The Epic of John Gilgesh (Chapter 1; part 2):

Mary shuddered, and shook her head violently, “I hate that word…retarded. Just horrible.”

“Yes, but it’s a perfectly reasonable word, Mary.” Anton countered, until she shot him a menacing glance, to which he amended, “But, I do see your point.” They both smiled briefly, enjoying one another’s company, and the unspoken dynamics between man and woman, husband and wife.

“Of course the word is reasonable, and descriptive dear. But give what is reasonable to our unreasoning world and just watch how quickly description turns to ugliness. Our boy will not suffer such a fate, I can tell you that with certainty. I will not allow it.” And with that they both fell silent again, as the sun finally began to set, and the golden glow that had previously filled the room faded, casting the room in grayer tones. Anton observed his wife in the gathering darkness. So many things about her attracted him—her wit most definitely, her fine features of course, but her character and moral integrity was an undeniable force that he couldn’t resist. She was a very practical woman, without a doubt, yet she was never narrow in her approach; and her pragmatism was expansive and generous. So that even what might be considered fanciful by others and dismissed as superfluous, she could conceive the value and importance, and with her profound imagination she would allow, for practical reasons, even the most spiritual, artistic or even mystical pursuits. Anton would say that his wife had “a rigorously scientific mind, wrapped within a wondrously expansive heart.” Because of this there was no room within Mary for any prejudice—the scientific method wouldn’t allow it, and neither would her heart which was filled with love. But she could be ruthless in the face of willful ignorance and intentional deceit; and she could sniff out these pernicious character flaws in a person, just like a hound on the trail of its prey. Anton thought that final comparison privately, though he meant no disrespect by it, it just seemed an apt simile; though, if pressed to articulate his wife’s ability to perceive deception, nevertheless he compared her more favorably, to detective Sherlock Holmes, one of her favorite characters from childhood reading. Anton leaned forward and switched on the lamp at the bedside, and then sat back in his chair. “Let’s wait and see what the doctors discover.”

Worry finally spread across Mary’s face. She had been working with great effort to subdue it ever since the doctor had expressed his findings, but now it broke forth and darkened her expression. Anton, as well, felt anxiety creep into his depths, as the bottom fell out of his stomach, leaving an ache of emptiness there, which echoed up through all of his organs and ended in a painful tightening of his chest. Both he and Mary wanted to see their newborn baby for themselves, and they both questioned the meaning of what the doctor had diagnosed.

“What did he mean do you think, by ‘there are good places for him’? Does he mean an institution? Does he expect us to give our baby away—permanently? I didn’t really understand that.”

“No, I didn’t take it that way. I think he just meant that there are places that can help us—and John—if we need help as we’re raising him.”

“I’m not sure, though; I suppose, maybe that’s it.” Mary closed her eyes and pictured the doctor again as he had revealed his findings to them. “He was very nervous. He doesn’t exactly engender confidence.”

“Well, can you imagine having to tell a couple their new baby, their only child, is mentally retarded?”

“Oh, would you please quit using that awful word. We don’t even know if it’s true, if he’s even stunted in any way at all. So perhaps he doesn’t respond to them, there could be plenty of other causes for that, other than a mental deficiency. I need to see him myself. I’m not doing any good laying here. I need to see him and hold him.” She began to get out of bed, and Anton placed a hand gently but firmly on her shoulder.

