Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Picturing Peace

Mark Butterworth © 2000

I was ten when the angels swept me out
of the world. There I was lying on my back
at the top of a grassy hill admiring the clouds
shape shifting as they floated past; their drift
and speed made it seem as if the Earth
were turning while the billowing white froth
stood still against a brilliant blue sky.

I lay there on a peaceful summer's day
and lazy afternoon adrift in vague thoughts
and calm sensations when I felt a soft
unloosening of place occur; as if
the atoms of my body became lax
and hazy, gently falling away -
or sifted like flour into the air,
and I became a kind of cloud, too.

The feeling of it was pleasant, though strange.
The kind of strange that makes you want to know
a little more. So I said, "yes, go on."

I didn't know how long I laid in that
tranquillity and soft delight. I wish
that I could lie in it forever, but
I would have missed what happened next.

I felt
the ground and grass beneath me; the sky
and clouds looked just the same; but then a voice,
a girl's voice, broke the stillness asking me,

"What's your name?"

I turned to where it came from.

"What?" I said surprised to find someone there.

"My name is Thea. What's yours?"

I sat up
and tried to recollect myself as if
I'd been awakened from a pleasant dream,
and with its haze still hanging on my head.
"I'm Tim," I said as I looked at her face.
She sat near me on the grass.

to paradise," she said smiling.

I tried
to take in what she said, except to look
at her was strange; and to look past her
was stranger. We sat on a knoll surrounded
by woods, and nowhere could I see my house
nor anybody else's.

She wore a simple dress
of white which seemed brighter than it should.
Her hair was golden, her eyes green, her age
the same as mine, I thought. Her skin was white,
and arms, legs, and feet were bare.

I found
that I was fascinated by her face.

"What happened?" I asked. And then, "Where am I?"

"You've come to paradise," she said.

"How? Why?"
I asked bewildered with my situation,
wondering if I was dead or something.

"God brought you here to meet him."

"Am I dead?
Did I do something wrong?"

She laughed. Or was
it more a trill?

"You're not dead; you're visiting."


"This makes no sense," I cried.
"Where's my mom and dad, my sister, my friends?"

"They're all at your home, I expect."

"Where's home?"
"Where you came from."

"Then where is here?"

"The place
you are, " she smiled, adding a quizzical look.

"But it's not where I was!"

"It's not forever. You'll go home again."

"I will?"

"Yes, of course.
You came to meet God. When that's done, then home you'll go."

"Are you sure?"


"Do you promise?"

"I promise."

"How can I be sure?"

"Do you believe in God?" she asked.

"Well, yeah, " I said.

"Could God have brought you here from where you were?"

"Well, yeah. God can do anything, I s'pose."

"Then just suppose that He can take you back.

That's not so hard to understand, is it?"

"Not really, I guess."

"Then don't worry, Tim.
You were there; now you're here. When you're done,
you'll go back."

She had a way of speaking
that soothed and fascinated me. I liked
the way her lips moved on her face; the way
she sounded and looked. I didn't know then
the way I felt or what to call it as
I know it now.

"How do you know God wants
to meet me? Maybe I don't want to meet Him.
I mean, how do you meet God, anyway?"

She laughed brightly again. "Everyone who
comes to paradise meets our God. You'll see."

"Well, if I have to , then, let's go, " I said.

Again laughter.

"Why not come home with me
and meet my parents first? Are you hungry?"
In fact, I was. Astonishingly so.
Arising, we trod down the hill out of
the sunlight into the forest. A path
wound through the trees - trees of immense girth
and height, their crowns vastly distant

"What kind of trees are these?" I asked.

"They're called Bluebark trees. Their wood is purple,
and fruit falls from the crowns with seeds that taste

The trees were spaced apart yet
the woods were dark. Sometimes I thought I saw
a bird or two flit among the trunks. Feathers
of vermilion and orange flashed, then
were gone. The forest seemed peaceful; yet rich
in possibilities. What kind? How could
I tell? Except I had a sense of wonders
hidden beyond my sight.

After awhile
of walking, we came to a stream of water.

"It's not far to the City, now," Thea said.

"What's it called?"

"Peace," she told me.

"Peace? What kind
of name is that?" I said.

"A good one," she

The path we walked widened, and then
became a paved road the color of sandstone,
yet hard as granite. In the center was
a shallow channel where the stream now flowed.
Thea stepped into the water. I followed.

It was not too cold, but refreshed my feet.
The road was a great avenue with trees
along each side like a giant colonnade.
Farther ahead I saw an immense Arch
that blocked the view beyond it. As we neared,
I saw through the open entranceway. At
the Arch, I saw it stood alone above
the road while forest surrounded the City.
The Arch was huge. As tall as the trees and covered
in patterns of colored tiles, columns, apses,
frescoes, and decoration.

We passed through,
my mouth open like a flycatcher, 'til
I came into the open and saw the City -
a warm, golden colored sandstone of spires,
minarets, curved bridges, balustrades, towers -
connected by delicate flying buttresses -
everywhere were oval shaped apartments
suspended in air between the sculpted heights.
The buildings and towers soared above the trees.
Along the road were shops with myriad goods;
a festival of colors and shapes filled
the interiors seen through windows
and doorways. There were no doors nor glass
anywhere. The walls were smooth and rounded
like adobe; and stairways ran up the sides
to flat roofs and following other stories

As we splashed along in the stream,
I glanced down and saw schools of small fish; fish
with brilliant scales - azure, crimson, gold, viridian.
They darted and swam in marvelous patterns.
Every turn flashed gorgeous new colors it seemed.
I could have watched them moving all day long.

Thea waited while I stood there gazing.
She seemed to find it wonderful, too, when
I glanced at her. She caught my look and laughed
merrily, "aren't they beautiful?"

I didn't see
too many people on the avenue
or the side streets we passed. The ones I saw
looked like Thea - fair with loose, flowing clothes;
barefoot and young seeming - relaxed and calm.

I thought the City was all sandy colored,
but looking down side streets, I saw varieties
of decoration and styles of painting
the shops and second stories - with streets paved
in different manners with sculptures, fountains,
tilework and frescoes abounding. The wealth
of designs and styles astounded me. Pure
invention of marvels and passing delights
made me incredulous. How utterly dull
was human life at home, I thought.

the artwork and all the architecture,
there were flowering trees, colorful vines,
hanging gardens of bright leaves with petals
of orange, yellow, burgundy, and blue.
There were striped roses combining colors
I've never seen since; and day lilies
in all sorts of sizes and hues.

We came,
at last, to a central Square. Avenues
from four directions intersected. Each
carried a stream which cascaded down steps
as all four met and filled a series of pools
and terraces, then draining underground.
The Square was full of families and children.
People picnicked while children swam and played.
Babies sat in shallow pools chewing toys
or sticks of food. Older youths made music
together or lazed in company.

sculptures, and curious fixtures were there,
perfectly poised to make the Square and City
as one, a seamless marriage of its parts.
Everything seemed naturally beautiful;
an effortless organization of
loveliness, color, pattern, space, and people.
Everything fit together with ease.

indeed, was the manner of place and persons.

"Where do you live?" I asked Thea.

She pointed
across the way to objects in the air.

"Are you still hungry?" she asked.

Yes, I nodded.
She walked over to some people on the grass,
and then returned with food they'd given her.
"Try this." She handed me what seemed a doughnut.
We each ate one and shared a bottle of juice.
Some small, bright blue and orange finches came
and ate the crumbs fallen to the pavement.

Thea led me across the Square and down
an avenue; then a side street and alley,
up to a shop. We mounted the stairs along
the outside wall up to the roof and then
we climbed another story; then three more.
We came to a tower whose stairs spiraled
around it. I began to get nervous -
the steps were narrow without rails. Halfway
up the tower, a thin buttress flew up
and out across space to another spire.
Thea began to run. I tried to hurry
but I could see how high I was as each
narrow step went higher and seemed smaller.

I heard her call to me, "Don't worry, Tim.
Just run." Somehow her voice reassured me,
and I ran after her. We sped up across
the tracery of arching stairs from spire
to minaret to tower until we came,
at last, to an apartment suspended
between two thin minarets.

