Urijah

The following story was given to us by a friend. It is not our work; however, it impacted us so, and we wanted to share it with all of our friends:

One night, while I slept safely in a city of lights, exhausted from the efforts I’d spent on securing the biggest bid of my career, I dreamed something so absurd, yet so real….

In my dream, I was carried away, as if flying through space, to a wasteland that was unlike anything I had ever imagined. The atmosphere was dense, foggy, and ominous. I was alarmed by the cold, uninviting surroundings that I flew over. As I looked down from my vantage point, I could see that there were no flowers, no grass, no trees; no animals, nor streams, nor light; nor was there any living thing that I could see. The ground below me was jagged and sharp, covered in grey rocks of all different sizes, jutting from the ground. They threatened to shred anything that might dare to light upon them. Like a foreign planet, the vast landscape spread out as far as I could see. Unseen creatures seemed to sneer at me, angry at my presence. I couldn’t see them, but I felt their hatred and their resentment.

Everything about this land was threatening, even the air. It seemed as if it was gaseous and toxic. As I gulped it in, involuntarily inhaling and exhaling, as my body was programmed to do, it suffocated me. When the air went down into my lungs, it burned, and when I exhaled, the vapors were like yellow smoke and had the most venomous stench. I wondered why I felt so alone in this place. Inexplicable shame coursed through my being, and though I didn’t have any sense of having done anything wrong, dreadful guilt gripped me. As my body continued to float, my soul became paralyzed with fear. I began to panic and lose all sense of control. Terror seized me from every direction, and I desperately scanned the horizon looking for a way out of this hell. What was this god-forsaken place, and how did I get here? I’ve got to get out of here! was all I could think of.

Suddenly, as if some invisible line of contrast was drawn by a great magician, I was dumped out onto a lush, velvety hillside decorated with all variety of wildflowers. Birds darted about me singing jubilant, happy songs. The sky was Sapphire blue, and the sun shone brilliantly upon me, warming me from the outside in. When I breathed in, the most intoxicating aroma greeted me. It seemed like a mixture of sweet perfume and fresh rain. The smell was so pleasant that I closed my eyes and deliberately inhaled deeper and deeper.

Having landed on my rump, I sat for a moment and looked around at what I thought must be paradise. I reached down with my hand and touched the velvety grass – letting the blades tickle my fingers as I ran my hands over their soft points. Even this simple action elicited an enthralling response from all my senses, and I found myself laughing and full of unparalleled delight. I heard water gurgling, but couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from. Curiosity hoisted me to my feet. I began walking, first slowly, then with anticipation, toward the sound of the water. I was mesmerized and emboldened by the serenity of this place, and, while I didn’t see anyone, I felt a sense of welcoming and permission to explore from an unseen host.

Still in search of the water I heard running, I walked toward a nearby tree line, thinking that trees would naturally grow near a stream. When I entered the grove, I was greeted suddenly by a beautiful little girl, whom, I guessed, to be about seven or eight years old. She was splashing in the creek that I had been looking for. She was wearing a bright yellow shirt and blue jeans that she had rolled up to her knees. The water was crystal clear, so that I could see every pebble and speck of sand shimmering around her bare ankles as she dug her toes into the sand.

“Hi,” she said, waving a tiny hand in greeting. She seemed totally unsurprised by my arrival. “What’s your name?” She asked as she stooped to dig her fingers into the sand as well.

“Umm, Kent. What’s yours?”  I asked, more out of politeness than anything.

“I’m Rachel. Wanna see where I live?” she asked innocently. Before I could answer, she splashed her way out of the water toward me and grabbed my hand. “Come on, Silly. What else are you gonna do? Don’tcha want to know where you are?”

She had a point; so, I followed, wondering what in the world was going on. What was a second grader doing alone in the woods, and where was she taking me? Half dragging me behind her, we emerged from the woods, and I stopped in my tracks. In front of me loomed an enormous estate. It was more elegant and grand than the castles I had seen on TV or in books. The grounds were alive with people coming and going; gardeners trimmed hedges and watered flowers along a stone walkway leading up to the front door. Grounds keepers were singing and humming as they scrubbed and polished huge statues of cherubs that formed a canopy for a cascading water feature. Artists and painters set up with their easels were sprinkled about the perfectly manicured lawn. An orchestra played in the shade of a huge gazebo, filling the air with a symphony that seemed to be a living, breathing creation. Deer grazed comfortably nearby, lazily flicking their tails and twitching their ears, undaunted by the activities going on around them. My senses were overwhelmed by the enormity and tranquility of the place, and something inside me welled up in gratitude. My emotions were stirred, and I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I stared in awe at the splendor of the grounds, the structures, the people, and the atmosphere of joy…until my silent survey was interrupted by a soft giggle beside me. Looking down at my young escort, I frowned.

“You live here?” I asked dubiously.

“Of course, Silly,” Rachel said through giggles. “Everyone lives here! Wait ‘til you see the inside,” she said, her eyes twinkling. Grabbing my hand again, she led me up the walkway, smiling and humming as she skipped toward the double wooden doors that loomed high overhead. She waved emphatically at one of the artists who smiled and waved back. As we approached the threshold, the doors opened to us, and a tall, lanky black man with greying temples greeted us with a huge smile. Grabbing hold of Rachel by the waist, he swung her around while she squealed with delight. Laughing, he set her down and straightened. Looking at me with one eyebrow raised, he addressed Rachel.

“Who’s your friend, Rachel?”

“This is Kent. He’s lost,” she announced sincerely.

I blushed at her direct analysis. Trying to recover, I extended my hand and introduced myself.

