In the Beginning

Saint Jesus

part of: The Wanderers

by The Archives of Raynah

The night was cold and clear…the time of Solstice…the dark time of the year in the University town where my parents were Professors. We ‘did our duty,’ and attended the annual department Christmas Party. My parents were both closet introverts, as my dad used to say. They preferred their books and heated conversations to the necessary rituals of polite society. I was excited to go. I loved to watch people. At that point in my life, I had only watched people my parents knew – family, friends, colleagues. We were of that class of person on planet Earth who did not have their neurons rubbed violently against the harsh demands of subsistence on a daily basis. No, we were among those mom called ‘the cloud-minders’ – a phrase gleaned from an old sci fi vid. She meant we were workers in the world of ideas, divorced from the production of the necessities of existence. I knew this was a privilege that rested uneasily in my parents’ minds.

“We argue about theory and practice, reality and illusion because we don’t have to worry about our next meal,” my mother always said.

“Reality is food and warmth, friendship and reliability in the face of challenge,” my father often added.

“We worry about other things,” I often countered. “We have reality! We have food, warmth, friendship and reliability in the face of challenge!” It was true.

“But we do not worry that any of our family with die from lack of food,” my father often said.

“Our food and warmth are far more about diversion than survival,” my mother often countered.

That is how I grew up, between the thrust of their passionate minds, which is probably what conditioned me to thinking as an habitual activity. I thought about who I was, why humans were here on Earth, and what I would do with my life. I wondered what other people thought about such questions. Mom and dad were just two of seven billion other humans. How many other humans would be at this party? What were their thoughts?

We arrived a few minutes early. Across the room sparsely occupied by other people I spotted an old woman. She was sitting alone by a fireplace. Its stone mantle reached all the way up to the ceiling, which looked to be made of mahogany beams. There was something inviting about her, a wilderness waiting to be explored. She noticed my attention and returned the favor. A bright light shone through the open doors of her eyes. It illuminated all the secret places of my mind. A chill ran from my neck to the small of my back, setting my emotions ajitter. There was something different, something almost frightening about her. I didn’t know what! I could turn and run or….

….I decided on exploration. Maybe that was because I was just ten and had always been safe. Fear perched on my shoulder like an exotic bird I could shoo away at will.

I walked over to her. She said, “hello little one, what is your name?” and I answered, “Terry Willson-Trois.”

She smiled and said, “My name is Jen.” Her smile was reassuring. I fell all the way into her eyes and felt comfortable.

We sat together in silence and watched as more guests arrived. Somewhere behind the noise of the escalating party the song “Silent Night” began to play, reminding me of why I was here – Christmas! My parents were not religious. I didn’t really know much about the holiday. I just knew it revolved around someone called, Jesus. With a child’s lack of subtlety, I simply asked, “So, can you tell me about this Jesus guy? Christmas is supposed to be his birthday. I don’t really know anything about him. Do you?”

She laughed. “Now, that’s an unexpected question. I suppose I could tell you what I think about him, but it’s complicated dear – lots of twists and turns. How much time have you got?”

I looked around the room. My parents were in different corners talking to different people. They were in full party mode. They were probably talking about our dogs and someone else’s cats, the weather, what their colleagues and their superiors at the University were doing, the latest film or theory…maybe they were whispering about who was in and who was out. From past experience I figured I probably had about an hour.

She had followed my glance, then laughed and said, “Looks like about an hour…okay then, this Jesus guy. What do you want to know about him?”

“Well, who was he?”

“Jesus was a man who became a story.”

She must have seen the confusion on my face, because she stopped and grinned. I thought, “Oh, she’ll explain that now,” but instead she continued in the same direction.

“Well, he moved the Big Story forward out of Neolithic imagination into Judeo-Roman thinking.”

‘What?’ must have been written all over my face. I had been expecting to hear something about religion. Wasn’t Jesus a religion? Her answer wasn’t about religion, unless the Big Story she had referred to was religion.

“So, when you say, Big Story, do you mean religion?” I interrupted. I needed some clarification.

She laughed and said, “Yes and no. Religions have always been repositories of the Big Story; how we got here, why we are here, what we are supposed to do while we’re here, where we go when we die…that story. But, poets, artists, philosophers, and scientists have all shaped that story too…and mothers in the wee hours of the morning soothing a sick child, well, all their hours spent tending the people in their lives.”

She had my full attention. “Jesus changed people’s ideas about what is important, and in that way furthered the Big Story. He brought ‘good news.’

“News?” I asked, feeling even more confused.

“Well, in his day, the prevailing definition of human worth said that only rulers and the classes directly surrounding them were important. Everyone else was to be used in whatever way the rulers saw fit. But, Jesus championed the notion that ordinary people were as important to God as the big guys…he referred to this class of persons as the meek.”

“That doesn’t sound too earthshaking to me. Isn’t that what democracy is based on?” I replied.

She laughed for a long while, then said, “Yes, but in those days, those ideas were 1776 years away from becoming a social reality—and Jesus included women and children in his vision, that is still radical! Are either of those classes of person considered as important as males yet?”

“I, I don’t know?” I replied.

“Are they represented equally in any governmental structure on Earth?” she asked.