“Mary, just stay there—please—let me go ask the doctors. You still need to rest; you lost a lot of blood and fluids during the birth. Please dear. I’ll be right back. I’m sure they will let us see John, if at all possible.” They locked eyes for a brief but tender moment—comfort and understanding flowing between them in that ineffable, silent manner that operates between beloveds, without words—which Anton then cut short, as he briskly left the room before his wife could protest any further. She smiled as she lay back into the soft pillow and closed her eyes. She imagined her husband making his way down the sterile, poorly lit hallway, with his long strides, covering vast swathes of waxed linoleum tiles with each step. He was a tall man, true to his Baltic roots, or Scandinavian, nobody was absolutely certain where precisely he originally came from; the only dependable records for him issuing forth from an orphanage in upstate New York, stating that both of his birthparents were deceased, having died in transit from Copenhagen in 1933, on a ship that had originated somewhere in the eastern Baltic, most likely from Riga, Latvia, though some records seemed to indicate Stockholm instead as the port of origination. In any case, he was adopted by a Lutheran pastor and his wife in 1934, and had been brought up in the faith. Mary pictured him now, kindly and tactfully discussing their situation with the nurses at the far end of the maternity wing. And he would be speaking persuasively and charmingly with them; and she could imagine that they would be quite taken by his expressive, sincere blue eyes, and they would find his slightly disheveled thick blond hair and his high cheekbones equally charming, and maybe even alluring. But it would all be to no avail; he would return in a few minutes to tell her that it wouldn’t be possible for them to see their son John tonight. And it wouldn’t be for any lack of effort on his part, in fact, one could honestly say that Anton’s virtues would be the cause of his failure in this case. He would want to follow the rules of the hospital—like any good person should—and he wouldn’t want to make any waves or expect any special treatment; he wouldn’t want to rock the boat, or cause a stir after all. He was a very thoughtful and kind man; and he always tried to do the right thing. And for all of these reasons Mary loved him; but she nonetheless, would be very angry at him when he returns to her room. Because the thing that was even more right in this situation, in her opinion, was for her to see her child. Following the rules is all well and good, and it has its place, but the connection between a mother and her newborn baby is far more important. Even more so when that baby is in dire need of its mother; when it has been repugnantly, and mistakenly (she was certain), labeled ‘retarded’.  

(to be continued)

~FS

Blessed Are The Meek

A meekness that loves is never defeated; it is a softness that yields, but never gives in. And it never can be broken. Do not fear your peace before the maw that devours. If your peace arises from Christ; it is like a strong fountain which never runs dry, and it will water your own soul eternally. And it is a refreshing dew giving hope to others of a pure heart; but it is like hot coals in the breast of those who love lies and deception. 

To those of us who’d take up arms to save our meat. Eat bread instead. Lay down our arms and take up purity. A pure heart knows Truth, and can live by it. And Truth will embrace us with the arms of tranquility.

~FS

The Epic of John Gilgesh (Chapter 1: part 1)

If we are to rightly honor the life and work of John Gilgesh, and also those of his contemporaries—his friends—we owe it to them, and to those of you who will read about their magnificent exploits—and it would not be untruthful, to call them sublime exploits, considering the circumstances in which they occurred—if we are to rightly honor them, we must write boldly without fear, and if possible, also with reverential love, for indeed, that is exactly how they lived, and how they offered themselves to their Creator.

Yes, we knowingly wrote the word ‘Creator’. We first considered using a less controversial phrase like, ‘higher self’ or ‘cosmic life force’ out of instinct—almost without thinking—in hopes of reaching the widest audience by causing the least offense. But this would be impossible, not because of any ideological or religious reasons, but because the life of man, this man in particular, along with his cohorts, is inextricably bound up with the concept of a Creator, and nothing which follows will make any sense at all, if we are to remove the dual concepts of a Creator and His creation, and substitute these with different concepts such as  higher or terrestrial powers.

We must apologize, for it truly wasn’t our intention to delve into such controversies so early into our story—before we’ve even begun to tell it—but words, as you will shortly come to see, play a very important role in the life of John Gilgesh; so, for the integrity of the telling, and to be true to our subject matter, we must choose the most accurate and honest words in the unfolding of our epic. Perhaps, we have already alienated a few of you because of this, and you will not be continuing along with us on our journey. Well, be that as it may, we wish you every blessing and we certainly bear you no ill will; and we hope you feel the same. But now it is time to press onward—to forge ahead—because time is short in a sense, because there is so very much to tell, and so many details to share with you about the life of John Gilgesh, his friends, and about the movement which they initiated.

