…Do not imagine, then, that our advancement depends on something esoteric and extraordinary. No, all our spiritual progress is measured by the degree of our conformity to the Divine Will.. –St Teresa of Avila.
They for whom sanctity signifies the multiplication of penances, Communions and vocal prayers, labor manifestly under a delusion. For such practices are good only insofar as God wills them. Out of harmony with his will, so far from giving him pleasure, they rather merit his detestation and punishment. Therefore, they are only intended to serve as means to unite our will to his. Let me repeat it: all perfection, all sanctity consists in faithfully accomplishing that which God requires of us. The Divine Will is the norm of all goodness and of all virtue. Being holiness itself, it sanctifies whatever it touches, even indifferent actions when they are done to please God…If, therefore, we wish to sanctify our souls, this should be our one aim: never to follow our own will, but always the Divine. For the whole multiplicity of precepts and counsels can be reduced to the single injunction that we do and suffer whatsoever God wills and as He wills. Hence the essentials of perfection may be expressed in the formula: Do all that God wills, will all that God does.” –A learned disciple of St Alphonsus Ligouri as quoted by Abbot Vital Lehody in ‘The Way That Leads To God’
We must, then, in our practical life constantly bring together these two principles of life and death. Death must ever suggest–if I may say so, bring with it–some new experience of life; and life must always have upon it the shadow of the tomb, or, better still, that light that shines upon it from the other side. Death is not all darkness, nor life all light. The light of life illuminates and warms the pallor of death. The daily dying is robbed of the chill coldness of the tomb, for in the agony of death, the heart seems only to grow warmer and more human. Life is freed from the noise and bluster that so vulgarize it and gains something of the reverence and restraint of the chamber of death. –Basil W. Maturin. ‘Christian Self-Mastery’
Father Basil Maturin (1847 – 1915), a British citizen and Irish national, died at 68 during the sinking of the Lusitania. He administered absolutions to several people on the sinking Lusitania before drowning. Maturin’s body was recovered in Ballycotton Bay. In many ways Father Maturin’s mind was a very modern one. He read omnivorously, and would come down to breakfast full of the most intense sympathy with the hero or heroine of the novel of the hour. He loved to discuss the book, and would make every allowance of heredity and environment, longing to stretch a point in interpreting the moral law, so as to find an excuse for a character who had touched his heart. Although he could at times become extremely irritated with a book or person, he was in general far readier to admire than to criticize. –Maisie Ward
Maisie Ward hailed from genteel Victorian blue blood, but she literally earned her own stripes, first as a World War I nurse and then as a writer. She could claim author’s rights to the first and only authorized biography of friend G. K. Chesterton.
A roaring lion, I center myself upon the presence of God. Disregarding surroundings, I close my eyes. Roaring through consciousness, interiorly warding away the exterior, silently screaming for all to back away, warning with all my might for disturbances, all things attempting to distract to stay away: stay away my neighbor, stay away my enemy, stay away my friend, stay away brother and sister. The adversary may roam about like a roaring lion, yet now I roar back before I place myself completely before my Lord, demanding that I do it to the best of my ability.
Lord let me prepare myself before adoring. Honest in woundedness, with open and absolute intent, I seek to place myself before my Lord. I am fearful of all, including my Lord, and most of all myself. Fear rules, yet the fear is healthy, acknowledging the seriousness of being alive, the accountability life demands, the aftermath of original sin, Triune mercy and love. I know my weaknesses. Intensely, I must concentrate to eliminate diversions. I roar myself into stillness.
Settling, most beneficially before the Blessed Sacrament, I envision an immense double edge sword of supernatural dimension. Controlled by my wielding, grasped firmly with two hands, I utilize the sword to cut away all interruptions, extinguishing thoughts. Slashing turbulences, I slice through psychological uprisings, decimating fantasies and feelings, imagination and emotion obliterated, cutting through sounds and sensual disturbances. The sword is used to establish distance from surroundings in order to diminish separation from God.
Imperfections availing, all effort subsists. The sword is grounded, point buried, pommel vertically aloft, cross-guard horizontally announcing a crucifix. Adoration an only reward, quietness quells the mind. Beating, the heart becomes the center, blood pumping. Shaping, forming; faith, hope, and charity concretize. A birth. A crucifixion. A resurrection. An ascension. Eternity.