“Well that is stupid, kids don’t know anything!” I retorted reflexively.

“Is that so?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “You seem intelligent enough. Do you have nothing to contribute to a conversation about your life or the lives of your family and friends?”

Her eyes were so brown they were almost black…intense, and yet caressing… I felt myself completely relax. My heart squeezed in my chest, sent a surge of blood to massage the interior of my skull. My neurons waved like seaweed in the red flood. I shook my head to clear my focus on those sensations. I refocused on her strange statements. “I’m not sure I’m following you,” I said.

“Well, I suppose I am zigging and sagging here, but this is an important point. Females are half the human race, but no government is composed of 50% females. Children are the future of our race, but what happens to them is left up to their families, who may or may not nurture them properly. Certainly it is rare to see a child granted any real say in what happens to them. If a child is properly nurtured, great, but if not, then the communities within which they will live out their lives are deformed to the extent the child was deformed during his or her upbringing. This is precisely the situation all women and children, and everyone not born into the ruling classes found themselves in the time of Jesus.”

“Okay. But I still don’t see what this has to do with Jesus,” I replied, feeling confused.

“Who we grant importance to has a great deal to do with Jesus,” she replied. “He invested the common person with the power and responsibility to speak directly to God. Before that, only priests and rulers could do this…and God or the Gods dictated to the People! He admonished those in power that even the least of all living things was important to God. Is it an accident that in the countries influenced by his ideas, the power of rulers to intimidate and control their people has been limited, first by force of religion, and then by force of secular law?”

“I don’t know. I guess I need to study some more history!” I exclaimed.

“Indeed,” she laughed…

“So, this Jesus sounds like a saint – he thought of others as much as he thought of himself (that was my mom’s definition of a saint). Was he?” I prodded.

“A saint? Maybe that is a good epithet. I think he tried to do what was right for the people of his time. His vantage point must have been so different from ours right now. Everything is different when you’re in a situation as opposed to imagining it,” she continued. “Imagine this… you are born in a small, farming and herding village during an occupation by a foreign power. Your people have cultivated an ancient pride in the ways of their ancestors. They have preserved stories about who and what is right and proper.”

“I don’t know the history of his people,” I said. “Who were they?”

“Ah,” she smiled. “His people were the Hebrews. They have existed as a people with stories, rituals and definitions of who they are for five thousand years now. In the time of Jesus, they had survived empire-building, slavery, transplantation, and constant war. Similarly, their occupiers, the Romans, had survived for over a thousand years by holding fiercely to their stories, social organization, and laws, and by being willing to sacrifice anything or anyone who got in their way. To live under the yoke of Rome…you don’t know what that meant, do you?”

I shook my head no.

She continued, “It meant soldiers in your streets, fear for breakfast, outrage at lunch, and betrayal for supper. Did you know the main roads were often lined with people hanging on crosses, dead and rotting, or dying—begging for water or mercy?”

I felt stunned by this information. I couldn’t imagine living in such a situation, but it did sound like what Palestinians and Tibetans lived with today.

“And yet,” she continued, musing to herself, “in the stiff, elitist necks of both Rome and Judea was such good. Rome had efficiency, focus and organization. Judea had purpose, passion, and a deep love of simply living. If you were Jesus how would you deal with the clash of cultures in which your life was embedded?”

“I have no idea,” I said.

“Would you try?” she asked.

“I think I’d want to be safe,” I replied. “Could I try and still be safe?”

“Yes, most of us would like that option. Unfortunately, that option is probably mythical. Jesus publicly demanded people treat each other with forbearance and compassion, especially when it wasn’t easy. He also publicly criticized the rulers of both Rome and Judea when the price was torture and death.”

“Why….why would he want to do that?” I gasped.

“Well, a number reasons I think. First, he was a man of deep courage and real compassion – those qualities called him to action. Second, he got his ideas out where they could do some good. Third, he died nobly in full view of the public. Since his time, people like him in every generation have had a role model. It has given them the strength of will to act at the proper moment in the proper way to change the way things have always been done, even if they suffer or die as a consequence. Because Jesus and those like him have done their part, things have kept moving in the general direction of the good of all.”

Some deep part of my brain hungrily absorbed what she had said. As it did, a feeling of peace and purpose began to burn inside me.

Time passed…a log in the fire cracked and fell open revealing the shimmering mosaic of its inner core. My new friend said, “Everyone who has ever lived has been as necessary as Jesus and people like him. It takes all of us to make up humanity.” She leaned forward and took both my hands in hers. She gazed deeply into my eyes said, “The real trick is to take your life and your gifts into your own hands and make of them what sets things to right among the people around you. If you can’t do that of your own volition, then nothing will ever make sense, and no one can ever teach you right from wrong!”

At that moment a rush of cold air hit me full in the face. Somewhere a door slammed shut behind a group of carolers as they left. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up. It was my mom. My hour was over. It was time to go home. I turned to say goodbye to Jen, but she was gone too. I looked around the room just in time to see her slip out the front door. She winked at me goodbye. The clear night sky was full of stars. I felt a rush of joy. I had just received permission to take my life into my own hands… and so began the path I’ve walked with strength and purpose these many years gone by.

Related by T’zirth, Twilit Deznahdorean of the First Generation