“Oh, well, isn’t that how we all got here.” The man took my hand in a friendly shake and kept smiling a huge smile. “Yes sir-ee… hee, hee… that’s how we all got here. Welcome Kent. I’m Jedidiah. And my house is your house,” he said, still shaking my hand vigorously. “I’m sure Rachel here will give you the grand tour. I’d best go check on Sophia’s supper plans.”

With that, Jedidiah disappeared through a doorway, singing loudly as he departed. I looked at Rachel for clarification. “Jedidiah’s great!” she exclaimed.

“Is he the owner here?” I inquired.

“Oh, no,” she explained casually. “He’s the one who greets everyone though. He’s one of my favorite people in Urijah.”

Now I was really lost. “In Urijah”? I asked, almost afraid of the answer.

“Yes, Urijah is the name of our home. It’s here,” she said matter-of-factly, looking around, “Where we all live.”

“Ohhhh,” I said, in feigned understanding. I looked up at the vast building I was standing in. It seemed like a strange name for an estate.

As Rachel led me over the marble floors, the grandeur of the place astounded me. High ceilings, like those of a cathedral, loomed above my head, seemingly overlaid in gold. An ornately carved wooden banister outlined a winding stairway to the second, then third floors. Royal blue tapestries hung from the ceilings, dancing in a breeze that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. Gigantic marble pillars framed a circular courtyard decorated liberally with ferns, and blooming lilies. Rachel led me into the courtyard, and even before I entered, the sweetest fragrance I had ever known drifted upon the air and nearly intoxicated me. I was so enthralled at the beauty that at first I didn’t realize that we were not alone. Movement caught my eye, and I looked around to see a man in his thirties kneeling at the edge of a pool. I watched as he dipped his hands in the pool, as if skimming the surface for debris. Amazingly, there was not so much as a ripple. The water remained perfectly still and reflected the red ceiling of the alcove above it, giving the marble lined pool the appearance of scarlet silk. The man rose and dried his hands on a towel that hung from his waistband. He smiled affectionately at my tour guide and walked toward us.

“Hi, Baby,” the man said, as he embraced Rachel’s face tenderly, then kissed her forehead.

“Hi, Daddy. This is my new friend. I found him in the woods by the creek. His name’s Kent. He’s lost.”

Again, her introduction made me uncomfortable…like a stray puppy that needed rescuing. I laughed nervously as I accepted her father’s firm grip, trying to portray a confidence that I didn’t feel.

“Glad to meet you, Kent. My name is Frederick. I see you’ve met my daughter.” He looked down at the wide-open eyes and sun-kissed nose of the face smiling up at him. He laughed and tousled her hair. “She never meets a stranger, that’s for sure.” Rachel giggled at the attention and tugged on Frederick’s arm.

“Have you introduced him to Seth yet?” Frederick asked.

“Nope, that’s where we’re going next,” Rachel announced with excitement. “You’re just gonna love Seth. He’s soooo wonderful!” she gushed with enthusiasm.

Frederick laughed at the glee on Rachel’s face.

“Enjoy the tour, Kent. I’ll see you at supper.” It was more of a statement than a question, but I didn’t argue. Why should I?

As we left the courtyard, I saw Frederick resume his position beside the pool. He seemed in deep concentration but perfectly content with whatever he was doing with the pool. A nice man, I thought to myself.

Wondering who Seth was, I followed as Rachel bounded up the wide staircase, grunting as she willed her tiny legs to take two steps at a time. Half way up the flight she was breathing hard and stopped to rest. As I caught up to her, I couldn’t help but smile at the innocent excitement she exuded. She was full of life and energy, and I wondered how long it had been since I enjoyed anything as much as she enjoyed everything.

As we reached the second floor landing, Rachel explained that Seth was the owner of the house. “He’s super nice, and super fun, and super rich,” she said, her eyes rolled dramatically as she described Seth’s estate. Then with a mischievous grin she turned and said, “You’ll never be the same after you meet him, Kent. Just don’t ever say I didn’t warn you,” she said in a mock grown-up tone.

Before I could ask what she meant, she stuck her neck out and ran as fast as she could down a long corridor. Reaching the end, she grabbed hold of a heavy brass door handle and, using all her weight, she tugged on it until it opened. She disappeared into the room, and I was left alone in the hallway.

Strange child! I thought. As soon as she was out of sight I realized how uncomfortable I was in this place. I didn’t know anyone, really. I had no idea what Urijah was, or how it came to be a thriving estate in the middle of nowhere, or what I was doing here, or when I should leave… And what was so life-altering about meeting Seth, whoever he was? Standing alone in the hallway I felt strangely homesick, and lonely, and exposed. Everyone I had met seemed genuinely happy and at home in Urijah. “Are they all servants?” I muttered to myself. “If so, they sure don’t act like fearful, ill-treated, duty-bound, work hardened servants one might expect, say, from plantation days or from some feudal state. They seem happy…like they actually enjoy it here.”

As I wondered about my surroundings, I heard laughter coming from the room that Rachel had disappeared into. Unable to rein in my curiosity, I opened the door and looked in. Expecting to see a lavishly decorated ball-room, I was completely taken aback to see a gymnasium full of kids. It looked like an international daycare. Kids of all colors from two to twelve were laughing, playing with puppies, dancing around the room, arm wrestling, and coloring in books. A plump woman with a big laugh and Russian accent was flitting about, supervising the kids. A late-teenaged Filipino girl was holding a baby and cooing as she walked around the room, gently bouncing the infant. An older Latino man in western attire sat in a recliner reading a story to a group of youngsters that gathered around. Several were piled on top of his chair and lap while others stood, looking over his shoulder at the book he held.

