…I often find myself among non-observant people. They don’t speak religious language or have religious habits. Most are just ordinary Midwestern folks who have lived in nominally Christian, common sense realistic environments and who have spent their years working, raising families, and dealing with the ordinary stuff of life.

This drives me a little bit crazy, since I am of two minds about it. On one hand, I feel perfectly OK just letting the Blodgetts live their Blodgett-y lives without pestering them too much about the demands of Jesus. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Even once you get outside the Heartland and into Diversity World®, you find that practitioners of other religions have pretty much the same laissez-faire attitude about religion that the Christians have. It’s all well and good in its place, honoring the demands of tribe and culture and all that, but business and its demands are primary. After all, bills have to be paid and the kids need to be clothed and educated. There is a devout Sunni Muslim I have a business relationship with. Of all the people I know, he is the closest to someone who practices his religion because he wants to cultivate a relationship with God. And I prefer Shi’a Islam to Sunni.

Yet at the same time, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection aren’t really necessary if your goal in life is to live in a realistic, common-sense environment where the maximization of pleasure and the avoidance of pain is the primary goal. Even you, CM, have to admit that most of your non-religious contacts have been living off of borrowed capital, spending the last few coppers, as Solzhenitsyn put it, of the gold coins laid down by their ancestors. Their children and grandchildren won’t be living the same way. Man was meant to be divine, not mediocre, and Screwtape wins when man embraces mediocrity even if he refuses outright wickedness.

I agree with you that the problem is that the scaffolding currently supporting our threadbare Christendom does not allow for the insertion of Jesus into human strengths and goodness. Revivalism really did a tune on that, especially with its insistence that you have to acknowledge yourself to be a pretty horrible person to be able to avail yourself of Jesus and the Church. Jesus started getting a reputation as a safe harbor for last-gaspers. As one person told me, ‘there has to be a place where you can meet Jesus other than at the end of your rope.’

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Richard Beck found that the elimination of the Devil, “that ancient and arrogant spirit” according to a prayer I repeat every evening,  gelded progressive Christianity and left it insipid and flavorless. That the oh-so-clever modern world should leave off believing in the Devil is no surprise; we live in an age that abhors fecundity and wants to geld everything, yet somehow ten years ago, Beck found that there is something in evil that does not reduce in our analyses. So, we are forced to reimagine him. Beck does a great job, by the way, and is far more courageous in his imagination than the collection of progressive fundamentalists that comment on his blog.

For some reason, God saw a cosmos with a Devil preferable to one without, and somehow there is bound up in the idea of the Devil the concept of Freedom. Barfield’s discussion on the progressive Liberation of the Logos comes into play here; the austrolopithecine mother cooing to her infant on the darking savannah already contained in her DNA, that ballet of nitrates demanding and surrendering electrons, all of our vaunted human wisdom; Gilgamesh, Jeremiah, Plato, Lucretius, Newton, Faraday, and Hawking. But it wasn’t free.

art_0409_1-lg_2Of all the people on this board, I have less sympathy for the classical liberal concept of Freedom than most. When I saw a piece of artwork by an acolyte of Richard Rohr that illustrating an article here about three weeks ago, I knew immediately that my sympathies lay with the figures on the top half of the drawing more than they did with those on the bottom. Instinctively I felt the figures on the bottom couldn’t be trusted with that freedom, and that they would use that freedom to do ridiculous, objectionable, and banal things. Worse than that, I would be expected to rejoice in them and be thought defective if I couldn’t.

It is beginning to dawn on me, just beginning because the idea beats against the tide of a lifetime of egotism and elitism, that maybe what God wants us to do with the freedom we find in Christ is not to voluntarily and joyfully recreate ex corde the top half of the illustration, but to take some risks and fail, sometimes spectacularly, in the service of an end whose glory we cannot yet even imagine.


0o66f5darvx21There is a film on Netflix that presents itself quickly if you enter “Christian” into the search function.   The name of the film is Come Sunday and it tells the story of a  prominent African-American Pentecostal pastor, Carlton Pearson, who began to doubt the existence of Hell.  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Rev. Pearson, and Martin Sheen does a sympathetic portrayal of Oral Robers, Rev. Pearson’s mentor and ministerial overseer.

The movie concentrates on the difficulty Rev. Pearson faced from his parishoners and peers when he began to dounbt the existence of Hell, but there is a significant subplot where Rev. Pearson is engaging Reggie, the gay parishoner organ player in his church who is suffering from complications to the AIDS virus.   Although the question is never explicitly addressed as to whether he considers his homosexuality something that in itself alienates him from God, or whether he was promiscuous, Reggie suffers from great shame.  In a very moving scene close to the end of the film, Rev. Pearson embraces Reggie, who is begging him to help him to ‘get saved’, and tells Reggie that he is deeply and profoundly loved, just as he is, and that he is already ‘saved’.

However, earlier in the movie, there is a scene in which Rev. Pearson confronts Reggie over some misdeed that is, once again, not specifically named in the script.  ‘Just because there’s no hell doesn’t mean you can live any way you please,’ Rev. Pearson admonishes his tearful  parishoner.  That line gave me pause.  Previously I thought that the whole idea of the apokatastasis was to allow people to do just that; to live any way they want without fear of eternal reprisal on the part of God.

Slowly, it began to dawn on me that the word used in the book of Acts for apokatastasis, the only time it is used in the entire New Testament, that word is restoration.  There is no room in the Kingdom of God for sin, not because sin doesn’t fit God’s idea of decor but because sin mars the image of God and requires, yes, precisely, restoration.  So whatever we think of the afterlife, it must also include some element of this restoration.  You can’t live any old way you want and participate in the universal restoration.  It just doesn’t fit.

There is an interesting scene about two thirds of the way through the film.  Rev. Pearson is put on trial by a group of other African-American pastors who grill him about his belief in the non-existence of Hell.  Rev. Pearson turns the tables on them and begins grilling them about whether there was anyone they currently believed was in Hell that they wouldn’t want to see released.  One bishop admits that his unrepentant father was in Hell, and had been there now for fifteen years. The father was a piece of work; an abusive cheating manipulator who had obviously left deep scars on his son, the bishop.  When Rev. Pearson asks if there wasn’t some way he wouldn’t want to have his daddy released from Hell, the bishop displays his deep conflictedness; he loves his father in the abstract but he doesn’t want any part of him unless there is some ontological change in his father.  Until then, the bishop is just fine with his father continuing to suffer.  ‘Hell is where he belongs,’ the bishop admits.

The existence of Hell has something to do with both forgiveness and repentance, and really, it seems to me that the one is only the mirror image of the other.  I’d like to take this up in the future.