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Naomi gathered her modest belongings into a blanket. She would carry her bundle over her shoulder. It was a time of departing. Looking about her gifted shelter, she understood she would never return. She would miss her quaint abode, the small utilitarian fishermen’s shack served its purpose well, providing comfort to an ostracized older bleeding lady. Something holy occurred within the shelter, a purging, a clearing of her troubled soul, fruitful isolation.
Parting, Naomi noticed a broken water vessel in the far corner. It represented something she could not identify. Her soul, her vessel, was broken, an ending announcing a beginning. Details shadowed distant, a defining lacking precision, she cared not for convictions, intuitively reposing upon faith, hope, and charity.
Alone, Naomi learned about herself. She came to know herself, delusion subsisting in ostracization. Removal from the duty of society produced graced results, gratefulness revealed in the emptiness of knowing a hint of sacredness. Sadness existed, yet greater was a knowing. Life amongst others was complicated, distracting, filled with the noise of competing voices, individuals usurping understanding within and without. Even those of goodness brought complexities. Others would visit, yet she felt removed from their concerns, and manipulations, while desiring above all not to judge. Distance became a craving, yet the contentment was not satisfaction, redemption remained unresolved.
Her grandfather loved the story of Job. Humble in association, she understood Job’s disappointment in the counsel of his friends. It was a point her grandfather stressed, the ineffectiveness of Job’s friends during his time of distress. Sincerely seeking to aid, the words of the friends did not rise to truth, and in their confidence, subtle arrogance, the abandonment of camaraderie occurred, compassion lacking in their insight. Limited in scope, they could do no better than warp truth. The three, and then four, casting about with words. None touched upon the Adversary. Harangued by Satan, Job suffered alone, not daring to curse God.
Naomi recognized that many who compassionately came to her in exile, intending to show care, truly came for themselves, harboring hidden motives, inherit agendas. As humans concerned with the world, enslavement dulled their understanding. As the Israelites were once enslaved by the Egyptians, her visitors were bound. Naive of exploitation, limitations created within the need for acknowledged goodness; imperfect, nothing greater through works could be garnered.
Naomi avoided recriminations, while insightfully witnessing matters for what they truly were. Aloof, she ceased agendas, procuring a fear of individual will. Individuals sought worldly redemption in spite of intrinsic weaknesses; the will self-appointing self-righteousness; the will, presuming self-entitlement to goodness, rationalizing one’s thoughts and actions as proper. Playing the hero, many furthered their distance from God, busybodies nosing about.
Renouncing ambition, detached, she became acute in vision. Her visitors became transparent, her fall metamorphosing into growth. Naomi humbled herself; fearing bitterness was gnawing at her soul. There was no victory or defeat in a battle never fought. Obedient, tolerating visitors with a smile, she dreaded a knock at the door.
In solitude, a beating, yearning heart, left free to plunge depths, was no longer concealed. With existence came time, the passing of moments. Suffering dominated, yet moments overall were peaceful; physical pain and discomfort intimately known, the bleeding continued. Overall, the debris within was settling; the mud separating from the water. Naomi’s finest moments came when observing the surrounding world. Early mornings became a favorite, the sun rising, and birds awakening in song. It was the time she encountered the luminescent dove and internal voice mentioning a Godly son. Watching the sunrise, the birds flying above the sea, searching for a sign of the special dove, or the water lapping upon the shore, she recognized a presence revealing itself.
In everything was one thing: Shekinah, a creative force, the God-Who-Dwells Within. So much beauty existing, Naomi felt she could touch it by recognizing a subtle weightiness. Sublime in nature, the mysterious Shekinah emerged through clarified perception, a revealing rather than learning. Her quieted humble heart unrestricted from the burdens of identity allowed the revealing to occur. Naomi found herself dreaming of capturing the physical beauty that announced magnificence through harmony. David was a poet whom the Shekinah revealed within. He extolled the glory of God through poetry and music; dancing for God a passion for the man. Naomi wanted to duplicate the wonders she witnessed through a creative expression. Solomon’s wisdom rang about:
She shines bright in the bloom of ignorance;She is unfading;She is easily seen by those who love Her;easily found by those who look for Her,And quickly does She come to those who seek Her help.
The wonders of creation captured within individual worship. These moments brought Naomi supreme hope. Motherly, lovingly, she longed to bring permanency to her profound moments. Eyes wide open, she lived deeply amidst her exile. She did not act upon her artistic ambitions, yet still they germinated. She learned to sharpen charcoal sticks and sketch, yet she never learned to write, or paint like the better minds of Jerusalem.
