Thoughts Before Dawn

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What I believe: I keep getting asked this. So I am going to make a list, a list for 2014. It will be a list, not a creed, because I am a living man and not a statue, and what I believe, think, or feel may change. And I am going to give this list to you in the voices of my characters, because, well, they are way more articulate than I am.

This year, I believe:

…that of the things we seek after in life and of all the things we strive to find or build or create, that which is most to be desired is peace:

Peace was more than stillness. More than sleep. More than numbness, more than the absence of conflict.

Peace was consolation and wholeness. Peace was two men breaking bread together, forgiving an old quarrel. Peace was a mother holding her infant up to its father for the first time, or a mother opening her eyes to greet her child after long illness. Peace was two lovers in each other’s arms after a long, good night. Peace was an open door and a wall torn down. Peace was a cephas, a rock lashed by the waves yet unmoved. A rock people could stand on. – No Lasting Burial

…that peace is hard to find; the world is big and we are small:

Barak was shaking. “The land has become strange to me,” he whispered, gazing at that lifeless face frozen in its moment of famished need. “I wanted only evenings in my house and Hadassah in my bed, her breasts in my hands. I wanted only my vineyard, only the ripe grapes, the coolness of them beneath my feet, the taste of wine. The long battle with soil and worm is enough for any man of Naphtali. God, you give and you take away, and we are only ashes. We are only ashes.” – Strangers in the Land

…that there is no real explanation of or excuse for suffering; it is not part of a Plan, capital-P; the horrors we endure shake us and shake our world. I do not mean that suffering is pointless, only that it is not planned, it is not reducible to any proverb or formula; yet I do believe that suffering is only the dark chapter, not the end; though suffering cannot be excused or deleted, great beauty can come after it:

“Our father did not promise a life without pain,” Yeshua murmured. “Not without pain. Only that he would weep with us. Only that his heart would break. Only that he would take each moment of suffering, each death, each, and hold it in his hands, and . . . and bring from it something, something even more beautiful than what was lost. A forest of cedar grows from a field of ash, and each seed, every seed must fall to the earth, fall and fall and crack open and die before it can become a barley plant.” – No Lasting Burial

…that God, if you believe God exists, is neither planning the suffering of the world nor planning its ceasing without our involvement. Rather, God is grieving with us. What force God might have in the world is the force of a still, small voice, soft as weeping in the night, that might stir us from sleep and call on us to make the world more like one God would enjoy living in:

Once he came awake with a start, thinking he’d heard weeping. He bolted upright and gazed into the dark, but the sound faded from hearing as swiftly as any dream sound might. Miriam stirred beside him. “What is it, husband?” Her voice heavy with sleep.

Yirmiyahu was breathing hard, the sheets sweaty beneath him. He didn’t look at her; he kept gazing in the direction from which the sound had come, if there had actually been a sound. His ears strained to hear it. With a dryness in his throat, he realized he was staring in the direction of the Temple. – Death Has Come Up into Our Windows

…that what really matters is how we respond to that weeping, to the tears we see on another’s face:

“When you see another’s face—the face of a child, or another woman, or the face of the goddess, or the face of someone hungry or hurt—their eyes, they look back. They look at you. They ask your love, they ask you to hear their crying and know that you and they are both alive, and some day you may be hurt, you may be hungry. It may be your child carried dying in your arms.” Hurriya choked a moment, then went on. “When I look at you, you look back. Only the dead don’t look back.”

Devora thought about that as she bent to tighten Shomar’s girth straps.

“You think the Law is a pact with your God, a pact with others of your People. But it’s not just a pact.”

Devora just listened, thinking hard.

