“An enclosed garden is my sister, my spouse: an enclosed garden, a sealed fountain. The fountain of the gardens is a well of living waters, which flow forcefully from Lebanon.” – Song of Songs 4:12, 15
Belief configures the threads of time, and many days the fabric tauts and barbs. We are all dying. But on a different day, the universe was my bed-sheet, tented over me and housing all the children of my mind. On this same day, my wife decided that she never really knew me and, thus, could no longer love me. The strong, courageous and capable man was mirage. She had married a dissipated, paranoid, and co-dependent child. She was right. What I thought was progress in receptivity, had somehow made me into an adulterer with a thousand heresies. I did not love those ideas that peopled my place, but entertaining them made me too unpredictable to bear. So, she kicked me to the street, quite literally, and I walked for several miles in pursuit of my masculinity’s well. It mystifies me how such a moment could have been so liberating. The blue stone sidewalk drug me thirty miles down the highway like a rapid rush of water until I fell through the doors of Our Lady of the Sea, and collapsed into her wooden arms. Sitting in her vibrating silence, shook before the cosmic King… I praised Him. “Thank you for becoming the Bread of Life.” The Eucharist understood. He is the beating heart of human sorrow. I surrendered to the pain. Suffering only moved me closer to the speakers. The rhythm of His blood went through me like a cello bass, and His music was the Truth.
I began meditating on the paradox of humility. God opened Himself to the piercing accusations and the torturous punishment of all sin. Wounded by unworthy weapons. Murdered to give life to me. I thought: Why should someone so small as me be given such dignity? I feel more at home in the limits of my biology than in the freedom of my spirit. As if to testify, a beautiful woman invaded my solitude and kidnapped my attention. My senses are fulfilled by her, I thought, she consummates my being. There is a hole in me the shape of her! Why do I feel like she can save me? But I rebuked that familiar temptation and the passion stilled. I climbed back into my center of focus and found my true and invisible love there waiting. Suddenly, soft fingers came under my chin and lifted my head to the eyes of peace! I bathed in her clarity. She stared deep into my soul: a Queen clothed in colored-luminescence and laced with gold more golden than worldly tones. She held out three roses: yellow, white, and red. I was locked in her gaze, as an awestruck child. Then, a Bethlehem-star shone from the back of her deep green eyes and she spoke without words: “Follow me.”
Consciousness lost for a moment, in contemplation of Divine Beauty, I awoke to find myself standing in an enormous valley. The dark-orange morning sun sat majestic on its horizon throne. The perfectly circular moon hid close-by respectfully evanescing in its light. A grass carpet of thick green threads massaged my feet. I basked in the red anticipation of the dawn-light and surveyed the twin mountains on both sides of me. A wide river flowed out from woods that bordered the hills where I stood. A small oak tree focused my attention, it was huge and strong and wrapped in fruiting vines. She was the only island for miles on an emerald sea of grass. About a thousand feet away. A breeze blew whispers through her leaves and then, as if alerted to my presence, the wind whipped in my direction to attack. It hit me and I gasped on the air as a Spirit dove deep into my belly and my soul. Oxygen poured into my blood and my heart quickened. I live, I am.
I was not surprised then to turn and see a girl at play, a few hundred-feet west, just outside the woods on the edge of the tree line. I moved quietly closer. A fair young woman with long dark hair, in a black and white dress and wearing a crown of twine and laced-veil. When she saw me, she froze, like a startled animal, caught in my glance for a brief second, and then she sprinted with inspiring speed – like the graceful thrust of a glimmering sword – straight into the heart of the forest. A slave to the impulse of adventure, I flew in pursuit.