Now departing her fishing home, the thought of a lasting image created by her hands honoring the interior of the space sprang to mind. A minimal painting it would be; the simplicity and sparseness enlightening, the lacking predominant. She knew how she would depict, while recognizing she never would conduct the act. The image included a window, an empty bowl, a whole fish, a cup of wine, a loaf of bread—half sliced, and visible beyond the window a white dove. The broken vessel came to mind and she knew within the shadows of a corner she must include it.
Naomi reflected upon her neighbor she drove away. The younger woman offered her assistance, yet Naomi grew tired of her. She never liked her visits. The woman’s compassion was tainted, muddled in delusion. She saw herself as a caretaker of all, assigning herself a position of authority, forcing others to accept her constant manipulations and perceptions; her saving of the poor. In her mind, her goodness made her irrefutable. Naomi found her overbearing. The woman was a busybody. A know it all who did not know it all, superior only in her design for control. Naomi tolerated her presence at first, yet found herself disturbed after the woman’s visits. The woman would discuss matters with her, gossiping about neighbors with a tone Naomi dared not disagree with.
In her solitude, Naomi saw the woman for what she was. Ruled by pride, prejudices, ambitions, and experiences; struggling above all for the sake of identity, always comparing and contrasting, she was limited in her ability to comprehend. Her insight was blinded. Sublime vainglory ruled. Through works, good deeds, she confidently forced others into submission, imposing her will, forcing others to acknowledge her righteousness.
Naomi, driven apart, honestly saw matters. Kindness not wanted was unkindness. Her insight was keen. Finally, Naomi asked the woman to cease with the visits. The woman took offense, responding with the spreading of gossip, telling others Naomi was slowly losing her mind. Going to great effort to make sure all understood that in her isolation, Naomi was losing a battle to insanity. Cloaked in compassion, her malicious words mentioned how it broke her heart, however the truth could not be denied. Naomi was lost. It was evident. God was punishing her.
Naomi reflected upon the woman and felt pity. The silence of her small shelter appeared comforting. Fear grew regarding a reemergence into the world of man, the world of misconception.
She took a lasting grateful look around the shelter gifted to her by the fishermen. The simplicity and scarceness of goods pleased her. She recalled the plenty she once knew when she was a healthy, wedded young woman. They were not wealthy, yet they never suffered serious need. Now, it seemed such an abundance. Whatever, it was all a distant past. She felt no longing or bitterness. There was a time for all things. Longing for the past, or dreaming about the future denied the moment. Feeling an ending of a stage, she thought of the birds from her childhood. So many birds migrating: storks, pelicans, smaller bids, birds of prey, flocks and flocks would pass close to her childhood home. It was a wonder for a child. She had not seen such massive number of birds in years.
She recalled a story her father use to tell of birds to stress the importance of obedience and respect. He would tell of a neighbor who was a greedy man, always attempting to attain more than he deserved. Through trick or guile, the man pressed upon others and the world. This neighbor cut short his life when he decided to climb a cliff in order to attain bird eggs. Filling his pouch with eggs, the man already enjoyed a bountiful collection when he came across a nest with a mother dove perched peacefully upon her nest. Instantly, he reached out snapping the dove’s neck, admiring her plumb breast, salivating at the thought of such a hearty meal. The man stuffed the dove into his pouch as he started his descent down the cliff. Once upon the narrow walking path angling downward, an avalanche came sweeping down from above, crashing the man ninety feet below to his doom. It was a story Naomi and all the children knew well.
Focused, no identifiable aspirations, a deep loneliness neighbors could not fill weighing upon her heart, Naomi exited her make-shift home for a journey to the extinct volcano Karne Hittim. It was well known, a respected place and now Susanna wanted her to accompany her to the place for a visit with Susanna’s nephew, Bartholomew, and his Rabbouni named Jesus.
Arriving at Karne Hiitim, the size of the crowd astounded Naomi, so many gathered for one man preaching. Amidst the crowd, ashamed of her outcast status, she insisted that Susanna continue her search for her nephew without her. She would rest and wait.
