Saturday, June 26, 2010


Everything came washing over her, not in an instant, but in an ever flowing moment.  Images of every secret kept and shame concealed came rushing over her in a torrent of grace.  There was pain in the reliving, but also release.  Her tears rolled on, and as she wept her tears became a rushing river which engulfed her seven times.

She saw herself in a new dress, a girl of eleven.  Her hair was dark and long, and spilled gracefully upon her shoulders. She had a small jar of scented oil, which she dolloped behind her ears, and took a deep breath of the fragrance.  It was sweet, and deep, and made her think of roses. She sang to herself, until she saw the opening of the door, and watched her father enter the room.

She felt his hand on her thigh.  She saw the closing of the door.  She felt the tickling of the tears streaming back upon her face and onto her earlobes, where the perfume lay, still filling the room with its scent.

She saw her father entering her room again and again, closing the door.  She felt his hand upon her shoulder, holding her in place.  She saw his eyes across the table as they dined with affluent friends, eyes that told her this was a secret she could never speak of.  She saw the closing of the door.

She saw the face of the first boy that looked at her the same way her father did, and the closing of another door.  She saw the second, and even the third, but the rest took on just one face:  her father’s.

She saw the money shining in a pile next to her bed, the first time she took charge and made them pay.  It had shimmered dully in candlelight, almost pretty.  But it bore a seed of shame deep within her.  This is all I’m worth, she thought.  It’s all that I am.  Soon there were no candles; only back alleys and roach-infested corners, and the face of her father, and somehow, the closing of a door.

For years without number, and days without end, there was the closing of a door.

Until him.  One day, as barren as any other, there was a new face, and he looked her in the eyes from across the street.  He smiled, only as a gift, with no expectation.  She did not smile back, but she held that smile he’d given her somewhere in the corner of her heart.  Many men smiled at her before, but it had always cost her something.  This one was free.

As she now recalled it, she could almost hear the rusted hinges creaking open as he spoke to her the second time she’d seen him.  Through her present tears, she laughed for just a moment at the memory of his first words to her.

“Hi.  Would you like to join us for lunch?”

An invitation.  An open door.

She had made some excuse not to join them, but she never forgot the invitation.  She saw him many times since then, and it was always the same.  He asked her every time, with that wide, open smile, “Would you like to join us?”  It was a doorway into something big, and it was always open.  What lay on the other side of it was immense, and spacious, and terrifying.

Today, he had been walking past her corner again, and paused to find her.

“Hi, Helen!  How are you?”

She smiled.  “Not too bad.  Better since you’re here.”

“We’re having dinner at my friend’s house.  Do you want to come?”

“No,” she said.  “I need to work.”

“Well it’s just up here, to the left.  Do you know Simon?”

She wanted to laugh out loud for just how well she knew Simon, but only said, “Yeah... I think so.”

“We’re having dinner there.  You’re welcome to join us.”

“Thanks.  I’ll think about it.”

She watched him walk away, and waved a good-bye.  Somewhere inside her, she knew that he himself was that doorway into something grand.  It still scared her to death.  But this day, this barren, ordinary day, she would walk through it.

An hour later, she was knocking on Simon’s door.

“Come in!” Jesus said, before the owner of the house had a chance to speak.

The door opened, and a beautiful girl with long, dark hair stood quivering in the frame.  In her hand she held a small jar of scented oil.  She saw him, and he smiled, and she broke.

She ran to his feet, and wept upon them a stream of unbounded love.  The spirit of humility had been slowly killing the spirit of shame for a some time now.  Tonight, it had finished the deed.  For the first time, she felt she could be forgiven.  For the first time, she believed she could forgive.

She took the jar of perfume, and poured it upon his feet, and kissed them.  She tenderly dried his feet with her hair, which fell like a mantle upon them.

“Your sins have been forgiven,” he whispered.

“I know,” she said, and smiled.  “Thank-you.”

“You’re worth more than you know.”

She smiled again.  “I’m starting to believe that.”

“Your faith has saved you, Helen.  There’s an open door.  Walk on in peace.”

She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath of freedom.  It was sweet, and deep, and made her think of roses.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Other Cheek

“You will not do this.”

His face was set like flint.  The girl was on the ground behind him, her mother gathering her in her arms, the two of them quickly and fearfully backing away.

The Attacker drew his eyes upon the man now standing between he and his prey, and moved closer.

“I will do what pleases me.  Get out of my way.”

The Man Between did not move.  He was at least two inches shorter, and gazed upward toward the Attacker.  He spoke the words again.

“You will not do this.”

The back of the Attacker’s hand met his face swiftly, and with great strength.  A ring caught him just below his right eye, and his cheek was instantly emblazoned with a thin slash of blood.  He felt rage, both alien and immediate, welling up within him as he righted himself to face the Attacker.

Once more, he drew the Attacker’s sight to his own.  The Man Between looked into his eyes with alarming intensity.  He seemed to be searching for something behind them.  In a moment, there was a look of recognition.  He found what he was looking for.

“If it pleases you, you may strike me again, child.  But place it on this cheek.”  He held a finger to the left side of his beard.

Instantly he felt the blinding strike of the attacker’s fist.  He righted himself again, his mouth filling with blood, his teeth throbbing.  For the third time, he drew the Attacker’s eyes to his own.