Here again, we must take a quick detour, because you may have heard others who’ve made erroneous claims that Gilgesh sought to create a utopia—a foolish notion—or that he was the charismatic leader of an esoteric cult—an inane assertion—but nothing could be further from the truth. So it is worth taking a moment to utterly dispel such rubbish right from the outset before continuing. Many of these claims have been made by those who didn’t know the man, as is typically the case. In the instance of the extensive, and ultimately derogatory, commentaries made by Victor Fragmore regarding the time he spent with Gilgesh, as a founding member of the movement—or community, if one wishes to call it that—much more will be discussed about these at the appropriate time in the future. For now, suffice it to say that he was of a distinctly different temperament from his colleagues, and the inner workings of his heart made it impossible for him to perceive events accurately, or to understand others sympathetically.

Now, to begin our story, we will be going back to the very beginning, we must do so because John’s parents, and the times into which he was born, play such an important role—as must always be the case—in his development, and what he would eventually create. It was not long after his birth, several days more or less, while his mother was still recovering in the hospital from what had been a difficult trial, when the doctor and nurse who had been overseeing the newborn boy’s progress, came to some startling conclusions, which they reluctantly made known to his mother and father late one afternoon. Mary Gilgesh was propped up in bed, sipping her tea and looking dejectedly at the untouched tray of food on the table beside her; her husband, Anton, was sitting nearby, and with his warm, sonorous baritone voice, he was attempting to persuade his wife to eat a little something to help speed along her recovery. When a small knock was heard upon the door, preceding the hasty entrance of Dr. Masch and his assistant, nurse Neiblom. Dr. Masch was a rotund man, balding, and with a reddish complexion prone to perspiration, particularly when he became nervous or agitated, as was currently the case. Standing at the foot of the bed, he looked Mrs. Gilgesh in the eyes momentarily, before losing his nerve and turning to face Mr. Gilgesh. Anton looked benevolently back at him and raised his eyebrows in expectation; and he smiled kindly, in an attempt to put the good doctor at ease. Nurse Neiblom nudged the doctor in the side with her elbow to help move things along.

“Yes, well, of course,” Dr. Masch began haltingly. “Yes, it seems, your son. Well, yes of course, he’s getting stronger, he’s looking very strong indeed, isn’t he, Nurse Neiblom?” She nodded encouragingly, and he took her cue and began nodding as well. He smiled cautiously and drew his right hand across his brow to remove the sweat which had accumulated there, before continuing: “Yes, by all appearances he looks quite normal. I mean, physically he is coming along very nicely. It’s just that, well, of course, there’s the mental side of things also, isn’t there?” Anton sat forward in his chair and Mary shifted the pillow that was behind her, and they looked at one another quizzically and then back towards the doctor, who proceeded: “Look. There’s just no good way to say this, so I’m just going to come out with it.” Dr. Masch glanced out the window, through which a golden light was streaming, casting shadows of the panes and curtains upon the wall behind Mary, and sinking Anton into a darkened silhouette. “Your son is retarded. I mean, mentally retarded. Yes, that’s it. Of course, he’s very healthy you know. Very healthy, but…you see, he just doesn’t respond to us. Well, he doesn’t respond to much of anything, does he Nurse Neiblom? No, he doesn’t. He’s in his own world, you see, one can observe this in his eyes, they are vacant. They don’t focus upon anything, like a normal baby would, you understand.” The room fell silent for several moments, as the four occupants each digested this information in their own way.

Nurse Neiblom offered a sympathetic look towards Mary and Dr. Masch hastily continued, “I’m sure you both need some time to think over what I’ve just said. I’m sure it comes as quite a shock, especially given that you both are, well, you’re both university professors, isn’t that correct? Yes, of course, so how does something like this come about? To two intelligent…such a couple as yourselves, how do you have a child like this? Genetics, so many factors at play. Please don’t blame yourselves, no not at all, there’s nothing you could have done.” He wiped his brow again, and then concluded: “You don’t need to worry. We have good places, very good places that can take care of him. You just rest now, and let us know if you need anything. We’ll know much more in the coming weeks; we really don’t know the extent of it all yet. I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.” Dr. Masch turned quickly and walked out of the room, before Anton or Mary could formulate a response. Nurse Neiblom quickly followed the doctor out, leaving the young couple in stunned silence.