On the far end of the room was a man, possibly in his 40s, with dark hair and a strong build, sitting “Indian-style” on the floor, braiding Rachel’s hair. Another little girl stood to one side of the man, brushing his hair and laughing. The man looked up at me and smiled his greeting, but made no effort to get up. Much to my amusement, he looked totally comfortable playing beautician. As Rachel sat patiently, she motioned for me to come over to her. “Com’on, Kent. I want you to meet Seth,” she shouted across the room.

I felt even more self-conscious than before and wanted to hide from all the eyes that turned to look at me. As I crossed the room, Seth finished Rachel’s twin braids, and she stood in front of him and hugged him. As she squeezed his neck he laughed and fell over as if she had choked him out. Both little girls then grabbed for his arms and began trying to pull him up. Unable to budge the big man, they called for reinforcements, and soon there were half a dozen kids climbing all over the man, trying to pull him up. They all laughed and giggled as they finally succeeded in resurrecting their fallen hero. I watched as they all participated in a familiar and genuinely loving interaction with each other, and once again I felt an ache of loneliness and awkwardness. As if sensing my discomfort, Seth stood and looked at me again, maintaining eye contact as he approached. He suddenly looked professional, stately, and perfectly composed. More like what I would have expected of the owner of Urijah. It was as if he instantly morphed from playground dad to regal prince. I began to doubt my sanity in agreeing to come here with Rachel. What if Seth tossed me out?

“Hello, Kent,” Seth said with a sincere and transparent smile. “Welcome to Urijah. Rachel said you were lost, and she brought you here.” He offered his hand, and I accepted it, relieved. “Any friend of Rachel is a friend of mine. Make yourself at home. Will you join us for supper?”

Not knowing how I would politely refuse, I said that I would be glad to.

Rachel reappeared at Seth’s side and took ahold of his hand. Smiling, he raised her arm above her head, and she twirled around like a ballerina, dancing around him in circles. “Thanks for braiding my hair, Seth. I love you,” she said when she had finished her circle dance. She reached up, and he leaned down, and she kissed his cheek. “See you later.”

“See you later. Be good,” he said.

“Ok,” Rachel promised, as she grabbed my hand and escorted me away from the man of the house.

Back in the corridor, Rachel turned to me. “I have something to show you. You’ll like it,” she promised. She led me to another, narrower, flight of stairs that went to the rooftop. Stepping out into the warm sunshine was like heaven. From the eagle’s nest vantage point, I could see for miles, and the scene was breathtaking. I closed my eyes for a minute and just soaked in the peace of this place. It was positively therapeutic; like a cleansing stream rushing through my soul, carrying away every speck of worry, doubt or anxiety. For the first time in my life, I had the sensation that peace, real, lasting peace was possible. I caught my breath, stunned at the hope I felt inside. When I opened my eyes, Rachel was smiling up at me.

“Come on, Kent. I’ll show you the garden,” she offered. We made our way across the expansive rooftop. Sure enough, a rectangular shaped, floating rose garden came into view. I couldn’t understand how it appeared to be suspended from nothing, but it was. There had to be at least fifty kinds and colors of roses, all at different stages of development. The aroma was divine, and I was fully satisfied just to breathe in the exquisiteness of them. As I did, I was unexplainably overcome by emotions. I felt tears stinging my eyes, but I couldn’t understand why. Just being here, in this spot, was unravelling my carefully knitted image that I had worked for decades to fasten around myself. A silent and desperate conflict tore at my soul; part of me wanting to cinch up the control and defenses I felt slipping, part of me wanting to throw my hands up and surrender to whatever I felt tugging at me.

As I struggled to gain my composure, Rachel was at my side. She put her hand on my arm and said, “I understand.” Laughing uncomfortably, I wiped at my face. I was touched by her sweetness, but what could a seven-year-old possibly understand?

Changing the subject, I asked Rachel where her mom was.

“She doesn’t live here,” she said sadly.

“Ooops, nice one, Kent!” I chastised myself.

“But I don’t need a mommy. I have Daddy and Seth,” Rachel said, her eyes dancing. Just remembering them, she was all smiles again. I felt relieved that I hadn’t ruined her day with my nosey question. For all I knew, her mother had died.

After a brief tour through the aisles of roses, Rachel announced, “We should go get ready for supper, Kent. Sophia is the best hostess ever! You’ll love her food. It’s always perfect,” she gushed. I laughed, thinking she sounded like a commercial. The mention of food stirred my hunger though, and I was suddenly very much looking forward to a meal.

We made our way off the rooftop, and Rachel escorted me to an enormous dining hall with long tables in rows. The décor was stunning. Crystal laden chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Large windows let in a great deal of light. Fine china and silverware and crystal goblets adorned each place setting. A harpist sat in one corner of the room and played softly. People were milling around comfortably, conversing as friends. Sophia was a stunningly beautiful French woman in her fifties. She was the perfect image of grace, confidence, and coordination. She swooped in and out of the room with all of the professionalism and dignity of a veteran hostess. Her staff obeyed her every suggestion, tweaking the floral arrangements, and readjusting the place settings. Before long, the tables were heavily laden with exquisite delicacies. The aroma of roasted meat made my taste buds tingle. My senses were truly awakened in this environment, and I was surprised at how alive I felt.

Jedidiah came over and handed me a glass of delicious smelling wine. I accepted gratefully. The older gentleman patted me on the shoulder. “Glad you stayed, my friend. Glad you stayed.” A huge smile decorated his face, and he hummed happily as he went about refilling glasses and picking up anything that seemed out of place.