“It pleases me.” the Attacker said, spat in his face, and walked away.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


The young man sat in the shade of a small tree.  It was the heat of the day, on a day that felt as thirsty as the dogs that lay panting in the nooks and slivers of shadow.  A sparrow lit upon a ledge, its tiny beak open, too tired to sing. Few people were busy about the small town.  Three men sat under the awning of a shop’s front door, not speaking, keeping an indolent eye on the street.

A man walked wearily toward him, a lone figure in the empty avenue.  He was a foreigner,  a soldier.  The three watchmen blankly followed him with their eyes, somehow giving the impression of both contempt and apathy.  The young man could see the soldier’s face shining with perspiration.  His shield was strapped to his back, and over his shoulder he carried a large tent pole.  With it was a simple wooden cross frame, his bedroll tied across the top and from which dangled a large pack and sundries.  A metal canteen and a small cooking pot clanked noisily with each step, echoing down the silent street.  

The foreigner was not an officer, just a simple soldier with a lot to carry.  “Marius’ Mules,” they were often called.  It was a fitting epithet for a legionary who carried his whole life wherever he went.

The young man hid a smile as the soldier, drawing closer, cursed in his native tongue and stopped under the shade of the young man’s tree.  He set down his shield and tent pole, then laid down his cross and pack with a grunt and a sigh.

The young man greeted the soldier with a quick grin and his best latin, though he was self-conscious of his accent.  The soldier jerked his head in a nod as he rested his hands on his knees.  He took his canteen and drank deeply.

“Gods, it’s hot.  I don’t know how you people do it,” he said.

“Neither do I,” the young man answered.

The soldier was taken aback by the local’s latin.  “Hello” and “Yes, sir” were all that most people in these parts knew.

“You speak latin, Jew?”

“Not very well.”

“Well enough,” said the soldier, and finished the last of his water.  “Get me more.”

He handed the young man his empty canteen.

The young man stood and took it obediently.  The soldier watched as he ambled over to a nearby water jar, drew water, and filled it.  He returned and handed back the container.

The two stood in silence for a long moment.  He looked up the street.  He glanced quickly from the corner of his eye at the young man, and turned to look down at the other end of the street.  He sighed.  A bird found the energy to chirp.  He spoke.

“Take up my cross.  Follow me.  I’m going to Simonias. You will go with me half way.”

The young man smiled.  “That’s more than one mile, you know.”

The soldier scowled.  “What I have said, I have said.  You will follow me half way.  Do you understand?”

The young man nodded pleasantly.  “Just wanted to make sure you knew.”

“I would use less of that latin, if I were you.  Take up my cross.”

The young man lifted the heavy shield onto his shoulders.  He took up the tent pole, and awkwardly flung the cross frame over his shoulder.  The legionary was already on his way.  The young man quickly adjusted his load and, in a flurry of clinks and clanks, caught up.  He followed a few feet behind.

The two walked past the last shop on the street and out into the open road.  Neither spoke, and the silence between them stretched on for half a mile.

The young man watched the soldier’s feet in front of him as each step kicked up a small flurry of dust.  He studied the soldier’s shoes.  After a solid two minutes of study, he spoke.

“Do you make your own shoes, or do you have a shoe maker?”

The soldier looked over his shoulder, and turned back to face the road.  He seemed to consider ignoring the question, but relented.

“We have a man.”

The young man studied the shoes a little longer.

“They look well made.  Do you need to fix them often?”

The soldier glanced at him again.

“No,” he said.  “It’s one piece of leather.”

“No stitching, then?”

“Only on the heel.”


The two walked on, the sun showing little mercy as it made it’s way through the barren sky.  The straps dug disagreeably into the young mans shoulders, and the tent pole was tricky to balance.  There was silence, except for the scrunch of the soldier’s leather sandals on the ground, and the rattle and sway of the young man’s burden.  Sweat poured from his forehead, and the salt stung his eyes.  He felt the perspiration gather at the back of his neck, and travel down his spine in a refreshing trickle.

“May I have some of you water?” he asked.

Your water.  No.”

“ ‘Your water.’ Thank-you.”

They walked on.

“What is you name?”

Your name.”

“Right.  Your name. What is your name?”

Another moment teetered on the edge of ignorance, till finally,


“Placidus.  Good to meet you.  I am Jesus.”

“Jesus.  Be quiet.”

He was quiet.

Simonias drew closer with each step.  In theory.  The aching in his shoulders and the sweat that now seemed to swathe him said otherwise.  The shield, wrapped in goatskin as it was, began to make an oven of his back in the afternoon sun.  They plodded on wordlessly, until the soldier stopped and turned.

“You are finished.  Go home.”

The young man looked at him, and looked at the road ahead.

“Do I have to?” he replied.

The soldier shook his head slightly.  “What?”

“Do I have to go home?”

The soldier carefully sounded his words.  The jew, apparently, had not understood him.  “You are f-i-n-i-s-h-e-d.  Complete.  Go home.”

“I know.  But you are not yet at your destiny.  I can see it from here.  I don’t mind walking on.”

“My de....”  A momentary chuckle escaped him.  “‘Destination’.  You mean ‘destination’.  You don’t have to come.  It’s at least another hour away.”

“But may I?”

“I...  You...  You want to carry my cross?”


“For another hour or more?”

“If you will let me,” said the young man, shifting the weight of the shield and pack.

The soldier stood there, a bit confounded, and more than a bit bemused.  He laughed.

“Alright.  Come along.”

The young man smiled like a boy who was just given another whirl in his father’s arms.  “Thank-you,” he said.

And the soldier laughed again.  “What did you say your name was?”

“Jesus, from Nazareth.”

“Jesus.  Good to meet you.”