Naomi observed the gathered. People from all parts were amongst the Israelite crowd. The blind, sick and lame ubiquitous. It was obvious the news of healing miracles had spread. Those desiring rescue from the pains of the human body waited with despairing hearts. Incredulous, the hopeless wanted hope. There was nowhere else to go. Death and suffering were the only ulterior, and of these two all had their fill.
There were elders and babes; families and strangers. Most were poor. The minimal food was shared. Water was dispersed to satisfy all. There was an order amidst the waiting, a peace, a silent buzz, an unspoken need. The hopeless desired to believe. Naomi could not deny the power. The gathered seemed anxious, ready for something. She felt no peril, receiving only smiles. Though recognized as an outcast, the friendly glances were more than she enjoyed in years. The bleeding woman who came to peace in solitude was replete in charity.
Resoundingly, a hushing swept through the crowd, people attentively assuming seats. Naomi noticed those around her focusing upon something above her. She turned and saw a man in a red chiton, inner-tunic, with a himation, outer-cloak of blue draped about his shoulders. The man elegantly clothed in red and blue, obviously a man of order and cleanliness, appeared poor, yet stately. Undeniably dignified, Naomi knew instantly he was the one they all came for. She imagined his garments representing blood and water, the thought erupting from her heart. He was a handsome man, captivating in appearance. Witnessing, it was impossible to see beyond him.
Here was Jesus and he was close, raising his arms in a motion of quieting. He seated himself, reclining in order to speak at length. The crowd moved in to be near. Naomi observed the man. Her focus eliminated the reality of others. She was alone with the man before her.
His words began to flow, and his voice alone was the sound of milk and honey. Naomi was spellbound, a burgeoning trust emerging. Words transformed into concepts. Her thoughts quieted, a chill raced up her spine. He was teaching of blessings, and oddly the blessed he spoke of were those who knew not worldly praise, instantly bringing to mind the remembrance of her grandfather, the storyteller. The neglected, the poor, the humble, those who suffered were the ones Jesus offered hope. Hope in the sense of eternal reward, life ever after, heavenly treasures.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you….
Naomi marveled at the simple words as they mirrored her personal suppositions and the ways of her grandfather. Her grandfather told stories. Stories told to him as a boy, he passed on. Around a campfire after a day of hard work, or underneath the light of the moon and stars, away from Jerusalem officials, Naomi loved the stories her grandfather and his friends told. Her childhood was that of a poor grateful girl, familial love abounding, and stories portending worldly difficulties and the might of God working through His chosen people.
As a child, one amongst her people, Naomi paid tribute to Mosaic Law and religious authorities. Fearing God, moral in behavior, attending ceremonies within the temple as far as a female could, she felt distant from a deeply religious experience. Her grandfather and his storytelling friends were a different matter. They were her chosen people. There was love, warmth, and a personal awareness of God and Jewish history. The loss of her grandfather was the start of disenchantment.
Mosaic Law would ultimately condemn her. An emotional empty core remained, a cast aside individual desiring something beyond formality, acceptance, and conformity to Law. The focus upon behavior was not enough. It did not take into account the internal life. The hand was subject to the head and heart. Amidst a downtrodden state, Naomi dreamed of redemption. Was victory still possible? A new creation as an outcast, she listened to the teacher speak of heavenly blessings.
This teacher with the voice of wonder offered divine optimism to the despised. He taught that the Kingdom of God was for the lowly and lesser. He did not speak of nation building, the revitalization and independence of Israel, a greater city of God’s chosen people reestablished, a philosophy so many were fixated upon. He was not obsessed with taking back the City of David through military or political might. He did not speak of Laws and sacrifices, nor the wrath of God. Jesus spoke to the heart, internalizing, grasping for individuals. The downtrodden he sought. The hopeless he encouraged to seek and hope. Naomi merged with the shared consciousness; a multitude of divinely personal experiences, none more or less momentous than the next. The gathered listened as one, while moved individually, like snowflakes during a snowstorm.
Elongated moments unfolding, the teacher’s winged words soared. A dream state enveloped. Naomi’s thoughts, tracing back, centered upon her mother’s father, her grandfather. She contemplated her treasured grandfather. Mingling with the teacher’s words, the memory of her grandfather concretely emerged. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. Naomi recalled a final sighting of her beloved grandfather. As a child, she entered his home, hoping to surprise him with an unannounced visit. The moment from the past became an engraved memory, sharply defined.
