“Will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?” and, in reply, he answers with a simple, “I will” (2), sealing eternity.
On the 30th day of the tenth month the earth shook and the vault of the sky gave way. There fell, casted from heaven as a rain long awaited, the figure of a stone so beautiful and rare, yet never to crumble or wear away. Only shall it be set within the cast of the body below, an etching upon this heart well awaited, standing firm within the mud and clay; words firm and unshaken by decay or change.
But the centurion replied to him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
And he said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one have I found such faith” (3).
She knew her place among the earth, and she knew where she was going and where she had come, and never did she doubt it or step wrongly off her path. Like the step of a feather upon water, she walked among the festering lilies and willowing branches, firm and steadfast in her way, echoing through stone graves.
“Only say it be,” she spoke, “and it shall be.”
Yet few believed her words, for how can such words be given among all these fading worlds.
Once upon a time, when the briers grew wild and the embers of the burnt graves lasted longer than the lives they cremated, a young boy wandered about. Soot fell lightly from smoking towers, dogs whined from vacant buildings, and a light mist drifted along the stones of the city road.
Click, click, thump.
Click, click, thump.
With each kick of the empty can, the metal tin would bounce twice on each corner, and then, as a dead weight, drop flat on its top, like clockwork. His pockets were never lonely of the company of his hands, and his face was never without blemish; he walked lightly, kicking casually.
Click, click, thump.
Click, click, thump.
“Watch it, boy!” shouted a trolly captain passing a footstep ahead, but the boy did not look up. He waited for him to pass, his hands unmoved, his face motionlessly cast down without focus. The trolly passed, and the can found its demise, crushed and bent up by the wheel of the trolly.
The boy kept walking.
Eventually he arrived at the portico of the city’s forsaken center. Pale obelisks rose before him as slender giants come to collect the departed, amber spires stood against the blanketed sky, and silver walls leaned upon the growing shadows of evening. The boy walked a few steps up and into the meadow of obelisks that lie about the outskirts of the manor. He stopped short just before one of the obelisks and fell to the ground, leaning against the stone, his knees bent and hugged into his chest, his head against the steep wall, his eyes staring blankly into the distance.
“At midnight he was sitting on the crest of a hill.” (4)
“In this decayed hole among the mountains In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home. It has no windows, and the door swings, Dry bones can harm no one. Only a cock stood on the rooftree Co co rico co co rico In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust Bringing rain” (5)
The boy awoke as the sun peaked upon the city roofs, his hands and feet were soggy from a light mist that fell throughout the night. Remaining at the foot of the obelisk, he watched as the sunlight’s glow caught the glimmer of the wet stone city circling his perch. And then, into the distance as a morning shadow, he caught the sight of a figure proceeding slowly up the hill toward him. The figure was obscured by the morning mist, yet he could see it held a small light before it, which dangled side to side as it moved. Like a wandering specter, it floated upward toward him, beneath the ashen fog. As the figure approached nearer, he discerned it to be a woman dressed in grey robe, carrying a lantern in her hand.
“Son of greats,” she spoke as she came to stop before him, her shadow casted against the dimly rose sun, “why do you lie at the foot of giants in the cold wet?” He looked up toward her, standing above him, the lantern illuminating her face and the wrinkles of her robe. He spoke not a word.
“Why do you lie here?” she knelt beside him, placing the lantern on the stone pavement, her robe falling upon the ground as a dress caught in the twirling wind; her face was kind and peaceful, young, her voice calming.
“It burned down my lady,” he finally replied, staring blankly at his feet.
“What did, son of greats?”
“Home, my lady,” he spoke, the same countenance, “my family burnt down.”
She turned her head and looked toward the city below, a light smoke still rose from a tower in the vaporous distance, floating into the air on the hollow breeze. Initially the outer buildings of the city were built high to act as additional defense watches; as the city was built more inward, the structures shrunk till reaching the center. Whether intentional or not, it created the illusion that the center and the hill it resided upon were twice their actual hight. Once the city walls were completed, most the outer towers were adopted as homes. The boy had lived here.
“How long have you been here, son of greats?”
“Don’t know, my lady. Evening, I suppose. They always say the king will come out from this place, break his silence, open the gates, and cast away the fog.”
The woman smiled and caressed the boy’s face, her soft hands were warm and calm, like a gentle summer breeze, “Hope brought you here,” she spoke, “and hope will lead you now, son of greats.”
Tears gathered toward the corners of his eyes, “There is no one left, my lady,” he replied one final moment, “what they used to say when the king went silent, it’s true now,” that all what was, is no longer here, and I have been left beneath this grey blanket, forsaken with nowhere to lay my head, “There’s no hope, my lady.”
Her eyes narrowed as if to withstand a giant beast, “Arise, son of greats,” she took his hand and rose him to his now tired feet, “I bind the word of truth to you, son of greats,” she held his shoulders and directed him toward the southern horizon, speaking with her head beside his, her face directed with his face, “you will be comforted, honored, and kept, even when the heavens cry, and the earth quakes. As sure as the king’s figure of stone stands to the South, there too will your life arise. Even when the heavens cry, you will not be forsaken.” Without turning him, she reached about his arms and gave him a light and kind hug, gently squeezed his sides, looking over his shoulder to the distant region with a kindly yet sad facade, and entered the center’s gate for the throne which awaited her presence. The boy left, and did not return.
The heavens cried, the city was crushed and burned, and the king’s figure did not fall. The amber spires fell, the silver walls collapsed, the obelisks crumbled, and the king’s figure did not fall. Her body was torn in two, her robes parted, her blood fell over naked stone, and her word did not fall.
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, be glory and dominion forever and ever,” to eternity’s reach (7).
We prefer now to focus on God’s love, and our faithfulness to Him; yet, in actuality, our faithfulness means nothing if He is not graceful; and, His grace, His love, means nothing if He is not faithful. God’s entire character, and our entire lives, are bankrupt and pointless, if He is not faithful to who He is, and to His promises. A faithless god is a broken idol who deserves nothing, even worship; yet a faithful God deserves all, and is necessary for all to exist, even Himself.
Stones will not last, hands will not remain grasped, yet never will the word of the Lord forsake. It will stand as a figure of stone so beautiful and rare, yet never to crumble or wear away. Eternal, will it remain.
“In the Name of God, I take thee to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish according to God’s holy ordinance, and until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow” (2).
John William Waterhouse, Dante and Beatrice, 1915
Book of Common Prayer, 1979
Matthew 8:8-10, ESV
Barn Burning, William Faulkner, 1939
What the Thunder Said, T. S. Eliot, 1922
John William Waterhouse, Boreas, 1903
Revelation 1:4-5, ESV
John William Waterhouse, The Annunciation, 1914