The idea of Universal Reconciliation, the apokatastasis; that all created intelligences will eventually be reconciled to their Creator, has always been a minority opinion in Christianity.  There are many reasons why this would so.

One of the most objectionable reasons to disbelieve in Universal Reconciliation is that a lot of Christians are as angry as the punishing God they profess to believe in.  I have to admit that I still am in a lot of ways.  There is something in me that wants to be vindicated, that wants to be shown to be right, and sending people to Hell is a remarkably final way to end all metaphysical and theological argument.  However,  I always saw Hell and conscious punishment as something of a design flaw.  Back in the dreary Internet theological arena of the early 00s, hell was kind of the final entry in a schematic drawing on any number of theological arguments.  ‘Oh, you don’t believe in Limited Atonement?  Well, when you’ve been Baking in the Lake for 500,000 years, you’ll rethink your position!’

chaptersAnother objectionable argument against the Universal Reconciliation is the one based on Free Will, i.e. that God needs to allow eternal conscious torment in order to maintain an abstract freedom that is never absolute under the best of circumstances.  Our vaunted freedom is hedged about on every side with a terrible finitude, not the least of which is our own ignorance.

Yet there are some objections I have to Universal reconciliation as well;  it doesn’t take into account the real possibility that some people could hate God, love, and being so much that they could resist Him and it indefinitely.  That these people are some of the most damaged among us is not something I want to deal with right now.

Orthodoxy dispenses with Original Sin, so we don’t go to Hell because we deserve it for sullying God’s honor or some other such nonsense (sorry Anselm).  Hell draws me because there is something in me that responds to it, that recognizes it as my soul’s True Home, and after struggling with my sin for almost seven decades now and finding it as recalcitrant as ever, I realize that this is indeed a very real possibility.

Also, there is very strong indication in the Tradition that physicality is necessary for repentance, that it gives friction to the soul.  After that physicality is lost, the friction is lost and the dis-corporeal intelligence, like a driver hitting a patch of ice,  continues on the trajectory it was pursuing when it was forcibly unbodied, never to be reoriented.  For this reason, the fallen angels are never shriven, and can never return.

In the future, I’d like to explore different ways of looking at the apokatastasis.  I’m not a scholar, so I won’t be adding a lot of patristics, and probably not even a lot of Scripture.  There are plenty of places you can go for that.  Here, I just want to think out loud for a bit.

The graphic is from Blankets, a graphic novel by Craig Thompson.  It is very, very good.


A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the far northern colony of Toltara, catching the listless Workers by surprise and sending them scurrying for shelter.  The first gusts of the incoming storm blew up dust devils in the plaza below, but Queen Arsenya’s stiff, inflexible state gown did not yield to them.   She craned her neck for a glimpse of the road leading south.

“Ellhué’s not coming,” said the Queen, tapping her lacquered talons nervously on the marble railing of the balcony.

“Five Orcish Nymphs will die in the arena tomorrow, my Queen”, replied Bellimont, her Lord Consort. “I doubt Ellhué wants to be one of them.”   He regretted what he said as soon as the words left his mouth.  The Queen’s eyes narrowed and she bared her canines, never a good sign.  Another bolt of lightning forked through the leaden sky, followed almost immediately by the boom of thunder.  The wind rose again with the promise of rain.

“Hsst!  Silence!” she commanded him, her eyes flashing to match the pyrotechnics in the sky.   “You’re the only Drone who cares a vole’s hindquarters about the rule change.  The others are excited about it, the brutes.”  The Queen straightened her back, rising to her full height.  Orcs instinctively obeyed size and height, and Arsenya of Antarissa was the tallest Queen in the Commonwealth.  “For a Drone, you’ve shown far too much concern about Ellhué’s upbringing.  Everyone comments on it.”

What the Queen said was the unvarnished truth.  His solicitude for Antarissa’s oldest Nymph was an open scandal in the Commonwealth.  Orcish Drones were supposed to drink, hunt, shoot, quarrel with other Drones, and, of course, fertilize the Queen when she required.  It was not a hard job, and most Drones were content to do just that.  Lord Bellimont departed from expectations.  Not only did he take an active role in the administration of Antarissa, but he was also scoured the Commonwealth for tutors for the Nymphs of the household.

Lord Bellimont’s heart jumped as he heard the scrape of wooden wheels against the cobbled pavement.  Two coaches turned a corner into the main plaza of Toltara.  The first one creaked into place before the palace entrance, the coachworker jumping down to care for the horses.  The second, laden with greatchests and other accoutrements of travel, clattered along until it halted in front of an unloading dock.

The Queen sent a brace of Workers to attend to the newcomers, but Lord Bellimont outran them.  As soon as the door to the passenger compartment opened from the inside, he helped a young Orcish Nymph step down.  She was lithe and athletic, and tall for a Nymph.  Bald as befitted a potential Queen, she was dressed for travel rather than for court.  Her skin was darker than the olive complexion common to Orcs from the broad central plains, and her tusks were dainty. At twenty-eight, she had yet to seek a throne in the arena.

“Bell!” the Nymph shouted, and gave him a greeting peck on the cheek.  “Good old faithful Bellimont!” She handed him her handbag and turned her attention to the Queen.  “By the Lady, Mother, you look like a statue in that state gown”   Behind her a younger orc-girl stepped out of the compartment.  Apart from her cinnamon complexion, the two could have been hatched from the same egg.  They had the same almond-colored eyes, and the same generous mouth.  Queen Arsenya’s eyes widened.

“Ellhué!  You brought little Tuana with you?” the Queen asked.

“She wouldn’t stay behind!  With this new Temple decree requiring Nymphs to fight to the death, she begged to accompany me, Mother,” Ellhué replied, drawing the younger Nymph into the embrace.

“I couldn’t stand it if something happened to Ellhué, and I wasn’t here,” said Tuana, gazing up at the Queen.

“Thank the Lady Tuana came along, Mother,” said Ellhué, looping her arm through her mother’s. Although the Queen towered head, shoulders and ribs over the Nymph, the state dress impeded her movement, and the two walked together comfortably.  “Now that the Temple bids us kill each other in the arena, like so many fighting she-bears, it would have been a melancholy ride without Tuana’s merry company.”

The rain, which had been threatening all afternoon, finally broke over their heads in torrents.  Lord Bellimont bellowed at the Workers to escort the Queen and the two Nymphs towards the door where a warm rectangle of light glowed against the violent weather.

Silhouetted in the doorway was a gravid young Orc Queen, her stiff state robe seriously stretched by her swollen egg-sack.