Suddenly everything got quiet, reverently quiet, and people turned to look as Seth entered the room. I watched how everyone adored him; not in a flattering way, but more like they revered and loved him. He greeted each person as if he or she was the most honored guest in the room. He spoke quietly with some, and laughed out loud with others. He leaned in attentively to listen to his friends as they shared the events of their day. His demeanor was perfectly comfortable and casual, in spite of the formal environment. He addressed each one by name: Adriel, the nanny; Sergio, the western dressed story-teller; Ligaya, the young mother; Naomi, the harpist; Bryan, one of the gardeners; Gemariah, the orchestra conductor; Frederick, Rachel’s father; Candace, a records keeper, and so on. As Seth encountered each person in his household, I watched to see if there were any cracks in this Utopian atmosphere. If there was any rudeness, contempt, or falseness, I could not tell it. In fact, the sincerity and transparency between the people were beyond anything I had ever encountered. To say that they respected each other would have been an understatement. I finally had to admit that I was totally unfamiliar with the kind of human interaction playing out before my eyes. It was as beautiful as it was foreign.

As people began to take their seats, I expected a full staff of waiters and waitresses to appear. Instead, I was shocked to see that Seth himself began serving each person. As he did, a strange quietness fell over the room. Grave respect and wonder showed on the faces of every person seated. I marveled at this intriguing display of the owner honoring the staff. As he came closer to me, I realized I was altogether uncomfortable being served by my host. What a bizarre and backward system they had here in Urijah! When Seth served me, he looked directly at me, and I nearly lost my composure. In some inexplicable way, I was both drawn to him and wanted to run away from him at the same time. I couldn’t hold his gaze, for in the instant he looked at me, I knew he knew my insecurities, and it flooded me with embarrassment. Hardly daring to look up at him again, I was amazed to see perfect understanding in his eyes. No condemnation, mockery or criticism. Just acknowledgment of what we both knew to be the inner workings of a man who, for all my attempts at success, satisfaction and security, was still quite lonely and afraid. Afraid? The realization hit me like a freight train. I’ve never thought I was afraid of anything. But I am. Afraid of not being able to control the things that are important to me. Afraid of looking weak. Afraid of losing the ability to provide adequately for myself. Afraid of being found out. Afraid that everything I’ve believed in might not be true…and then what? Afraid that my wife will stop loving me when she realizes the kind of man I am. Afraid that I’ll fail everyone around me.

Sure that my host was reading my every thought, I willed myself just to concentrate on the dinner. It looked delicious. I found myself seated next to Naomi, who was a pleasant and gracious dinner companion. I ate until I was more than satisfied and drank deeply of the delicious currant. I began to relax and enjoy the conversations flowing around me. After the food and beverages had been consumed, and all were content, people got up and mingled comfortably. No one was in a hurry to leave. At one point, I saw Frederick carry Rachel’s sleeping frame out of the room. She’d been a good guide. It must have worn her out. What now? How do I get out of this place? I felt slightly disoriented and had no idea what I should do next. As if on cue, Sergio, who was standing nearby, offered to show me to a guestroom where I could sleep. I was relieved and followed him from the dining hall. Almost forgetting my manners, I looked for Seth to thank him for the pleasant evening. He wasn’t in the room. I was both disappointed and relieved. I followed Sergio to a lavishly decorated suite, complete with a spacious bed, sitting area, and oversized bathing tub.

Much too heady to utilize the extras, I thanked Sergio and crawled beneath the feather down blanket. I was comforted by my elegant and pampered surroundings, and sleep came quickly. Sometime in the night, I awoke suddenly. Realizing I was still in Urijah, I wondered what I would do to get home to my wife. It must have been the middle of the night, but I was wide awake with questions. How did I get here? Why was I here? Who were all these people? Where did they come from? Didn’t they have families? The more I thought, the more awake I became. I got out of bed and peeked out the door down the hallway. No one was around. I thought to sneak up to the rooftop where I had felt such peace earlier. Maybe the night air would clear my head. Stepping out of my room, I made my way toward the staircase and tip-toed up the steps to the third floor. As I climbed the final set of steps that would take me to Rachel’s special rose garden, I heard crying, followed by groaning. As I reached the threshold of the door, the crying turned to loud sobs of indescribable grief. Opening the door, and stepping outside, I was astonished to see the rooftop was full of people. “What are they all doing up here?” I thought to myself. Was I dreaming?

As I craned my neck to see what was going on, Frederick suddenly appeared in front of me, blocking my way. “Kent, I need to warn you, my friend. If you don’t leave now, you’ll never be the same.” I searched Frederick’s eyes for some explanation. They were red-rimmed and swollen from crying. Utter grief and heartache showed in his young eyes, such as I have never seen in anyone.

“What’s going on?” I asked, needing to know. There was no way I could go back to sleep. Not after hearing such heartbreaking wails and seeing the immeasurable distress in the eyes of a man who, a few hours before, had impressed me as the most secure and composed young man I’d ever met. Why was there a crowd gathered on the roof-top in the middle of the night?

“You won’t understand, Kent. It’s impossible for you to understand, but it’s our reality.” Frederick paused, giving me another opportunity to excuse myself and pretend I’d never been there. I couldn’t. And although I was horrified at the possibilities of what I might discover, or worse, what might happen to me, I stayed.

“Do you remember the hellish place you flew over before you got here to Urijah?”

I did, and I shuddered at the memory as I nodded in the affirmative. The very thought of it sent chills down my spine. I could almost taste the putrid air that had burned by lungs. Just the reminder of it made me terrified at the thought of having to go back through it to get back home. I cringed and felt sick.

