Monday, March 23, 2015

Of Scars and Stories (The Cathedral: A Reprise)

Of Scars and Stories 

People with scars are the most beautiful things in the world. Without them, we are like an eye that has never shed a tear, or a tongue that has never bathed in laughter. A night sky, without a single star.
Scars represent struggles. They reveal something deep and real and beautiful, even though we cringe, and feel our stomachs turn at the sight of them. Struggles are stories. And stories are life.
Not all scars are visible. Some of them linger, just under the surface, or some deep down, where light has never touched. But all people have scars.
They are proof of life past and life to come. Road-markers. Reminders. Like day-dreams and dog-eared pages. Scars are our way of saying “I’ve made it this far. (And maybe I can make it a little farther, yet.)”

The truth is that we are all jars of clay. Earthen bones, vessels pulled from the ground, more breakable than glass and cheap as dirt. We are easily broken, body and soul. And like clay jars, whenever we are cracked or chipped or outright shattered, what hides inside us is revealed.
And like the things of dust that we are, we weren’t made for shelf life, either—we expire much too quickly for that. We weren’t made for mint condition—we gave that up the moment we took our first breath.
We were made for trenches. We were made to be broken open, and prove what is inside us. Made to rocket through the world like a penny, collecting grime and fingerprints from a thousand places, and to be rattled clean at the end. We ricochet like bullets, in our little, orbiting lives, racing from one moment to the next with hardly time for pause.
Scars are stories. Stories are scars.
Stories written in skin and soul and etched in the sinews of the heart. We are scars on the skin of this hurtling sphere, living scars, histories and memories and salt.

So roll up your sleeves, or pull off your shirt. Tear off your mask, and show me all of the grime and the claw-marks on your face, from when you were close enough to feel the devil's breath. Get rid of anything that hides you. Show me your scars and I will show you mine. Show me the signs that tell where you’ve been, and a glimpse of your tattered heart, so I can see where you’re going. Pin them to your chest like medals, badges of weakness, signs not of what storms you survived, but of what your faithful captain has brought you through. 
Show me your scars, and tell me your stories. I’ll show you mine, like He showed me His. Mine gruesome and gaping and rotten, the holes left behind by chains, peeled, tugged and pried from my flesh.
His only three—made by nails, and a spear. And yet, His scars and mine share the same story.
The Story of a God who spoke a universe, who forged every moment and watched every one of them poisoned. A God who suffered every ounce of pain he witnessed, who watched his bride kidnapped and ravaged and who did not remain idle. A God who entered this world through a woman to relieve the curse of all mankind. A universal God, who folded himself into a child, and grew to break the curse.
He died to prove His infinite love—and he rose again to prove His infinite power.
God was poured out, into a clay jar of its own. A shallow, breakable body, cracking in the cold and baking in the sun. He who spoke the earth into being and drew life from its emptiness, humbled to fill that which he drew from the ground, spinning on this temporal potter’s-wheel. When that jar was splintered, the light spilled out; all the light of heaven, the light of truth and goodness. It lit up the universe, with a story. A struggle, between light and dark, that was over.
And that glow was poured out, into all of those fragile vessels called to His service, to burn inside them.  Vessels of clay, full of heaven’s treasure. With every crack, we release the light that we contain, until we shine like lamps in the darkness. With every scar, with every hurt, every hardship, we prove not the light of what is in us. But who is in us. 
Every time we are broken, body and soul, we become not something more whole—but something more wholly His. Something a little more like the treasure entrusted to us.  
We are vessels of clay, sculpted to tell stories. Made to be scarred. Made to point to something all our lives, and to keep on pointing, at their end. For through our scars, our struggles, our stories, we reveal something more about the healer, the overcomer, and the storyteller.
And the truth is that my story and His have the same character. And it sure isn’t me.
My scars speak of Him. Because His scars speak of me.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Betrothed (Part 3)