As we stood
before the threshold, she said, "This is home."
We passed through a short entranceway and came
into a living room. A man and woman,
her parents I saw from resemblance, rose
from chairs to greet us.

"Mom. Dad. This is Tim.
Tim - my parents: Michael and Michaela."

"Hello, " Michael said. "Is it Tim or Timothy?"

"Either," I said.

"Welcome," Michaela said.
"We're pleased to have you stay with us."

"Um, thanks,"
I replied, not knowing how to speak or act.
They didn't seem old to me like my parents
and yet they had a presence very different
than any adult I had met.

"Come look
at the City from here," Michaela said,
and I followed her to a large casement
open without glass.

I looked out and down.
I saw the Square far below and then gulped
to realize I'd run along those thin struts
and spidery arms across such heights.

the City, a square itself, the forest spread
from each side.

"We live up here that we
can see the sunsets and dawn. Otherwise,
the Bluebark tress would block the view," Michael
explained. "To the West, " he said, "not too far,
the forest ends and there are canyonlands.
To the East, a little ways, there are fields
and farms, vineyards and grazing lands.
Also to the South. But North the forest
extends to the mountains. Thea, I'm sure,
will show you tomorrow, if you like, Tim."
"I guess so," I managed to say. I felt
tongue tied and slow-witted. I hoped they weren't
concluding that I was stupid or such.
"Thea, show Timothy all of our home,"
Michaela said.

Thea led me through the rooms.
It wasn't a large place but it was perfect.
Not different so much as simply better
than other homes I'd seen or known. It had
a spaciousness that invited rather
than cold or hollow. I felt at home.
Thea's room had large windows, an open door,
and balcony.

There were paintings and drawings
on the walls that caught my attention - not
because they were bright, but because they were
of Thea and done in a way I deeply loved;
with delicacy of detail and shading
that charmed my eyes and thoughts. I couldn't help
but marvel and smile at their beauty.

"My brother made those," she said.

I looked 'round
as if I missed him before.

"No, he's grown,"
she said. "He moved out years ago before
I came along."

"Oh," I said; yet, I felt
unease, as if I missed something again.

Returning to the living room, Michael
asked me if I wanted to have dinner now.
I said, sure; and we sat at a table
by a window where I could see the sunset
and City as it grew golden in the light
that slanted down on it.

After the food
was served, they all said a small prayer of thanks
and welcome for me.

The food tasted great
but I grew sad in suddenly wishing I
was home.

"Will my parents miss me? They get
upset if I'm late for dinner."

reached over and placed her hand over mine.
"Don't worry, Tim. When you return, it'll be
as if you never left. I promise you
your parents won't have to worry at all."
I was relieved and ate the meal with pleasure.
Even though I knew it was strange to be here,
I found myself liking it very much.

After we'd eaten and cleaned up the table,
Thea produced a guitar and played it for me.
She sang a song whose words were strange and sad.
Somehow the sadness made me feel friendship
with her; not lonely as it might at home.
Michael appeared with his own guitar
and played with Thea. Michaela sat next
to me. I looked at her. She seemed too young
to have a child Thea's age. She had
no wrinkles, lines, or weariness on her face;
nor blemish or imperfection. She looked
more like a girl than woman. Michael, too,
seemed younger than a man, and yet,
they both, while seeming incredibly young,
also seemed incredibly wise and kind.
Their tenderness and smiles toward me helped make
me feel elated and glad to be here.

Thea put down her guitar as Michael
continued, now playing a bright tune. She came
to me and held out her hands. "Let's dance,"
she said. I blushed because I didn't know how,
but Michaela nudged me and Thea
took my hands and pulled me up.

Thea began
to teach me simple steps which I followed.
Before I knew it, we were really dancing.
Pretty soon, I saw her parents were dancing
with us, too. The music kept on playing, though.

We danced for quite some time as Thea taught
me many different steps and I had fun.
It pleased me to hold her hand, touch her waist,
or have her spin up close to me. Her face
and smile was radiant and merry. I'd
never known that people could have such joy
in being with each other.

When we stopped,
we had dessert - some fruit I'd never seen
which tasted marvelous. Imagine if
you tasted strawberries or kiwi fruit
and cantaloupes the very first time. That's
what it was like.

Then it was bedtime.
Michaela asked if I preferred to sleep
alone or share Thea's room.

"Sleep in mine!"
Thea said. "Then we can look at the stars
and talk." I wanted that, too, and agreed.
Giving me clothes to sleep in, Michaela
showed me all I needed to know to get
myself ready for bed. When all was done,
Michaela tucked us in our separate beds
and kissed us, while Michael kissed his daughter
and patted my head wishing me good night.

After they left, we both hopped out of bed
and stood on the balcony. The City
was quiet, dark, and solemn. Light shone out
from windows in many places, but it
was soft. We saw stars easily overhead.
Thea taught me constellations and names
of bright stars.

"I like your mom and dad,"
I told her. "They're nice."

She nodded. "Aren't yours?"

"Sometimes. My dad gets angry a lot. He
gets mean to us and my mom. It gets bad,
really bad sometimes," I said.

She took my hand
and squeezed it. "Don't worry. It won't always
be hard for you. You'll see. Things will get better."

What she said struck me as true, and I nodded.
We stood awhile in the dark. Thea held
my hand and the silence grew sacred, full
of moment, presence, and weight which I liked.
Finally, she yawned and said, "I'm tired.
Let's go to sleep."

"All right, " I said, and we
returned to our beds and climbed under covers.



"How come there was music when
we all danced? Where did it come from?"

"My dad."

"He was dancing. Not playing."

"He thought it
out loud."

"What do you mean?"

"He thought the music
out loud from his mind while he danced. It's something
he knows how to do. I can't do it yet,
but he can. Isn't it wonderful?"

I guess so." But her answer baffled me
as I tried to imagine how it was done.
Minutes passed as I pondered what she said.

"Tim?" I heard her ask in the darkness.



"Goodnight, Thea."

I think she fell
asleep right then, but I remained awake.
I tried to think about this day except
it made no sense so I gave up and wondered
instead - was I really going to meet God?
It didn't frighten me. I wanted to know
what God was like. I'd always wanted to know,
I realized. Now I was going to find out,
if Thea was right. I thought of her and felt
her sleeping presence across the room. Warmth
like sunlight filled me for a moment, then
I drifted off to sleep.


When I awoke,
it was a fresh, clear, summer's morning. I
got dressed and joined the others for breakfast.
Thea wore a different dress, a light blue one.
Michael asked me how I'd slept. "Fine," I said.
I asked Thea in whispers, "What does your mom
and dad do?"

"They make things," she said.

"What things?"
I asked. "Too many things to list them all,"
she told me. "You'll see."

Michael heard us, though.
"I make some of the food you're eating; some
of the clothes and furniture; the buildings,
some devices, the instruments we played;
and other things you'll see around the City."

"Don't you have a regular job? My dad
sells cars and makes a lot of money," I said.

"My regular job is to do what's helpful
and useful today. We don't make money."

"No money? How do you pay for everything?"

"We don't pay for anything. There's enough
of everything for everybody. That's
our regular job, you could say: to make
enough for all."

"Oh." What else could I say?
After eating, Thea said, "Come on, Tim.
I want to show you something."

She led
me out to her balcony. Looking up, we saw
a bird far distant. "That's an eagle," she
told me. As we stood there, the eagle came
in our direction and kept coming. As
it drew nearer, I could see that it was big
and gaily colored like a parrot. Then
it landed on the balcony railing.
I was shocked but Thea petted the bird.

"Don't worry, Tim. He won't hurt you. I called
him here."

I went and stood by her and touched
the eagle like she did.

"Ever wanted
to fly?" she asked me.

"Yes. Of course," I said.

"Want to try?"

"What? How? That's impossible."

"Sit down. I'll show you how."

"What do you mean?"

"Sit in the chair."

"All right," I said and did.

"Close your eyes."

I did. She sat beside me.

