I got stuck in the middle of this story and wasn’t at all happy with what I’d written in this post. As I’m planning on picking it up again for Camp NaNoWriMo in April, I needed to rewrite this post and the next one. Will get to work on that one asap. In the meantime I think this is more along the lines of what the Seeker understood at this point in the story. One can only hope! (rolls eyes…)
The Seeker returned to her room and dressed for the day then went outside to join the others working in the garden. But as she passed the small chapel she was hailed from the doorway by a Priest carrying a large book. He was dressed in the earthy-colored robes of his office and held before him a triple scepter. The three cross pieces representing body, mind, and spirit. His expression was serious and the Seeker feared she might have done something amiss.
“Your grace,” she said, bowing slightly before him.
The Priest raised his hand in the age-old sign. “Be blessed,” he said. “So you have chosen the Cup of Wisdom and Knowledge. It is unfortunate that this cup comes with a warning, but what you saw and learned was necessary for you to proceed with eyes wide open. What is it, Seeker, that you wish most to learn?”
The Seeker thought for a moment. She had experienced much on her journey already, yet she still puzzled over what she truly believed about how to live out the Creator’s will in her life and where her journey would take her. Finally she said, “I wish to know in my heart how to live by the principles the Creator set forth in the sacred scrolls.”
The Priest closed his eyes and nodded his head slightly. “Then come forth and take the blessings from each of the teachers you will learn from. I am the first, the Keeper of the Sacred Way.”
He turned to go inside the chapel and the Seeker followed him. But, as was her wont, she was becoming more and more curious. “Your grace, may I ask what the crossed keys you wear represent?”
Turning back to her he said, “They are the keys of knowledge which come together in one’s heart. They unlock the mysteries of the Creator. Each Seeker must struggle to find the doors they unlock. Only then can their faith be their own.” Then he turned and passed through the door, the Seeker following expectantly behind.
The Guardian turned out to be a keeper of traditional religion and spiritual truth. Very conservative, he was bound to the words of the sacred scrolls. All the precepts, all the laws were known by him. His life was devoted to their study. The Seeker thought how he was particularly gifted to go out with the knowledge of the Creator and spread joy and healing among the people. Even so, he never related his own practical experiences of walking in the Way of the Creator. His teachings were those of conformity to a group of like-minded believers. Much importance was placed on knowing the words by heart. But to what end, she wanted to ask. And how, she wondered could anyone live up to such high principles and ideals as those held forth in the scrolls? Questioning, however, was strongly discouraged.
The Seeker found this disappointing, for this was the culture in which she was raised. A culture that placed so much importance on rules and regulations and somehow discounted the experiences of her heart. She was not sad, therefore, when the Priest said her time with him was at an end. After bestowing his blessing, he beckoned to the door, excused himself, and disappeared into the inner sanctuary of the chapel.
As the Seeker turned to leave a man stepped from the shadows of the trees along the path and she nearly ran into him. “Oh dear! Pardon me,” she said, as she stood before him.
The man, dressed in a long, flowing red robe, was carrying an assortment of vegetables. Dirt was ground into the hem of his robe, and what appeared to be grass stains smeared the knees of his breeches. He had obviously been helping someone in the garden. He smiled and bowed his head. Then he raised his hands dropping the vegetables as he did so. From his palms grew a light so bright the Seeker had to shield her eyes. She was amazed as he transformed the falling vegetables into a wand, a sword, a chalice, and a coin. With no effort at all he balanced them in the air as they swirled around him.
“Why you’re a magician!” she exclaimed.
He smiled. “No, not a magician. But I use all the resources at my disposal to help others, for I am one of those who endeavor to bridge the gulf between humanity’s expectations and the works of the Spirit. The Priest,” he said, nodding toward the chapel, “knows all the fine words in the Sacred Scrolls, but those who follow his path are so busy trying to be worthy that they impose the same hard faith on those around them, and the Creator’s love becomes a burden. Our way is to meet the needs of all seekers – body, mind, and spirit. I teach that the Creator’s way is Light and Love.”
But the Seeker was beginning to see the Way of Light and Love was more complicated than the Priest or the Magician would have her believe. “And yet,” she said, “the Sacred Scrolls say we are to learn of the Holy One. To hold close the teachings for we cannot separate our actions from our knowledge of the Creator. In truth they are the outgrowth of our relationship with the Divine.”