The Betrothed—Part 3

In the Kingdom of light, the King stood upon the wall, with his shining son beside him. “The Time is come,” declared the father. “Though she remembers us not, she has suffered enough. My son, the task is yours, for she is yours.”
Without sword, and without armor, the Prince went down, into the dark city, and all the savage people spilled around him. The kings of the city, with their sons and the men of the earth, surrounded him, as he stood at the door of Zion’s den. And she could not hide from his voice, as he called her.
“Zion!” He called. “It is time to come home.”
But in her terror and her guilt, she cowered and did not go down to meet him. Again he called, until, the third time, he pushed open the door, and went into her. He found her there, beside the bed, almost unrecognizable in her filth, too afraid to look at him. She tried to hide, but he found her, and looked at her with such a pity in his eyes that his gaze seemed to burn her.
Though she pulled away from him, he knelt in front of her, and grasped her hand, though she tried to pull it back. He saw that she wore no ring, and she knew, with the weight of shame crashing like waves inside her, that she could not go back. And now, he knew it as well.
And yet, his eyes were without anger. She wished that he would be angry, but he was not. Instead, he held her hand tightly, as he took the ring from his own finger, and slid it onto hers, ignoring her objections.
“Though you turned your back on the King,” he said, “Though you’ve turned away from me, I have come again. I will take your place, here. And you shall take mine. None may enter the kingdom, except those who share the King’s blood; so long as this sign is yours, that blood beats in your veins as well, as his adopted. No more will you play the whore; no more shall you be faithless. No more shall you suffer.”
She protested, but to no avail, and though she tried, the ring would not come off her hand. The messengers of the King entered the room and they took her in their arms, bearing her swiftly away. None of the people of the city stood to stop them, as the Prince entered the street again, without arm, without even decoration.
“You have rights to her no more,” cried the Prince. “For she is of the Bloodline of the King. But see that now, I stand in her place, faithful to the faithless. I, who was once the heir of your enemy—I am yours. A child of the earth. Do to me as you please.” 
So the men of the city seized him, seeing that he was unarmed, and they beat him and branded him and slathered him in filth. But no matter how they sought to mar him, the glow of his face shone through, and the light of him hurt their eyes. They dragged him to the open palace, the sepulcher of the world, and there they tore him, in the sight of all.
Zion, though she was already outside of the city, turned, and she could see, even from a distance, the cruelties, the monstrosities done to him, even as she was borne to safety. With every scream of pain or pleasure that reached her, she found her weeping only harder, her pain only more severe.
But then, the pained groans ceased, and there were only the cheers. In the palace of the earth, his body fell, broken and lifeless, in a pool of his own bright blood, mingling with the filth of the street, staining the gathered feet and fists that beat him.
The prince’s body was taken up, and the crowds paraded him throughout the city. Their enemy was dead. The one they feared was no more. His body, cold, empty of life, they threw into the alleys, with the other deathly things, and the children pelted it with stones.
Night came upon them. But Zion had already reached the hedge, and when they neared, the thorns and vines peeled away, at the signet that she wore. The servants of the King carried her up, into the palace, and the King met her there, cradling her in his great arms, with his own sweet tears spilling onto her head, as hers fell onto his hands. 
When night came, the people of the city left the body there. From the top of the walls, the King watched, with little Zion asleep, in his arms, as the people chanted and sang, celebrating the death of their enemy, spilling their wine and their filth to mingle with the Prince’s blood, on the palace steps. They sang themselves to sleep, and in the streets they slept, heaped up like the beasts of a kennel.

But in the street, the Prince opened his eyes. He rose, from the street, from the death and the misery that surrounded him, and he left the city alone. Though his blood soaked his clothes, his wounds were healed. The great hedge opened, at the touch of his hand, and the gates parted, to admit his entrance.
Around him, the creatures of the kingdom poured, with cheers and praise, and with wonder in their eyes at this miracle. The King, and Zion beside him, came down to meet him there. And Zion, weeping, collapsed around his knees.
“How?” She cried. “How do you stand before me, even now, though they killed you?”
“Death is the inheritance of all of those who have turned their back on their King,” replied the Prince, as he lifted her. “It is the judgment of all of those, who have chosen the lower world, and who seek its pleasures. But for those in whose veins the blood of the Kingdom flows, the cage of death has no might, and the wrath of the dark world has no sting.”
He took his betrothed in his arms again, and took her up to her chamber in the palace of the king, where he laid her, wrapped in the garments of her safety. But still, she held him, when he set her down, staring into his eyes, and seeming to fall into their depth. “Why?” She wept. “Why did you do this? Why have you suffered so much, for me?”
“To prove my love to you,” he said, “I have endured all things. Now, I have won you. I have purchased you, with my own blood. No more shall you fly to the darkness; for no more shall it have any hold in you. No more are you the offspring of its womb. Now, you are the offspring of my love.”
And as she slept, safe and soundly in her bed, the Prince turned aside to his father, with a deep and fuming wrath within his heart. “My father,” he called, “too long this beast has reigned. I would suffer its darkness no longer. I would take my bride; I have bought her, and bound her in love. But first, I would finish what has been begun. I would avenge the honor robbed her.”
The King nodded to him. “Go; do what shall be done.”
 With eyes like blazing fire, the Prince took on his armor, and lifted his great sword, and strung his bow, turning against the dark kingdom, below. Though the gates were closed to him, his war-hammer split them down the middle, and the shaking, rumbling walls gave out. Light, blinding and complete, spilled into the street at his back.
And all of Zion’s abusers, the kings and the princes of the city, the lords and the deceivers, gathered and squealed in fear, crying, “You were dead! We killed you!”
“The cage of death has no rights to claim me, and neither have they any rights to claim she, that you ravaged, whom I have died for. But for you, this day, sons of darkness, there is only death.” 
With his great blade, he struck them down in heaps, though they came against him, and he broke their swords like straw, and their shields like dry leaves. His rage was like a lion’s, as he tore through their streets. His arrows were like lightning bolts, shattering their high towers and bring down the crumbling stones, as he hunted down the lords and their wicked sons, piling them in the temple where they served their kings of death.
In the palace of the earth, with his bare hands upon the pillars, he pulled the foundations up, and buried the bodies in a tomb of their own worship. With the fire of his wrath, he burned the ruins, and the chains, which tethered the worlds together, he tore away, and the place of shadow slid away, into destruction, and was no more.  