"Hold my hand." I did that, too. "Now wait a moment
to get adjusted."

I guess I did that,
although I didn't know what to wait for.

Gradually, I felt my sense of being shift
from my body to different sensations.

"Thea, I..."

"Shhh," she said. I went silent.
Soon, I saw or realized I was not the same.
Eyes opened and I saw like never before -
acutely at great distance. Then my arms moved,
but no, not arms - wings flapped.

I felt myself fall off the balcony
into the air! I hardly fell, though.

I yelled.

But I kept sliding across the sky.
I felt wings push on air, and lungs fill up,
and I saw exactly as the eagle saw,
and felt as he felt from wingtip to claws.
"I'm flying," I realized, and it was easy.
I knew just as the eagle how to fly.
I saw, felt, knew without thinking how
the eagle saw, felt, and knew. Sense of smell,
sensation of hunger - I felt all of him.

"Thea! I am the eagle!"

"I know. So
am I."


"I'll tell you later. Let's fly."

We flew over the City to the East
beyond the forest over farms, fields, lakes,
and river. How clearly we saw! How great
it felt to catch a breeze, or hover in
the wind or ride an updraft higher. It
was all I ever dreamed that flying was.
Even from high above, I could see fish
in lakes or river, small animals in
the fields. I sensed the eagle deciding
to prey or not on what he saw. When he
decided to dive at a lake to grab
a fish, I felt his energy and will
to capture food. I felt his confidence
and skill; his satisfaction when we snatched
the fish and climbed into the air, hooks clamped
on the dripping, wriggling fish; wings flapping,
voice crying out elation.

Then I felt
my back against a chair.

"What?" I cried out.

"Nothing. Just that we're back," Thea told me.

I opened my eyes. It took a moment
to gain perspective.

"Why did we stop?"

enough for now. It's been a few hours."

"Really?" I hadn't noticed time at all.
"That was fantastic! I want to do it

She laughed. "We will."

"How is it done?"

"You have to learn."

"Teach me, then."

"I can't.
It comes from God, not me. I only know
how to guide you into it; not teach it."

I was disappointed. I wanted to
be able to do it myself any time
I wished.

"Let's go down to the Square," she said.
"I want to show you some other things. Let's
take a shortcut, though."

Avoiding the stairs
would be a relief, but I wondered how.

Two robins landed on the balcony
just then.

"We'll fly again," Thea told me.
"All right." I held her hand again and closed
my eyes. This time I knew what to wait for.
Soon enough, I was the robin. We flew
from Thea's home and landed at the Square.

"Open your eyes."

I did and was amazed.
We sat on the grass at the Square. We'd moved
from there to here without my noticing
at all or feeling a thing.

"How?" I said.
"You catch a ride. It's easy when you know.
It's like thinking but different, too. You learn
it like you learn to read or add. Let's play
a game called 'Guess'. We'll go inside something
and you guess what it is. All right?"

Soon, I felt myself in another creature.
I saw naturally, and felt its sensations.
I didn't know what, though. I felt nervous
or energetic - always moving, looking -
hard to stay still. Everything looked huge.
I moved quickly, grass flew by me. I saw
a squirrel and chattered at him.

That's it!
"A squirrel!" I called out to Thea.

We moved
from that to a cat, a monkey, a dog,
a rabbit, a snake.

Then we tried insects.
That was impossible to guess. How could
I know that bumblebees see colors not
at all like normal eyes?

And I was stumped
to find myself in darkness, cold, pressed upon,
yet moving within and feeling within -
tasting, absorbing, knowing nothing, yet

I was a worm.

Then I was inside
something utterly still, inert, and lifeless.
I felt something unlike life. Structure.
Call it structure and something of force, weight,
and inner tension. I felt changes in
my field of existence. I couldn't guess.
"I can't tell, Thea. I feel dumb as a rock.
Wait! Is that it? Am I a rock?"

"That's it.
A stone I've been tossing in my hands. Let's
have lunch. I'm hungry," she said. I agreed.
She led me to a group of young people.
"This is Tim," she said and introduced
them to me. All of them resembled her
and each other somehow. They shared their food
with us. They were kind and polite to me,
but didn't talk too much or ask a lot
of questions. They seemed content to be
affectionate but quiet.

I wanted
to ask them about school or things like that,
but they were older so I didn't want
to sound stupid and childish. I'd simply
ask Thea later.

After awhile, though,
once I got over wanting to ask questions
or try to please them somehow, I sat
and enjoyed the simple acceptance that
I felt. Somehow their affection transferred
also to me. Small touches, points they made,
expressions to Thea and to me, seemed
to make me feel included and cared for
in a gentle, subtle way.

Soon enough,
we were done eating. "C'mon, Tim," one said
and we walked from the Square to a building.
Inside were musical instruments. Thea
led me to a drum and gave me a mallet.
She started to beat a pattern which I
joined in to copy. The others began
to add some music to our rhythm until
all were playing and weaving ideas
across the room.

Our simple drumbeat became
a wonderful flow of singing threads
and conversations in melody, patterns,
and pauses.

First I was afraid I'd lose
the rhythm and foul it up, but then I
became absorbed, forgetting all I had
to do and simply did it as the music
swirled and wove around me.

As my delight
increased, I even made some variations
of my own. They worked and made me laugh
inside until at last the music worked
its way to an ending.

I don't know when
I'd ever felt as magically involved
and satisfied as playing in a group
where everything was perfectly alive;
created sympathetically at once.
Such pleasure makes other kinds seem unreal.

The food we'd eaten before was good, but this
was food that flooded my body from head
to feet with radiant happiness.

was school," Thea later told me. "It's just
another kind of playing." Which made me

Thea took me on a tour
of Peace. We walked the streets and entered shops
and markets where nothing was sold but all
was offered - foods, crafts, textiles, furniture,
books, musical instruments, tools, hardware.
There were storerooms above the shops, and rooms
for master and students in all kinds of work
and learning; not like schools I knew, but groups
where people young and older learned the same
from masters.

We spent the afternoon
wandering from street to street as Thea
taught me how they lived without any problems.
Finally, the day grew later, and then
sparrows carried us back to Thea's home.

"Jonathan!" Thea cried out when she saw
the young man and ran to him.

"Sweetness!" he said,
embracing her joyfully.

"Tim, this is
my brother, Jonathan."

We shook hands
but as we stood there with him and Michael
near by, I wondered that they seemed alike
in age.

"I've got more drawings and a painting
for you," Jonathan told Thea. "Take a look."

He presented what he'd brought for her. I
was fascinated with them. They were her
in every way but even more - they seemed
to make something inside of her shine out.
The pictures weren't pictures but images
that meant more than a face or photograph.
I dearly wished that I could have one.

like Tim approves," Jonathan said, catching
the way my eyes enjoyed his work.

"Which one
do you like best?"

"I couldn't say," I stammered.
One drawing showed Thea stroking a cat
in her arms. I liked her thoughtful delight
in it. I pointed at it.

"Here, Tim, it's yours,"
Thea said and gave it to me. I had
no voice in me to even thank her. I
was shocked stupid and smiled weakly at them.

At dinner, Michael asked me if I liked
the day we'd had. I talked excitedly
about the eagle, our flight, and the rest.
Thea answered my questions and told me,
"Right now, I can only become one thing
at a time but Michael can do much more.
He can be a bird, the seed it eats, and stone
it perches on. He can be the water
and the fish; the trees of a forest
and insects eating the leaves. We learn step
by step in grace and insight. It's just like
a baby learning to talk. One day he can't,
the next day he discovers how. Right, mom?"
Michaela smiled.

We were finishing dinner,
when I asked Thea quietly, "How can
your brother look the same age as your parents?"

"Because we don't get old," she said. "Or die."

"Nobody dies here or gets old?"

"I said
before that Peace is paradise. Don't you
know what that means?"

"No, I guess not," I said.
"You never die?" I blurted out to Michael.

"No. Not now, Tim."

"How old are you?"

"In years,
I guess it's a couple hundred thousand."
I couldn't begin to grasp such a number.

"How old is he?" I pointed at Jonathan.