We were racing through the thick of wonderful wood. Much like the forests of home: hickory, oak, and pine, of higher canopies and lesser brush. I caught up to her swiftly under a shady fort. Hearing the approach of my steps close behind, she casually changed her pace, as if to prevent my presumption of victory. I did not want it to be so easy either, so I stayed two steps behind and joined her in a peaceful stroll. She looked back only long enough for me to see her smile, then spun her head away – she knew it was more than enough to keep me. As she walked, her head tilted slowly back and side to side; she was observant, a watchful child, seeking divine signs in the subtle movements of her senses. The trees stood seventy or eighty feet, with high branches that blocked much of the sun. In scattered spots, where light rays broke through, cupped-green-hands were there to catch them. Solar food fell from Heaven’s hands to her children’s mouths. The forest was adorned with hanging vines, scattered shrubs, fertile moss, and fallen branches. All around us a neighborhood of busy rodents of varied species raced to beat the seasons. Anxious deer watched secretly from a distance. Competing choirs of birds called out to their prospective lovers. We passed like angels through their midst. It seemed a serene world, except for one fact. The weight of gravity was increasing as we walked… yet the girl was unaffected.
The princess hadn’t spoken, but she sometimes turned to find my eyes attentive. Hers were a blazing hazel green, heavy with playfulness and desire. I felt, immaturely perhaps, that I belonged with her, like we needed each other, but I did not know why. She continued to travel through the woods like she was raised in them. She paused to greet familiar barks and ran to meet old boulders. Though I was mildly estranged in this place she loved, I was brought into the communion by the grip of her empathy and the taste of her mystery. It was as if she defined the atmosphere by her own mood: the wind kicked-up and the animals hasted when she skipped ahead, and all stood still when she stopped to think; the whole world moved to suit her like a mystical body. My soul too was becoming synchronized to the rhythms of this heart. A spiritual attachment. We played together in the sacrament of the present moment, and unknown time passed by...
As we continued to walk, we passed a shrouded barrier of dark grey stones forming a fifty-foot wall cloaked in ivy. It would have been invisible if not for the contrast of its straight construction against the organic lines of the wilderness around it. I had even thought I saw a monstrous golden-brown gate in the middle of its Eastern façade, but the bright bars were dulled by dirt and hard to see. The girl had seen me looking there and purposefully led me away. And although a song from within had beckoned me closer, I let it pass.
It was hours later that I finally asked her, “What was behind that great wall we left behind? Let’s find a way inside!”
My words were received like a knife stabbed into her ear. She stiffened like a frightened child. As she turned mechanically to face me, the noon sun began to set in the sky. It moved with her, as if connected to her twirling body by invisible gears. Her flesh became like stone, and her affectation became Kali, ready to take off my head. Her eyes were onyx and her face was furious, full of an unbearable sorrow. Twilight came quick, black clouds swallowed us, and she screamed in a demonic tongue:
“WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO RAPE ME!?”
I had somehow drawn-out of her the hysteria of Hell itself and I bore the heavy guilt of initiating her affliction. Her anger engulfed me like a hurricane of razor blades, slicing through my body, tearing my eyes, burning my chest, suffocating me in physical and emotional anguish. Flight was my initial reaction, but I couldn’t leave her in that state. She was in bondage. My inner voice demanded fortitude; my heart whispered mission. So, I fought into my center again and found my peace. I spoke with voiceless passion, casting out the accuser from my mind: you have no authority here. Trusting God, I spoke as dust to blood: “What I said was inspired by the Spirit in me, but my words often fail Him. I pray you might receive me with freedom. What was evil in my intentions is unknown to me.”
She convulsed violently, as if shaken by a ghostly brute, and then abruptly relaxed. Like a light switched on, she snapped back into a state of pristine beauty, and ashamedly smiled. An evil shadow seemed to flee behind her into the woods. The night remained, but the clouds receded. A full moon appeared above us, squired by brilliant stars, and together they poured phosphorescent shades of blue over the earth. She told me her name was Mia, and the fortress of my innocent inquiry was the sanctuary of her soul. “No one can enter my heart but God,” she stated bluntly. “No man is worthy.”
“I agree,” I responded sincerely, though I felt mildly betrayed. Nothing could be said to that truth, and I received it as dismissal. After her disturbing outburst, I found detachment slightly easier. So, I thanked her for a wonderful day and walked away. Superlogically, this progression of events made sense, and I walked as if I knew where I was going.