To the Kingdom of Light, the Prince returned. And there, where the light shone, glorious and magnificent, he came to his chosen bride. Gone was the darkness inside her; gone was the hunger for that place that was no more, as she saw the great scars he wore, each one laid upon him in her place. She was at peace, content in the presence of her rescuer, as he spoke softly beside her.
“So long as you bear that signet, you are the daughter of the King, by every right,” he told her, the words familiar. “Not only an image of him; but a bearer of his blood and name. Such am I. But His blood is within my veins, already. For I am the image that you wear; I am the image of Him, the firstborn of his blood. But now, you shall share my blood. You shall share the lineage of the King, himself.”
And he raised her, stronger than ever she had been, fairer than ever she had been. In his presence, her light returned; and in his shadow, her love for him grew more and more, until all that she once longed for seemed like the longings of a wandering child. No more did she and the king walk in the gardens, as before; for now, the gardens were being cleared, and a place for a wedding prepared.
As evening came, so stood Zion, crowned in beauty, beside the Prince. Once, a very different creature; once nothing at all. She that had been nothing had been made everything—for the King of everything gave up the treasure worth it all, to make her His.
Her wedding gown was made from the scars she yet wore, and his was the scars he bore for her. But even then, as the light of the feast fell upon her, it seemed that the lines on her body started to fade; healing with his every touch.
She, the Betrothed of Heaven, estranged from the world that once rotted inside her. And though it lingered, in her memory, in that moment, and in all the moments that followed, it seemed to serve no purpose but to strengthen her love for the light, in which she had been brought to stand.
For stand she did; but only with her hand in his. She was strong in a victory that she could not claim, though it is her battle that had been ended. It was His victory, the glory of the love that had found her in the darkness, the love that brought her home, to make whore a queen. The love that chose a loveless child of ruin; faithful to the faithless.
And in the Kingdom of Light, glorious and magnificent, there reigned the King, with a perfect heart, and at his right hand the Prince. And beside the Prince, his bride; and though she seems a slight ornament, in such a place, she is the completion of its grandeur. For in her, the love of the Prince shone out, the brightest of any light that hung in the sky.
And all who dwelt in that place were never dry of joy. 

An Author’s Note:
If you’ve made it this far in the story, I have to admit that I am not only tickled and impressed, but grateful. I hope that it has, at least to some extent, stirred your heart to a degree
The story of Zion has a lot of parallels, and I’m not going to try to point them all out here. To explain them would be to take away the power of imagery, and I’d rather not negate the whole point of the Betrothed if I can help it.
But one thing I will address—who is Zion? There are lots of answers, to that one. She is a character with dozens of parallels. Most of her character, and the inspiration for the story in general, came from the book of Hosea, which has rapidly become one of the most powerful books of the Bible to me. But on a larger scale, the story of Zion is the story of the whole Old Testament, the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen, undeserving people, and his constant, faithful tenderness in bringing them back to him, and eventually, his purchase of her through the death of his son. It is the story of the chosen people of Israel becoming the chosen people of the world.
But it is also something much more personal. Because after all of the parallels, and under all of the imagery, Zion is me. Zion is my own unfaithfulness, her heart is my heart, her hunger for a dying world is my own. Her struggles, her aches and pains, I know them all.
And yet, thanks to the grace of God, I know the mercy of the rescuer that I attempted to capture in the character of the prince. I understand—feebly and imperfectly—the love that he has for her, and the love that my own rescuer bears for me. I know Grace, as it has been poured over me, as I have drowned in it, and felt my stains removed by his bleaching blood.

Zion is me, and humanity in general. And just like her, I am saved, rescued to live a life greater than any I could have imagined.