“Manira!” shouted Ellhué.  “What are you doing here in your condition?”   It was the first time either Ellhué or Tuana had seen the former Antarissan Nymph since she had won the throne of the icy, far southern port colony of Ferrol nine months ago.

“Relax, Ellhué,” the newly minted Queen reassured her.  “I’ll be back in Ferrol weeks before this brood arrives. Phew! This northern weather suffocates me.  How does anyone stand it?”  The gravid young Queen turned to Arsenya, who still overtopped her by half a head. “Mother, will there be a chance to discuss Commonwealth action against the White Queen?  I know I can count on Antarissa, but…”

Before Queen Arsenya could finish, the two Nymphs grabbed the younger Queen by either arm and dragged her down the hall, giggling with delight.  Lord Bellimont couldn’t help noticing that Ellhué’s laughter, although genuine, was more guarded.  He punched his palm with his fist.  What was he to do?

A decree had come from the Temple that future arena contests would revert to the ancient rules, barbaric rules that all decent Orcs believed were behind them.  Formerly, Ellhué’s candidacy for the throne of Toltara would have been a welcome interruption in court life.  If she won, it would have been another feather in the cap of Antarissa.  The defeated Nymphs would become generals, guildmistresses, or priestesses, and life would go on.

But to fight to the death? To risk her life?  A life that had been so carefully tended?

“Lady’s teats, Mané, being a Queen really suits you”, declared Tuana, who couldn’t keep her hands away from Queen Manira’s protruding egg-sac and swollen breasts.  This mild blasphemy earned the young Nymph a slap on the back of the head from her mother.

“Being a Queen is wonderful!” replied Manira. “First of all, you’re taller than everybody else, so they obey you instantly.  Then there’s the egging.  O Lady, how can I describe egging?”  She lay her palms flat over her swollen abdomen and smiled knowingly.  “It’s like being filled with sunshine, or lightning”, she corrected herself as another peal illuminated the heavens outside the palace.  “All this life inside me.”

“I wish I was going into the arena tomorrow instead of Ellhué”, Tuana declared.  “I can’t wait to be a Queen!”  She put her head against Manira’s bump, embracing the gravid Queen around the waist. “Lady’s teats!  I’m so full of unripe eggs I could burst open like a melon.  All I can think about is egging and being seeded.”

“The rules have changed, Tua,” Ellhué reminded her solemnly.  “The contest is a lot more serious now, and you’re only fifteen.”

“I’m glad the Temple changed the rules,” Tuana said, a little too loudly.  “I’d kill all those other Nymphs.  Mother had to when she Queened, didn’t you, Mother?  That’s why she’s so tall and strong, and lays so many eggs at one time.”

“The circumstances were different then, dear,” Arsenya explained.  “Manira didn’t have to kill anyone when she became Queen of Ferrol, and look how tall she is.”

Yes, thought Bellimont darkly.  They hated us and wanted us dead.  They wanted to get rid of the Abomination in their midst, but you prevailed and saved both of us.  Attendants brought out the Nymphs’ formal gowns, softer and more flowing versions of the blue and white Antarissan state gown, tailored for their immature figures.  The Nymphs dragged the new Queen of Ferrol into their chambers to help them change.

“So, the last of Donaugh’s challengers has finally arrived, has she?” said a voice behind the Antarissan party.

Queen-Dowager Synisse of Toltara extended a powdered hand for Arsenya and Bellimont to kiss.   “No other consorts except for poor old Bellimont here?  Ah, Arsenya, always the traditionalist.” An older Drone, stout and going to bald, huffed up to her side, accompanied by a solidly built Nymph already Queen-tall. “I’m sure you remember Anhwan and the Nymph Gonaugh”, she added.  “Gonaugh will be competing for my crown tomorrow.”

Lord Bellimont acknowledged their hostess with a slight nod, but did not kiss the proffered hand.  All the decadence of the Orcish Commonwealth was on display in this one squat figure.  How early she had come to her Dowagerhood at forty-six.  The Queen of Antarissa was only three years younger than Synisse, but the contrast between them was remarkable.  Arsenya still had the tight, firm silhouette of a much younger Queen.  Her eggings were copious, and his heart still jumped when she included him with the younger and lustier Drones.

He hated to admit it, but there was wisdom in the Temple’s reinstatement of the old ways.  It was hard wisdom, cruel wisdom, but the truth of it slumbered deep in Orcish hearts.  Arsenya was living proof.  Mighty Queens arose out of the shed blood of their foes, not out of the cake-and-berry parties Orcish arena rituals had become.

If only there were some way he could shield Ellhué from that.

“Is he one of your original consorts, Synisse?” asked Arsenya.  Consorts were released from service to a Queen as she went into Dowagerhood.  For some reason, this one stayed behind.

Queen-Dowager Synesse allowed the veiled insult to pass.  The thunder continued to boom outside the palace, shaking the glazings. Synisse of Toltara was never a conscientious Queen.  She drank to excess, she overate, she never exercised, and she disported herself with Drones half her age.  When her Dowagerhood came upon her prematurely, Synisse thickened, wrinkled, and shrank overnight. Her layings had been paltry for a decade, and Toltara, despite its outward splendor, was seriously underpopulated. As they walked, Synisse extolled Gonaugh’s martial virtues.  “She’s been training for over a year.  The Temple’s decree took us all by surprise, Arsenya, but I believe Gonaugh is ready.”  Arsenya looked down at Gonaugh, who could not meet her eye.

As they entered the banquet hall, the schism between Antarissa and the rest of the colonies became more apparent.  There were more than three dozen Queens present, but their state gowns were shabby and ill-maintained.  Only Antarissa’s glistened with new gems.  Synisse had a Worker conduct Arsenya and Bellimont to their table. The other Queens, and the Drones and Workers following their example, stepped back as they walked by.  There were polite greetings, but no real welcome.

“The White Queen will eat their colonies like so many mince-tortes”, Arsenya whispered.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if half of this Orcish rabble was already in her pocket.”  The White Queen had already devastated six southern colonies, and rumor put her advance battalions within a week of Ferrol.  “They’re jealous”, she concluded.  “There isn’t a one of them that lays more than fifty score a year.  As if mere distance will keep the White Queen at bay forever.”

It’s not jealousy, Bellimont ruminated.  It’s a death wish.   Queens collected antiquities, rare birds, beasts, Drones.  They sought their own pleasures and took no thought for the Workers, whose hives slowly emptied.  Outside of Antarissa, a full nursery was unheard of.  There weren’t enough Workers to till the fields, care for the meat-stock, or repair the buildings, let alone bring new lands under cultivation.  As soon as you crossed the Antarissan border, all of that changed.  Industry abounded.  Overall-ed young Workers dunged the fields.  Builders fitted stones into roads and bridges. Soldiers drilled in the camps.