About five-hundred paces away from Mia in the forest, I heard a new scream. This time fear. I spun around, but the trees were too dense for me to see her, so I shot from my place like an arrow through the bright blue woods, to find her. On the ground in front of me, a jagged stone, the size of a clenched fist, was lit up by an escaped ray from the moon. Running, I reached down and grabbed it in stride.
I could soon see her approaching - a bridal apparition in the moonlight. As I closed the distance, I realized her eyes were vaulted shut and her arms fully extended out. Shouts of horror streamed from her throat. She was a glowing mummy desperately reaching, waiting to be saved by some power unseen. It wasn’t until I was right beside her that I heard the snarls. A hideous timberwolf, with shoulders three feet above the ground, stood poised to attack. Two strides in front of us unblinking. Its fur was a hazy outline completely camouflaged in the darkness but for its red eyes and ivory fangs. More horrid than the beast itself was the shredded sacrifice of flesh that lay in-front of it. This was the source of Mia’s frantic posture and wailing screams: a murdered infant. Then, I noticed four or five more wolves stood further back, surrounding us in a semi-circle, but waiting on the alpha to make its move.
I worked up a furious tension in the arm that gripped the stone and threw a quick strike into the head dog’s face. It yelped with intimidating bass and collapsed in pain. I grabbed Mia’s hand and dragged her after me. I ran so hard and fast that her toes only touched the ground once for every five of my own bounds. By the grace of God, we dodged a hundred tree collisions, until it seemed we had escaped pursuit. We kept running, but I slowed so that Mia could run in front. I couldn’t see them but I still heard the beasts, and they were getting closer. Their hunt was far from over, and I knew we weren’t going to win this race.
The sound of the wolves' breathing was untiring, a disturbing premonition; they were waiting for us to become exhausted. We were going to be an easy meal. Then, far off to the left some glimmer caught my vision. A golden flicker through the trees. I grabbed onto Mia and took the lead. Our change of direction brought the wolves in tight beside.
The citadel refuge rose up before us, its walls growing ominously as we approached, heading straight for the forbidden gate. Even as we arrived at the titanic fort, Mia hadn’t seemed to notice, consumed by her agony for the child. A strange providence had cracked the door for us. I lifted my beautiful friend into my arms and jumped inside, before she could speak. Though the gate was probably a hundred tons, it swung easy on its hinges and I was just strong enough to force it shut. It locked with a thundering chord. At that exact moment, the sun appeared in a clear sky straight above us. The night parted like heavenly curtains across a stage, as if the day was always there and only we had changed.
I turned to share my relief with Mia… but… she vanished…
There I was, standing alone in the most magnificent garden I had ever seen or could have ever imagined. It had to be ten square miles at least. Perfect order and unadulterated nature were married here. A cobble-stone road laid a path straight ahead as far as I could see, meeting several courtyards on the way and branching off in all directions. Arches clothed in ivy bridged rod-iron fences over the walkway and marked the transitions of ambience. Trees of every variety were scattered evenly across the land, planted with proportioned randomness. Tropical, oriental, Mediterranean, and desert plants had abandoned their climate prejudices. The mysterious environment produced every kind of fruit, and all was blossoming at the same time. Tall pines, gorgeous firs, olive trees, weeping willows, maroon maples, and white dogwoods all around: a perfect balance of sunshine and shade. Directly in front of me, lining the pathway to the first arch, were hundreds of wild, untrimmed rose bushes. They were also growing all along, up, and out of the inner palisade. I could taste their unique fragrance as I walked. The roses themselves were the size of grapefruits and melons, and made up of every conceivable color: red, white, pink, yellow, violet, purple, orange, blue, green, and all the mixtures inbetween. An army of thorns, like four-inch daggers, protected these silky queens.
