Friday, September 21, 2018

The Quest for the King, Scene 13

            After three days at sea, the wonder and wildness of it all had worn a bit thin for the children. Though they had fair weather, and were able to enjoy the beauty of blue waves reflecting azure skies, they also learned that life on board a ship consisted of a nauseous sequence of pitching and rolling, of tight, uncomfortable hammocks, and of dry biscuits that were only rendered interesting whenever a weevil would scamper out of their cracks.
            Despite the rigors of life with the royal navy, however, the children found ways to amuse themselves. Joe and Sim ran races up and down the rigging, and Lady found an agreeable ear in the ship’s boy stationed in the crow’s nest, who would listen to her animated stories with an attention she never received from her brothers. They rode along up there, while their perch traced a graceful figure-eight over and over again in the air above the ship as the mast tilted and swayed with every dip of the deck.
            On that third day, though, Lady was watching silently as the lookout trained his glass out toward the western horizon. Within the next few hours they expected to sail within sight of the Great King’s realm. The boys were below, pacing back and forth on the forecastle deck with Kobi and Mack, waiting for the cry from above. At the rear of the ship, Captain Drave stood beside the boatswain at the wheel while both regarded the far horizon with bright eyes.
            Minutes dragged on in agonizing silence, until finally a shout went up.
            “Sail ho!”
            Kobi stopped, startled, and looked quizzically at the nearest officer. “Sail? Not land?”
            The officer shrugged.
            They all crowded the bow-rail and peered into the distance until they could just make out the white speck of something lingering on the edge of the horizon. Joe thought at first that it just looked like a bit of foam at the crest of a wave, but little by little it became clearer that it was a sail, a square patch of cloth made tiny by distance, and beneath it was a great wooden ship.
            Captain Drave strode up to the forecastle and trained his eyeglass at it. “I wouldn’t have thought it,” he muttered at last. “But that’s the ship you were chasing. We caught up to her before landfall.”
            “But how?” asked Mack. “We had to wait days to set off after them.”
            “The weather that passed through here recently was rough; far rougher than what we received. We were riding the tail end of those winds, but it may be that they were caught in the midst of the squall and had to drop sail. They may have been blown off course.”
            “Let’s catch up to them!” Sim said eagerly.
            It was the first time during their whole journey that they had been within sight of Prince Hal’s location, and the anticipation of that meeting flooded them with nervous excitement.
            “Aye, we may be able to do that,” said the captain. “We’ve got a fair wind at our backs, and they’ll be soon running into the crosswinds around the coast. We might be able to reach them before they disembark.”
            With a shout over his shoulder, Captain Drave ordered his men to raise all sail, and they steered to the furthest point of seizing all available wind in their shrouds. The Wellspring seemed to be bounding from wave to wave, so swift was the way she cut through the water. Foam rolled back from her slicing bow in long, graceful curls. As they raced over the surface of the deep, ever nearer the Great King’s realm, gulls began to throng the skies overhead, and every now and then a silvery dolphin would spring from the water and race alongside the ship for a time.
            Little by little, they drew closer to the ship ahead, until they were near enough for Captain Drave to wave a flag-signal for them to pull up and rendezvous. Sure enough, a few moments later the white shrouds of the other ship were taken in, and it rode becalmed while the navy frigate cruised alongside. At the same moment, the lookout gave another cry from far above.
            “Land ho!”
            They looked out, past the neighboring ship, and there on the western edge of the world a green line seemed to be spreading across their vision, just where the ocean met the sky: the verdant hills of the coast.
            The Wellspring pulled up directly alongside the other ship, and Captain Drave held up a large brass funnel, a speaking-trumpet which he set to his mouth in order to be heard over the distance that still separated them.
            “Ahoy there! This is His Majesty’s frigate Wellspring of the royal navy!”
            “At your service!” came the distant, tinny reply of the other ship’s captain. “How can we assist?”
            “We need to speak to one of your passengers—the man who embarked with you just before you left Westport!”
            There was a brief conversation aboard the other boat, as the captain and the men around him consulted in a little group. Then he raised his speaking-trumpet again.
            “He’s willing to come to you,” the captain called. “Prepare to receive a boat!”
            Breathless with anticipation, they watched as a man in a dark traveling-cloak descended a rope ladder from the side of the ship, down into a dinghy where a sailor was already present to row him over. Just a dozen strokes of the oars were enough to close the gap between the two ships, both rolling at ease on the ocean swells. While the boat was in motion, Lady clambered down from the crow’s nest to stand eagerly alongside her brothers and the two knights. Captain Drave had his ladder put down, and a few moments later the traveler appeared over the side-railing of the ship.
            His hood was up, obscuring most of his face in shadow.
            Joe looked hard at the man, trying to decide if he was the same one he had seen on that first dark night in Arrens. And even if he was, what if Joe had been wrong? What if he really was just a traveler on his way from the capital city to the Great King’s realm? What if the prince really had died in his sleep, as Steward Presten said, and their whole adventure had been nothing more than a vain fantasy?
            “Prince Halbrinnon?” Sir Mack asked.
            The traveler looked at him for a long moment, then slowly reached up and dropped his hood.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Pilgrimage Memoir: The Shape of the Journey