The cornets blew, announcing the arrival of the Nymphs to the banquet.  A door opened, but not a single Nymph emerged.  The chatter of the banquet guests turned nervous, when suddenly Gonaugh, wearing the gold-and-green of Toltara, torn in several places, flew out the door running pell-mell towards the dais where the Queens were seated.  On her heels came Tuana, just as tall but not so stocky, clothed in the Antarissan blue-and-white.  Halfway to the royal platform she threw herself at the Toltaran and tackled her around the legs.  The door disgorged a score or more Nymphs who surrounded the struggling pair, screaming and shrieking.  Ellhué, also clad in the Antarissan colors, followed at a distance, accompanied by a young Drone.

Tuana was riding the Toltaran, pummeling her fiercely with her fists.  Two other Nymphs threw themselves at Tuana, and were paid swift punches to the face.  A third Nymph, who was stanching a flow of blood from her nose, tried kicking Tuana.  The Antarissan grabbed her assailant’s leg in mid-kick, give it a twist, and flung her on her back.  Ellhué and the Drone managed to pull Tuana off the hapless Toltaran and through the circle of screaming nymphs to safety.  Tuana was sputtering curses and insults.

“You daughters of syphilitic mole-rats!  By the Lady’s cunt, Ellhué will cut you all to ribbons tomorrow!”  It took all of Ellhué’s strength to keep Tuana from throwing herself back on the other Nymphs, who were being assisted back to their quarters by other guards and attendants.

Lord Bellimont waded into the tangle of Nymphs and guards.  He put his hand on Ellhué’s shoulder and turned her towards him.  “What caused this, Ellhué?” he asked.

“She was defending my honor, Lord Bellimont”, replied Ellhué.  “Mine, and Mother’s.  Gonaugh, that’s the Toltaran, claimed Mother lay with you before her Queening, and that I was an Abomination.”  Ellhué was clenching and unclenching her fists.

“Then the Nymph Gonaugh accused the Nymph Ellhué of wanting to do the same thing with me”, said the young Drone apologetically, “and that we would make another abomination.  That’s when the Nymph Tuana jumped on Nymph Gonaugh.  I assure you, Lord Consort Bellimont, I had no such intention.”

“That’s true, Mother”, added Ellhué.  “We were just talking.  Rostum’s going to apprentice himself to Iolanth the master builder next year.”

It was an hour and a half before the Nymphs, properly chastised, filed chastely out the same door and took their places at the raised table set for them.  It was an hour and a half in which Lord Bellimont was able to formulate a plan, and in the other hour and a half before they were dismissed he was able to solidify it.

Around midnight, a feverishly vivid dream disturbed Lord Bellimont’s sleep.  He saw Queen Arsenya standing alone on the pinnacle of a mountain.  The wind blew from the South.  Other Queens stood around the Antarissan Queen, but on low hills.  Ferrol arose in the far South, with Manira perched on the summit.  In the North, Toltara rose, but Lord Bellimont could not see the Queen standing on the summit.  Her face was hidden, turned to the North.   Toltara reached Antarissa’s level and surpassed it.

Other peaks arose, and each of them carried an Antarissan Nymph.  Bellimont saw Arsenya, surrounded by Antarissan Nymphs become great Queens, and her glory was very great.  Then water flowed into the plain from the South.  It covered the hills and their light was extinguished. The waters continued to rise, threatening the mountains where the Antarissan Queens were standing.

The Queens from the hills swam furiously to reach the peaks where the Antarissan Queens are still above water, but it was of no avail.  The Queens sank beneath the waves and vanished.

Lord Bellimont saw with a particular clarity that the waters kept rising until one by one the mountains went dark as the waves swept over them.  The waves threatened Queen Arsenya’s mountain. Only Toltara and her Queen were still clear of the rising waters.   When the tide overwhelmed Queen Arsenya’s peak, she cried out and threw heself into the still rising water.  The Toltaran Queen turned and shouted, throwing herself into the water as well.

Eventually, the water covered Toltara’s mountain as well.  Out of the South came a single ship.  It sailed closer.  Ellhué, clearly Ellhué, was its only passenger.  The ship passed into the North, and vanished.  There was only the Ocean.

Lord Bellimont awoke with a start.  His bedrobe was drenched with sweat and he was trembling.  After stripping off his damp nightclothes, he lit a candle.  As he pulled on his breeches and fastened the stays on his camiset, his mind cleared, and he realized what he needed to do.  A knock came at the door.

“Who’s there?” he answered.  The Nymph Ellhué stepped inside, fully dressed in travel leathers, breeches and boots.  She carried a cloak in her right hand and a satchel in her left.  “Ellhué!” he shouted in surprise.

“Lord Bellimont,” she whispered.   “I’m sorry to make you bear this burden. I can’t face Mother with this, and I can’t fight in the arena tomorrow.  I’m not a coward, but I can’t fight knowing that even if I win, I’ll bring shame on Mother.”  She lowered her head and sobbed.  “And you”, she added.

The Lord Consort fastened the last button and tied his cravat.  He walked to her and put his arm around her shoulder.  “Ellhué, dearest, I just woke up from a most terrible dream.  I’m, well,  also convinced you must leave.  In fact, if you hadn’t come in just now, I was going to come to you.”

Ellhué’s expressive almond-colored eyes got even wider.  She lay her cloak and satchel on the couch next to her, and was stared intently at Lord Bellimont.

“Twenty-nine years ago I was traded to the old Queen,” Lord Bellimont told her.  “Argha had little use for a tuskless boy, so I had nothing to do.  The only Nymph in the household was your mother, and she was barely fourteen years old.  We became friends.  She was lonely, and I was barely a Drone, awaiting my first call.”

“I tremble to think about it now, but I became besotted with your mother. She was a flat-chested, narrow-hipped Nymph, but she rode like a centaur, handled a bow like one of the great archers of legend, and sang like a bard. I worshipped her.  Inevitably, my first call was not with the old Queen, but with your mother,”

“The rumors are true then,” Ellhué said, blushing.  “I am an Abomination.”

“Wait,” he pleaded. “The old Queen Argha died of a sudden fever and your mother posted for the old Queen’s throne despite her age.”  Lord Bellimont lowered his head.  “Your mother did not believe she would prevail against the older, stronger Nymphs in the lists.  To my shame, I tried to get her to run away with me.  Instead, she allowed me one last tryst.”