Under a canopy and into the first courtyard, the roses ended and the landscape opened up. The garden forest took all my adult thoughts away; all I could think was play. My senses overflowed into emotions. Huge stretches of cherry blossoms, tiger-lilies, regal hydrangeas, giant sunflowers, bluebell carpets, scattered palms, birds of paradise, orchids, irises, and all varieties of ferns, sometimes in patches and sometimes alone. Paths and patches of grasses dispersed the plants, leaving plenty of space to move freely around them. But there was no sign of animal life…
In the middle of the first courtyard, a royal sword was stuck into a heart-shaped circle of dark-red earth. Hebrew embroidery ran down its faultless blade. Like a child, I ripped it triumphantly out of the dirt. In my grip it felt designed for me. Perfect length, perfect weight. As I held it in front of me with both hands, a flame ignited at its point and then descended as a stream of fire in a double helix spiral around the blade from top to hilt.
At that same instant, the garden came alive with the noise of other beings. I hadn’t noticed in the muddy reeds beside the road a movement underneath. Decrepit faces emerged from the earth; they pulled out their full bodies, the size of men, with black leathery skin and reptilian features. Familiar faces. Old friends lost by my cowardly communions. Their features conveyed pure wrath, as they cocked crooked bows with arrows and assailed me. The sweep of my sword deflected their missals off its blade or disintegrated them in its fire. But I felt the sting of three that I missed, two burrowed into my shoulder and belly, and one passed through my left ear. They came out easy, but there was poison in the arrows. It was the venom of accusation. A lie flooded my bloodstream: they told me I had come to steal her purity; they told me that my love for her was only my love for the pleasure I could take. They supported the accusation with evidence: they reminded me of every instance of neighborly avarice, and greedy comforts taken. They showed me explicitly how each sin had stolen from each face. I carried the totality of suffering I had placed onto others. I felt the self-disgust, the anger, the shame, and the despair that was the result of being objectified and used by me. Fleeing guilt, I started running as fast as I could.
I sprinted until I couldn’t breathe and then ran for thirty more minutes. I traversed on and off the path, under seven types of wood, through a savannah and a field of grasses, into a vast vineyard of purple grapes, and stopped in a thicket of birch trees. The miles I crossed brought me deep into the core of the fortress. A trench of roaring river sliced through the middle of the land. The psy-assault had faded into memory. The creatures were far behind and my head was gradually clearing. I began to walk meditatively, sword still in hand. I reflected on my punishment and was glad for it; I needed it. I never wanted to forget that pain. I was happy to remember their faces, even twisted in hate. They defined me. They hurt me because I loved them, I still love them. Sorrow feeds on Hope that the barriers between us will one day crumble. I knew that I would be forgiven because I forgave them. In seeking to understand them, I felt understood. And I was certain that I was not in this present relationship to plunder. I would not covet God’s possession. A single yellow rose showed my way back to the road.
As soon as I had found serenity again, my rest was broken by girlish giggles. Several slender, kinetic women, wearing torn cloths of derelict modesty, laughed alluringly as they appeared in the distance and moved nearer. They floated between the white-barked trees on insect wings. They were humanesque with enchanting faces and flawless skin wrapped around emaciated frames. Their speech was saccharine melodies. Their eyes were dark and empty. They came upon me like starving children, begging and groping. I was disarmed by their cries. They sang into my ears a tainted tune of truth: that I could never cheat a woman of her purity again. But for one like me, they said, there was another kind of love. "We know what you want," they crooned, "and we want to give it to you freely." I believed them. I was an animal and I had animal needs. I was perverted by nature and would always be. I was kin with women like these. One of them, with a white rose in her hair, kissed me unexpectedly. I looked up to the sky with desperation and sighed in surrender. Then, on my forehead fell a giant drop of rain, a tear from Heaven, baptizing my face in Mercy. It whispered the Word: “How well you prepare your way to seek love! Therefore even the wicked women you have taught your ways.” Jeremiah, Chapter 2, Verse 33. My spirit was immediately roused from its sloth, and I shoved my sword into the chest of the harlot. She screamed a deafening pitch and my world went silent. Deafness drowned their narcotic voices. I danced with my sword to Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring playing in my head, and I cut the feverish fairies into pieces. I trampled through their black blood and sojourned on, shaking off the filth of lust.
A few minutes further down the stone way, I met a wall of leaves. Hundreds of towering oaks were huddled around the hidden heart of the garden, like Swiss guards or Archangels around the Holy Father's altar. Towers of David, their enormous arms were clothed in vines whose branches draped to the ground forming a green veil. My senses heightened, anticipating climax, and I moved slowly and carefully through the leafy curtains.
