He crouched down by the water, watching the small brook rush upon the stones. He dipped his left hand in and let the deep coolness play upon his fingers for a moment. He reached for a stone, small and dark, and brought it forth.
He studied it as he patted his hand dry against his thigh. The stone was dark gray, mottled with black specks and the slightest twinge of red. He bounced it in his hand two or three times. Heavy enough. The right size. Pretty, too. He reached for his bag and placed the rock in the well-worn leather pouch.
He’d always loved collecting rocks. He liked to choose just the right ones, for shape or size, or simply for that certain something that just seemed... right. A diamond, a ruby, these things meant very little to him. But a nice rock. That was something special. Sometimes, he liked to use his knife to etch a message into its surface.
Again he dipped his hand into the water, and this time pulled out a small but heavy red stone, black veins coursing through it, and smooth from the rhythms of the river. He turned it in his hands for a moment, inspecting it with furrowed brow. A little small, but this, too, he placed in his satchel.
Twice more he pulled stones from the river, and placed them in his pack.
Again, he knelt down and pulled one more stone from the brook. This one was squarish, but smooth. From his belt, he pulled out a sling. It was made of tightly wound wool, worn and stained with time and a thousand stones. He put the squarish rock in its small, curved leather pouch, held both ends of the sling in his strong left hand, and whirled it at his side.
Across the wadi was a tree. Its branches dead with age, it was gray and had a large knot just below the fork of its decaying branches. The sling spun at his side, until he carefully raised it above his head, and took aim. The sound of the whistling cord filled his ears until, with a grunt and squint, he let go, sending the stone flying.
Lord, I’m gonna need to do better than that.
He picked up another stone, placed it in the sling’s satchel, and took aim once again, his brows curled with concentration.
For Israel, and for the name of our God.
The stone flew, straight and true, hitting the tree across the river with a thok, missing its target by inches.
“Better,” he sighed, “but bad.”
For a third time, he dipped his hand in the river, and placed a stone in the sling. He breathed deeply.
Lord, I know you can do this. I know that I can’t without you.
The whirling sling sung above his head, and after a moment, he let fly the stone. He watched it spiral and soar above the water, praying as it flew.
The stone hit the knot, and stayed there.
He scampered across the shallow waters to inspect what he could hardly believe. He ran his fingers across the embedded stone, his lips parted in awe.
“This is good,” he whispered. “This is very good.”
He pried the stone from the bark, inspecting it, almost expecting to discover something in the stone that held a secret. He placed it in his satchel.
“Five stones,” he smiled. “A good number.”
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
He sat under the tree, the pages of scripture resting in his hands. His eyes, however, were gazing upward, and traveling from the branches, ripe with figs, to the open sky. Wisps of white floated above him, playing with the sunlight as they passed.
A small bird called out as it lit upon a branch nearby in a flutter of tiny wings. She rested there a moment, long enough to cock a studious glance at the bearded young man. His eyes met hers, and she called out a verse. She paused, and in another flutter she rose again. He watched her swoop and rise and disappear behind the building beyond the small, green field his fig tree called home.
His eyes came to rest once again at the open page before him.
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre...
Abraham. Our father. The one who left his country, his family, his home to venture out into the great unknown.
He thought of his own town. The dirty, nothing, little city he called home. He could count the number of streets on two hands, but somehow, he felt lost there. Life beyond its walls did not seem impossible, but close enough to impossible to seem unreachable. To where could he fly if he did leave? The dirty, nothing little town next door?
His heart felt anchored, chained, to everything familiar. Family, expectations, and the weight of a life without vision. To leave it all would require a call as deep and dramatic as that of Father Abraham. But God was not appearing in the great trees of Cana, with angels making impractical announcements that made a person laugh with hope and disbelief.
He thought of Abraham, of flight and of freedom and of angels, and a stab of jealousy for the ancient father ran through him. His hand was wiping away the water at the corners of his eyes when his heart leaped into his throat. A great flurry of feathers landed above his head.
“God! You scared me to death!” he said.
The culprit, a haggard, grey pigeon with pink eyes, preened his wings and stared back. He cooed a raspy hello, and in another flurry of whining wings, he was in the air and winging west and south toward Nazareth.
“You’re headed in the wrong direction, my friend,” he muttered.
He sighed, glancing down once again at the page before him, and his eyes came to rest at the words of the angel.
Is anything too hard for the Lord?
“Maybe this is.”
For a moment, all was silence as he stared upon the story on the page. And for a moment, he thought he heard a silent voice somewhere in the stillness.