“It’s called Shion,” Frederick explained. “That’s where we all came through to get here, Kent. It was like death itself. And then by some glorious miracle we were supernaturally dumped out onto the greens of Urijah. Having passed through the valley of death, we were all so glad to breathe the air of life. Just like you were, I’m sure.”

I nodded my agreement. I had been utterly relieved, but then I had become so preoccupied with the beauty of Urijah that I had forgotten all about the wastelands that he called Shion, until now.

Frederick continued. “None of us knew what it would cost to live here. We just wanted to live.”

I felt the blood drain from my face as I envisioned scenes from “Hotel California.” Surely this was a joke. A terrible prank they played on newcomers! But another look into Frederick’s anguished face told me this was not a joke. And even as I stood looking at Frederick, more cries and groans rang out, piercing the crisp night air. I shivered, and my stomach tied in knots. What the hell is going on here?

“It’s Seth’s rules, Kent. He requires a sacrifice, of sorts…in order for us to all live here.”

“What?” I recoiled in disgust at the thought of the dignified man I had met earlier torturing these poor people, sadistically exacting from them some horrendous sacrifice. And the groans and cries! What horrible things was he doing to them? How dare he? They were desperate, for God’s sake! This was all wrong! If Seth knew what Shion was like, surely he wouldn’t threaten to send them back! Or worse, if he knew and was exploiting their fears…the thought of that level of calculated cruelty made my neck hairs prickle in horror.  Of course, these unknowing travelers, like myself, would submit to nearly anything just to keep from having to breathe that foul poisoned air and feel the terror of the darkness. But what kind of a monster would torture a person who just wants to live? I strained to see the rose garden from where I stood, but too many people blocked my view. I pushed past Frederick to see for myself what awful deeds the sadist Seth was inflicting on his unfortunate guests. As I pressed through the group of people I had dined with just hours ago, I saw little Rachel sobbing into her nightgown. My heart cried out, and I wept at the idea of her tiny little body taking any kind of abuse. Surely not! A fierce and foreign anger rose up in me so that I wanted to scream out and stop the madness.

Rachel saw me watching her, and choking back her tears, she came over to take my hand. Without saying a word, she led me into the clearing where the rose garden should have been. It was gone. Instead, I saw a man stripped down to his undergarments, slumped over with blood and sweat dripping from his back and legs. Huge whelps rose from his flesh, and bruises covered his body. I could hardly stand to look at the stricken figure of the man in front of me. Rachel looked up at me, her tear-streaked face contorted in anguish.

“It’s…Seth!” She said, wailing out her agony, her hand quivering as she pointed. “He…does…this… so… we…can…live… here.” She barely got out the words through her short, ragged sobs.

Sure that I had misunderstood the girl, I leaned in for a better look. To my utter dismay, I saw a man holding a whip. It was not Seth at all. It was Bryan, the gardener! Bryan let out a grievous cry as he raised the whip and brought it down upon the back of the man receiving the punishment. As the whip dug in, the man straightened his back, wincing from the blow, and I saw his face. It was Seth! He groaned in pain, but didn’t retaliate. Bryan retreated and stood limp, his head bowed as he cried. What happened next was absurd – beyond imagination.

I watched as Seth, trembling from pain, walked over and put his hand on Bryan’s arm. Then in an embrace, Seth rested his head on Bryan’s shoulder. After a brief moment, Seth drew back and put his hands on either side of Bryans face, probing the man’s eyes with his own. There was no anger in Seth’s expression. No accusation. No resentment. Tears rolled down Seth’s face, and he smiled through what must have been excruciating pain. “Thank you, my friend. I love you, Bryan. I would miss you so much if you had decided to leave,” he said with shocking sincerity. Sniffing, he continued through tortured lips, “I’m so glad you decided to stay here with me.” Bryan began to sob violently. The whip fell from his hand as he reached to embrace Seth. As he clung to Seth, Bryan wailed in sorrow for the deed he had just done. Seth gently disengaged from Bryan after a moment, and kissed his forehead before stooping to pick up the whip. Slowly, Seth returned to the place where he had taken the beating, and Bryan walked toward his wife, still sobbing. Others came to comfort Bryan, but they, too, were inconsolable. They all mourned together. Bryan covered his face, unable to look at those who had witnessed the awful thing he had just done.

Frederick came along side me to explain. “I told you that you wouldn’t understand, Kent. We don’t get punished for our sins and trespasses here in Urijah, and we don’t have to pay rent. We came here with nothing to offer or barter with, and Seth knows that. We live in complete peace and comfort in Urijah because Seth absorbs all our expenses, and offenses, onto himself.”

That made no sense to me at all, and my anger rose. Sins? Trespasses? What did that even mean? I hadn’t seen Bryan commit any crime. What was he guilty of? And why should such a severe punishment take place anyway, for anyone? Unwilling to accept what I was hearing and seeing, I argued, “This is insane!” I grasped for words to describe the unfathomable. “This whole…punishment system…is totally insane! Why should it be this way at all? If someone here is guilty of a crime, why doesn’t Seth just send that one away, and let the innocent ones live here without this…this torture?”

“Because we’re all guilty, Kent. Every last one of us.” Frederick’s tone was steady, matter-of-fact, resigned to this notion, but I could not believe that the kind man in front of me, or his daughter, for that matter, was guilty of anything. Rachel was a child, for crying out loud! And I said so.