I was in the center of the garden. Behind the veil of vines and trees was a large circular clearing. All the paths in the garden converged around one huge hill of dead grass in the center. Its appearance was strangely out of place, like a painter had died before his final stroke. There was nothing else there. Just emptiness.
“Hello,” Mia called out with anxious indifference as she emerged from the leafy facade, on one of the roads to the east of me.
“Mia!” I cried boyishly. “Where did you go? I was attacked by shadows and nymphs, and I was worried where you were and if you were ok!?” I ran over to meet her, embracing her in my arms.
She forcefully tore herself away, shoved me off of her and shakily scorned: “I AM NOT YOUR GIRLFRIEND! You should have left me alone a long time ago. This is your last chance to leave. You should not be here.”
“I’m sorry… I’m scared too.” I responded, trying to understand what she was saying, feeling. “I didn’t mean to come here. But this is where God led us.”
“No, this is where you led us!” she yelled with agitation. “You think I needed you to save me?”
“I did what I had to do… We are friends… My intentions are pure… I have to serve you… I want to stay with you…” I spewed honest words in my confusion.
She stepped swiftly towards me, right up to my face and glared into the back of my skull. Her soul mingled with my own like crossing spectrums of light. “Do you love me?” she challenged crassly. She read my thoughts for several minutes like my eyes were teleprompters. Her face slowly softened, approving what she read, and she kissed me on the cheek. At the same time, she gently took the sword out of my hand and laid it on the ground at the base of the barren hill. Its fire went out.
“What does it say on the blade?” I asked her, trembling with joy.
“The weapon of the King,” she answered as the sword transformed before my eyes into a large wooden cross. Simultaneously, the earth began to tremor with the vibration of monstrous movement. Three enormous hellion creatures appeared from the woods behind Mia. They had to be ten feet tall, built like gorillas, with steaming crimson skin and steer-like horns protruding from their foreheads. They marched right passed Mia, and were on top of me in a couple steps. Mia's lack of surprise or contention anesthatized me; her calmness somehow put me at ease.
One of the titans gripped my arms, and threw me like a carcass onto the cross. It held me down with one hand that stretched over both my shoulders. The other two pulled carpenter’s tools out of skin-pockets on the thighs of their naked genderless bodies. They drove thick nails through each of my wrists, extending my arms across the horizontal beam. They hammered one long nail through the arches of both my feet and into the bottom of the cross. With every beat of my heart, it felt like I was being rapidly bludgeoned by their hammers, starting at my pierced hands and feet and drumming their way from the ends of my limbs to the center of my chest.
I writhed and whined in agony to my friend, “Why is this happening?”
Mia approached me. I could barely see through the bloody sweat of my brow, but she had something in her hand. She crouched next to my head as I lay torturously contorting for each breath. “I am killing you,” she murmured through watering eyes, “because you told me you loved me. You made a promise with your heart that you could never keep in this life. I am not the one for you. You must be faithful to the bride of your youth.” As she spoke, she shoved a crown of rose-thorns violently into my head. I saw and heard the blood squirt out over my eyes, and I felt its warmth flowing down my face and neck. “I am making you a king,” she stammered, “but first I have to crucify your pride of life. To destroy the demons that followed you here. This is the only way that you can truly love me. This is the only way that I can receive your love.” With those words a rush of joy washed over me and I glimpsed for a second the glory to come. I would have to die to guard her heart for God. It was the gift I was born to give.
Mia moved away, tears now flowing from her face. The monsters lifted the cross effortlessly and carried it, with me on it, to the summit of that desolate hill. With a painful jolt, they staked me and my cross into the ground with a single thrust. The earth beneath me seemed to bleed from this violent penetration; the cross had ruptured a spring which started to stream down the east-side of the hill. Two of the thuggish devils then returned to wherever they had come from.
