Friday, November 30, 2018

The Quest for the King, Scene 19

(Forgive the brevity of this week's installment; the busyness of the season is catching up with me. Nevertheless, we're approaching the climax of the story, with just a few installments left to go!)

       A cascade of drumbeats broke out over the plains, pounding out the rhythms of the Prince’s return. All across the fields of Arrens they could be heard, from every corner where the supporters of the royal house had pitched their tents. And in the center of those fields stood the great city itself: the walls of Arrens, shining amber in the morning light, and the tall, gleaming citadel at its center. The thick lumber of the doors and drawbridges stood tight against the walls, drawn up and fastened. Along the ramparts, in the spaces between the stone battlements, were the bristling forms of the Steward’s army: thousands of spears, javelins, and arrows, sharpened and ready for the fight.
            Prince Halbrinnon regarded the city with a quiet gaze. Joe didn’t think he looked much like the leader of an army in that moment. He looked like a mother, tense with the danger of seeing one’s child on the verge of a heartbreaking mistake. His eyes showed the soft strain of compassion and disappointment, backed by the fire of a love that seemed to hold everything together.
            “What do we do now?” asked Sim, looking up at the Prince. They had all walked together to the edge of the encampment of his supporters, and from that vantage-point the leaders of the army were all looking out toward the city.
            “Now,” said Sir Mack, “we lay a siege around the city and starve the Steward’s men into submission.”
            Prince Halbrinnon shook his head. “Those men are my men, too,” he said. “And those people in there, my people. I did not come to starve them, but to set them free.”
            “It wouldn’t work anyway,” said Sir Kobi, as the captain of the guard tugged thoughtfully at his chin. “We’d need an army at least twice this size to mount an effective siege. We have a lot of men, it’s true, but Arrens is perhaps the largest city in the world. If we tried to encircle it, we’d be strung out too widely, and the Steward’s men could break through at almost any point.”
            “To say nothing of the fact that the vast majority of your supporters here appear to have fled the city with no armor, no weapons at all,” added Captain Drave. “It would be a stretch to call it an army, save for the troops you brought across the sea yourself, my lord.”
            “Truth be told,” Kobi continued, “the Steward has the stronger hand here. He has the fortress, and he has the larger army. If he knows that we’re lacking in weapons, he’d be well advised to drop one of those drawbridges and send his cavalry out after us.”
            Prince Halbrinnon was silent through the end of this discussion on tactics, his eyes still fixed on the city walls. Then he motioned toward it with a nod of his head.
            “Perhaps your prediction has come true, my friend. The Shepherd Gate is opening.”

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Pilgrimage Memoir: A Sunrise Walk along the Waves

"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God."

- from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "Aurora Leigh"

~ ~ ~  

            The day ended with slow, weary grace as we piled back into Najji’s bus and drove away from Tel Aviv. The sun was setting to the west, and though our biological clocks were still under the impression that it was midday, many were yawning from the strain of poor sleep the night before. We drove north along the coast in the fading light, up toward the city of Netanya. There we came to the first of several marvelous hotels that would host us for our stay, the Leonardo hotel just off of a downtown plaza. Onus and I roomed together, and after a lovely buffet meal in the hotel’s dining area, we retired to our beds.

            I had already set plans to do something that my fellow pilgrims thought bordering on odd, if not outright mad: to thumb my nose at the cruel biological reality of jet lag, and to rise one or two hours early every day to go out and look for birds. I had already been assured by Norah and Rob that, with the exception of our stay in Jerusalem, it would be safe enough to wander out on my own in the early dawn. So that’s what I did.

            In the stillness of the day’s awakening, I walked out of the hotel and onto the city street. I’m not much of a city person, as I’ve said before, but there is something magical—mystical, even—about a city in the first light of dawn. The streets are quiet, still at rest, but there’s a distinct excitement about them, a sense of anticipation and preparation. A few early risers are walking or driving the empty streets to their work. Shopkeepers are opening the locks and bars on their storefronts. Bakers are already sending haunting aromas wafting into the air. And all around, the stark gray concrete is cast in soft tones of coral and flame. For just a moment, in the crispness of the morning breeze, the ugliness of modern pavement and functional architecture shines like a jewel in the rays of the rising sun.