The sun was bright that day of innocence lost. In the glory of childhood, Naomi hastily made her way to her grandfather’s home. He called her his sunshine and this day was a perfect day for celebrating sunshine. Entering the dwelling, darkness confronted her, the silence unnerving, the darkness unnatural. She made her way to a window, opening the shutters, allowing light to penetrate within. There was her grandfather sitting alone, staring intensely at nothing. It appeared he had maintained the oblivious position for some time. In the dark staring, her grandfather sat. The change in illumination went unnoticed. The sun pouring in meant nothing. The loneliness of the moment still brought a chill to Naomi. As a child, she instantly went to her grandfather, taking his hand, speaking to him. Finally, her grandfather came about. Noticing her, he smiled, patting her hand, calling her sunshine, telling her she must go away. She felt his love. None loved her like her grandfather. Fear overwhelmed her as she knew a drastic changed occurred within her grandfather. Something terrible was wrong. She was losing her beloved. The man who was always there with words of encouragement, stories, cheer, and lessons would be gone. Another man was before her, an exhausted man preparing for death, a man in the dark staring, one who took no notice of his granddaughter’s entrance, a man accepting his leprosy.
From this defining moment, details blended, days passed. Under the guidance of the community, her grandfather received the prescribed tests for declaring one a leper. The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare. And shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ’Unclean, Unclean’. As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp. He was also stripped of his sheepherding land, a wealthy family of moneylenders taking possession of the property.
Naomi was convinced her grandfather’s leprosy was the turning point of her life, her cursing. Her people drove her grandfather away, declaring him unclean. She saw her grandfather disrobed, his niveous condition exposed for his judges to observe. She came to despise all. As the prophet Hosea proclaimed Israel a nation of whoredom, she loathed those she should love. Her people, God’s chosen people, were the people she hated. She was positive God saw the totality of her indiscretion. In her heart she knew hate was wrong. Her silent hate reached beyond the religious officials, touching every member of the community that raised her. None escaped her wrath.
The political complexities, the religious factions: zealots and collaborators, all elicited nothing but scorn. Her people were a nation of stiff necks. Arrogant, manipulating, taking advantage of the poor, using religion as a means of advancement, Naomi saw nothing except corruption surrounding her. The foreign influences were also constantly badgering. As a beautiful young girl, she felt the eyes of soldiers upon her, desiring her in ways that brought dread to her heart. As a simple girl from a family of sheepherders, Naomi found no refuge in the world.
There was a young man from her village who joined the ascetic movement of the Essenes, living next to the sea of no life. She spoke with the man when he returned to honor his deceased mother with three companions. The Essenes significantly impressed her. The men were young, yet they possessed a piety Naomi associated with older men, men of experience and wisdom. They were good men. Recently outcast, she was pleased when the three men did not flee from her, unafraid of her condition and the law condemning her. The encouragement and words the men gave her brightened her heart for weeks and she considered venturing to their remote safe haven, yet never did. Her heart returned to its dejected solitary state.
The community’s rejection of her grandfather was the point of Naomi’s departure from faith, a flight of abandonment destined for hopelessness. As a child, she determined that if the Law recognized her grandfather as unclean then she would be unclean herself. It was the will of a wounded child. The self-imposed curse came to fruition with the continual bleeding. A divide was there between herself, God, and her people. She found no solace in the teachings of her ancestors, only her grandfather’s stories lingered.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
The spoken words from the alluring soft-spoken teacher struck Naomi, bringing her back from her musing. She understood the uselessness of her rebellion, blaming her sinful self for her sorry condition. She had long since given up on her reasoning, the details and convictions that turned her away from God lost importance. Her rebellion dissipated during her days of isolation. Her thoughts and justifications, all former priorities, had long been demolished amidst the fisherman’s storage shack. Assailing, the winged words of Jesus filled the emptiness she had become, smoothing away the hardness of her heart.
Naomi lost herself to the arising cleansing of disposition. Her grandfather had been her light and life. The one who taught her the songs of David, read to her the Wisdom of Solomon, and educated her with the Torah, emphasizing the wonderful stories: Abraham, Benjamin, Joseph, and Moses. His unexpected departure left a shadow upon her soul. In adulthood, she floundered spiritually, never trusting or able to soften her hardened heart.
