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Around 4 A.M., I awoke with this loud dream:

It was 1429, a sun-filled afternoon in the town square at Orleans, France, resounding with jubilant hoots of victory. The French army, under the command of Joan of Arc, had just defeated the British and restored the Dauphin to his rightful place on the throne. She looked stunning, armored, and astride her white horse, her victory more of God’s work than her own.

The deafening noise of the dream hurt so much that I scrambled awake to the quiet of my bedroom where I sat up and caught my bearings. In 1977, I had spent an afternoon in the Old City, at Orleans, France, marveled at the equestrian statue of the Maid of Orleans, but it had little resemblance to the dream’s image.

The Joan of Arc in my psyche heartens me—yet another spirit guide to lead me through the pitfalls of my terminal illness, at times like a pus-filled enemy beset with fears and setbacks. The British enemies Joan contended with pale in comparison.

Indeed, in my depths wage intermittent 24/7 wars. Vigilance to prevent these intrusions from scabbing old wounds augments my chronic exhaustion and weakness. Each day’s challenge is to remain steadfast in faith to Creator God who has companioned me for over eighty-five years. That’s a long time to be around, I often tell Him.

Back lit translucent white lit candle with melting wax

Fifteen years ago this morning, humid and cloudy, Two Men and a Truck moved my belongings to my new home, a modest bungalow, ideal for its quiet and neighborly support. Outside my study window flourished an old lilac shrub; it’s still there, in full bloom, its fragrance drawing smiles from dog-walkers.

But the deepest smiles have been my own. Aside from periodic pruning and watering, I’ve contributed little toward the shrub’s survival. Winter-ice encased the buds, snowdrifts weighted the branches, and winds, like whirling dervishes, propelled its root systems into deeper articulation.

Infrequently, though, a freeze shocked the heady blossoms, and then it was over until next year—Brown and spent, they languished and nicked my grief.

With this spring’s frolicking, however, fully rounded lilac buds slowly split with tinges of pale green; then emerged clusters of lavender nubs until warmed into full petalling. It’s happened again, for the sixteenth year.

Such beauty reminds me of the Source, ever recoloring my psyche and companioning my end time that demands even more consciousness. Again, as I look out my study window, I thrill with regal blossoms sweeping the sky. I’m in good hands and always have been.

Restoration specialists use precise tools to remove accretions of paint-overs, dust, and discoloration.

Such a specialist in the academic world is Reza Aslan, author of Zealot – The Life and Times of Jesus (2013)—research, his tool to fashion the historical Jesus within first-century Palestine, a large swath of the Roman-occupied Middle East filled with messiahs and Jewish bandits, and their subsequent executions.

Aslan’s skill as a writer enhances this narrative. Each chapter’s accompanying notes, index, bibliography, maps, and chronology facilitate the readers’ tracking and amplifying his conclusions. And they are startling, in some instances major corrections to my sense of Jesus, illiterate day laborer and itinerant preacher with his followers. The violent backdrop of this story bristles with suspicion and terror—a world, like our own.

Roman history only records Jesus’s birth in 4 B.C.E – 6 C.E., and his crucifixion and death as a seditionist at the hands of Pontius Pilate in 30 – 33 C.E. In its aftermath, a handful of Jesus’s followers banded together beneath a portico in the Temple’s outer court to remember and share the story.

Further complicating this incipient picture of Jesus comes Paul of Tarsus in 37 C.E., self-proclaimed as the “first Apostle.” His preaching and letters to Hellenistic communities clashed with the “unsophisticated” Church of Jerusalem, then, headed by James, the brother of Jesus, another surprise.

For decades, oral tradition continued carrying Jesus’s story until 70 C.E when Mark first wrote his Gospel expressed in rudimentary Greek; the other Gospels Mathew and Luke, written separately from each other, between 90 and 100 C.E.; and John’s with a mystical bent, between 100 and 120 C.E. Among them, differences abound. Later during those first centuries, what others thought they had heard became woven into other varied canonical and non-canonical texts collected by copyists.

As the story of Jesus spread, so did the need to downplay his ignominious death on the cross and to cookie-cutter a more presentable Jesus for the Christian Church, thus its politicization under the fourth-century Emperor Constantine. But what Aslan produces is a zealous adherent of Torah teachings and practice—Jesus of Nazareth, caught within the cross-hairs of Imperialistic Rome and its sycophants in first-century Jerusalem. His spirit and teaching live on—it’s still about conversion of the heart.

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