Though I was hanging crucified, I had a wonderful panoramic view of the immense garden. “No eye has seen, nor ear has heard…” I mumbled to myself. The beauty of my mystical-vision was crowned by the sight of the princess who climbed the hill to join me. She carried a red rose in her hands. She knelt beneath my leaking feet and wept passionately. Pain danced between us shouting a melody of madness to Heaven. She met my groanings with angelic cries and our suffering song resounded through Eternity’s halls. Even as the organs of my body broke down and failed me one by one, even as fluids filled my lungs and I slowly drowned, the sight of that girl lifted my breath and hastened my heart. Hours passed. Blood had formed a pool around my love, her wedding dress now bright-red from the waist down. Mia’s wrists and feet began to bleed like mine, and a line of blood from the crown of her head joined the flow of her tears. She carried my stigmata. As I felt the last of my strength receding, I forced-out the words of Genesis: “Thank you for making this way for us to be together. Thank you for accepting my life into your heart.”
She released a quick, fleeting laugh whose briefness could not stop the earth from quaking. The power of her emotion made my pain ephemeral. But her face resumed its stoic pose and she gave me this announcement: “You broke into my heart, and now I will break into yours.” The remaining beast proceeded to take a broadsword from his hip and jab it into the left side of my chest. My heart exploded, concluding all physical sensation. Simulteanously, water broke forth from the spring beneath me as from a pregnant womb. As I exhaled my last breath, Mia stood up on her toes, hugged my limp body, looked straight into my eyes and whispered, “Now you are worthy. We are healed.”
She fell to the ground.
I awoke into pitch-black darkness, laying still upon a stone, burried in the earth. Suddenly, my vision was filled with blinding light and a great energy animated me. I resurrected from my tomb and ascended beyond time and space. The dawn from on high broke upon me as I flew face first into the Sun. The full Beauty of God illuminated my soul. I so overflowed with His Life that a burning desire to give eclipsed my sense of self. Prostrate before the Court of Glory, my Lord gave me a new commission. I was sent back into the world as some material being, but not a man as I was before…
“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth,” Proverbs 5:18.
When I could see again, she was standing before me. A full grown woman now, an Aztec Queen. She wore a silky-pink, rose-patterned dress and a blue-green mantel sprinkled with golden stars. Her presence was a consuming fire, incinerating all that was not of Love. A child ran up to her to set his sword on fire in her flames. Then, I recognized the view behind her. I stood rooted atop the hill on which I died, looking out into the immaculate garden. The mount had sprouted thick lime-colored grass, and I had become its diadem, a humble fruiting tree. Literally. A river tunneled through the hill now and ran eastward into the sanctuary. The garden teemed with children. They were chasing down and slaying demons. They sang with playful laughter, wielding weapons of fire, as they ran after devils of every shape and size. The Queen spoke to me like we were lovers: “O’ how I love you. You died for me. By breaking your heart I made you like most other people on earth today. I humbled you so that you might experience and absorb the plagues upon so many of God’s children. A gift, not a punishment. You defeated in yourself what others struggle and often fail to conquer in their own hearts. Now, your victory feeds them with strength for their own on-going battles. Now, you are ready to be a True Lover, and you are. Your seed grows in me. All these young ones here are our spiritual children, born of the union of our hearts. We are fused by our fearless love. The walls of the garden are expanding to encompass all the earth. There are many other hearts inside our hearts now. They come here to fight for Love, for us, for themselves, for each other, and for the world. I draw them out from the world and lead them to you. You feed them. You have become their Tree of Life, their Father, and their Food.”
Then, I blinked my mind’s eye and I was back, alone before the tabernacle throne, adoring.
“A Psalm of David: The Lord directs me, and nothing will be lacking to me. He has settled me here, in a place of pasture. He has led me out to the water of refreshment. He has converted my soul. He has led me away on the paths of justice, for the sake of his name. For, even if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils. For you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they have given me consolation. You have prepared a table in my sight, opposite those who trouble me. You have anointed my head with oil, and my cup, which inebriates me, how brilliant it is! And your mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and so may I dwell in the house of the Lord for length of days.” – Psalm 22:1-6
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing.” – Isaiah 35:1, 2