Monday 21 May 2012

Radiance 15 - Good to give thanks to the Lord

1] A Psalm, a Song. For the sabbath day.
2] It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
3] To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness at night,
4] With the ten-stringed harp; with the melody of the lyre.
5] For You, Lord, made me glad through Your work; I will rejoice in the works of Your hands.
6] How great are Your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep.
7] A simple man does not know, neither can a fool understand this.
8] That when the wicked spring up like grass, and when all the workers of sin flourish - it is so that they may be destroyed for ever.
9] But You, O Lord, are on high for evermore.

    On her left was a river of fire - scorching, burning, dancing. On her right was a river of ice - freezing, flowing, shifting. In between walked Emma, half burnt, half frozen, remaining on the one path between the two that seemed tolerable. Her hair was beginning to singe, the smell filled her nostrils. Her right hand was turning blue, her left turning black. But she could not stop, the ascent, the descent, must continue. With a great effort of will she forced her right leg forward, then her left, on and on, each step carrying her a tiny fraction of the infinite path.
    Yet Emma knew that at the same time she was sitting in a small flat in Netanya, ‘The Book of the Chariot’ open before her. She did not know how long it had been since she last ate or drank anything, her own name seemed but a distant memory. Emma’s mind was full of ice and flames. But she had to keep moving.
    A wall rose up before her eyes, a wall of sapphire stones, refracting the light into a million shards of green and blue. And Emma was standing at a wooden gate that must have stood over a hundred feet tall and fifty feet wide.  On either side of the gate stood a monstrous creature with four faces - an eagle faced backwards, an ox head faced to the left, a lion to the right, and vaguely human eyes glared down at her. Silvery wings wrapped around these creatures, moving so fast they could barely be seen, and in their hands were enormous swords, black flames licking their razor edges, barring her way. These were true cherubim, she thought, absently turning the page of the book in her Israel apartment. Why couldn’t they look more like Raphael’s chubby babies?