(to be continued)

~FS

Truly Building Back Better

Let’s all build back better! We need a reconstructed infrastructure and a rebuilt foundation. We can do this, together. We have recently all been traveling along many and diverse roads to nowhere; seeking newly promised utopias, instead of the original Promised Land. We have been led astray, allowing ourselves to become lost in wildernesses—some of our own making—many others offered to us like mirages in a desert; vaporous utopias which dissipate and vanish as we approach them and as we see them more clearly—like all lies eventually do—but lately only to be replaced by new lies, new false promises, and new man-made illusions.

Let’s now get off these meandering, empty roads and get back on the real one, the only Way which is lined with genuine charity, paved with true hope, and lit by faith. These other roads, that we’ve been traveling lately, are only filled with pot-holes, broken dreams, lost hopes, anger and strife. They have made us unkind and riddled with anxieties; and we are taking them to their inevitable ends—to isolated loneliness, futile meaninglessness, and confused weariness. But the old road, the best road, the way of Christ, we can rebuild, with the sweat of forgiveness and humility, with meekness and self-sacrificing love for those who’ve hurt us. If we won’t help build this road, it won’t be built. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to build this road back better.

And as for the bridges, haven’t they suffered neglect? Many are cracking. In fact, we have even allowed them—consciously and intentionally—to be torn down and blown up. We need to build the bridges back better as well. We must sacrifice our isolation, and the dividing of ourselves into groups. We must remember that we are all human beings, alike in essence, and we are all brothers and sisters. We must not allow these bridges to be destroyed! We must build them, rebuild them, and strengthen them. We are one people, each unique, all different—not equal and not the same—yet all equally valuable and equally worthy. Certainly, some are rich and some are poor, some of us are black and some are white, and there are many other distinctions that we can notice, but no distinction is cause for the destruction of the bridges that connect us—our common humanity. Let us put aside the envy, hatred, arrogance, unforgiveness, and every other form of unlove which have made these gulfs wider between us. Let us rebuild the bridges better and stronger than before! But how? Our love is fragile and fleeting; but God’s love is indomitable and enduring. Call upon God to give you strength to help you rebuild bridges with those whom you are estranged.

Finally, after we have rebuilt the roadways and the bridges, and after we have found our way back home again. We still have work to do. We must rebuild the foundations! Remember, there is no other foundation that we can build upon, but Christ Himself. All other foundations will crack, break and crumble. And isn’t that what we are seeing all around us? The foundations of the earth are shaking and crumbling before our very eyes. We now must build these foundations back better; and put our house back on the only trustworthy foundation which is Jesus Christ. We have seen clearly now, how the builders of other foundations are poor builders, following faulty blueprints, and they use weak materials. It isn’t worth trusting in them any longer. Trust in the only one who is trustworthy and the only one worth following: Jesus Christ, the son of God. He is the best and only one to build everything back better again, and the only one who we should trust to do the job. With Him all things are possible; with Him, we all can build back better!

~FS

The Great Reset

If your mind is filled,

with so much of this,

and a lot of that,

might I suggest:

a great reset.

If your thoughts are dumbed,

by who did this,

or who said that,

might I suggest:

the great reset.

If you are disturbed,

find yourself pissed,

or anxiously fret,

I must suggest:

the greatest reset.

Ten minutes of prayer,

before The Lord,

lay down your despair,

take up The Word.

For who can discern,

from the midst of strife,

the violent burn,

of this fractious life?

But a prayerful mind,

and a prayerful heart,

are a treasured find,

and an excellent start!

~FS

The Narrow Path

Seek the quiet places,

which your soul embraces,

flee the routes of strife,

where passions’ pains are rife,

come now and see,

you’re free to be.

Fear not life’s silent song,

you’re called to sing along,

let courage be your guide,

with patience at your side,

stand firm my dear,

then you shall hear.

The whispered word ‘release’,

take up your robe of peace,

let fall the scales of shame,

the balances of blame,

your soul is bare,

so please be ware.