Carved into her memory were the last words of her grandfather. She was hiding outside his window for none were allowed in his soon to be seized home. However, Naomi could not be without her grandfather. She held to the window near his bed, amidst the bleating sheep and dogs. She overheard the conversation within. Her grandfather was speaking to the visiting Pharisee, quoting words she would never know in completeness. But I would speak with the Almighty; I wish to reason with God. You are glossing over falsehoods and offering vain remedies, every one of you! Oh, that you would be altogether silent! This for you would be wisdom…. withdraw your hand far from me, and let not the terror of you frighten me.
“He speaks to us or his disciples?” asked an elderly man behind Naomi. The voice broke her from reflections. Naomi noticed the twelve men gathered around Jesus, also the various women. Susanna was there.
“He speaks to all. His voice carries like the wind, soft yet lucid upon the ears.”
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven…. whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….
He continued, expounding upon Mosaic Law, a subject Naomi perceived as unapproachable. Where there was once rigidity and laws imposed, clarity and wisdom appeared. Scribes, time, and the distance between God, or even prophets, grew tremendous in proportion throughout her life. Religion was so much bigger than individual life, especially for a down-to-earth girl of poverty. Jesus’ words possessed authority and practicality. He reduced matters to comprehendible basics, internalizing matters. He almost seemed desperate in his attempt to reach the hearts of listeners.
Naomi took note of the disciples gathered around Him. The men were common, men of no distinction, unimpressive in appearance, obviously lacking sophistication. They had no standing in society. It could easily be discerned. How different from the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. If the teacher’s ambitions included worldly recognition, he would surely surround himself with the sharpest and well-studied minds, selecting from the ranks of the elite. Yet this speaker of winged words surrounded himself with simple workingmen. There was even word that one of his disciples was a former tax collector, an ill-repute forbidden worship within the Temple.
Naomi was disarmed. Like a prophet from old, the man spoke not as a superior religious expert, but as a man of God, like the prophet Amos. His authority was divine. Naomi considered the matter, yet relegated the possibility to impossibility. Who was this man and what entitled him to divine authority? Naomi feared reprisal, for no matter where this authority originated, it would threaten men of greater political power. This teacher would bring trouble down upon his head. He was brave, yet foolish. She longed deeply for her grandfather to be able to witness this new teacher. Her grandfather’s keen insight would allow further clarification.
The teacher continued proclaiming the innocence of anonymity when praising Our Heavenly Father: …do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… Naomi, going past the fears of the reaction of those in power, acknowledged a stirring in the core of her beliefs. She despised the current ruler of the territory, the tetrarch Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great.
Antipas established his demoralizing city of Tiberas in the region, naming after the Roman emperor, spreading the selfishness and ungodly ways that his father had initiated. A Jewish city built to honor Roman authority. None of the Israelites would set foot in the city as a graveyard of their ancestors was unearthed during its construction. Cursed, Israelites avoided Tiberas, recognizing it as another disdainful effort from a despicable Idumean family. The Herodian family supplied the worst of kings. In the Israelite line of kings demanded by a people unwilling to rely upon God, the Herodian family was despicable.
Herod the Great was not a descendant of King David. Rumors existed, whispered words amongst the intelligentsia, the underground movement of respected religious authorities. They spoke of a Joseph as the proper king with respect to the line of David, yet the talk digressed into puzzlement as the man identified worked as a humble carpenter, paying no heed to talk of kingdoms. In worldly concern, the throne of Israel would have never been granted to Herod if it had not been for the king and high priest John Hyrcanus of the Hasmonean dynasty’ forcing the conversion of the Idumeans, or Edomites, descendants of Esau, the fraternal twin of Jacob who was renamed Israel after wrestling an angel; the grandson of Abraham; Herod would have never identified himself as an Israelite. Politics and power were his greatest loves. He never embraced the faith of God’s Chosen people.
Duplicitous in nature, Herod saw God as a means to his own end. The God of the Israelites presented the opportunity for personal advantage. Naomi despised all the manipulations and politics of those in power. Herod the Great was the worst of the worst. As a child, she heard the stories of Herod, the constant intrigues that became a focal point for even the sheepherders when they gathered at night.