    “Hold!” they cried in unison, human and animal voices blending into a cacophony of vibrations. “Mortal man cannot enter here, turn back or die.”
    I must not show fear, Emma thought, must not be afraid. She spoke the formula as described in the book, a mystical nonsense of letters and vowels. The ox and lion heads looked at each other and nodded in agreement. As a pair, the cherubim lifted their swords - the way was open.
    “Emma daughter of Chava,” the angels intoned, “you may enter, but know that we are but the least of the guardians you must face before you enter the presence of the King.”
    “I understand,” she said, forcing down a tremor, “now open the gate.”
    “Very well, may God watch over you.”
    With a crack like thunder, the gate shuddered and opened just a fraction, though wide enough for Emma to pass through without hindrance. Stepping through, Emma faced a sea of bright grass, waving in a gentle breeze, that seemed to stretch to the ends of the earth in all directions. Yet at the same time she was aware of the next wall, the next set of guardians, not so far away.
    And so Emma began to walk again, through the endless meadow, feeling the crunch of earth beneath her feet. She walked, and walked. The sun beat down on her grey hair, but it never moved - it was noon forever, and the far wall was as far away as it had been at first. She was tired, so tired. Her joints were beginning to ache, especially her knee that had been troubling her since she had tripped down the stairs as a teenager. It grew unsteady and wobbled slightly when Emma put pressure on it. The grassy plain continued without any variation, no hills or rocks, no insects or birds, just earth and grass, and a gentle breeze.
    Pain burned up Emma’s thigh, shooting up her leg every time her foot hit the ground. She was tired, so tired. Her breaths were coming short and sharp, more like gulps than anything.
    She wasn’t going to make it.
    “I suppose that now isn’t a good time to mention that I’m hungry,” Eliav’s voice spoke in her ear.
    Even here she couldn’t be rid of him?
    “How can you be hungry,” she said in between haggard breaths, “you don’t have a stomach.”
    “Maybe that’s it. I want to eat again, cream doughnuts, blackberry jam on buttered scones, a cup of Earl Grey.”
    “Shut up… Can’t you see… that I’m busy?”
    “I know that, I just thought you were giving up, that’s all. Thought we could go out for tea somewhere nice in Netanya, forget about this whole nasty business.”
    Emma dragged herself a few more feet across the ground.
    “I can’t… I won’t make it…”
    “Yeah, you’re probably right,” Eliav said, “I don’t suppose you will. You’re too old, you know that.”
    Emma ignored him, gritting her teeth against the pain.
    “And what would your mother have said? She never thought you would achieve anything. Looks like she was right.”
    “Shut… up…” Why was he bringing her mother into this? What right did Eliav have?
    “You’re never going to make it, so why bother? What are you even doing this for?”
    “For Asher…” Emma whispered through bloody lips.
    And then the pain was gone, and the next gate stood before her.
    “You’re welcome,” Eliav said.
    “Don’t think that I will thank you, Eliav.”
    “I don’t, and anyway, this isn’t about me or you.”
    “At least on that we can agree,” Emma said, and walked up to the wooden doorway that stood twice as tall as the one she had passed before.
    Before the gate, barring her way, seemed to be a tiny ball of gold. No, not a ball, a series of interlocking wheels, whirring around each other almost faster than the eye could follow. And it wasn’t tiny - it was enormous, larger than a horse, a house, a castle - wheels inside wheels filled her whole vision, and across the spinning gold were spread myriad eyes of infinite colours, inspecting her, observing her every action.
    “Speak mortal, or burn forever,” spoke a woman’s voice that reminded Emma of a half-forgotten childhood friend.
    In another world, Emma turned the page. One of the ophanim, she thought, half-seeing an illustration of the wheels and the eyes in the Book of the Chariot. She spoke the words on the page, reciting each faux-Hebrew syllable, each strange vowel and arcane consonant. The eyes blinked but did not move.
    “No, Emma, daughter of Chava, and Eliav, son of Hezekiah, you cannot pass with these words. Once perhaps, when the great and holy Ari walked among the heavens but no longer.”
    Emma’s breath quickened - the book promised success - she had done everything right. The gold sparked with white fire, impossibly bright but burning cold, searing itself into her retinas. Yet Emma would not look away.
    “I will not go back,” she said.
    “Emma,” Eliav whispered, “if the magic formula doesn’t work you have to get out of here.”
    She didn’t move.
    “I mean it this time,” Eliav said, “without the right words your soul will burn up inside you.”
    “I will not go back,” she said again, even more resolutely. She called to the angel, “what must I do?”
    “What will you give?” the woman’s voice replied.
    “I will give anything, everything, but I must proceed.”    The light was too bright to see now, only dark spots pulsating in front of Emma’s eyes, though whether they were part of the ophanim or her own eyes deceiving her, Emma could not know.
    “You must walk alone, leave everything behind. The world will forget you.”
    “I don’t care - now let me pass.”
    “Very well, Emma, daughter of Chava. You may pass through the second gate but know that when you meet the next guardian, you will think me the least among the angels, and few enter the courts of the King and emerge unscathed.”
    “I understand, thank you.”
    “Do not thank me, for I have no will of my own. All is in the hands of the One who spoke and the world was. Now enter the third chamber and continue your descent.”
    The gate opened silently Emma strode through it.
    “Goodbye Emma,” Eliav whispered at the threshold, “save him for me.”
    “Goodbye Eliav. You were a lousy husband but a decent ghost. Rest easy.”
    “I would if I could,” Eliav said, and was gone.
    Emma crossed over and found herself standing outside a long white wall that seemed to stretch as far as she could see, curving around and away from her. She had to keep going. Putting the wall on her left, she followed the white wall to the right.
    As she walked, the sound of song began to rise up from the other side of the wall, soft at first but swelling slowly, rising and falling like the gentle waves: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the voices sang, holy, holy, holy. Emma’s heart began to lift - the Court of the King couldn’t be too far away now. The whole earth is full of His glory.
    The voices fell away, the wind dropped. Utter silence fell over everything. A still small voice from beyond the wall proclaimed:
    “The days of the Seven are almost over - while they may succeed for a time they shall swiftly fall, for among the Seven lurks a traitor. When the depths rise, when the Bound One wakes, then this world shall come to an end and Asher son of Eliav will die.”


  1. You were a lousy husband but a decent ghost.

    I really like this line!

    (And no, I'm not a robot. What kind of Blade Runner world do we live in when I have to prove to my oldest friend that I'm not a robot!)

    1. Thanks Daniel. :)

      (Maybe you are a robot who just thinks you aren't? 'More human than human' after all)

    2. This is the kind of thought that leads to me still being awake at 1.45am.