The hateful lion’s pounce,

your being he’ll denounce,

take shelter in the King,

to Him your life shall bring,

pure penitence,

births innocence.

Two things to Satan stings,

your soul’s true offerings,

head bowed and bended knee,

a heart’s sincerity,

for these Christ bled,

the serpent’s dread.

Take heed and run this race,

your sorrows to efface,

cut loose the mortal lie,

transform the earthly die,

a faithful deed,

you’re surely freed.

In Christ be reconciled.

~FS

Lay Aside All Earthly Cares

When first I heard this verse: “lay aside all earthly cares,” sung during an Orthodox Liturgy, as part of the Cherubic Hymn, my heart melted, my whole demeanor softened, and I nearly cried, or perhaps I did in fact, cry. I remember feeling intense gratitude well up within me for the offer, and a thorough longing within my soul for the peace, that these words evoke.  Could I lay aside all earthly cares? Is that even allowed? All my life, back as far as I can remember, I have been steeped in an environment that taught me to work hard and to care a lot, about all sorts of things, many of which, in my heart of hearts, seem silly or superfluous, or at least extremely temporal and unimportant—in the grand scheme of things. And I intend nothing against industriousness and a strong work ethic, but even these things have their time and place. Perhaps, I’ve allowed earthly cares to obscure and overwhelm spiritual cares; perhaps you have as well?

When I first heard this verse sung, it surprised me and it seemed even slightly scandalous. Yet, it was then, and remains to this day, exactly what my soul has always desired to hear. And it has brought me back, again and again over the years, to the Liturgy, as the deepest calling to my soul’s yearnings. Yes, I do want the light burden and the easy yoke which Jesus promises us; and yes, I would like to lay down in green pastures beside the still waters, which the psalmist expresses to us. If push comes to shove, I want nothing more than these simple things. Laying aside all earthly cares, seems to me to involve turning aside from the worries and anxieties of the world around us, along with turning aside from the passions which war within our own heart. It is as easy as simply doing it, and as difficult as struggling against ourselves in mortal combat. Certainly, I have experienced both thrilling victories and upsetting defeats as I’ve sought to lay aside all earthly cares. I imagine you have as well.

~FS

The Praying Mouse

Little mouse, little creature,

I saw you suffering in a wide field.

Forlorn and forsaken (you appeared to me),

head low, with back arched against the formidable sky.

The weight of emptiness seeming to bear you down,

your tiny body nearly invisible beneath the world’s expanse.

Little creature, little friend,

I recognized in your pain the throes of death—

your shallow, labored breathing,

your eyes tight against the waning light—

would that I could raise you when you die,

instead, I raised you on my finger.

And finding a safer shelter for your final slumber,

I lowered you again to earth,

and tucked you in, amidst the fallen leaves.

You lifted your head as if in gratitude, or in hope?

Do not hope in me dear one,

I am just like you, powerless and small.

Little comfort could I give, but I gave,

a whispered, gentle prayer for you and me,

while stroking your soft fur to soothe you.

And saying my farewell,

with one final touch upon your brow,

I left you alone there, returning home.

I brought you with me, yet, in my mind,

the icon of your helpless body,

fated to be gobbled up by death.

This image terrorized and numbed me,

disturbed my thoughts, and stirring up despair,

made me frantic to understand and know…

Is innocence meant thus to suffer so alone?

Why can’t life beyond the grave be truly known?

When hope and faith seem so misplaced,

while staring death straight in the face,

what spark is there,

to make them kindle, and to grow?

I made myself as you, little mouse, with head hung low,

I hunched down to the earth, and prayed to God with tears.

It was the Lord who soothed my deathly fears,

and calmed my troubled, despairing mind.

It is the Comforter Who touched me on my brow,

and it is He who filled my aching heart.

Foolishly I had looked, but hadn’t seen,

the Breath of Life which enlivens you, and me.

The Holy Spirit giving comfort from within,

perceived through the eyes of contrition.

Little creatures, you and I, so small and lowly,

yet through our suffering we are raised, and then made holy.

Giver of life, come and abide in us, I pray,

save our souls, as we await Your eternal day.

~FS