"I'm forty. That's all," he replied.

I was
dumbstruck but then another thought occurred.

"How many children do you have?"


"Half the adults you see in Peace are brothers
and sisters to me or cousins," Thea said.

"That's why you look alike," I realized.

she nodded.

"Does everybody live here?"
I asked.

"There are other cities and worlds.
We make more planets as we need them," Michael

"You make planets? You can do that?"

"Would you like to see how?" Michael asked me.

"All right," I said, wondering how he'd show
me such a thing.

We all got up and sat down
in comfortable furniture. I sat next
to Thea. She told me to close my eyes.

Gradually, I saw an image emerge
of a colorful, cloudy place amidst
the stars.

"This is a nebula. A cloud
of gas," Michael said. "We will make of it
a place of many suns and worlds."

narrated the way he and his friends move
the matter, control the forces, and make
the stars and planets appear out of chaos.
Better yet, though, I saw how the clouds
of gases moved, swirled, coalesced, and turned
into the things he said they would. I saw
the planets form, oceans and continents
arise, and life grow from implanted life
in complex variety of forms -
all new and amazing.

I was in awe
and thought they must be God himself to do
what only God could do. Michael laughed
when I said so.

"No, we are not God like
you mean, but we share in his life and learn
as he instructs us in his ways. It is
what endless life is for - joy in his being
and being in his joy."


"Think of it
like this - if you lived forever, what would
you do?"

"I don't know. Things I like to do,
I guess."

"Forever? Would you get tired
of always doing the same thing?"

"I guess
I'd want something different after awhile."

"For us, it's not so much that we do
something different, but that we add something more.
We get a greater sense of creation -
what it is, how it works, what can be done.
We still make clothes, grow food, quarry stone,
make useful devices - while we fly eagles,
wriggle in worms, sit in stones, or build planets.
We still make children, families, and stay
in love with all we love. This is what life
was always meant to be and is for us.
It's worth dying for, don't you think?"

I nodded.
I never wanted to go home now. Here
is where I'd rather be forever. This
made sense to me. This is where I could thrive,
I knew deep inside. This was happiness.

"Tomorrow, Thea will take you to meet God,"
Michael told me.


Suddenly, I was
afraid. What if God doesn't like me? How
will I ever get to stay here if God
thinks I'm no good for paradise? I looked
at Thea and thought - what if God won't let
me see her again? He has to let me
because...because I really like her. She's
the best friend I ever had. - Please, God. Please
don't take me out of here, away from her;
away from all of these wonderful people.
I prayed those words hard as I could.

after we had gone in her room and in
our beds, I asked Thea, "Can you read my mind?
Can you get into me like the eagle?"
"No. Not like that exactly. I can show
you what's in my mind, and my mother says
that something wonderful happens when
a man and woman make a child; but no,
we're not mind readers or something like that.
Only God knows all your thoughts and your heart."

I thought about that for a few moments
then after a brief silence I asked her,

"Do you like me, Thea?"

"Yes. Do you like me?"

"Yes. Do you think God will like me, too?"

He'll like you, too. He likes everyone."


"Yes. And you'll like him, too."

"I sure hope so."

"Don't worry. You will. Just wait and see.



Upon awakening the next morning,
I was seized with a feeling of dread.
Something I thought that would never happen,
was going to happen. How? I didn't know.
Was God a flash of light? A huge, loud voice?
A kind of enveloping pressure or fire?

I dressed nervously and had no appetite
for breakfast. The others, sensing my fear,
perhaps, said nothing much, but their calmness
and quiet cheer lent me some confidence
and hope. Maybe fear was all in my head
alone and hardly worth the thought of it?

After breakfast, Thea and I were alone.
"Have you ever met God? I asked her.
"Not like we're going to today," she told me.
"Let's sit down, close our eyes, and see what happens,"
she added.

"Okay," I said, swallowing hard.

We sat. I closed my eyes and waited as
I tried to relax. Slowly I felt
myself evaporate as I had before.
My eyes were closed when suddenly, a stench
arose in my nostrils which made me gasp,
opening my eyes in shock. A new shock
confronted me.

I stood in a dusty,
smelly place. A strange place with odd buildings:
shabby hovels, huts, and dirty houses.
I looked around. A girl stood beside me.
She was dark-haired, brown eyed, olive skinned; yet,
I knew she was Thea. She wore a robe,
something like a burnoose, dirty and frayed.
I saw I wore the same and was dark skinned, too.

We were in a small square. A well was there
behind us. The place stunk of animals
and their manure.

'What's going on?" I said.
The words felt funny in my mouth, as if
I spoke them strangely.

"Nothing, yet," she said.

"Where are we?" I asked.

"In another place
and time," Thea said.

"It stinks here."

"I know.
We'll get used to it."

We could hear noises
coming from a better kept building
in front of us across the square. It sounded
like singing or chanting. It stopped, then people
began to emerge from it: bearded men
and dark robed women, older boys and girls
dressed like us. A crowd formed around one man -
tall and thin with three men who stood by him.
Bearded and somewhat long-haired like the others,
his eyes and air seemed different than the rest
with gentleness and calm that was out of place;
as if Thea's father was standing there
or someone else from Peace.

He was speaking,
"Didn't we just read that, 'for you, the Lord
will open his treasury of rain, the heavens,
to give your country rain at the right time,
and bless all your labors. The Lord will put
you at the head, not at the tail; you will always
be on top and never underneath?'
But I tell you that the kingdom of heaven
belongs not to the first but to the last;
not to the one on top, but the one underneath;
not to the rich but to the poor."

"You obey
the commandments - you worship the one Lord;
you keep the Sabbath; you punish
evil doers, and yet, you have not wealth,
peace, or fearlessness. Where is your heaven?
It is not on the earth or in the sky.
But I tell you the reign of God is among you
and it is within you. It is for the poor,
the weak, the helpless; the one who is wronged,
and the one who hungers for God."

One man said,
"Rabbi, we are hungry for God and justice.
Look around and see we are poor. Where is
this kingdom of heaven you talk about?
What hope is there for us except the Law
of Moses and the promises of the Lord?"

"The Law is not enough to save you from
yourselves. It is not enough to obey
the Lord - you must know who it is you obey.
You are children of Israel and yet
you do not know who your father is.
There is a story I can tell you:
'There was once a king of a great nation, who,
because of his power and wealth feared finding
honest stewards, chamberlains, and a successor
to his throne.

Having many wives, every time a child
was born to him, he would have that baby given to be
raised by other people, rich and poor. Neither they
nor the child knew who the true father was.

After a certain age, the king would meet and speak
to his children who had grown up in diverse ways and places.
Most of his children were honest, hard-working, ordinary
people content with their place in life and without greater
ambition. These he rewarded with small gifts to help them
in their lives and work. They went on their way without
knowing who their true father was.

Some of his children were dishonest, wicked,
and hard-hearted. These he rebuked and told to reform
their lives if they wished any benefit from him. Most
of these rejected his advice and went on their way
ignorant of who their true father was.

A few of his children troubled themselves seeking truth
in all things and peace in every circumstance. These
he brought into his palace for instruction. He made them
princes and princesses of his realm with great duties
and greater rewards, for they served exactly as the king
intended they should.

Although the king had fathered all, only a few could
claim him as their father.' "

Another man said, " Your story is about us,
the Chosen people of the Most High.
We are the ones invited into his palace.
We are the keepers of his laws. We are
his hope. You talk about a kingdom of heaven.
What is that? We are not ignorant people.
We know who we are. The people in
your story did not know their Lord. We know
our Lord - the Holy One of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob."

"So you believe,"
the man replied, "but I will tell you about a man,
a child of Abraham, who came into
the reign of God by forgetting his way:
'There was a man who was walking down a road
on an errand one day. He was troubled in mind,
for he was filled with the cares of life. A thief,
seeing the man was alone, came upon him, greeted him
in a friendly manner, but then struck him in the head
by surprise.

The man fell as if dead. The thief stole his purse
and his goods, and then ran off.

After awhile, the man came to his senses,
but as he did so, he realized he did not know why
he was on the ground on the road, nor where he was.