In ancient days, pilgrimage was all about the journey. Whether by land or sea, in every era except the vanishingly small century of our past experience, getting to the Holy Land took weeks of travel, if not months. Because of the rigors of the road, pilgrimage became a self-imposed course of spiritual discipline: prayers for safety, the fasting of having only travel provisions to eat, and the bodily mortification of long days on foot. By the time a pilgrim reached the Holy Land, he had already been formed by the course of his long march into the depth and peace of discipline. The holy sites then became the rich reward of a prize long sought, for which ample room had already been made in his heart.

We modern pilgrims are not so lucky. Technology has deprived us (as it usually does) of the most formative parts of experience. Instead of the soul-shaping rigors of a walk across nations or a voyage over uncertain waves, we instead spend an enervating day in the hellish no-man’s-land of buses, terminals, and airplane seats. Rather than an experience of being in the world on the way to the holy places, it becomes a heart-hollowing day of being essentially out of the world, stuck in the odd blank spaces in between where real people live, walk, work, and love. Flying in an airplane gives one almost no sensation of actually passing through the space of the nations over which we traverse: all we know is that strange, cramped little chamber. And then, we’re there: in the Holy Land! We experience not joy at the realization of hopes long savored, but rather the simple relief at the end of an uninterrupted series of shallow annoyances. We moderns, in our wisdom, have managed to make pilgrimage not a soul-building journey, but a simple hop nextdoor, paid for by the penance of a day of sitting lashed in tight quarters next to a thousand strangers who want nothing more than to be away from you.

What I’m trying to say, in my unbecoming habit of Luddite complaint, is that the actual journey of getting to the Holy Land didn’t feel real. When we stepped into the air of Israel, it seemed as though we had simply gone through an odd transmigration to a different world altogether. We were tired from jet lag and stressed from the annoyances of modern travel, and thus unprepared to meet those hallowed places. But since this is a record of my pilgrimage, I’ll begin the telling with my day’s journey on bus and plane.

In point of fact, I had actually spent a long time preparing for the journey. In place of actually being able to walk to Israel, I undertook an intellectual journey, reading every book I could get my hands on about the pilgrimage sites there, about the culture and recent history of the people who lived there, about the journeys of other famous pilgrims, about the saints and church fathers who had lived there, and about the birds whose presence God had lavished on that land. All of these things helped to build me up in hope and anticipation of what God might do there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Evangeliad (6:5-13)

Section 6:5-13 (corresponding to John 3:22-30)

Then down to Judea he wended his way,
And following him, his disciples came.
There, just as John had, they began to baptize,
With John himself still preaching nearby.

And one of John's helpers went to inquire
About the opinion of John the Baptizer.
"What say you now of the Nazarene man?
We heard you bear witness concerning God's plan--

When he was with you upon Jordan's shore,
You said fulfilled was the word of the Lord.
But now, John, behold, he does just as we,
And many go out to be baptized and see."

"A man receives nothing all on his own,
Unless it be given from heaven," said John.
"Remember my sayings, the witness you bore:
I'm not the Messiah; no, I come before.

You say that the people go out unto him?
He who has the bride, he must be the groom.
As for the one who stands alongside,
He is the friend of the groom and the bride.