The Seeker’s time with the Magician was less than that with the Priest. And though she appreciated much of what he taught her about reaching out to others and meeting their needs, she found his somewhat arrogant disregard of the Sacred Scrolls disquieting. He had, she felt, a tendency to put more importance on his works than seemed appropriate. This was not her understanding of the Creator’s ways.
The Seeker’s heart was heavy as she left him there on the garden path. Neither of these philosophies, she realized, suited her disposition nor answered for her the question of why she was here at the outer edge of the Realms of Faith. So deep in thought had she been when she left the Magician, she did not realize she had taken a different path that wound itself deeper into the woods. Ahead of her she could see an eerie, glowing light shining from a pool at the end of the path. Curious she continued on only to be astounded by what she found.
The pool led into a shallow cave and directly through to the misty lake. And over the pool, held in place by a dangerous looking snake wrapped around one leg, was a young man hanging upside down from a tree branch, his arms crossed behind his back. The Seeker gasped and looked around for a way to help the man down. “Be still,” she cried. “I’ll find a way to release you.”
“It is not necessary,” he said. “I am here of my own accord.”
“But what on earth are you doing?” she asked.
“I am looking into the radiance of the water for new insights. It is our destiny as the truly faithful to draw apart and surrender our will and our bodies to the glory of the Creator that we may interpret the Sacred Scrolls more perfectly. We seek sweet communion where we may live as one with the Holy One.”
The Seeker was baffled and agitated. “Yet how does that teach others of the goodness and love of the Creator? Of what benefit is that to the hurting of this world?”
“Why by our becoming an example of purity for others to follow.”
The young man’s words made no sense, for the Creator had intended all Creation to live in community, not in isolation. At its deepest level all Creation was connected. Is this what wisdom and knowledge came down to? She had heard a word for this. Asceticism.
She had begun to wish she had chosen another cup, for although she was willing to do as the young man said, surrender her will to the Creator for the good of all human kind, hanging upside down by a deadly snake balancing between life and death was not what she had in mind! Are these the philosophies from which one must choose their path, she wondered. Dismayed, she turned away from the sight and hurried back in the direction of the retreat house, but she was clearly lost. By chance she spied a gateway through which she could see the rays of the sun.
She turned in that direction, but the closer she got, the darker the air grew around her until she was standing before a portal with the words Gates of Eternity emblazoned on the lintel. She heard the whinny of a horse and saw a large white stallion walk into the meadow beyond the gate. But even as she pondered whether to enter, a dark, shrouded figure rose up in the doorway blocking her way, and scattered about him were the bones of human remains.
“Who are you?” she cried in fright.
“I am the Guardian of the Gates of Eternity. I am Death.”
The Seeker covered her mouth to keep from crying out and would have turned to run but seemed unable to move.
“Fear not,” said Death. “I am not the demon you suppose me to be. Death comes to all, this is true. Not once only. That is a misconception. Death comes many times, for I am the harbinger of endings and beginnings, change and transformation, and, in your case, transition. Spirit has much more for you to learn. Your mind and spirit are being enlightened and renewed.” He pointed to the bones around his feet. “This? This place is not for you. It is not yet your time.”
At his words the Seeker’s fear subsided for she recognized the truth of what Death had said. Life was a Circle of little Deaths and Rebirths. A ring of joy and pain, heartache and happiness, celebration and grief. She thought back to the Stone Circle of Blessing she had found the day she came down from the mountain. The heat radiated up and the Seeker remembered looking heavenward and recalling what the Mother had said, “Always keep looking up, for from thence will come your greatest help.”
Death raised his shrouded arm and pointed back in the direction she had come. “Go, learn your true path that the Creator may use you to touch the lives of other seekers.”
Thoughtfully, she turned her back on the dark form and continued along the unfamiliar path that took her to the lake’s shore. It occurred to her as she walked she now knew the answer to the first part of her question, how to live out the Creator’s will in her life. She knew what the true double keys of the heart were meant to be — faith AND action. She was to interpret them in the light of the wisdom of the King and to live them out as best she could with the help of Spirit. But she was still left with the puzzle of why she’d been sent to the Ends of the Realm. Then suddenly her reverie was interrupted.
© Cheryl D. Carter
Picture Credit — personal (see also www.aeclectic.net)