Category: Faith Inspired

Photo credit: Noel Feans

Photo credit: Noel Feans

An old man sat on a stone by the city gate. He seemed to peer at everything without noticing anything in particular, squinting even when clouds covered the sun. His tough, sinewy arms ended in leathery hands clutching a staff to support a back bent by years of hard labor among the fields. He sat with his fellows, other wizened old men with bent backs and squinting eyes, smiling when it pleased them to smile, and watching. Few people bothered about the old man. Little children running by occasionally kicked up dust in his direction, but they meant no disrespect and went flying about as little children do, uninterested in anyone who could be still for so long. Young men walked by, or stood around waiting to be hired for a day of work, respectful of the old man’s space, but preferring to converse among themselves. Middle-aged men passing in and out of the gate nodded their heads and longed for the day when they too earned their place to sit and watch and do nothing else. Women and girls weaved in and out among them all with their pitchers of water or market baskets, occasionally bowing their heads to the old men, occasionally flirting with the young men, always busy about something. The old man watched all this as he always did, saying little, smiling when it pleased him to smile.

A man with great wealth and used to having his own way in everything approached the city, surrounded by a great entourage. When he saw the old men sitting in the city gate he said to one of his slaves, “Run ahead, and tell those old men to move out of our way.”

The slave did as his master commanded and approached the old man. He bowed low, “Good sir, my master respectfully requests that you and your fellows move from this spot so that he and his entourage may pass through the city gate unhindered.”

The old man did not answer. He peered at the slave for a moment, then looked away. The slave, thinking the old man must be deaf, leaned closer and began again in a louder voice, but a young man standing nearby stepped forward. “Man, return to your master. It is not our custom to ask these aged men to move from their places.”

The slave ran back to his master and repeated the young man’s words. The rich man laughed and sneered, “Go back and tell those old men that they must move.”

The slave returned to the old man. “My master says that you and your companions must move. Please, sir, do as he says. He is a man of great wealth and power.”

The young man stepped forward once more, bowed a little to the slave and repeated, “It is not our custom to ask these aged men to leave their places.”

The slave returned, trembling to his master, once again repeating the words of the young man. The rich man leaned over the side of his divan and smacked the slave to the ground. “Forward!” he barked to the entourage. A dozen armed slaves drew their swords while the company moved forward.

When the wealthy man arrived at the gate, he shouted at the young man, “You, Boy! I have little concern for your customary regard for these old fools. I want them removed so that my entourage and I may pass.”

The young man bowed a little before the wealthy man. “SIr, it seems to me that these men take up very little space, and that you may pass quite easily through this gate.”

“Silenece, boy! These men are in my way and I want them removed! You two slaves! You move this old man! We will remove them ourselves if we must.”

Two burly slaves approached the old man. As they placed their hands on him, the old man said, “My quiver is very full.”

The two slaves let go of the old man and stepped back. The wealthy man jumped down from his divan. “So now you can speak for yourself? Tell me, old man, where is this full quiver of yours and how do you expect to pull the bow-string with those weak arms of yours?”

The old man did not answer. The rich man growled in exasperation and stepped forward to pull the old man out of place himself.

“My quiver is very full.”

The rich man ignored the old man and grabbed hold of his arm. An arrow whizzed past the rich man’s ear and into the post of the city gate. The rich man whirled around to see the young man who had spoken earlier aiming a second arrow, this one to kill. With him many other men lifted bows or twirled slings. Women and children  gathered, scooping up rocks or broken pieces of pottery.

The rich man looked to his armed slaves, but their swords lay on the ground next to their unconscious forms. His other slaves backed away slowly, ready to run if the small mob turned violent.  The rich man dropped the old man’s arm in astonishment. “Wha-what care you for this old man?”

A middle-aged man who looked very much like the young man stepped forward, “This man is our father, our grandfather. All these old men are our fathers and our grandfathers.”

The rich man stared at the old man until a wistful look came into his eye. Then he sighed deeply, returned to his divan, and ordered his entourage to leave the city.

The  mob drifted quietly away, like a fine morning mist now evaporating in the heat of the day. The old man sat and watched. When the mist faded completely, he smiled, because it pleased him to do so.

Psalm 127:4-5

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

To those who wonder, no, I am not part of the Quiverfull movement.

