It was like someone took a snow globe, turned it upside down with a gentle shake, then set it back upright on the shelf. I headed out for a run in that perfect snowfall along the unplowed road, following tire track furrows. The wind must have been playing elsewhere, so the snow piled into all the nooks and crannies. Even the tiniest twig delicately held its share.
A little ways up the road, there sits a small castle close to a little yellow house that is bravely hanging on. A very old man used to live there, and I can still see him, sitting in a straight-back chair on his little front stoop, lifting a hand in greeting or calling a hello, as I ran by. On occasion, he would be out by the road as I went by, and I would stop for a wee chat. He talked reverently of his deceased mother and less reverently of his deceased wife. One summer day a storm was brewing. Because that running route is an out and back, I passed his place twice. On my way back he had his car ready to give me a ride home, so that I wouldn’t be caught in the storm. I politely declined the kind (and a tad creepy) offer, preferring to try and outpace the threatening clouds. My mom and dad would deliver meals to him through an organization they volunteered with, and this old gentleman always came out to the car where mom waited, to greet her and kiss her hand as was the custom in “the old country”.
This old man was a mason. Our farmhouse boasts some of his handiwork, done years before we lived here. He also said he was from royal lineage back in the old country. I mortared together from our bits and pieces of conversation that he built the castle as a tribute, a monument to his heritage. A relic created a replica of a relic to make a statement of bygone ways and days. The little castle sits there now, unique among the farmhouses that surround it, enticing story, begging of understanding, and oddly humble.
Sometimes the Bible reads with all the grace of an old relic. We’re talking slaughter of people groups, sacrifice of animals and people to gods, and a whole host of stories with complicated family dynamics that often don’t end well. My postmodern, Western eyesight has a really hard time bringing anything into focus, much less reading it as a text that is potentially life-giving. And yet it remains, oddly humble in its dishevelled nature, non apologetic, and enticing me into its story. Relics can be touchstones to the past; they can also be signs and reminders to keep searching for creative ways to move forward.
Quite early on in my year’s reading of the Bible, I was reading a story in the Old Testament. It had warriors and conquest and family dynamics. The story was about a group of brothers who were warriors. One brother had questionable lineage, and though an accomplished warrior, was always relegated to the margins. I didn’t recognize the story when I first started reading it, but was kinda liking this guy who needed to carve out his own way. As I read further, the story tells how this brother warrior promised God that he would sacrifice (literally) whatever came running to meet him when he returned home from battle if God helped him win it. At that point, I recognized the story, and my spirit actually groaned within me as I thought “I hate this story”. Apparently this warrior dude expected his dog to be the first meet him when he returned home. Instead, it was his one and only daughter.
Now at this point, one would think that someone would intervene – maybe even that God would intervene. Nada. This man was heartbroken. The young girl accepted her fate with seemingly no blame towards her dad. She asked only that her death be postponed for a month while she roamed the hills with her friends weeping and mourning, not so much her untimely and unfair demise, but that she would die a virgin. Seriously. I can still see the illustration of her in our blue set of Bible story books with this look of serene acceptance and wild beauty that the illustrator gave her.
When I was young and read this, there was an unconscious thought that if it was in the Bible and if the Bible was written by God, then what happened in the Bible was completely condoned by God. Obviously that thinking was young and flawed. But still, what does one do with a story like this?
I remember sitting in a small group conversation, and my brother talking about how God worked and moved within the context and setting of the times, and in this case, ancient times. Does that mean that God had self-imposed limitations? Could God have been wandering the hills immersed in an even deeper grief because of a deeper awareness? Someday, will someone read stories that were written in our day and age and wonder at how we could live with such barbaric and seemingly uninformed practices?
As I read this story at my table in the solarium and felt that deep inward groan with the accompanying words “I hate this story”, I heard (but not really heard), I felt (well, sort of), I had a knowing (but did I really?) of a still, small voice with the words, “I hate this story too”.