He hears the groom's voice, and joy fills his soul;
Behold! My joy is now finally made whole.
Now he in his glory, he must increase,
And I, the way-maker, I shall decrease."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Photo of the Week

The season of singing has come,
The cooing of doves is heard in our land...
Arise, come, my love;
My beautiful one, come with me.

- Song of Solomon 2:12-13

Monday, September 17, 2018

Quote of the Week

"Most men are ambitious of the honor of great business, and power, and preferment; they covet it, they court it, they compass sea and land to obtain it; but the ambition of a Christian should be carried out towards quietness."

- Matthew Henry, late 17th-early 18th cent. British pastor and the author of one of the most influential Bible commentaries in history

(Painting: "A Quiet Nook," by Albert Fitch Bellows, 1869)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday Synaxis

O Lord our God, make our hearts obedient to your divine will; turn our eyes away from vain things, so that, free from the world's attractions, they may always look on your glorious beauty. For you are our God, the God of compassion and salvation, and we glorify you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever, to the ages of ages. Amen.

- from Praying with the Orthodox Tradition

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Quest for the King, Scene 12

* Just a very short scene this week; forgive my lassitude!

            There were no other ships making sail for the Great King’s realm that day, nor the next. But Mack had heard of one scheduled to arrive soon and then to lift anchor the following day, and had arranged passage for the five travelers. That full day of waiting, however, and the two nights on either side of it, made a stern trial of their patience. They had been on the Prince’s trail since their journey began, and at the end they had come within just a few hours of him. Now the distance between them and their goal was increasing by leagues upon leagues of ocean.
            The morning of the third day found them standing on the dock, watching the rising sun illuminate the heaving blue sea before them. Their ship, a long sloop with a broad, sweeping curve to its bow, was anchored just a few lengths away, and its launch-boat was already on its way to pick them up. The sailors extended ready hands to help them as they took their seats, then set their backs to work again at the oars. As they drew near the ship, a rope ladder swung down to meet them. One by one the children climbed its swaying rungs, and the two knights followed. They were greeted at the top by a row of officers in crisp blue and white uniforms, at the end of which stood a very tall man with a thin, arched nose. He had a large black hat on his head, which in its shape reminded Joe of a ship turned upside-down.
            The tall man made a wide, sweeping motion with his arm as he bowed. “Welcome, friends. I am Captain Drave of the royal navy, and this is my ship, the Wellspring. I understand we bear some distinguished guests today.”
            “Yeah!” said Sim. “That’s Sir Mack, the knight.”
            “He’s legendary,” said Lady in her sweetly informative tone.
            “And that’s Sir Kobi, captain of the royal guards,” Sim continued.
            “Ah, yes,” said Captain Drave. “I know them both by name and reputation, and I am glad to have them aboard. But I was referring to the young heroes I was told about, whose courage and perseverance have kept the hopes of the royal house alive for this land. I take it that you are those three heroes.”
            The children blushed and squared their shoulders, not sure how to act under this glowing assessment.
            “Well, I’m Joe,” said the oldest. “And this is my brother, Sim, and my sister, Lady.”
            “It is my honor to stand at your service,” said Captain Drave. “We heard of the prince’s reported death and the steward’s takeover not long ago, and it grieved us. You have restored our hope.”
            After all the introductions had been made, the sailors made their ship ready. There was a wild circus of frantic but orderly activity, with men racing down the deck, others climbing up the rigging, and still others balancing out onto the spars to loose the sails. The children watched this display of activity and discipline with open mouths. As soon as the bright white canvas of the sails fell into place, the wind filled them taut, and all of the sudden the Wellspring was flying away from the harbor. Salty spray rose from the waves under the bow, flooding the air with exhilaration and adventure. Ahead of them stretched the bounding blue field of the sea, moving with such limpid grace that it looked like a silk blanket stretched out on the breeze.
            Joe was standing between Kobi and Mack at the base of the ship’s forecastle. “How long will it take to reach the Great King’s country?” he asked.
            “A few days,” said Kobi.
            “Hmm,” said Joe, drawing a deep breath of the wild, sea-tinged air. “I could take a few days of this.”