Empty Jar

This particular story is faith-inspired. For more information about my faith, see About ReGi. For more information about my writing in general, see About This Blog.

Ashtore felt lost among the other jars. The massive room he lived in housed a myriad of shelves that held dozens of jars each. Most of the jars contained everyday things: useful things like paperclips, sweet things like jams, sour things like pickles, things for fixing other things, and so on. Some very pretty-looking jars held fancy things, like glitter or rhinestones; a few even contained precious metals or gems. Occasionally Ashtore saw a jar that filled itself with things he preferred not to think about, like maggots, or worse. He couldn’t understand why anyone would keep such stuff around, but there they were nonetheless, among all the useful and pretty jars.

The jars were not particularly organized. “Clustered” described their arrangement better. Once a jar filled itself up with its chosen items, many of the jars around it filled themselves up with similar things. Ashtore found himself emptying his contents just to change them for something comparable to whatever the jars nearest him currently held more frequently than he liked. Once, he changed rubber bands for rubber cement, and then dumped the rubber cement for rubber balls in a single week to keep up with the fashion of his particular cluster. After that, he made up his mind to give any new fashion a little while to sit before he decided to hold the same things.

What Ashtore really wanted to hold was light. The room the jars sat in lacked windows and light fixtures. Without the rare, light-filled jars scattered here and there throughout the room, Ashtore would never have known whether he sat next to a lovely jar of pearls or a squirmy collection of roaches. Indeed, Ashtore never looked at some corners of the room because their oppressive shadows seemed to reach toward him. Fortunately for him, he sat within the glow cast by a brilliantly shining jar. He liked to look at it. It’s blues and greens streamed out from it with such intensity that even the jars on the wall across from it could never hide their contents even if they wanted to. Down the wall, another light-jar beamed out bright yellows and oranges. No two of the light-jars cast quite the same hue around themselves, but all shone beautifully, and all gave light to the jars around it. More than anything, Ashtore wanted to hold his own dazzling colors and shine on the jars around him.

After a straight month of putting up with the froofy potpourri currently in fashion in his cluster, Ashtore made up his mind to be a jar of light. He emptied out the potpourri and looked around for something sort of luminous that he might be able to fan into a bright flame. He started with diamonds. They sparkled and Ashtore felt very grand, but try as he might, the sparkles never gathered themselves into a flame. He tried water because it reflected the light, but it never became the light itself. He tried a phosphorescent mushroom, but it stank and rotted into something a lot more like darkness than light. He even tried a little flock of lightning bugs. That ended in a disaster. Exhausted with emptying and refilling himself, Ashtore shouted in the direction of the aqua glow sent out by the nearest light jar, “What must I do to be filled with light?”

“Be empty.”

Ashtore jiggled to settle his current load of gold, thinking it must have muddled his hearing somehow, and shouted back, “I’m sorry. It sounded like you said ‘be empty.’”

“That’s right. You -”

Ashtore ignored the rest. Empty? Surely the light in that particular jar fried it’s brain. Empty meant dust would settle inside instead of just outside. Empty meant loss of identity. Empty meant not even good enough to be called ordinary, much less unique. Empty meant nothing Ashtore ever held in the past mattered. Empty meant as good as shattered.

Ashtore turned away from the light and hid as much of himself as he could from it. He saw many jars doing the same thing, some with great success. At first, looking into the dark felt good. If he squinted hard enough, he could see all the unpleasant things in the jars skulking further from the light than himself. For the first time, seeing all those nauseating things satisfied Ashtore. He felt important with the heavy gold inside him when he saw fungus creeping out of other jars. Eventually, though, the gratification died out. The gold inside him grew cold and weighed more than its value. The nasty things in the deeper shadows no longer lent him superiority. Instead, they reminded him that none of them could be near the light. Some of them contained things with the ability to creep toward him. Slime from one jar he once tried to convince to fill itself with gold, like him, oozed a little closer each day. Ashtore wanted light. Ashtore needed light. That slime-filled jar needed light near it, so it could see the decay that filled it.