Fortunately for him, another man from his village
came along and found him there. The first man asked
where he was. The second man helped the first recover,
and told him his name, his village, and then even his country.
Realizing that his fellow was not right in his mind,
he guided him home.

Once there, he sent for his fellow's parents, wife,
children, brothers and sisters. They told him his name
and who they were to him, but he remembered nothing.

"What am I to do?" he said. "I don't know any of you."

They took him in and cared for him, but no memory
returned, and he knew himself to be alone and a stranger
to all.

One day, while out in the field working, he lapsed
into despair, and fell to his knees, crying out, "I don't
know anyone, and no one knows me! God, God, who
am I?" And he beat his breast and threw his arms up
with his pleading.

God heard his prayer, reached out to him, embraced
and consoled him and said, "You are mine."

The man rejoiced with this knowledge, but after God
left his embrace, he realized that he still did not know
his name. Even so, he returned from the field to his wife
and said, "I did not know you 'til now. You are the woman
I will care for and live with the rest of my life."

He went to his parents and children, brothers, sisters,
and neighbors and spoke similarly to each of them; and he
became content.'"

Many people murmured at the story's end:
"It makes no sense. What is it about?
Who can understand it?"

"I understand it!"
An old woman said loudly. She stepped forward.
"It's just blind Rebekkah," someone else said.
"I may be blind, Lemuel, but I'm not stupid,"
she said as she shuffled forward. "Rabbi,
I think I understand your story. You
and your friends must come and eat with me
and my daughter at our house."

"We will, mother."

"It's a stupid story," one man cried out
angrily. "The man is embraced by the Lord.
That is a stupid thing. Everyday, do we
not cry out, 'Lord, Lord, have mercy on us.'
And does he have mercy on us? He does not.
We might as well pray to a tree or stone
for all the good it does."

"Shut up," someone
else said. "That's blasphemy." Another spoke,
"You'll bring down the wrath of God on us."

The Rabbi said, though:
'A man once lived in a small, remote corner of a great
nation, far from the capitol and court. From time to time,
tax collectors came into that man's part of the country.
They demanded goods from him. They took a portion
of his harvest and his livestock. The man always cursed
the tax collectors as thieves. They protested that they merely
did as the king commanded them.

"What king?" the man demanded to know. "All I ever see
are you vultures who do nothing but live well off of my labor.
For all I know, there is no king and never has been.
What's more, if there is such a king as you say who takes
my goods and makes me suffer so much loss, well, I hate
that king then. He has never done anything good for me."

One day at the great court, during a banquet,
a governor from that state, wishing to amuse the king,
told him the story of that man and what he said to his
tax collectors. He thought the court would find the
farmer's ignorance astonishing.

The king was not amused, though. He said,
"What should I do about this fool of a man? If I go
in person to say I am his king, might he not say,
'all I see is another man like me who claims to be somebody,
but who might be a liar and a rogue after all.' If I go in all
my glory with an army and the entire court, might that man
not say -'yes, you are a king but you might as well be a thief,
for you take by force from one who is poor, and make
yourself rich.' "

"Here is what I shall do. Go to this fool of a man
and tell him he is right, there is no king, no ruler, and no
law above him. Tell him he is free to pay no taxes to me,
and may live only to serve himself. Then go to his neighbors
and say to them that the other man is now his own law,
country, and king. Tell them that that man has no treaty
with their king and no law prevents them from taking his goods
or his life."

"Let a fool doubt that I live and deny any good that I do
for him, and see if he shall prosper in my kingdom."

He smiled often as he told this story
as if it amused him to tell it; then
he said after the conclusion, "Listen,
the Kingdom is not distant or far. It
is where you will find all you ever need -
now and later. It is where God's will
and your desire are the same; and fear
no longer haunts your nights. Believe me, then,
the Lord is not hiding from you. It is you
who hide from him."

Many objected to
the last he spoke, but he remained impassive
and said nothing more. Finally people
began to drift away - some muttering,
some laughing, many wondering.

The old,
blind woman, Rebekkah, remained. By her,
her daughter stood and a few others who wished
to speak to the Rabbi.

Thea and I stood
near by also.

"Rabbi, tell me more
about the kingdom of heaven. What
is it like?" Rebekkah asked.

The kingdom of heaven is like a man,
who, having met God, awaits further
instructions until he dies."

Speaking, then, after she thought it over,
"Rabbi, I think I have met God, too.
Ever since I was a child, I have felt
his hands on me, shaping my life, even
in making me blind; and now all I can do
is wait. Can you say more?"

"Think of the kingdom of heaven like this:
It is like an old woman who grows
younger and younger until she sinks
back into the womb and even then before
her making."

Rebekkah laughed. "Yes, Rabbi. I can think
of it like that." The others looked baffled though.

The Rabbi smiled and said, "You are wise,
mother. Perhaps you can understand that
The kingdom of heaven is like a small snake
that sheds its skin many times until it is big enough
to be noticed from heaven, and then silently
and unseen, an eagle swoops upon it, carries
it off to its nest in the sky, and devours it until
nothing remains."

"A small snake, Rabbi? I don't know that
I care for snakes," she said. "I must think
about that one. But come now, Rabbi.
Come to our house, you and your friends, and share
our Sabbath dinner."

She began to walk
away with her daughter, and the others
prepared to follow her when Thea
suddenly shouted, "Wait!"

She ran to the one
called Rabbi and threw her arms around
his waist embracing him. His friends began
to say, "Be off, girl, leave him alone..."
But the Rabbi shook his head and leaned down
to speak with her. She hugged him around
his neck, whispered into his ear, and kissed
his cheek. Releasing him, she returned to me
while his eyes followed her along with his smile.

The group then departed with Rebekkah.
Thea and I remained alone at the well.

"What did you say to him?" I asked.

"I said,
'I love you, Jesus,'" she told me.

"That's Jesus?"

"Yes. Don't you know who Jesus is?"

"Not really.
He's the church guy, I think. My father says
'Jesus Christ' all the time but he's swearing."

"Let's go home," Thea said.

"But what about God?"

"You saw him."

"That was God?"


"But he's a man."
"I know. He's both."

"Is that possible"

For God."

"That's weird."

"Maybe for now it is.
Did you like him?"

"I suppose so. He's like
your father," I said.


"In a way.
He's nice like someone you can always trust.
I don't think he could get mean. I bet
he likes everyone. Even those people
who said he was wrong. But he really liked
that blind, old lady, I think."

"I think so, too."
Do you want to go home now?" Thea asked.

"All right," I shrugged.

Suddenly Thea
embraced me, kissed my cheek, and said,
"I love you, Timothy."

Before I could
respond, she released me and disappeared.
Then I disappeared, too, until my eyes
refocused on a new place. I saw clouds
and sky as I lay on my back on top
of a grassy hill.

I sat up and said,
"Thea?" But she wasn't there. No one was
except me. I was home; back where I started.

Part Two

The event of my vision occurred long
ago. I have since read and heard people
describe such things as delusions or dreams.
I don't know what imaginative power
a ten year old boy possesses that could
erupt in vivid and life changing ways,
except I know that nothing was ever
the same for me again. I trust in God.

At first, after returning home, I was
disoriented as if I was now
in the wrong place. The colors seemed wrong;
the air seemed heavy and laden with sadness;
and worst of all, people looked inhuman -
half-dead or bizarrely energetic.
They were noisy, loud, silly, grim, or restless.

I tried to tell my mother where I'd been,
but I must have sounded incoherent.
I never tried to tell my father. He
wasn't interested in me anyway.
I told my seven year old sister, Gina.
She believed me. Little sisters believe
big brothers. She liked hearing my stories.
But she'd ask me how Jesus was God,
and I didn't know. That baffled me, too.

In fact, I was let down. I thought if I
met God like Thea said I would, that it
would be tremendous - not ordinary.

The man I saw as Jesus was a nice man,
maybe the nicest man I ever saw;
but he didn't seem like I expected God
to be - mighty and awesome and awful.