“It’s an answer,” Hurriya said intensely. “You have rules for everything. But it’s not the rules that matter. It’s that you want to make them. You want to answer the suffering you see in another woman’s face. You want to give her safety, or justice, or comfort. That’s what matters. That’s why you have your Law, why you love it. But when you sit in decision at your olive tree, or on this horse looking at the burning town, you have to find the right answer to the suffering you see. Your fathers in the desert found the Law, found that answer. So it guides you, like I guided you into these hills. But you still have to find the right answer to each face you see.” – Strangers in the Land

…that we are our best selves when we love:

After a while she whispered, “There is a windstorm in my heart.”

Lappidoth put his arm about her, held her tightly to him. With his other hand, he took a small stone and set it beside the bread. “This is my wife’s heart,” he rumbled. Then covered the stone with his cupped hand. “This is my love for my wife, covering her heart. That the winds may pass over without tearing through her.”

She smiled despite the tightness in her breast. “I love you,” she whispered. – Strangers in the Land

…that we are our worst selves when we judge:

“I will not see our town distracted by small gods!” Zebadyah’s voice rose, thick with contempt. “Gods you can hold in your hand, rather than a God who can’t be held, who will not come at our call, for we come at his. That!”—he threw his hand out toward the stranger and the wooden horse he held—“That is an evil, a distraction you shape with your hand. A crack in the wall, while the dead press against the stones. That is not safe, it is not useful!”

Yeshua turned on the priest, his eyes hot, the wooden horse clutched in his hand, his voice loud and quick. “The father who made you may not find you useful—or you—or you—” He took them all in with a sweep of his hand. “Of what use are any of you to the Holy One who shaped the earth and filled the seas? But I have been in the desert and I . . . I believe this: there has never been a day when the father has not found you beautiful.”

Yeshua turned the horse over a few times in his hand, peering down at it. His face was troubled. “I think it is possible,” he murmured, “to keep every letter of the written Law yet fail to live a lawful life. And maybe it is possible to yearn, even to yearn for the father’s heart and yet . . . yet miss him entirely.” – No Lasting Burial

…that love is about vulnerability, and it is our willingness to be vulnerable together that makes us beautiful:

They considered each other. Then she did something he did not expect. She let the blanket slip from her shoulders, let it settle to her feet, gently as feathers. For a moment, she held her arms across her breasts, then let them fall to her sides. She lifted her chin, though her face burned. She let him see her, all of her, her beauty and her bruises. This gift of herself. Her father might strip her or beat her, but he could not take this from her: her right to open her heart and her body to one whose heart called to hers. Koach held his breath. All his life, he would remember this moment. His first sight of her. The memory would be holy to him. As though her rooftop were the place where God touched the world and created beauty.

His loins stirred for her, yet his face was wet.

Whether he wept for her, for himself, or for them both, he couldn’t have said. His hand trembled as he lifted his fingers to the clasp of his own tunic. He kept himself fully clothed at most times, even in his mother’s house; he couldn’t bear the way others looked at him when his deformity was visible. But he could not hide it now, could not conceal it when this young woman had unclothed all of her bruises, risked everything to be seen by one other. He kept his movements slow, his heart loud with his fear. It took some work, with only his one hand and not his mother’s to aid him. But at last his clothes were in a heap beside him, and he stood naked on the roof, the air cool on his skin. – No Lasting Burial

…that there is more inside each person in our lives than we have ever imagined, entire rooms we have never seen:

Her eyes opened to him, and he gazed inside the rooms of her heart. He saw rooms that were locked and chained; he could almost hear the screams behind those shut doors. He saw other rooms that were vast and wide as oceans; in one, her love and faith in him, a faith so profound and unshakable that it shook him to see it. – What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

…that it is our task to make the world livable, and not only for ourselves but for all these beautiful, many-roomed lives that surround us; the burden of action is on us, on each of us; we are the machina in the deus ex machina:

To the Greeks and the Romans both, the world itself was a stage on which the theater of history was played out for the entertainment and delight of the gods. Men and women quarreled and fought and died on that stage, until the god descended in a machine to intervene at the end of the drama. But as a father of the gathering, Polycarp saw the stage differently. On this stage, men and women who knew God could play the active part of the device that would carry into the theater the deus ex machina, the god in the machine. Their role was that of God’s machine, God’s body. They were his hands and his feet, stepping in not just at the end but at the very moment in the drama in which they found themselves placed. Through the gathering, God might intervene early to transform the grisly sets of the Subura and the cold, remote sets of the Palatine into new places, and to change the players’ costumed garb to represent miraculous transformations within their characters. – What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

…that uncertainty does not excuse us from action:

“If God is silent,” she said, “I will act as though he is not. When God sends no visions, when we don’t know if he is with us or if we are left to die in the ash among the corpses, we must still act as though his hand does cover us. Our responsibilities are unchanged. Nothing else will suffice.” – Strangers in the Land

…that in our yearning for certainty, for security, for a stable and fixed world under our feet, we have fallen in love with false gods who promise the same but who will only use us:

Gazing at the smoke on the hill’s summit, Yirmiyahu almost thought he could hear, faint in the day’s heat, the calling of those hungry gods and goddesses whom his People had not brought with them out of the desert long ago but had found waiting for them in this land. Deities who spread their arms wide and moaned: Come to me, I will give you wealth or security or love, or what you desire, only feed me, feed me. I am so hungry; don’t you want to feed me?

Sometimes, as Yirmiyahu looked up at that smoke, the cries of those other gods, who had established no abiding Covenant with the People, rose from a faint moan on the hill to a shriek of urgent, demanding need; at those times he would look away from the summit, shivering even in the heat of day as the merchants at the gate chattered and argued around him. And all the while, Yirmiyahu’s God murmured from behind the veil in her Temple, I am here. If you want me, you must be faithful to me, and you must nourish my children. You must work hard to provide for them. Then I will let you take me in your arms and I will delight you and nourish you. A divine spouse rather than a divine lover. That is how the navi saw it. – Death Has Come Up into Our Windows

…and also that our restless dead are terrifying:

Ahead he saw the door to the weaver’s house, where the Roman mercenaries had herded all of the town’s small children. An oil lamp still burned within, and Shimon had a brief glimpse of adult shapes bent over small, still bodies, large hands pulling entrails and red organs from their bellies. One of the feasting corpses glanced up and its eyes shone like cat’s eyes in the light of the lamp. – No Lasting Burial

…and that there can be only one answer to zombies, to the devouring dead or to the living that devour us also, one answer to the injustice and terror in the world; that the ferocious words that we will hold defiantly against the wrongs we see and the absolute cold of entropy are We hope and We will act and We will never, ever give in:

We must live lives of unstoppable hope. – What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

Nothing is broken that cannot be remade, nothing is ill that cannot be healed, nothing captive that cannot be freed. – What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

Now my daughter is improving, and we are on the other side of that time together. Yet those nights by her bed are recent in my heart, and they hurt. I don’t know what this past year has meant, only that the love I now hold for those I call my own is fiercer than anything I have ever felt. I have learned that hope, which I had thought small and delicate like a moth in the night, can be hard as steel, a blade with which you cut your way through a press of moaning and hungry foes. – No Lasting Burial

Welcome, 2014. I hope the year is kind. If it isn’t, I hope we all rise to do battle to make it so. And dear readers, be gentle in your comments; this page is meant not as a creed but as a personal reminiscence that I share with you, and as an introduction to my work; if there is any missionary effort implied, it is only the hope that you will get to know me better, and know better the stories I love, by reading my novels. May they chill your blood with moments of dread, astonish you with moments of beauty, and move your heart with moments of human courage, love, and hope:

Other Personal Reflections:
Climbing the Gray Mountain
We Are Bright Burning Stars in the Middle of a Vast Dark

The Bible: How and Why I Read It

2 thoughts on “Thoughts Before Dawn

  1. Thank you, Dear Friend, for sharing your heart. I believe that words – true words are the greatest gift we can give eachother, for in sharing those words, we share our hearts and the deepest parts inside us….. Janet

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