“Against all expectations, your mother vanquished her competitors.  She had to kill all seven of them.  Not one dared yield to an Abomination,” the Lord Consort continued. “So, your mother Queened hard, very hard.  She grew from a Nymph much smaller than you to her present height right in the arena with my seed still roiling in her egg-sac.  Four days later, she produced the finest, roundest, Nymph egg anyone had ever seen.  We hid it until the rest of her first brood arrived, then we allowed everyone to believe it was the product of her Queening Night.”

“That egg was you, Ellhué, fertilized by my seed, unmixed.  There has never been any doubt in my mind or that of the Queen that you are my daughter, Ellhué. Mine alone.”

Ellhué blanched to hear the word used by a Drone.  It sounded like a blasphemy.

Lord Bellimont rose to his feet and embraced the sniffling Nymph.  “I will hear nothing of Abominations, dearest Ellhué.  It’s true that Drones are put to death for doing what I and your mother did, but your mother’s size and fertility silenced our critics. Despite fierce opposition, I was made Lord Consort at seventeen.  You are no Abomination.  You are the best of us, Ellhué; kind, fierce, and as true as a sunrise, but outside Antarissa, yes, you are an Abomination, and not fit to be a true Queen.  That is why I’ve decided to ask Tuana to take your place in the arena tomorrow.”

As if summoned, the younger Nymph stepped into the Lord Consort’s room.  “Ellhué’s already asked me to replace her in the arena, and I’m as happy as a bee in sugar water that you approve.”

“What did you hear?” Bellimont asked the younger Nymph.

“Everything,” responded Tuana with the hint of a smirk.

“Leave,” he said to Ellhué, grasping her hands in his huge mitts. “Go north, not south.  There is a colony of hermits on the very northernmost cape, just outside the jungle.  You will be safe there.”  Lord Bellimont handed her a small purse containing some coins.

Ellhué walked into the Lord Consort’s embrace and he kissed her on the forehead.  “Go,” he said. “Remember those who love you, for love is stronger than fear.”

Then Ellhué turned to Tuana, and wept on her shoulder.  “Goodbye, father, sister”, she sobbed.  She opened the door, and vanished into the darkened hallway.

“The Queen is going to kill us,” remarked Tuana to Lord Bellimont after the sound of Ellhué’s footsteps died in the hallway.  “Well, you anyway.  I’ll be a Queen by tomorrow afternoon.”

The next morning, Bellimont and the Queen decided to watch the contest from ground level among the more prominent Workers rather than from the box set apart for royal guests.  There was no excitement in watching glimmering minatures at such a distance, so they stood at the edge of the field where only a low wall separated them the arena proper.  

A cornet blew to begin the contest, and the frightened Nymphs circled the arena, each keeping an eye on the other.  The Nymph in the Antarissan colors kept her back to the arena wall, sword and shield in either hand. “Smart girl,” whispered Bellimont under his breath.  “Make them come to you.”

The Antarissan feigned a stumble, to see she could draw an unwary adversary in her direction.  Gonaugh was swinging an axe in great arcs against the shield of a smaller Nymph visibly wilting under the blows.

The ploy was successful.  A compact, quick little Nymph, obviously from one of the northern colonies came towards her with a spear.  The Antarissan waited until she thrust, then bounded aside and slashed the girl in the chest with her sword, cutting her breastplate and scoring a large scratch from nipple to navel.  Her blood gushed through the leather onto the already wet sand, clotting it.

Letting the Northerner think she was pushing her back, the Antarissan Nymph retreated until she felt the wall at her back.  When her opponent began probing blindly with the spear, she danced out of the way and rained sword blows down on the girl’s arms, shoulders, and face. At last, the poor girl thrust too deeply into a place where the Antarissan no longer was, and  loked up to find her only inches from her face.  The Antarissan thrust her sword through her competitor’s lip just under the bridghe of the nose.  The northerner’s head exploded like a bloody balloon, and the Antarissan grew visibly before the crowd’s astonished eyes.

“It’s the blood”, whispered Arsenya to the Lord Consort.  “It does something to you.  I felt so much life rushing into me when those other Nymphs spilled their blood on me.  It was like I’d never be tired again.  Ellhué drew first blood.  That’s good.  Now she’ll be bigger and harder to beat.”

The Toltaran Nymph also dispatched another Nymph, and was charging around the arena bellowing challenges to all and sundry.  Her biceps were the size of two roasted peafowl and rudimentary breasts were forming on her chest.  The other two Nymphs gave her a wide berth.

The Nymph in the blue and white parried a blow from a challenger who hoped to catch her from behind.  The Antarissan smashed the boss of the shield into her adversary’s face, driving her into the arena wall.  The challenger stumbled and  the Antarissan buried her sword in her throat, releasing a geyser of blood from her carotid.

The crowd howled with delight.  The Antarissan had now unsnapped her leather breastplate and greaves, having outgrown them.

“That’s very good”, Arsenya explained.  “All that blood will feed Ellhué like a Twentyfeast dinner.  She’ll get huge.  Oh, but here comes Synisse’s brat.”

The Antarissan had her back turned on the massive Gonaugh, who saw an opportunity to deal  her most dangerous rival a single crippling  blow.  The Antarissan ducked just in time, as the Toltaran’s axe whistled over the top of her head.  She managed to prick the inside of Gonaugh’s thigh, but then pivotted to meet the last Nymph who had come up on her left.

   This challenger was crouched into a defensive stance, guarding her core with the shield and denying entry with the sword.  The Antarissan, unaccustomed to her increased stature,  attempted to slash at her opponent’s legs, while also keeping Gonaugh at bay, and was rewarded by a glancing cut across the scalp.  

Arsenya stood to her feet.  The Nymph she thought was Ellhué dispatched the dexterous Nymph with a daring series of feints that ended with Antarissan steel severing her thigh.  The crowd went mad.  “Ellhué!  Ellhué!  Ellhué!” went up the shout from ten thousand throats.  The Antarissan grew visibly much larger and stronger, feeding on the energy released by the dextrous Nymph’s blood.

Now the contest had narrowed to just Antarissa and Toltara.  Gonaugh had only one victory under her belt, and was now deeply overmatched by the Queen-sized Antarissan, who had dispatched the other three Nymphs.

Howling with rage, the Toltaran flew into the Antarissan Princess with great windmilling swings of her axe, disregarding  the Antarissan’s short sword as a bull might disregard a fly.  The Antarissan scored her adversary’s arms and chest, but was unable to land a killing blow.

“Gonaugh’s strategy is to land a killing blow with that axe, and depend on victory to heal her”, Arsenya whispered to Lord Bellimont.  “It’s the only chance she has.  Where did Ellhué learn to fight like that?  She’s fighting like a devil!  Look at the size of her!”