Frederick smiled painfully. “Even Rachel, my friend. As sweet and lovely as she is, even Rachel has picked up that whip and struck her precious Seth.” The thought of that sent my mind reeling. What kind of “sin” could someone so young and sweet even consider? As if reading my thoughts, Frederick said, “Six months ago, Rachel saw her mother staggering drunk. Rachel was already angry at her mom for not allowing her to go to a friend’s house. Rachel saw an opportunity to vent her anger, and she pushed her mother down a flight of stairs. Rachel’s temper tantrum nearly caused the death of her own mother.” Frederick let the image sink in to my unbelieving senses before continuing, “Seth paid for my daughter’s sin so that she could live here. Rachel was given the choice, and she decided to let him absorb her sins. And I’m so thankful. I couldn’t bear to think of my baby in Shion for one second.” A pained expression crossed Frederick’s face, and he confessed the rest of the story. “My wife, Emmalyn, was here for one night, too. Seth offered to pay for her drunkenness, her lies, her numerous affairs, but she swore at him for exposing her. She blamed me, blamed Rachel, she even blamed Seth for all her actions. She refused to let him pay for her sin, denying she was at fault for anything. If you can imagine, she actually chose to exist in Shion rather than accept Seth’s conditions to live here.”

Reeling at the odd reality of which he was speaking, I felt myself becoming quite off balance. I literally began to go numb and thought that I might pass out. “Would you like to sit down?” Frederick asked. I nodded, unable to speak. He lead me to a half wall where I sat down in relief. Despite my feelings of being upside down, I was aware that Frederick’s explanation of this bizarre situation was sincere, patient, and transparent. I was keenly cognizant that he was not trying to convince me of anything. He was not arguing or stressing a point of view. He was just giving a context and narrative of the events I found myself witnessing. I wanted to know more but I was also afraid of what I would discover if I asked him to keep going. I took the risk. I wanted to know the rest of the story, and he obliged me.

“Everyone’s activities, good and bad, are constantly exposed here in Urijah. That is because this whole place is filled with light. There is nothing hidden because, in all of Urijah, there is not a single place that is in darkness. The only dark places are in the minds and hearts of the people that live here. Sin is born in those dark places of the soul where the light of Seth’s presence hasn’t yet reached. When that sin is exposed, through our daily contact and interaction with Seth, we are forced to a decision. If we want to continue living here—enjoying the environment of light and safety, and peace…participating in the open, loving relationships and interactions with Seth and the other residents here, many of whom are our beloved family members—we have to submit to Seth’s light probing into those dark, sensitive, secret places of our intentions, motives, and ambitions. Seth gives us everything without reserve as long as we deal with him and others in the light. But when any one of us conjures up a plan or an activity that is secret—one that we don’t want Seth to know about—we are guilty. Seth’s offer to assume our guilt is conditional upon each of us letting his light probe and expose every hidden corner—kind of like a search light pinpointing the location of a thief trying to sneak onto the estate to steal, or kill, or destroy some part of Urijah or her residents.”

As if seeing the doubt and unbelief in my mind, Frederick paused. He seemed to know that I was having a hard time accepting what he was telling me. I just couldn’t imagine these kind people sneaking around in the dark doing anything really wrong to each other. “Bryan struck his wife, Victoria, today when she confronted him about flirting with Ligaya,” he said, shocking my objections into silence. “Candace became increasingly jealous of Naomi’s beauty and talent, and so she whispered slanderous accusations all over the house—hoping to diminish Naomi’s value. Jedidiah got ridiculously arrogant with his most recent promotion. He bragged to everyone about his knowledge and importance. Instead of remembering whose estate he was on, his pride made him unbearable to be around.” Frederick paused and studied me carefully before confessing, “I embezzled from Seth last week.” I involuntarily jerked my head back at his admission. Frederick s eyes were sincere and honest as he shook his head in disbelief at his own actions. “Can you imagine?” he continued with a humorless smile. “I’ve been given everything I could want, but I got greedy, thinking I could keep something more for myself! I denied it to Seth’s face when he asked me about it. Seth literally begged me to come clean about what he already knew was the truth. But I was too proud and embarrassed to confess, even after I was caught. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was capable of stealing, so first I justified it to myself, then I denied it altogether. I was on my way out of Urijah, angry and still stubbornly hiding my faults. I utterly refused to accept the light and grace and love that was available. I was this close…” Frederick said, holding his index finger and thumb an inch apart, “to choosing that god-forsaken Shion over Seth’s offer. Thankfully, Rachel saw where I was headed. She begged me to accept Seth’s terms. Thank God my daughter brought me to my senses!”

Frederick wiped at his eyes. “This is our reality, Kent. We have all sinned, and we have all spent a lot of time and energy trying to hide our failures, schemes, sins, and lies. That is what sin is—operating in the darkness; refusing the light that exposes the actions and thoughts that threaten peace and truth. None of the guests here are perfect. Because Seth is thoroughly light, he is perfect. There are literally no dark spots in him, so there is no possibility of sin occurring in him. His perfect light is the only thing that can overcome the dark places in each of us. His light absorbs our darkness until we are light like him. He receives the punishment on our behalf. When one of us sins, we take that sin and literally transfer the blemish onto Seth. His perfect light is able to swallow up the darkness, and the power of the darkness is dissolved. Everything is free and open in the new light that immediately replaces the sin.  Once he takes our punishment, we are free to enjoy his home, his supplies, his comfort, and best of all, his friendship. He never brings up the sin or the punishment once it’s dealt with. He treats us as if it never happened. He laughs with us, cries with us, comforts us, and provides for us – all because he assumes our guilt, then loves us as if we had none.”

Every part of my mind rebelled against what Frederick was telling me. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed absurd. No one should be punished for other people’s faults. Why? I argued with Frederick more, refusing to accept this style of redemption. Shouldn’t everyone pay for their own mistakes? Lowering my voice so no one else would hear my argument, I asked, “Whose idea is this crazy plan of punishing Seth so everyone else here can live scot- free? And why? What’s the point?”

