Monday, February 21, 2011

I Lift My Eyes to the Hills.

He fell for a third time.  His friend fell with him.

He tasted the dirt upon his blood-stained lips, and used all his strength to try to bring himself to his hands and knees.  But the cross upon his back was too heavy, and he fell to his face and tasted the dirt once again.

It’s lighter than I expected, he had thought when it was first placed upon his shoulders.  But its heaviness had grown with each step, and doubled with each fall.  He felt it crushing the breath out of him, and tears of defeat ran from his eyes.  A voice came to him from somewhere else, but somewhere close.  It seemed to the voice a friend whispering in his ear.

It’s alright, it said.  Just let it end here.  You’ve done enough.

The idea was more tempting than anything he’d yet faced.  But a deeper voice rose up from within him.  No, it said.  This will be worth it.  Keep going.

A prayer moved almost silently upon his lips.  “Father, help me.  Please help me keep walking.”

The weight upon his back shifted, and was lifted from him.  It felt to him as great a miracle as any he had performed.  The man beside him, forced into service as he was, the man who had been walking with him for some time now, had lifted the cross.  Jesus looked to his right at the friend who was a stranger just a short time before.  The man’s eyes met his, and gave him a nod that said, “I have this.  Try again.”

Sand dug into his bloodied elbows and knees as he slowly raised himself up.  In a moment, he was back on his trembling feet.  He set his face like flint upon his destination, gave his friend a nod, and they began, slowly, to walk together.

His legs burned with strain at each step, as though his calves were made of lead.  He paused as his left foot stopped upon a wide, smooth stone.  He felt his heel shake involuntarily as he placed weight upon it to lift his right foot.  His companion sensed his struggle, and strained himself to take more of the weight, his arms trembling with tension.  The weight of the load was lightened.

“Come on,” his friend said.  “We can do this.”

It was the first the man had spoken to him.

“What is… your name?” Jesus asked through gasping breaths.

“Simon,” the man said.

A smile broke through Jesus’s bloodied face.  “I know… a Simon.  At least… he used to be.”  Something close to a laugh escaped his throat.

“I’m sure he’s a good man,” said Simon as he carefully took another step forward.

“He is.  But he doesn’t… know it yet.”  He looked up toward the top of the hill.  “It looks… much higher… from down here,” he said.  

His head pounded with pain.  He felt dizziness descend in spirals from the top of his head.  He willed his leg to move forward, and felt himself on the brink of another tumble.

Simon steadied him, and spoke something familiar.  “I lift my eyes to the hills…  From where will my help come?”

It took a moment to realize he was reciting something.  Jesus met Simon’s steady green eyes for a long moment.  He spoke in response through his pain.  “My help comes from the Lord…  the maker of heaven and earth.”  His voice was as torn as the rest of him.

“God will not allow your foot to slip,” said Simon, again lifting as much as he could of the weight of the wood from his friend’s shoulder.  “Your guardian does not sleep.”  He took another step forward.

Jesus’s left heel again began to shake violently as exhaustion threatened to take him again.  “Truly…” he said, his voice a coarse whisper, “the guardian of Israel… never slumbers nor sleeps.”

Together, they took several more steps in silence.  Simon took one more, and paused.  He laughed.  “I… can never remember… the next verse!” he confessed.

Jesus smiled weakly.  “The Lord  is your guardian.”

“The Lord is your guardian,” Simon recovered.  “The Lord is your shade at your right hand.”

At this, they both seemed to notice the striking heat of the nearly noonday sun.  It beat upon them in a steady beam, burning itself into their skin like a cattle brand.

“The sun cannot harm you by day,” continued Jesus, through something like a smile.  “nor the moon by night.”

They kept walking, creeping up the crest of the hill, as Simon began to speak the final words of the psalm.  “The Lord will guard you from all evil… will always guard your life.”  They came to the top.  Tears washed tracks through the dust on Simon’s face, as his left hand moved from the beam of wood to his friend’s shoulder.

Jesus set his eyes upon Simon’s.  “The Lord will guard your coming and going…  both now and forever.”  

This, indeed, was a promise.

The cross fell from their shoulders to the sand with a thud, covering them for a moment in a cloud of dust.  Jesus remembered the cloud that had met him not so long ago, on another hilltop, one that had been easier to climb.  His friend, the other Simon, had wanted to stay there.  One day, he would.  But that was later, after this hill, after this climb.

The cloud passed, and he did not fall.  Trembling, he knelt upon his knee, and kissed the cross that lay before him.  He felt again his friend’s hand upon his shoulder.  He lifted a hand to the one resting there.  He looked into the face of his companion.

“Thank-you,” he said.  “Thank-you.”

Simon’s green eyes shone out to him.  

“It is my honour,” he said, “to walk beside you.”


Sustar said...

An honor indeed.

Beth said...

Nice! I'm getting caught up on the blog world again finally. I really like this one and the comedic shepherds and the lunchtime missionary who healed the guy by the pool (I figure he could easily be a Christ-follower, as much as Christ...not sure if that's what you were going for, but that's what I like most about it.)
Hope Thailand is treating you well!