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Epiphany: At the hour of our death… January 6, 2014

Posted by Phil Groom in Death, Life, Theological Reflection.
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SOMETIMES the truth hits you right between the eyes and leaves you reeling. That’s epiphany, I guess, and this was one of those moments for me, especially in this year of 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

From the funeral service of an old soldier:

At the hour of our death, it is to Jesus alone that we have to justify our life. He will not look at our accomplishments, he will look at our wounds, because he came not to be our judge but to be our saviour. No one is so lost that they cannot be redeemed by Christ.

There will be a final reckoning for all of us, of that I am sure: but that reckoning will not be by what we have achieved; rather by the wounds we have borne. So many lives lost, but not one wasted: by human standards, their wounds and the price they paid may well appear wasted; but to the One who sees all and knows all, those wounds are both salvation and healing. Judgement overturned, mercy in its place; or as James the Apostle put it, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

If you look back over your life and see only a string of failings, do not be afraid: for the One to whom we must give account does not weigh us up by our successes or failures; he sees the scars inflicted along the way. Do not despair at your failings, gentle reader, and above all do not be ashamed of your wounds: they are your salvation:

He will not look at our accomplishments, he will look at our wounds, because he came not to be our judge but to be our saviour.

Howling at the Moon and a Failed Messiah April 22, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Lent & Easter, Short Story.
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I AM WOLF. I howl at the moon:

Look-look-look! Look-at-the-moon — the mooooon! The moooooooooon!

Your sheep hear my voice: they know me, and they tremble. As they should: they are easy prey by moonlight, their white coats highlighted against the darker fields, picked out by the moon — the moooooooon! They are as stupid as they are woolly, crowding together, heads inward, no lookouts, the strong pushing towards the centre, the weak exposed. Easy prey — I dash in, seize a haunch, a quick toss of my head, she flies high, I catch her by the throat: she is no longer sheep, but meat. I drag her away for peace and quiet, away from the incessant bleating and the smell of fear. Once I am gone, they quieten down.

It was easier then ever that night, brighter than ever, and the shepherds had gone, leaving only a hireling and a dog: both fled at my approach as the moon lit my path.

She is a harsh mistress, the moon. She knows no compassion in her endless rounds; and when she is full, we are lost, dazzled, beguiled, unable to hunt. Who can hunt by moonlight? We live by scent, not by sight: by moonlight our prey see us coming and they scatter to their holes, to their dens, to the air. Give us darkness, a new moon and silence — we pass you by, a whisper on the wind: you don’t know where we’ve come from or where we’re going and we ignore you. Have you any idea how disgusting human flesh tastes? Or how you smell, with your soaps and perfumes and the moon only knows what else you cover yourselves in?

When she is full, we are frustrated, we raise our heads and we cry:

Look-look-look! Look-at-the-moon — the mooooon! The moooooooooon!

Are your human minds truly as dull as your senses? You slam your doors, you lock them and double lock them, shuttering the windows to keep us out. Only your shepherds have the sense the moon gave them: they know we cannot hunt and so they gather their flocks in folds and lay themselves across the entries. True, they do not stink as the rest of you, they smell only of their charges, but still we will not cross their bodies. We know they are armed and that they will kill.

So we howl, louder and more insistently. And we remember: we remember the world as it was before you humans took it from us, when sheep were wild and the hunt was free — when a ram would charge us, enraged as we threatened his flock. But now, even the rams are tamed, pathetic creatures fathering runts on pathetic bundles of fear. You humans — you have all but destroyed our world, your world, and the closest most of you will ever come to us is a fox. Oh, what an insult, to be likened to those vermin! But that’s what you have done to our world.

Silverwind draws alongside and whispers to me: on with the story, he says, on with the story. I am too easily distracted nowadays as I await my homecoming.

You humans fear death, don’t you? Even your failed messiah sweated blood as he cried out to his father, surrounded by the sheep he had gathered around him. Human sheep, there for the slaughter as human wolves gathered around them. You are a strange breed, you humans: you fear us but you harbour far worse within your own community. I guess it’s a part of your aloneness: that none of you truly knows another or is truly known, isolated within your own minds, with your faulty, selective memories.

We wolves are never alone, even when separated from the pack; and we do not forget. We are one: one heart, one mind, one pack, one purpose, a unity stretching back through time to the first wolves who gave us birth. We inherit our ancestors’ memories as our memories are in turn inherited by our descendants, and we cannot die. True, our bodies grow old and frail, our bodies can be captured and butchered by you or your hounds as the whim takes you; and like you, we fight to survive: we do not surrender our bodies easily. But nor do we fight death when we know that our time has come: death holds no fear for us, for life is rooted in death, in rhythm and tide, in the balance of seasons.

Your failed messiah understood this, despite his fear: he knew where he came from, where he was going. He knew the power of memory, knew that his father would not forget him, and he put rituals in place to help his followers to remember. He came from a people of memory, he remembered his forebears, their fears and hopes and follies; and he lived in those memories, reawakening those fears and hopes but countering the fear with love, building on the hope with golden possibilities, with stories of enemies becoming friends. “Follow me,” he said, and they did, in droves.

This was his undoing: his popularity with the poor, with the outcasts, the weak and the lame. He welcomed them all: enemy collaborators, prostitutes and pimps. He turned no one away but bade them all to follow his way, his way of questioning and challenging the accepted way, of revisiting ancient memories and asking what they meant, where they pointed, what they could lead to.

We knew him. He loved our hills, our empty places, away from human company. He too howled at the moon, cried out to his father, wept with frustration, desperation, anger and grief. We mocked him at first: a god in human clothing. Ah, he laughed at that one and took his revenge: beware, he told his followers, beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. That made us laugh more than ever and when he returned we danced, running rings around him as he dipped and dived and tried to keep up.

Failed Messiah, we called him, and he accepted the name — the name, the shame and the blame. He knew that he could not succeed: too many opposed him, too many had invested too much in the system that had brought them their wealth and status. But he refused to back down, to walk away: memory and hope drove him forward.

So you killed him. “He dances with wolves,” they said, and one of his own sheep, a wolf in sheep’s clothing but without a wolf’s honour, brought the dogs and the sheep ran away — all but one, but your failed messiah had seen the end from the beginning and told him to leave too.

We howled that night, howled as we had never howled before, howled until the cock crowed and the blood flowed and the human folly played itself out and he breathed his last, a failed messiah. One of the sheep found his courage and rescued the body. We gathered there that night, licked and pawed at the blood-soaked ground as his ghost moved amongst us. Silverwind, we named him, ghost of a failed messiah, who led us back into the desert and taught us to find ourselves.

We watched and we waited and his memory played true: his father remembered him and we knew, long before his followers found out. “Walk with me,” he said, “and remember the ancient paths.”

To those who remember, the ancient paths are still there, will always be there. I have walked them, I walk them still: but will you? Will you dance as he danced and risk your all to be free? Or, like so many of your kind, will you simply panic like sheep, the strong trampling over the weak as you force your way to the centre of your meaningless flock, forgetting that one day you will be the weak one pushed to the outside?

Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, he said, but be warier still of sheep who think only as sheep and of their own fortunes. There can be no life without the shedding of blood and much of it will be your own: the life that he offers is a blood-filled life; but it is a rich life if you will only learn to give it away.

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