“It was Seth’s plan from the beginning,” Frederick said plainly. He studied me, letting the words sink in. “He loves us so much that he wants us to be near him, and not have to bear the guilt of our own transgressions. He actually wants us here, with him, accepting his friendship, enjoying the benefits of Urijah. Even after we cause him so much pain, he still loves us. He attends to our children. He serves us as if we are honored dignitaries. He spends all his wealth for our benefit. He forgives us all of our dark and conniving actions, even repeat offenders. Only we have to transfer our sins onto him. Every sin has a price and that price must be paid by someone”.

Frederick paused, searching my eyes to see if I really understood. He must have seen that I didn’t, or wouldn’t, or couldn’t accept what he was telling me. He continued patiently, calmly, willing me to understand. “Every act of darkness robs someone of the truth and light. For instance, if I cheat you in a business deal, so that I come out with the advantage at your expense, that sinister deed costs you. You suffer a loss because of my sin. If I further deviate from the light and slander your name or product in order to cover my cheating you out of a fair price, then I have robbed you of future business—all because I wanted to keep as much for myself instead of giving you a fair payment for your product. Because the consequences are real, it is obvious that the sin is real. Once the sin is released into the equation it must be dealt with or it will continue wreaking havoc. If sin were allowed to operate unchecked in each of us, it would become rampant in Urijah and would ruin this beautiful paradise. If you have thieves, murderers, adulterers, child abusers, gossipers, and extortionists roaming free, this place would become as hideous and corrupt as Shion; because sin eventually kills and destroys everything it touches. But by us transferring it openly onto Seth, he collects that sin and darkness from us and destroys it.”

Frederick bit his lip, momentarily weighing the impact of his next revelation. “When I said that Seth is perfect light, that means that every part of him—physically, spiritually, everything—is literally a purifying, cleansing light. When the whip is used to transfer our guilt and darkness onto Seth, he bleeds. The impact of the whip transfers our darkness, and the releasing of his blood carries it away—first from us, then from him. This purging process keeps Urijah a place of light and free from sin. As soon as Seth takes the sin in his body, his light destroys the darkness, and therefore the darkness loses its power to destroy us. Either he has to take the sin from us, or we would have to be evicted from Urijah, in order to keep Urijah the paradise it is. All of our sins bring about suffering. Either Seth suffers for us, or we suffer by having to leave Urijah. Without Seth’s plan, we would all die alone and forsaken in Shion.” He looked at me questioningly, to see if I was absorbing what he was saying. He continued…

“You see all the life here, Kent, and that’s what you like about Urijah, isn’t it?” I nodded, thinking solemnly of the beautiful roses, the green grass, the birds, the animals, the rivers, the smells of perfumed flowers and perfected recipes from the kitchen…I loved the comfort they all brought. I even ached with longing and appreciation at the peace I had experienced here. Frederick explained, “All this life comes from Seth. If he weren’t here, this place would be as lifeless and desolate as Shion. If he allowed us to keep our dark places, all the living things here would eventually die. As it is, with Seth’s plan, we trade our sin—the things that bring death—for the life that comes from him.

We grieve to know that our foolishness and carelessness cause such pain to the one who loves us so much that he would give all of this to us. Our only punishment here is the agony of knowing that we wound him.” Frederick swallowed hard. “I am reminded of it daily, because my job is to tend the pool of his blood.”

Confusion must have shown on my face because Frederick quickly explained, “When Rachel first introduced you to me, I was washing my hands in the pool of the courtyard. It sits right below this spot. As Seth takes our punishment, his blood flows down and drains into the pool below. It is sacred blood. It has the power to cleanse and restore and heal. It brings life. It is precious because it was willingly given so that I could live. It’s an honor to tend the place that stores my redeemer’s blood.”

I remembered thinking that the water in that pool must have looked red from the reflection on the ceiling of the alcove where the pool was tucked in a corner of the courtyard. Shock and realization coursed through me. I now realized the ceiling must have been stained crimson, and what I thought was water in the pool was actually Seth’s blood. I had seen the pool with my own eyes. It had appeared so pure and transparent. I had seen Frederick dry his hands on a white towel. No blood had been transferred to the towel. Looking at the bloody scene before me, I wondered. “Do you have a question, Kent?” Frederick asked. I put to him how and when the blood became pure before it reached the pool. Why did it not stain the towel?

“Once in the pool, his blood washes white whatever touches it. It becomes a reservoir of remembrance. We can each choose to approach it and cleanse ourselves when we have tempting thoughts. If we can avoid having to do this,” and he pointed to where Seth lay, his flesh cut to ribbons from the whip, “it is much more preferable.”

My eyes followed Frederick’s toward Seth’s body. How many beatings had this man endured? How long had this been going on? Would it ever end? I was jerked out of my thoughts as Seth began to move. He labored to his feet. The crowd around him gave way and began to move with him. Someone brushed up against me, someone who had been close to Seth because whoever it was smeared blood on the luxurious bath robe that I was wearing. I stood dazed for a moment, contemplating on the color of the blood on my sleeve. When I looked up, I saw Seth standing before me, looking steadily into my eyes. The blood soaked whip hung limply in his hand. Before he ever raised it, I knew that he was inviting me to transfer my guilt to him. My heart pounded in my chest. Sweat instantly beaded on my forehead. My face flushed with heat. I felt the stares of everyone around me, all holding their breath, waiting to see if I would accept Seth’s invitation. His eyes searched mine; patiently, lovingly imploring me to accept his silent offer. I awoke from my dream with a start, safe in my hotel room in the city…my heart pounding, sweat beading on my forehead, and my face hotly flushed.