Gonaugh’s axe bit deeply into the Antarissan’s sword arm,  not quite severing it.  The crowd gasped.  Bellimont could see Gonaugh haul back for a swing to the Antarissan’s head that would have ended the contest, but the blue clad Nymph slammed her shield powerfully into Gonaugh’s midsection just below the rib cage.

Gonaugh’s arms fell nervelessly to her side and she vomited profusely all over the Antarissan.  The Antarissan Nymph followed up with more blows to the liver, growing larger and more menacing with each connection, until poor Gonaugh folded under her, visibly shrinking.  Finally, the Antarissan lifted her shrunken adversary overhead, the wound on her sword arm completely healed. She broke the Toltaran’s back over one mighty knee, and snapped her neck with her ham-sized hands.

The stretcher carriers came running out to carry Gonaugh’s broken body from the arena, and  the Antarissan ripped off her armor and stood erect.  Covered in blood, and Gonaugh’s vomit, she was visibly Queening.  Her waist narrowed and her hips flared.  Her entire body lengthened and thickened, and her breasts rounded and filled.

“Ellhué!  Ellhué!  Ellhué!” the crowd cheered.  The victor found her sword and lifted it skyward, her head thrown back in a shout of triumph unheard over the tumult of the crowd. Her now formidable tusks and canines glistened in the mid-morning sunlight.

The stadium exploded with noise and movement.  Even the Workers abandoned their seats and pressed forward onto the field to hail their new Queen.  The excited crowd paid no heed to rank or position. The weight of their collective bodies carried even the towering Queen and the massive Lord Consort along as the current of a rain-swollen river carries a log.

Being shorter by a head and a neck than the Queen, Bellimont found himself privy to a half a hundred wagers being settled somewhere in the vicinity of his midsection.  Coins were knocked into the dust and quickly recovered as the streaming Toltarans jostled for position near the small aperture that led to the arena.

Suddenly Bellimont smelled something he hadn’t smelled in nearly thirty years, the maddening musk of a bloodied, victorious Queen filling with eggs for the first time.  Other Drones were already abandoning their positions and throwing themselves into the arena, even the ridiculous Anhwan.

Arsenya lay her hand gently on his shoulder. “Don’t pretend that was Ellhué, not Tuana,” she said.  Her tone was one she would use on a male grub caught stealing apples.  I have one question, though.”

“Y-yes, my Queen”, replied Bellimont.  He was trembling again, although this time not with fear.

“We’ve known all her life that Ellhué is your daughter, and yours alone.  Why would you not want her to become a Queen, as I did?”

“I only ever wanted her here, with us, my Queen”, he replied,  tears stinging his eyes  “Now, I’ll never have that.”

 


Williams’ Arthuriad, however, differs from Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the same way that his novels do.  Whereas Tolkien and Lewis created secondary worlds for their characters in which their adventures unfold, Williams uses this primary world, and he emphasizes this from the very first lines of the book;

Recalcitrant tribes heard ;

orthodox wisdom sprang in Caucasia and Thule ;  

the glory of the Emperor stretched to the ends of the world.

Charles Williams differed from his friends and colleagues CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien in thatcharlesandsebastian he did not create a mythology whole-cloth as they did; Lewis with his stories of The  Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien with his tales of Middle-Earth.  What Williams did was to adapt a pre-existing mythos to his purposes; that of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.   It is not that Lewis and Tolkien didn’t have plenty of source material from which they drew their fantasies.  Lewis, according to his autobiography Surprised by Joy, wrote a number of animal-stories when he was younger under the influence of Rudyard Kipling and Beatrix Potter.  Tolkien stitched together a lot of Norse and Anglo-Saxon material for his Middle-Earth, and those who know those sources better than I claim that there is little that is original in his work.The Arthuriad is going to be about Europe, or rather Britain-In-Europe, or Britain as a part of Europe.  Once, while I was enjoying the 1982 Granada TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted, I made a remark about, as an American, how English the whole series struck me.  Indeed, Anthony Andrews’ and Jeremy Iron’s Sebastian and Charles were kind of a baptism for me into what I have come to think of as Deep England.  A very perceptive friend parsed it differently.  He said that the milieu of Brideshead Revisited was England, indeed, but it was that submerged and subjugated Catholic England that  Waugh depicted in his novel, the flavor of which came across so strongly in the TV adaptation.  It was about the survival of ancient and life-giving folkways in a hostile and unforgiving environment.

I think that what Williams is attempting here is something even more ambitious.  His cycle of poems is going to be treating England as a part of Christendom, through the language of myth.  It surprises me that in the (in)famous frontpiece of Taliessin Through Logres, where the body of a naked woman is superimposed on a map of Europe, that part of Charles WilliamsEurope which eventually became Protestant does not figure prominently.  Williams never treated non-conformist Protestants with contempt in his fiction; his depiction of the communion service in The Place Of The Lion is one of my favorite scenes in his whole corpus, but the flavor of the Arthurian poems is strongly that of Christendom united, certainly before the Protestant Reformation and almost as if the Chalcedonian and Orthodox-Catholic schisms had never taken place.

This is as it should be.  Arthur, inasmuch as he can be fixed in history at all, is a pre-schism figure and shrouded in Druidic shadows.  History is compressed.  The rise of Islam, and its conquest of Constantinople are shoe-horned, for poetic purposes as yet undivined by me, into this cycle of poetry, and the Emperor is given a suzerainty in the West that he never had  .

HOWEVER, for some reason, the woman’s right elbow bends at Cordoba, from whence Aristotelian thought gained purchase in the late Middle Ages, and from that Occam’s Nominalism, Protestantism, and secularism.  Williams’ poetic language seems much more Neoplatonic to me;

Carbonek, Camelot, Caucasia

were gates and containers, intermediations of light ;

geography breathing geometry, the double fledged Logos

Maybe that last line is a jazz-handed reference to the Chalcedonian Definition, I don’t know, and maybe Williams will be treating the rise of Scholasticism and Aristotelianism elsewhere (The milk rises in the breasts of Gaul, trigonometrical milk of doctrine.  Man sucks it ; his joints harden).  I don’t know.  I am not an English literature student, nor a theologian, and Williams’ poetry is heavy sledding.  I don’t think his poetry is the equal of Blake’s but it seems much more certain in its referents.  Maybe too certain.