I moped around the rest of the summer.
School started but I had no interest
until one day I was looking through
a history book in class, and saw a chapter
about a Renaissance in Italy.
I saw a picture that stopped my heart a second.

"I've seen this before," I said out loud.

my teacher asked.

"I've seen this picture before."
And I showed her the page in the book.

"Of course. It's a very famous painting
by Da Vinci."


"Leonardo Da Vinci.
600 years ago or so."

"Oh," I said.
But I could swear it was completely like
what Thea's brother, Jonathan, had made.

Suddenly, though, I knew exactly what
I had to do. I had to learn to draw
and paint. Then I could show everyone
what paradise looked like. And I could paint
a picture of Thea.

I hardly realized, then,
how much I missed her - how real she was
to me; how well I remembered her.

began to teach myself to draw. It's all
I did. I cared nothing for school or sports
or entertainment. I just had to draw,
but I had no idea how. Frustration
often overcame me. I didn't know
about instruction books, classes, or teachers.
After months of trying to draw things,
my father went to my mother and said,
"I want you to get that boy art lessons."
I had no idea why he did that. Neither
did my mother, but she did it, and I
began art lessons. I quickly improved
because of my devotion and practice.

Something else occurred around this time, also.
I was in a store with my mom. A radio
was on and some man was talking about
Jesus. He said something about people
who wanted to know more about Jesus
should go to church because that's where he was.

There was a church two blocks from my house.
It was called Saint Mary's, and out in front
they listed their Sunday Mass times. I guessed
a Mass meant a lot of people went at once.
The next Sunday, I decided to go
and see if Jesus was there. I wanted
a chance to see him again, because now,
I had many questions to ask and talk
to him about. The last time I had nothing
to say because I didn't expect him.

As I went into the church, I saw people
dip hands into water and wet themselves.
Then they went to the seats. There they half-knelt,
took their seat, and then knelt on a long,
little stool for their knees. And then they prayed.

I didn't know what to do, so I followed
the people and tried to do what they did.
As I knelt in prayer, all I could think
to say is - "well, here I am, God. I feel
pretty dumb right now. I hope I won't
embarrass myself. Okay?"

Music began
and people paraded down the center aisle.
Some of the people were dressed funny.
They walked up to the front as people sang.
When the music stopped, a man dressed in robes
started saying things, making gestures, and
the people did, too. Then there was singing,
more words, and then people started to read
a book; taking turns. The last reading was
about Jesus - something he said.
It reminded me of what I'd heard him say
when I was with Thea.

After that, I waited
for Jesus to show up like the man said
he would on the radio. But he didn't.
Then everybody got in line in the aisle
and walked to the front to get something from
other people there with bowls and cups. I
went, too. A lady gave me a round cracker
to eat. It was soft and stale. Then someone else
offered me a cup. I took a big gulp.
I nearly gagged! It tasted sweet but weird.
It was wine.

People got on their knees again
and prayed. I did, too. I wanted to know,
"God, how much longer does this go on?"
Not much longer, it turned out.

I went home.
I had a lot to think about. I liked
the music and singing. I'd never seen
or heard music that way before. I kind
of liked the way people got to talk back
and moved around - first standing, then sitting,
then kneeling, and then doing the same stuff
all over again later. It was strange
like being in a play or movie.

never showed up, though, which struck me as odd.
I wondered whether I should go back.
I decided I would since they had a book
which said things about Jesus when he wasn't there.
He might be at a different church every Sunday.

After a few weeks of going, Gina,
my sister, wanted to come with me, too.
I made her promise not to tell anyone.
By then I had begun to figure out
the way the Mass worked. They had little books
that showed what was said and read every time.
I also read that people who weren't Cat-holics
weren't supposed to eat and drink the stuff
they handed out. That didn't seem friendly,
but I didn't mind missing the food and drink.
I just felt funny sitting while everyone
got in line, went up, and got their snack.

I liked hearing the Jesus stories, though.
I'd explain to Gina what was said and what
to do; and it was fun having her with me.
I didn't feel lonely or out of place
with her there; and I began to recognize
some people and some songs and prayers in time.

They started talking about Advent, though,
as winter came on, and Christmas started
to get closer. Whatever Advent was,
I missed it because it came and went
before I knew it. Christmas was on a weekday
that year. Half the time, I never knew
what the priest man was talking about
when it was his turn to talk. Sometimes
I couldn't hear him very well because
babies were fussing or crying, or he would
mention Jesus and then tell us we had to
do better at doing stuff. I'd get bored
and read the Jesus reading to myself
and try to figure out what it meant.
It was like a puzzle or a riddle.
Sometimes I thought I knew; other times
it baffled me; but I learned that I liked
Jesus a lot. He seemed really good.
Sometimes I wished he was my father
instead of the one I had.

Gina gave our secret away. At Christmas,
she asked my mother if some TV show
about the baby Jesus was related
to the one at church?

"You've been going
to church all this time and never told me?"

"I didn't think it mattered."

"Not matter?
You told your sister to keep it a secret, though."

"I didn't want you to say I couldn't go."

"Well, you can't go. Church and religion are
for idiots. Do you want to be an idiot?"


"Then you can't go."


"I just said so."

"Does that make me an idiot if I want
to go?"

"Yes. You're an idiot if you go.
I won't have it. I'll tell your father."


"Because he won't put up with this back talk."

"What back talk?" my father said walking
into the room. "You better respect
your mother, boy, or there'll be hell to pay."

"He wants to go to church, Frank."

"Church? Why?"

"He's been going to church for weeks with Gina."

"What in hell's been going on 'round here?
Marie, how could you let this happen?"

didn't let it happen; he just did it."

"What? You can't watch after a boy and girl,
and know what they're up to?"

"He lied to me.
He said he was going to the park."

"That so?"
he said to me. I nodded "What's at church?"
he asked.

"Uh, they have this group that sings.
It's nice," I told him.

"You mean a choir?"
I guess so."

"You go to church to listen to
the choir?"

"Yeah, it's pretty music. We like it.
Gina and me."

"What do they preach there?"


"The minister. The guy who makes a speech."

"I don't listen much to what he says.
It's boring."

"You got that right," he said laughing.
"What the hell. Go to church if you like.
I don't care."

"Frank, I don't think that's..."

"What? A good idea? So what? It won't kill them.
Might do them good for all I know. Leave him
alone. I said they could go."

My father left
the room and my mother fumed at me.

Next Sunday, I went to church with Gina,
and I felt glad that I could still be there,
but I wondered if I was an idiot.
After everybody had their snack, kneeling
to pray, then, my head was empty of thoughts
of what to say to God - a voice appeared
to speak to me out loud inside my head.
It was a gentle voice, and it sounded
like mine. It said - "you lied to your mother."

"What? Is that you, God, or me?"

you lied to your mother."

My heart then beat
in fear. "Oh no," I thought. "What have I done?
I lied to my mom. She must hate me now.
What am I going to do?"

the inner voice told me. Immediately,
I felt relieved. "I will apologize.
Right away."

After church, we ran home.

"Momma, momma!" I yelled when I burst through
the door.

"What, Timmy?" I heard her say from
the kitchen. I hurried in and hugged her waist.

"I'm sorry, momma. I'm sorry."

"What for?
What did you do?" she demanded.

"I lied
to you," I said. "I lied to you about church.
I'm sorry, momma. I won't do it again.
Please don't hate me, momma. I'm sorry."

"Oh, Timmy, I don't hate you. I love you.
Don't you know that?"

"I guess so, but I lied
to you. It was wrong."

"Yes. If I had looked
for you and Gina in the park and not
have found you, imagine how worried I'd
have been?"

"I won't ever lie to you again."

"Oh, I think you might," she laughed.

"No, I won't,"
I promised. And I never did.

"Am I
an idiot, momma, because I like
to go to church?"

"You're not an idiot.
It's just I don't want you to believe things
that aren't true."

"What's not true?"

"Jesus. The things
they say about him."

"But ..." I almost said
I'd met him then realized it might sound like
a lie, and so I didn't speak. I wished
instead my mom and dad had met him, too.
Then they might want to know what he is like.

