Saturday, March 7, 2009

The wilderness in Eddie's Wake

Photo - last year's Easter lily replanted in my garden; a green sunburst with a new lease on life.

"Wilderness" has shown up in several of the recent RCL gospel readings. Not the refreshing, renewing kind of wilderness where a person can get away from it all and pick wild berries and sleep on a bed of pine needles. Nothing like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. More like a desert wilderness, where it's nothing but sand, and the sun ruthlessly sucks away any moisture that might appear. I learned again what happened in those New Testament places of "wilderness" (heremos in Greek)... How Jesus, especially, went into the wilderness to struggle, to meet a crucible head on, to make a weighty decision.

And that made me think about Karl Stern and his struggle in a wilderness dream. (Maybe it could be called a vision.) There he meets his true enemy, and there he realizes he can't fight it alone. Since I haven't shared much from the book lately, here's just a bit of Karl's wilderness dream.

Karl dug his toes into the warm sand as he stared at the hand painted road sign. It had markings like nothing he’d ever seen before in a green so full of life that when he traced them with his finger he felt a surge of something better than love, better than hope, more powerful than the strength of his father and Will combined. He had no idea what the markings meant, so he bent down and copied them in the sand, returning to touch them again and again. If he ever got home, he’d draw them in his sketch pad and show them to Sister Anne. He drew a box with the upper right corner rounded off, a stick that curved slightly to the right from the top, a bent fishing hook and a slanted pitchfork. Whatever they were, he didn’t want to forget them. He drew them over and over, until they were part of him.
(Here Karl meets with a cobra that tries to squeeze the breath out of him. He untangles himself and flings the snake to the ground.)

Suddenly a sword appeared in his hand. He swung it at the serpent, swooping it in a wide arc. The serpent reared its head and spit out a stream of brown liquid. Whiskey. Karl dodged it, but stumbled with the weight of the sword. The snake laughed at him with Melvin’s voice. Rage filled Karl’s body and made him strong, stronger than he’d ever felt before. He would end this wickedness once and for all; he could do this! He stabbed the snake, impaled it to the ground, and left the sword standing in the sand. But even before he moved his hand away, another sword came out of nowhere, which was a good thing, because he hadn’t killed the snake at all, only divided it. Now two heads laughed at him, two tongues flicked at his bare feet, and two sets of red eyes bored into his soul. With trembling hands, Karl stabbed at one of them, again plunging the sword into the ground, leaving it standing. Now there were three snakes. Another sword, another stab, another serpent; another and another until he stood in a slithering mess of evil broken only by the countless swords which stood like crosses in a cemetery. Even though he despaired and grew weary, Karl knew he would die the moment he stopped fighting. Stab, thrust, stab again... Bitter disappointment filled him. He’d thought this was a place of goodness and peace; with all his heart, he wanted it to be. Stab thrust, stab. He couldn’t keep this up much longer. He wanted to call for help, but who would come? Stab, stab, stab. This must be hell.
Poor Karl, at such a young age learning that despite wanting to end the wickedness in his life, he could not do it by himself. Poor Karl, at such a young age desolated and despairing; weary and wondering if he hadn't found his way into hell. I won't share the rest of his vision here, but I can tell you that as he's lifted away from it all, he gets a taste of what love can accomplish.

Time to wind down for the night and reset all the clocks; spring ahead, fall behind. I'd love to get all the sleep I need before the busy Sunday ahead.


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