 


It has been a couple of weeks since my long-awaited [used] copy of Taliessin Through Logres – The Region Of the Summer Stars – Arthurian Torso arrived from the used bookstore in Michigan  from which I ordered it.  It was a surprisingly good copy, well worth what I paid for it.  The edition is, I believe, pretty well known; Eerdman’s published it in 1974 and I could have picked it up for $7.95 at that time.  It’s odd, but I remember seeing it in a Christian bookstore forty years ago, and shuffling through t408832he pages.  I was familiar with CS Lewis and I had heard that Charles Williams was a friend of his.  Having puzzled my way through Many Mansions, I had already had a taste of Williams and wanted more.  The dense and deeply self-referential poetry of Williams’ Arthuriad completely defeated my casual perusal and I put the book back on the shelf.

Not too many copies of the Eerdman’s volume were published.  Maybe my recently acquired  book was the same one I held in my hands forty years ago.  Stranger things have been known to happen.

My eye was caught by a phrase that began an essay “The Coming Of The King” in the explanatory work by Charles Williams, The Figure of Arthur, which was included in the volume I purchased:

 By the twelfth century the outline of the new metaphysical civilization in Europe was taking shape

and I knew that my reading of Williams was going to be different from that of a Western Christian.  For me, the twelfth century marks an ending, not a beginning.  The “new metaphysical civilization” that arose after the sundering of Latin Christendom is for me already  a seminal apostasy, a long fading rather than a new quickening. The ruthless imposition of continental feudalism over the conciliar Anglo-Saxon polity, the suppression of the variegated local liturgies in favor of the Roman rite, to choose only two examples, speak to me more of

Union is breached; the imams stand in Sophia
Good Is God, the muzzein
calls, but lost is the light on the hills of Caucasia
glory of the Emperor, glory of substantial Being.

 As I begin to attempt to dovetail Williams’ mythology of Camelot-as-the City with my own dreams of the pre-schism eucharistic Commonwealth [however vaguely or however imprecisely that Commonwealth may have existed or not in history], I find three great burning ideas stand out to me.

  1. The Arthurian corpus, I believe, is Charles Williams’ great clearinghouse for all of his literary and theological output.  The themes that Williams touches upon in all of his writings; The Web of Exchange, Co-inherence, The Vision of the City, the Way of the Affirmation of Images and the Way of the Denial of Images, are all present here and elevated from concept to archetype, or at least as far as William201007_SFenech_taliesins’ poetic abilities are able to carry them.
  2. Charles Williams was not a Roman Catholic but an Anglican.  This is important.  Forged in Tudor politics during an uncertain time, Anglicanism as a faith has had a more elliptical orbit than other Christian bodies.  There have been times during its career when Anglicanism has wobbled close enough to Orthodoxy for the broad majority to thrive within something of a celestial “temperate zone”. I don’t want to go to far into this, but it appears to me that Charles Williams’ and CS Lewis’ time was just about optimal.
  3. Williams had the keen intuition to use the pre-Schism figure of Arthur [and the barely-historical figure of Taliessin] to anchor his romance of Christendom.  The period of time between Theodosius and Alfred the Great is an interesting time.  I always thought of pre-literate man as somewhat childlike, and high Roman culture was always more unstable in Britain than anywhere else in the Western Empire.  The fall, when it finally came, was almost total, and there was enough “wiggle room” for the collective mythopoetic imagination to begin to accrete material around a minor Brythonic warlord with a shallow gloss of Romanitas, much as an oyster around a grain of sand, until the pearl of legend emerged.

Charles Williams’ Englishness is, among other things, something I would like to discuss before I tackle the daunting task of exegeting his Arthurian poetry.  Like many Americans, I have something of a fantasy England tucked away somewhere in my heart.  It is composed of bits and pieces of English high and popJohn_Constable_The_Hay_Wainular culture that I have ingested over the years; a bit of Tolkien’s Shire, a bit of Lewis’ Oxford, landscapes from Gainsborough and Constable, screaming teenaged girls from A Hard Day’s Night, plenty of Downton AbbeyChariots Of Fire, and Brideshead Revisted, both the Waugh novel and the Granada TV adaptation.

I was surprised at how well my American fantasy England weathered my exposure to the real article in the early 80s when I spent four months in the UK, visiting all four “nations” [Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England] in succession.  What I experienced during my visit was more of a confirmation of my fantasy England, and an amplification and broadening of it, than it was a repudiation of it.

An English friend suggested to me that what I was experiencing was what the English themselves called “Deep England”.  “Deep England” is part nostalgia for a simpler life more attuned to the natural rhythms of the English countryside, part fable about a vanishing face-to-face village life, part family oral history, and a large dollop of national self-deception.  Nevertheless, it has a powerful pull on the national sentiment.  “Deep England” could be classist, different things for different people.  A retired slate miner would wax sentimental about the days  when the mines were humming and one’s mates had plenty of energy for sport and plenty of money to spend in the pubs.  An Anglican parish priest would sigh and remember a “time when the Church had more influence in people’s lives.”  “Deep England” seemed to be something which you were always perpetually losing, something that was always just slipping away.  For me, an outsider, the musical expressions of this “Deep England” will always be the austerely beautiful “Pastoral” Symphony #3 of Ralph Vaughan Williams, or a church choir performing that unsurpassably mad hymn by William Blake, “Jerusalem”.

As an American, it is hard to know what to make of this Englishness.  Whatever it is, we don’t have it, although we speak a common language.  Eight generations of republican life now separate us from the  fountains of “Deep England”, and all that remains is the notion of an Anglo-Saxon Protestant as a kind of gold standard for white people.  In a way, it is kind of a collective unconscious mythopoeia, a mythopoeia built up scrap by scrap from the raw material of language, climate, and a long tenancy on the land.  From this mythopoeia, all of the particular myths forged by Englishmen down through the long years have their provenience.

Already I am thinking about what Williams’ Arthur poetry is most like.  If it is idiosyncratic and difficult, it is idiosyncratic and difficult in a particularly English way.  Like William Langland’s Piers Plowman,  the prophetic work of William Blake, or the contemporary Gnosticism of David Lindsey’s A Voyage To Arcturus.


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All of my life, and it has not been a short one, I have been interested in what is called by students of literature the matter of Britain, and its best known segment, the stories and legends of King Arthur.  I cannot remember my first exposure to the stories of the Round Table, but it was either by means of Andrew Lang’s Tales of King Arthur with the wonderful Art Nouveau illustrations by H.J. Ford,  or the Walt Disney animated movie  The Sword In The Stone.  I am leaning to the first, because The Sword In The Stone came out in 1963, when I was trembling on the brink of adolescence, and I already knew that Merlin was a darker and more powerful figure than Disney’s avuncular buffoon.  The movie version of Camelot came out about this time as well.