Herod’s father was known as Antipater the Idumaean, an influential man in the politics of Jerusalem. Naomi despised all the manipulations and politics of those in power. She heard the stories, the constant intrigues. Antipater supported Julius Caesar providing troops, and fighting in loyalty to Caesar. This choice served him well as Caesar wrested authority from Pompey. However, as was the way of men who brutally seek power, Antipater found no peace as his fellow Jews accused him of being disloyal to Caesar. Antipater was brought before Caesar, defending himself simply by removing his clothing and stating to Caesar ‘here is proof of my loyalty’. Antipater displayed his scarred body for all to see. A brave and skilled warrior, he had fought valiantly for Caesar, risking his body, enduring many wounds and inflicting even more. None of his accusers could claim the same. The scars were many and impressive. Antipater would win Caesar’s eternal gratitude. His son Herod would become King of the Jews.
Herod the Great would oversee the construction of the most impressive of Temples, even grander than its predecessor built by Solomon. Never would he sincerely observe the rituals of the descendents of Abraham, nor would he take the matter of morality serious. All knew the man was corrupt. In bed with who ever held power, depending upon Marc Anthony in the past, becoming obsequious to Rome in order to secure power, while embracing a Hellenistic intellect, Herod never relied upon the faith of Abraham. Self-idolatry was his way of life.
In old age, paranoia and insanity ravaged Herod’s mind. In the time of his dying, his body became grotesque. Worms wallowed in his genitals. Ulcers gnawed at his innards. Gangrene festered about his limbs. Fever seared his blood. His breathe became unnatural in rapidity and horrible in stench. Physically destitute, Herod the Great still clung to life. A final act demonstrated the loathsomeness of Herod. On his deathbed, Herod ordered numerous eminent men of Israel imprisoned and executed. The deaths were to ensure there would be many tears shed during the time of Herod’s death.
Naomi recalled former kings of the northern and southern Jewish kingdoms. In fact, it struck her that Yahweh opposed the idea of a king, reluctantly granting Samuel, the son of the loyal Hannah, the right to anoint Saul the first kingship. Saul would disappoint, falling from honor due to his reliance upon self-will, proving himself impatient and bull-headed. Saul would even turn to magic, seeking the service of conjurers, when he found the ways of God lacking. David would rely upon God and through him would come the greatest of glory to a single Israelite nation.
Naomi realized how far in corruption Israel had sunk with King Herod. The man was a known disgrace, the murderer of his own family. It was better to be one of Herod’s hogs rather than a family member. The drowning of his mother-in-law’s son Aristobulus in order to manipulate the position of high priest and the executing of three of his sons and his Hasmonean wife, one of nine, were included in his collection of wicked deeds. Morality was a non-issue for the man. The killing of every male child under the age of three was an atrocity, Naomi, as well as others, could never forget.
In beauty and scope, the allure of the crooked compared to the teacher Jesus was like a scorpion to a dove. There was nothing to fear in Jesus. Naomi listened with an open, clear mind, a heart hungry for truth. Brightness overcame as words became concrete, as if they were physical entities, solid in formation.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Jesus taught how to pray, heavenly sent winged words alighting upon the ears of the inurned. Instantaneously, the words engraved themselves upon Naomi’s heart and mind, anchoring as they landed. Never would she struggle to recall them. Flowing to light in their being, the words came natural.
A silence amongst the crowd followed the words of prayer. Jesus held still in body and word. A baby crying and sparrows singing broke the corporeal silence. Naomi noticed a young girl, her hair decorated with lilies, shedding tears. There were tears, yet no sound. Tangible and present, love vibrated; eternity, an everlasting life of peace in heaven conceptualized. Naomi never considered such a grand idea a reality. Existence within the bosom of God, resting protected beneath the wings of angels, the actuality was palpable. Extirpated, her previous conception: from dust one came and from dust one returned, seemed lacking. Jesus offered more. Within his words; in what he said, as well as, what he did not say. Her suffering, her grandfather’s, everyone’s anguish was not the end as God was truly love. God intended more through the creation of man. Unification in the afterlife was a majestic prize, eternal life the ultimate victory.
Through love, the teacher brought clarity. Sin molded the world of man, perverting and deforming. Love could redeem the world of man. There was a battleground. Jesus taught to overcome, to transform, metamorphosis. Glory and redemption were through the Father. The heart softened when adoring the Father. He above all was love. Through love, where once there was an end, now there was a beginning, an everlasting kingdom.
Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; and the door will be opened to him who knocks.
Enlightened in a flash, Naomi saw the door did not open to the world of man, the world that turned cold with death. Instead, the majesty of God graced eternity as a benevolent, timeless wonder. Heaven was the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke to teach truth. Truth was to know and love the Father who sent Him.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.