lane’. For a majority of my life, I have made it my aim to seek personal happiness and, once I have found it, to grip it with such tightness as to never let it go. This has been my sole purpose in life: my own happiness. That is why I found it fitting to live on Happy Lane, and truly I believe that living there has increased my overall happiness just an iota. The scenery around my house is urban; yards are small, houses are close together, there are few trees, except those that line the street. Happy Lane is close to the center of the city and fairly trafficked by pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles alike. For me, privacy is secondary to a feeling of connectedness and closeness to the bustle of the city.

All these details are important because on the day my account began, I stepped outside my house expecting to see the sidewalk that leads up to my front door, a small gate barring my exit down to the mailbox, and beyond that the street where cars would be passing by. However, to my great shock, none of that was in sight. Instead, I was affronted quite abruptly by a barren wasteland. No longer was I in bustling urban city; now I was in a sandy desert with no civilization or any settling thing in sight! My first thought upon leaving my home was that it was cruelly and unbearably hot (for it was winter on Happy Lane!) Indeed, I was covered in warm clothing from head to foot; a hat, scarf, coat over long-sleeve shirt, pants, heavy socks, and casual boots! Within seconds I was sweating and overly aware that something was not right. My second thought was that I must be in a dream, and so I turned around to open my door and re-enter my abode. However, I was met with an alarming complication – my house was no longer there! Indeed, when I turned around, I was met by nothing more than sand as far as the eye could see! I did a sort of 360 degree spin around, searching, wondering where–how–where indeed has my house gone off to? As if my house could just disappear like in a magic show! Oh the absurdity and horror I felt in that moment! I must be dreaming!

It was then that I heard a voice address me from behind (whether ‘behind’ was in the direction of where my house once was or any of the other 3 directions, I did not know, for as far as I knew I was teleported to the middle of the desert with no markers indicating direction. I was completely discombobulated.) I whirled around to face the voice that invaded my unexpected feeling of isolation.

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“Good day!” I said to the fellow that stood before me. I am sure my face expressed my shock and confusion, for the gentleman let out a gentle guffaw.

“Might I ask where I am and how I got here and–”

The man stopped me with an upheld hand. “All in good time, my friend.”

I looked at him, waiting for some sort of explanation, but none came, at least right away.

“My name is Jack and I have been sent by God to take you on a journey of discovery. But first, why don’t you shed a few layers of clothing; you’re perspiring quite heavily!”

“Sent by God!” I guffawed a little too loudly, and I was met by a gentle frown from Jack.

You see, I have never been one to believe in God. I am what you might call a materialist – one who believes only in things the human eye can see. No ghosts, no angels, and no gods. Everything that has happened in my life has been a direct result of my own previous actions. It’s a simple ideology, down-to-earth, no-nonsense, and most importantly, it frees me from rules. Ah, rules! How I despise moral rules. Of course, in the correct context, rules are valid, even necessary! But when it comes to the actions of an individual which affect no other human being, well that is nobody’s business except his own. And so, when confronted with this tall fellow’s words (for he was tall, even taller than me, and I’m above average!) I could not help but let out a guffaw of my own.

He recovered from his frown quickly and with confidence addressed me once more, “That’s right, good sir, sent by God. I am here to usher you into the journey that God has for you. Won’t you join me?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sure you mean well, but I have a full day ahead of me and simply can’t be bothered by a silly dream.” At this, I looked down at my wristwatch so as to affirm that I was in a rush.

“You will notice by glancing at your time keeper that in this realm, time stands still. As soon as your journey is complete, you will return to your doorstep on Happy Lane, having lost no time or energy. You see, this is no detour at all, and if I’m being blunt, you don’t have much of a say in the matter. What God has willed, let it be done.”

Indeed, my watch showed no indication of progress and I looked back up at the gentleman, quite baffled.

“Certainly there must be some natural explanation for all this,” said I, circling around myself once more to search for a break in the scenery which would provide some sort of clarity. Of course, I ended up back where I started, staring at this man named Jack, wishing very much that all this would end and I could go on about my day.

“Come on then,” said Jack, noticing my fading determination to get myself out of this, “shed your coat and let’s begin!”

“You’ll only steal it, for it’s a perfectly good coat and don’t you just look like the thieving type!”

It was a rather cruel thing to say I admit, and I didn’t much mean it, for in fact he did not look much like the ‘thieving type’, whatever that means; however, I was flustered and flustered people say things they regret. Jack just shrugged and with a curt “suit yourself”, turned and began to walk into the wilderness. I had no choice but to follow, though I did so with much reluctancy.

I noticed right away that Jack walked much more effortlessly through the sand than did I. His tread was light and his pace quick; I sunk deep into the sand with each step and I felt heavy and sluggish. When I asked him about it, he told me my clothing was weighing me down and if I were to shed my layers, I would walk with the ease that he walked. I refused as I did before and kept laboring behind him.

I was drenched in sweat by the time we reached our first destination – a deep, long trench.