Soon after Christmas (it seemed to me),
the preacher said it was time for Lent.

I wondered if this meant we let people
borrow things from us, he said we were going
to wander in the wilderness for forty days
and nights like Jesus did.

I looked around
my town. I couldn't find a wilderness.
I didn't think I could live very long,
either, without food and drink; so I was
relieved that there were no woods nearby
for me to go and wander in. Maybe
I could try to wander in the park for
awhile, and see if anything happened.
I tried that but I got bored and hungry,
and so I went home and forgot about it.

Palm Sunday came along and Gina was
delighted when we got to wave palm fronds
and shout, "Hosanna! Hosanna!"

They threw
water at us, and Gina said, "Hey!" when she
got hit in the face with some drops of it.

The preacher told us this was the start
of Holy Week. Gina thought that was funny,
but I knew better, and told her it meant
"like God" and not like digging up the ground.

He said we should come on Thursday, Friday,
and Saturday if we could. Then he asked
us all to sing and wave our palms again
to celebrate Jesus. The choir sang
and we held up the fronds. A boy who stood
beside Gina started to wave his arm
wildly and acted goofy about it.
Gina tried to move away, bumped into me,
then got hit in the eye by that boy's fist
he was swinging all around.

She let out
a shriek and then began crying loudly.
The boy covered his mouth and laughed. People
began to stare at us. I tried to calm
her down but she could not stop sobbing.
"Come on," I said and took her by the hand
and walked her out of the church to where
I'd seen mothers carry their babies out
when they were crying.

The boy who hit her
kept smirking as we left the pew. I prayed
that God would make him fall and break a tooth,
something really painful, but I realized
as we walked back, that God would not do such
a thing. Instead, the boy might always be
a smirking, rotten so and so.

"Why don't
you pay people back for the bad things they do?"
I asked God while I ushered Gina out.
After she calmed down outside, she wanted to
go home. I didn't mind. The incident
ruined the day for me, too.

Thursday night,
Gina said she wasn't going back. When I
began to leave, though, she changed her mind
and came along. We looked for seats among
adults and not by any other kids.
My mother had said we could come at night,
but that she would meet and walk us home.

It was strange. Thursday was about dinner Jesus
had with his friends but it seemed more sad
than happy. And they had twelve people up
on the stage, and the preacher went along
and washed their feet.

"How come he only washes
one foot?" Gina asked me.

"I don't know."

"Aren't they both dirty?"

"I suppose they are."

"Do you think their feet smell?"

"I don't know. Maybe
he just pretends to wash them."

"But look, Timmy.
He even kisses their feet."

"Ugh. I wouldn't want
to do that, would you?" We both giggled.

On Good Friday (they called it), it got stranger.
First, the police arrested Jesus, but
he didn't break any law that I could see.
They took him to court and were mean to him,
but he hardly said a word. Then they took
him to the Governor, and he whipped Jesus.
Then he gave everybody a choice -
they could free Jesus or some other guy
who had broken the law.

in the church said, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
I didn't get it. Gina looked as confused
as me. Soon the reader said that Jesus
had to carry a big, wooden cross someplace
called the place of skulls. I couldn't believe
what they said was happening. My heart thumped in
my chest. A lump rose in my throat. What are
they doing to Jesus? I didn't understand.
They said they stripped him and nailed his hands
and feet into the wooden cross. But this
is all wrong, my thoughts cried out. Tears sprang
into my eyes. Then they said he was dead!
I started crying. Gina started crying, too,
when she saw me.

"They can't kill him," I said.
"How can they do that? He was a nice man.
Jesus was nice. He was good to people,"
I cried. Gina began to wail, "They killed Jesus!"
People began to notice us. Next to me was
an older man and his wife.

"What's the matter?"
he asked me.

"Nobody told me they killed Jesus;
and he was nice. Why did they do that?
He didn't hurt anybody. Why did
they kill him?"

"Don't you know?"

"Know what?"
I said, gasping between bursts of tears.

"That Jesus died on the Cross," he told me.


How could I know? There were no crucifixes
at St. Mary's. There was a big statue
of a woman at the back of the stage.
They used to carry a cross on a stick
up there in the Sunday starting parade,
but the man on it was reaching out,
and not being killed. He was sort of smiling.
Tonight they brought a cross with a guy nailed
to it, but I didn't know why or who
it was until now.

The older man tried
to calm us down. "It's all right," he kept saying,
and put his arm around me.

"No, it's not.
I'll never get to see him again, now.
I promised Gina she could meet him, too."
Gina heard me and wailed, "I want to meet
Jesus. Why can't I meet him, too, like Timmy?"

"Calm down, please. Both of you. Where are your parents?"

"They're at home."

"They sent you here alone?"

"No. We just come by ourselves."


said that I could meet Jesus here, and so
I started to come and then Gina wanted to."

"You're not Catholics?"

"What's a catholic?" I asked.
He looked puzzled and then looked at his wife.
They shrugged at each other. He said to me,

"Let me think about this for a second ...
you're not Catholic?"

"I don't think so."

"You come
because you want to meet Jesus?"

"Uh huh."

"Do you know what happens tomorrow night?"

"Un uh," I said shaking my head.

He smiled, then.
"You have to come tomorrow night. The story's
not over yet. Can you come tomorrow night?"

"I think so."

"It's pretty late. Past midnight.
I haven't been to the Easter Vigil
in years. I'll tell you what...I'll bring you here
and take you home if you want. I'll meet
your parents and ask them."

"You can meet my mom,
now. She's coming to pick us up."

"Oh. That's
just fine." He told us his name was Jose
Gonzales, and his wife was Angelina.
I told him our names. After the Service
was over, we walked outside and he spoke
to my mom. She seemed surprised at what
he said. I don't know what passed between them
since Angelina fussed over Gina
and asked me questions, too.

Mr. Gonzales
then said to me, "Timothy, your mother
agrees that we might bring you both to church
tomorrow night and take you home. Something
wonderful will happen. Wait and see."

is it?"

"Just wait."

I asked my mother what
would happen but she said she promised not
to tell and spoil it.



"They killed Jesus."

"I know."

"But he didn't do anything wrong.
He was nice to people. He even made
sick people better. Why did they kill him?"

"I don't know. Sometimes life doesn't make sense.
It can be a very cruel world, Timmy."

"I don't think I want to live in it, then."

"Don't say that. It's not all bad. It has you
and Gina in it, and that's good enough
for me."

It was hard for me to fall asleep
that night. I kept thinking of Jesus: how
they hurt him and killed him. I wondered if
Thea knew what happened to him. Was that why
she kissed him and said she loved him? Except,
she kissed me and said she loved me, too. Did
that mean I was going to die like Jesus?
Well, I was going to die someday. It seemed
all wrong, like things were upside down. Why should
I or anyone die? It didn't seem right.
My mother was right. It didn't make sense.

On Saturday night, Mr. Gonzales
(he said to call him, Joe) and Angelina
came to my house to take us to the Vigil,
he called it. They walked us to the church.
It was dark inside. People gave thin candles
to everyone.

We saw a fire outside.
The preacher said some prayers and stuff. They lit
a big candle, the choir sang, everyone then
marched in and we all lit our thin tapers.
The church glowed with the light of all our candles.
The statues along the flickering walls moved
as if they were stiffly alive. Bright stars
upon the blue dome over the front stage
sparkled off and on, too. It was eery
but fun - being filled with people - solemn
yet expectant, too. I had the feeling
something interesting was about to happen.

Then we put out the candles so the air
smelled of smoke and the church was dark again.
We sat and people read a lot from the book.
But the choir, oh the choir sang between
each reading. I never heard such music!
They sang about God making the earth full
of goodness; and how pharoah and his horse
and chariots were sunk into the sea.
They sang happy, they sang sad. They sang
about joyful water and running
like a deer for God. It was beautiful.
And then they sang Glory to God, and rocked
the church with unbelievable happiness.
Guitars and piano danced lively; choir
sang and people responded; low bass notes
rumbled and then began weaving quickly
in and out of everything - soaring bright,
then sliding down lower and lower.
The hair on the back of my head stood up.
I got shivers down my spine from the thrill
of it. The church seemed like another world
away from all the cars, houses, people,
TV's, and everyday stuff. It was like
everyone and the air was more alive
and filled with gladness.