So he emptied himself. The gold plunked loudly on the floor below. Immediately, a radiant hand scooped Ashtore up. The owner of the hand shone with a light so bright, so purely white, that it blinded Ashtore so he saw nothing more than the hand that grasped him. Instead, Ashtore felt His smile as He said, “Ah, at last! I am the Light-Giver. I’m so glad you finally decided to join my little lights.” In the grasp of His illuminating hand, Ashtore saw the years of dust collected on and, to his disgust, inside him. He felt the heavy shame of it all, but the Light-Giver only plunged him into a warm liquid and washed the grime away. When he was clean, the Light-Giver took a part of Himself, a part of His blinding, beautiful light, and put it into Ashtore. As He did so he whispered to Ashtore, “I think we need some reds along this wall, don’t you?” Before the Light-Giver finished speaking, His pure light radiated through Ashtore, casting ruby and carnelian light in every direction. “Now that you are filled with Me,” sang the Light-Giver, “everyone can see who you really are.”

Tealights in Jars

            “I will be found by you.” I contemplated the letter. Such an odd phrase: “I will be found by you.” As if all my searching, all my effort, culminated in an act of his will. It was not your typical invitation at the very least. His plans! What use did I have for his plans? After all, mine went along the same lines: prosperity, hope, a future. Everything he offered I already planned for myself. What more could he add? That he would listen? Ha! He already had far too many people to listen to. I put the invitation back in its envelope and left it on my desk. Life went on.

            Things went well. Very well, indeed. I moved forward with my plans with only a reasonable number of bumps and bruises. I prospered. I set aside enough for a reasonable retirement. And I had hope. Mostly hope that someday all my plans would make a real, solid difference. Maybe for my kids, maybe for the community, maybe even the whole world. Yeah, I hoped a lot. I hoped for the health to enjoy my retirement. I hoped for my kids to turn out okay. I hoped for the economy to stay strong. I had hope. I had better than hope, I had security. 

                        One day, one of my well-laid plans fell through. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t recover from. Just a little thing, really. But it was enough. I got tired of the daily grind. Weary, really, of doing all the things I needed to do to carry-out my plans. Why not try his way for a while? I had nothing better to do. It might make me feel better, if nothing else.

            I pulled out the letter. “I will be found by you.” What did that mean anyway? I ignored it and looked for something easier to understand. The letter also said, “come.” So, I went. Every week I went, twice a week, three times a week even. It felt good. A nice, squishy, “I’m doing something respectable,” feeling. Pleasant.

            Otherwise, life went on as usual. I recovered from the little stumble and continued with my plans. Only now I went, too.

            Then it happened.

            It devastated my life.

            Suddenly my plans became meaningless. Turns out they never had any meaning to begin with. I plunged into the proverbial pit. It stayed there for a long time before I remembered the letter. I decided maybe his plans might work as well as mine. Better, since he had more experience than I. Then that phrase came to mind. I got mad. I did what the stupid letter said! It said, “come,” and I went! More time wasted!

            I stayed angry until I was too tired to be angry anymore. I just wanted to rest. But I couldn’t! My futile endeavors to get back the life I planned kept me too busy to rest. Finally I gave up. It was too much. I was broken and despairing.

            So I opened the letter. I went to that part about his plans. He said, “hope.” I cried. I wanted hope so badly. I read those words again, “I will be found by you.” One last wave of rebellion swelled and tried to wash over me, but I moved away from it. I couldn’t let stubbornness rob me of even just the hope of hope.

            I read the letter again. I wanted to understand that phrase. I liked his plans, but how could I carry them out if I couldn’t find him? I searched for clues. I pondered his letter during every free moment. I even asked other people about it. I needed to understand that phrase. Not much mattered to me besides that one phrase.

            Then I found it. I searched hard for the answer and I finally found it. It stared me in the face the whole time but I never understood until that moment. And there he was. An act of his will, not mine, but somehow without violating my own free will. He held out a bright, beautiful future. He gave me a wealth I never dreamed of. He gave me hope that went so far beyond my simple hopes of the past that I felt ready to burst with it. But the sweetest thing! The sweetest thing was hearing his voice speak those words.

            “I have been found by you.”

            For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, Jeremiah 29:11-14a NIV

Pilgrim in a Rocky Valley, by Carl Gustav Carus, 1820

Pilgrim in a Rocky Valley, by Carl Gustav Carus, 1820

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