 

 

 

List of Names and their meanings

 

Urijah – God is my Light

Shion – Ruin

Seth – Substitute, Appointed one

Kent – Born of Fire, Finely Made

Rachel – Tender Lamb

Sergio – A Prudent Man

Jedidiah – Beloved of God

Ligaya – Happiness

Naomi – Lovable One, My Delight

Victoria – Overcomer

Ariel – Belonging to God

Candace – One who Serves

Gemariah – Perfected by God

Sophia – Wisdom

Bryan – High Place, Hilltop

Emmalyn – One who rivals

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Patriot: A Memorial Day Reflection

As we sit drinking our morning coffee this Memorial day, we are thankful for the freedoms we enjoy and reflect on the fact that people gave and still give their lives for those freedoms. We consider to be Patriots the people who fought and who still fight for the freedoms we enjoy.

Although we are too young to have first-hand experience with World War II, we know what it was about and the cost involved. One of the most devastating battles was during the invasion of Normandy, which is in the north of France. Our troops entered from the sea using amphibious watercraft. The area was a Nazi stronghold, and we were attempting to break that stronghold. Wave after wave of our soldiers hit the beaches under unimaginable gunfire from the Germans. The Germans were defeated, and France was liberated, but at a horrific cost. This single event in history is what we commemorate on D-Day in June. One of our grandfathers was part of this invasion where he was injured badly, suffering multiple gunshot wounds. One of our cousin’s grandfathers is buried in Margraten, Holland even though he was killed in action in Germany. He was temporarily interred in Germany, but we did not leave any of our soldiers buried there.

We have several family members who fought in World War II. They never really spoke of their time in service—only on a very rare occasion. Among those who served was a great uncle. I knew of his service as a marine and that he had been shot up pretty badly in the war. I heard him speak of it only once. He was probably around 80 years old at the time. We were sitting in the courtyard of a mall while waiting on his wife who was buying some shoes. He kept rubbing his hand as if it hurt. I asked him if his hand was bothering him. He said he guessed it was the weather. It was hurting a little more than usual. He said, “That one, and the one in my back, too. A little reminder from the Japanese.” I asked him, “Did you get shot in the hand?” He merely replied, “Yes,” holding up his hand. The spotlight from above us in the courtyard seemed to reveal the scars prominently. I had seen them before, but I didn’t know what they were from until that moment. After a while, he said, “It was bad over there.” After a few moments longer, in a shaky voice, he said, “We had to stop that scourge.” He emphasized the word “had”, letting me know that it was a necessity for mankind to defeat the Axis regimes and the ideology and terror that they propagated. Those were the only words that I had ever heard him speak of the war. He was a kindly man, and after the war, became a preacher and worked in the metal trades.

I would describe him and the multitude like him as a Patriot. Not only are/were these soldiers patriots for the United States, they were patriots for humanity. The problem now is how the media and other sources are trying to manipulate the public perception of the word “Patriot”. While we view patriotism as a good quality, worthy of being honored, it is often cast in a negative and derogatory light by those who mock the sacrifices made by so many, while enjoying the freedoms that those sacrifices purchased.

This weekend, a friend shared an article on our timeline. This article featured a deranged Caucasian male in his thirties or forties. He was dressed in T-shirt and shorts. Under the shorts were long leggings. He baseball cap was on backward. An American flag was wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, and he was shouting and giving a “Heil Hitler” salute. The article stated, “America, this is what a terrorist looks like.” This article was released Memorial Day weekend.

The writers of the article wanted the readers to get the idea that this was Patriotism, and that patriotism is tantamount to terrorism. After all, this deranged individual was dressed in a flag while giving the Heil Hitler salute. The writers chose to feature this man because he had recently stabbed and killed two people in a scuffle on a train in which he was harassing two women who were “thought to possibly be” Muslim. He had killed two men who had intervened on the women’s behalf. The writers of the article used a collage of old pictures of this deranged individual to manipulate the readers’ thoughts. Ironically, the writers of the article did not feature the two men who gave their lives to protect the two women from this man; they chose instead to feature the individual who committed the crime. In our minds, he is no Patriot. He is exactly the kind of person that my uncle and grandfather and actual patriots would have fought. From this article, we know nothing of the two men he stabbed. But, they are more patriots (patriots for humanity) than he is. There is nothing patriotic about this individual. I can adorn myself in a bear-skin rug, but that doesn’t make me a bear.

While we have grown to expect this type of biased story lines from media outlets, this type of thinking has infected other arenas of our culture, creating confusion and a slanted view of patriotism. None of these affected arenas are more troubling to us than the religious arena. We have heard multiple members of the clergy over the last several years speak against patriotism, military defense, and even self-defense, driving into parishioners’ brains that it is sinful to do so—creating guilt complexes if they even dare think about it. These comments are not from whacky online preachers but sadly are coming from pastors and pulpits right here in the heart of Texas. As we are writing this, we can’t help but see the irony involved between preachers speaking against patriotism and my great uncle who fought for freedom and who became a preacher. Even after almost sixty years of reflection since his wartime experiences, he still understood the need for what he had done. He never said, “We shouldn’t have been there.”

Today, the tragic misconception of patriotism incubated on college campuses and theological seminaries has hatched and is spreading throughout our country. Our great uncle and grandfather weren’t fighting for oil, land, money or some misguided ideal when they were shot. They were fighting for humanity. And, without men like them, we would not live in the world we live in today. We wouldn’t have the freedoms that we do, in our media, on our college campuses, and in our churches, even if those freedoms are used to mock and to debase the sacrifices of those who fought and died to achieve them.