In the years that followed, I devoured T.H. White’s  The Once and Future King, puzzled my way through Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Mort D’Arthur,  and discovered that even John Steinbeck had set his pick into the Arthurian trench.  The result was his last work of fiction; The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights.  Since the 1970s, there have been several other works of Arthurian fiction that I have enjoyed as well; Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave and the sequels, Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle, Nikolai Tolstoi’s The Coming Of The King.

What attracts me to the stories of Arthur and his knights is the matter of the Grail.  The Grail lifts the whole Matter of Britain out of the realm of Story and into the realm of myth and metaphysics.  It is interesting to me that Malory devoted most of Le Mort D’Arthur to the achievement of the Grail.  The adulterous love affair between Guinevere and Lancelot doesn’t appear to have much occupied him, although since Tennyson and the Victorians, the love story has been center stage, and the Grail forgotten.   The Grail stories, though, are where the real mythopoetic power of the Arthurian material resides.

Charles Williams dealt with the stories of Arthur in two volumes of poetry, possession which I have just recently come into  after an extended search. He deals almost exclusively with the Grail, and with the mystical aspects of the Arthurian stories.  I would like to do a read-through of his poetry, although it is famously difficult.  I am not a Williams scholar.  I can’t go to the Kilby collection and dig up old letters of his, and there is a lot of introductory material to get out of the way first.

But I have been promising myself that I would do this, and it’s high time I started to do something worthwhile with this moribund blog anyway.


Ray pitched the job to Kenny and I in the depths of a Michigan January early in Richard Nixon’s second administration.  Ray’s older brother Otis was going through a nasty divorce, and he needed someone to drive his Mercedes 280SL from Oxnard, California to Tillamook, Oregon.  Ray wanted some company, but most of all, he wanted somebody to drive his Opel Kadette while he drove the Mercedes.  Ray, Kenny, and I were an oddly assorted trio.   Ray was a clean-cut, buttoned-down sort, studying finance at a state university way before finance was cool.  He kept his hair short and his face clean-shaven.  Kenny was a transplant from eastern Kentucky, a long-haired “hillbilly” with a gentle, dreamy side, and a very talented guitar player.  I was a hippie’s hippie, and I worked with both of them in a chemical dye factory that was on strike.

We drove out to Oxnard, California in Ray’s Opel, where we picked up the court papers that let us take possession of Otis’ Mercedes convertible.  Under the suspicious eye of Otis’ soon-to-be ex-wife, we headed north to Oregon.  It took us more than a week, since we were in no hurry to return to Michigan only to hang around waiting for the strike to end.  There were the usual intoxicancfiles7808ts involved, but in retrospect that isn’t what I remember most about the trip.  We decided to take California Highway 1 up the coast, camping along the way.  The scenery was spectacular, The weather remained flawless even as we moved north of San Francisco into the Redwood country and up into Oregon.

Most of all, I remember the people we encountered on the way.  We picked up hitch-hikers.  Our unusual cars and Kenny’s guitar opened a lot of doors for us that ordinarily would have remained closed even in those freewheeling days.  If I had kept a notebook, I would have had enough to populate a Dickens novel with picaresque characters.   There was Selene, the Indian hooker we picked up in Ventura and whose Gujarati pimp, who turned out to be a really capital fellow, showed up to collect her in San Luis Obispo.  There was Mike the reluctant Mafia guy, who said he really wanted to run a car lot like his father in Lompoc.  There was Jack, the hitch-hiking preacher, who delivered a hair-raising exegesis of the book of Revelation around the campfire the one night he spent with us, and who was impressed with all the old-timey gospel songs Kenny knew on his guitar.

There was the dark-haired, dark-eyed, guitar-bodied Maria Altagracia Mendoza, as beautiful and as emotionally fragile as Lucia di Lammermoor and nearly as self-destructive, along with her Brillo-haired handler/lover/therapist Rosemary.  Maria e837324a75b8b7f184fa70b936ca79c0Altagracia claimed to be a direct descendant of a Spanish count who had been given land grants in the area, and she demanded to be called “Countess”.  Rosemary never claimed to be anything except a San Francisco Giants fan, but it was amazing how well she kept the “Countess” on an even keel.

There was Davie, and Pete his Native American “blood brother”, who we picked up between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.  Davie was hitchhiking in to buy a carton of cigarettes and ended up going with us all the way up to Redding.   We hung around Coos Bay for a weekend while Kenny tried to convince Rachel to come with us.  We were just outside of Newport when we found out Rachel wasn’t 19 as she claimed, but 14.  It was a chance for Ray to find out what his brother’s Mercedes was capable of as he drove the 100 miles back to Rachel’s house and still pulled into his brother’s driveway only a half an hour after we did.

I decided to fly back to Michigan from Portland, and Ray and Kenny drove back in the Kadette.  It was a sad feeling, as all of us knew we would never probably be together again, and certainly not as happy as we had been.  It was true.  Three months later, I had a come-to-Jesus moment and ended up in a Central Florida Bible college.  Ray finished his degree in finance, married, and I lost track of him.  I ran into Kenny late in the decade at his older sister’s wedding.  He had had a “come-to-Jesus” moment of his own, and it made mine seem mundane by comparison.

“I was on the beach in Maine, walking my sister’s dog’, he explained.  ‘It was January, just like when we went to California with Ray, remember?  Something happened though.  I had been reading Pascal’s Pensées, and thinking about what he meant about the Fire, when suddenly the heavens opened.  My sister’s dog escaped from the leash and went running down the beach as fast as he could.”  Kenny curved his hand for emphasis.  “The curve of the dog’s back was like, perfection, you know?  And I saw the fire, Pascal’s fire, coming down from heaven, except that it was inside everything; me, the dog, the waves, the clouds, the other people on the beach, everything.”

higginsHe continued explaining his vision.  “I knew then that God loved us all, in Christ, in a way that I could never put into words.  There was a warmth in my chest that made me sweat, even though the wind was cold.  I couldn’t stop crying, or smiling.  One man walked up to me and said he had never seen anybody who looked as happy as I did, but i couldn’t put into words what I wanted to say to him.  ‘I love you’ I finally told him, and I think it kind of freaked him out.”

“It was like when you and Ray and me went out to California to help his brother with his divorce.  That was a really happy time for me, man, for all of us.  I know we didn’t know the Lord then, but it was a real special time we had together.   This was like all that, but melted down and pressed together into a single afternoon, into a single point.  Here’s the thing, Mule, the whole Universe is like that.”

I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t admit I was jealous of Kenny and his mystical experience, although I’m glad he shared it with me as far as he could.  Kenny has dropped completely out off the map.  He doesn’t have a social media presence, and his sister says he was accepted into an arts and design school in the late 90s, but never showed up for classes.

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