            I slipped through Netanya’s plaza and over to the bluffs that looked out to the sea—just a few hundred yards away. There was a little garden area there, planted with palm trees and flowers, and a walking-path that curved around the top of the bluffs. And there, below, were the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, against a western horizon that was just beginning to pick up a bit of rosiness from the eastern half of the sky. I found a broad set of stairs that led down to the beaches, and though all was still quiet and calm, there were a few other walkers about—mostly old men with calm, genial faces.

            Already I began to spot the birds I sought. There were the usual suspects all about—after less than a day, I could recognize Hooded crows, Common mynas, and the widespread dove species at a single glance. But there were new ones, too—a Eurasian Blackcap and a Common Whitethroat, two Old World warblers, feeding in the bushes beside the stairway. And above my head wheeled dozens of swifts, cutting through the morning air with graceful, scythe-like sweeps. I was mesmerized—swifts were rather hard to come by in my home area, but I would soon find that they were everywhere in Israel; several different types of them. One of the holiest places in Jerusalem will forever be connected for me with the memory of the quick, swooping flight of the swifts.

            I trudged along the beach for a while, watching the rising dawn behind the city on the bluff. Once again, here I was at the seaside, and the birds I most associated with the sea—gulls—were nowhere to be found. Nor were there any other birds of interest to note out upon the waves; a stark difference from my home, where the open water is often one of the best birding sites around. But I wasn’t feeling like I missed out; far from it. I realized as I walked there that this might be my only chance to step into the waters of the Mediterranean. (Later that day we would be driving inland, not to see the coast again.) So I slipped off my shoes, rolled up the bottoms of my jeans, and stepped into the waves. They were warm, but not as warm as I expected. There was still a bit of a chill in those April waters. Compared to dipping one’s feet in the waves of Maine’s coast, though, it was a paradise of comfort. I paused there for a long moment, thinking of the many scenes that had played out upon those waves, and then slowly made my way back up the stairs and across the plaza.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Evangeliad (6:47-54)

Section 6:47-54 (corresponding to Matt. 8:14-17; Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:38-41)
He went out from there and toward Simon’s house,
For there his disciples hoped he could rouse
Simon’s mother-in-law, who had become ill
With a fever that left her broken and still.

There Jesus stood and rebuked the disease,
And the fever lifted immediately.
She rose from her bed and began to attend
To the comfort of all her son-in-law’s friends.

And then from the towns of Gennesaret,
Those who in Galilee’s villages dwelt
Came out to him with all of their sick,
All the ones beaten by suffering’s whip.

They filled up Capernaum; there in its streets,
Outside Simon’s door they gathered to meet
This Jesus, this healer, the Nazarene man;
And Jesus came out and stretched forth his hand.

One by one did he touch them, all those who came:
Each found their healing and praised the Lord’s name.
Thus was fulfilled what the old prophet speaks:
“He takes up our pain and heals our disease.”

All those afflicted by demons were saved,
And the spirits in terror cried out his name:
“Messiah! God’s Son!” But this Jesus stopped,
Casting them out by the power of God.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Photo of the Week

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day.

- Psalm 91:4-5

Monday, November 26, 2018

Quote of the Week

Truth, Lord: my conscience 
meriteth damnation, 
but no offense equals Thy compassion. 
Spare me therefore; 
because it is not unbefitting Thy justice, 
nor unwonted to Thy mercy, 
nor difficult to Thy power, 
to spare the penitent.
Blot out the number of my crimes, 
renew the multitude of Thy compassions. 
More canst Thou remit, than I commit; 
more canst Thou spare, than I offend. 
However unclean, Thou canst cleanse me;
however blind, enlighten me; 
however weak, restore me; 
yea, though dead, raise me. 
Of what kind soever I am, be it good or bad,
I am ever Thine.

- from the private devotions of Lancelot Andrewes, an Elizabethan-era British clergyman and scholar, and one of the translators of the KJV Bible