Then they sang
an Alleluia that was even better.

The preacher read a passage from the book
of Mark: a bunch of women went to do
some cooking at a tomb with spices they brought
for Jesus. A young white man said Jesus
wasn't there. He had woken up and gone
someplace else just like he promised he would.

I looked at Joe and he smiled at me,
but I didn't get it. This was the rest
of the story? Jesus gets killed, then wakes up,
and goes away? It made no sense to me.

The preacher talked about Jesus rising from
the dead and saving all his friends from death;
and how that was wonderful of God to do.
I still didn't get it, though. Gina rested
against me and yawned.

Then about a dozen people
or so went on stage. The minister said
things to them, poured water on their heads,
gave them candles and they put on white nightgowns.

"Why are they dressed like that?" I asked Joe.

"They just got baptized. All their sins are washed
away by God. They are all pure now; white
like snow; so they wear white to show it."

But what's sin?"

"Bad things. When people do
bad things, that's called a sin."

"Were those people
up there bad?"

"Well, not exactly, you see,
but sort of. I mean, they didn't break
the law and go to jail, but everybody does
bad things and needs to be forgiven. God
gives everybody a chance to start life
all over again. A clean slate, you know."

I shook my head. I didn't know.

"I can't
explain it all right now, " he said. "If you
believe that Jesus rose from the dead, he'll
explain it to you better than me."

Okay," I told him.

I started to get sleepy.
The music was so wonderful that I
just kept waiting for it and forgot
the rest. Pretty soon it was all over
and we went home. Joe carried Gina who
was fast asleep.

I was tired, too, and
went right to bed even though my mom
wanted to ask me all about the Vigil.
I told her the music was beautiful.
My dad wasn't home. He sold cars at night
and often came home late.

Every Sunday,
after that, Gina and me would sit
with Joe and Angelina. A few weeks
later, Joe asked me a question. He had
a slight accent so what I heard him say
was, "Would you like to go with me and see
the pasture?"

"Sure," I said. It sounded nice.
I whispered to Gina that we were going
to see a pasture.

"What's that?" she whispered back.
"You know, a big field where they keep cows
and horses and....and sheep! They're always
talking about sheep, right? I bet that's where
they keep them. In the pasture."

"Can we pet
the sheep?" she asked.

"Why not? I bet it's like
a petting zoo," I said.

She got excited.
"I can't wait. Let's go to the pasture and
pet the animals."

"After mass."

"I can't wait,"
she squirmed.

After mass was over, Joe led us
across the grounds to a house. Gina hopped
as Joe knocked. The preacher opened the door.
"Come on in, Joe," he said as he shook his hand.
The minister was tall, thin, bald with a small
pot belly. He had a black shirt with a weird
white thing in his collar.

He led us to
a living room with fat couches and chairs.
Joe introduced us: "Tim, Gina, this is
Father Gus."

"Hi kids. Sit down, please. Joe told
me all about you; how you've been coming
to church for months by yourselves. That's very..."
he paused, "very remarkable. Why did
you decide to come here?"

"It's closest to
my house," I said. I wasn't afraid of him.
He seemed like he was good.

"Really?" he smiled.
I nodded.

"But why did you want to come
to church at all?"

"A man said on the radio
that I could meet Jesus in the church. So
I came to see if I could meet him again."

"What do you mean - again?" he asked.

"When do
I get to pet the animals?" Gina asked.


"The petting zoo. I want to pet the sheep."

"What petting zoo?"

"In the pasture," Gina said.
"Joe said he was taking us to see the pasture,"
I tried to explain. "Where you keep the sheep
you always talk about."

Mister Father Gus
looked baffled at Joe. "The pasture? You mean,
the Pastor?"

"That's what I told him," Joe said.
"The pasture of the church."

Mister Gus
began to laugh. "No, no, kids. Joe meant
pastor, not pasture. A pastor is the man
who runs the church; the man in charge."

"Oh," I said.

"But where's the sheep?" Gina said.

"There aren't any sheep here."

"You always talk
about sheep in church," I said.

"Yes, well, I mean
something else. Hold on, now. I have an idea."

He left the room and when he came back,
he brought a kitten with him. "This is my cat,"
he said handing him to Gina. "Would you like
to hold him and pet him?" She took the cat
happily, put him on her lap and played
with him. "His name is Max. That's short
for Magnificat. Now, Tim, where were we?
You said you met Jesus before?"

And so
I told him how I first saw Jesus. He listened
intently to the whole story.

Tim. Simply amazing. God is the strangest
person I know. He does things that plain
baffle me. Whatever it all means, he brought
you here for a reason. Would you like
to become a Catholic, Tim? You and Gina?"
"What's that?"

"A Catholic is a person who
believes that Jesus rose from the dead;
is alive today as God and helps people get
to heaven or paradise - maybe like the one
you saw."

"Uh huh."

"Uh huh, what?"

"I want to go
to paradise again. I want everybody
to come with me."

"Great. First, though, I must talk
with your parents. They have to approve.
Then there are classes you both need to take
to get you ready for baptism, communion,
and confirmation. It's just once a week
after school. What do you think?"


"Okay yes, or okay you heard what I said?"

"Okay yes."

Wonderful. Just wonderful.
You're going to love being a Catholic, Tim."

I gave Mister Father Gus my phone number
and address. He told me to tell my folks
he'd call to meet with them. Then it was time
to go.

"Can I play with your kitty again?"
Gina asked.

"Anytime you like, you come by
and play with Max," he told her.

"I will,"
she said as we left his house.

When the door
had closed, I heard him say, "pasture" and then
he chuckled. I had to smile, too.

Epilogue (a journal of Eternity)

Last night Thea and I embraced and made
a child. It was the first time for us both
to realize the intimate clasp of woman
and man. The joy exceeded every hope
I'd ever entertained. Love has an ascension
at such times in making two - one; creating
a third as manifestation of bliss.
The dearness, tenderness, perfection in
a man and woman meant to be combined
overwhelms sense itself. It's flesh made God,
and God made flesh; where we don't know to laugh
or cry, to kiss or sing; but simply lie
in peace, in beauty, and glow of light
where our bodies come apart, yet oneness
never ends.

I'd always known since meeting Thea
that love between a man and woman might
be perfect if an innocence could be
fulfilled and made entirely the life
of two. Only heaven holds the key
opening to serenity - folding up
dismay, mortality, and want - that casts
impurities to nothingness. Each thought
that could invoke a doubt, a fear, recall
a loss or shame is washed away like dust
and never sullies mind or heart again.

Two hearts and minds, then, see the other's soul,
the other's light, the other's loveliness
and cannot fail to know the other like
the self - naked, bare, and blessed - where love,
like the pleasantest touch caresses soul
even as a hand caresses a cheek,
or eye glances on eye - reflecting feeling
like a kiss.

Here in our heaven, I know
my Thea is an evermore flower
that becomes and blossoms evermore ways,
and charms my eyes, my ears, my thoughts, my heart.
Her footfall announcing she's nearing me
enlivens my pulse, giving me pause
to wonder - will she stop to brush my hair
or should I reach for her and kiss her hand?
The child will come and make us three; and we
shall have a bigger bliss when she, our child,
shall fix her eyes on us, depend in faith,
and find us worthy to content her just
as she contents our every act for her.

And when we rest, we snuggly rest together;
and when we eat, we taste delight together;
and as we play, we pass the time together
as she learns the gifts of mind and life.
Then grown, her footfalls grace another's ear,
finding home in another's eye and smile.

From this and more, I can't say where it leads
except to more God, grace, and fulfillment.
I am content and so is God. There's more;
always more. I don't know how, only why.
Because Love is boundless, free, and creative.
I can't guess what comes. It simply does.
There are no questions left to ask; no cause
to reckon or to plead. There's only God.
I am content because we are in him.
That's enough to last everyone forever.

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