Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Man of Red Clay: A Novel of Adam" by Jonathan Hooper, Chapter 16

Chapter Sixteen

Adam walked some distance with this man, this mysterious prophet who had called him “father”, until they came to a meadow near a grove of cypress trees. They sat down together with the mountain at their backs, saying nothing at first. The night was filled with an eerie calm, which not even the occasional sounds from the village could dispel; the light of a moon, round and full, outlined the rolling dunes of the desert.

Adam spoke first, looking at the milky white eyes of the man beside him, wondering whether Yahweh had led him towards Eden, or whether he had simply wandered there by chance.

"Do you wish now that you had not seen these things?"

"What loss is there, when one sees little more than desert? I saw what even the doubters would crave to see: Paradise, unfallen, immaculate, more beautiful than anything I'd ever beheld on earth. I understood, in an instant, exactly what it was you forfeited in exchange for mortal life."

 "How do you know who I am?"

"I was prepared to find you here - God sent me dreams, telling me that you were seeking to return to Horeb before you died. So I came here and waited, received by these shepherds as a prophet, knowing that even without the use of my eyes, I would recognise you when you came. And, when you arrived today, my heart told me at once who you were."

"Why did God send you?"

"He has blessed me with the gift of prophecy. First in the desert, and now here in this holiest place, the mountain, I have been given the knowledge of time to come. Perhaps you have asked God about the fate of your children? You may even have asked Him the fate of all the world's generations, from now until the end of time. I can tell you these and many other things. Don't worry about the other shepherds here - they do not see as I see, nor do they know how to interpret the eternal mysteries. God wanted you to come here - it is the holy place where He has chosen to descend to man."

"I did have a premonition," Adam admitted. "God made it clear that I was to return to the place where He had first spoken to me in my exile; it was from here that He told me to go to the northeast, to the river Jordan, and from there populate the whole earth.

"Tell me, prophet, by what name do they call you?"

"I am Lemekh. I have wandered the desert most of my life. I have been as far as Nod in the east and the great ocean in the west. I have no roots, no ties to keep me back."

Nod was the land of Cain; somewhere there was the village of Enoch, where profane prayers were offered to whatever spirits inhabited the desert.

"You have seen the land of Cain?"

"I came as far as its borders, yes. But they are an unfriendly race. When I saw that they denied Yahweh, I returned to the desert almost at once."

Adam stared into the face of the moon. Even now, speaking about his firstborn, he found that the name tasted bitter in his mouth. "Cain was my son. My firstborn. Ever since he slew Abel, I have tried to understand what brought him to such an act. My attempts have all been in vain."

"Ah, Cain," Lemekh said with a long sigh. He spoke with an intimacy that surprised Adam, as if he too had watched Cain, the headstrong youth, grow up. "Everything is out of joint in Cain. He was born too proud, and became the slave of his passions. Jealousy and wrath goaded him towards murder. We are all subject to such passions at times - it is our nature - but in the best of us there is enough good to temper the bad. Alas, Adam, that Cain is not one of a kind. If man tries to better understand his own heart - if he looks deep into himself - he will find Cain, and Cain's wrath, buried within him, inseparable from all the other parts of his nature. There is always discord within man: always an excess of one passion or another, seldom harmony. Even an excess of love, or humility, is not a good thing in itself.

"Let me tell you about a vision I saw. In my mind, there appeared, with greater clarity than any impression of my natural senses, a vision of the world as it is going to be. I saw tribes of people scattered throughout the whole world, some of them thriving, others enduring great hardship. There was war amongst the tribes, brothers killing brothers, men hoarding mountains of grain whilst their neighbours went hungry. In their midst, I saw people kneeling, their arms outstretched, imploring God to have pity. God had increased suffering a hundredfold since that day when you first learned the pain of labour. I could see that many of your sons were ruled by their passions, and even those purer in heart were beginning to doubt God because of the hardness of their lives. So wretched were these people that I doubted whether their progenitor, the original man, would recognise them or call them kin. Yet these were not the people of Nod, those lawless ones who have inherited the land east of Eden. They were the sons of Adam, and the daughters of Eve.

"Suddenly God spoke, causing all men to raise their heads towards Heaven the proud and the meek alike. 'Accursed generation,' He said. 'Beseech Me not. You are of the dust, your father. Return to him.'

"'Lord,' one of the men complained, 'there is war in my members. My heart is divided against itself, my hand raised against my brother. So it has been since he, letting chaos rule, first submitted to temptation, and forfeited the right to endless joy.

"'When I look at the grain in my brother's store, I desire it, and my jealousy drives me to deceive my brother, or to make war against him, till I have taken the things that belong to him. Am I the one who should be condemned? Hearts were made corrupt from that moment when God first learned of the act of transgression. I was cursed, from the start, with excess of passion. I cannot change what I am, made imperfect, denied the wardship in Eden that, in exile, would afford remembrance of love. Enough it would be, perhaps, to banish despair, to think this life a just punishment, if born into paradise, and if, through disobedience of divine law, the wardship willingly surrendered. Is it right to let one man choose, now wrongly it seems to me, for all; to allow a weak heart to condition the lives, through this one action, of those who may have been stronger, who perhaps, given this single edict, might have forborne to disobey God's will, and so, in Paradise, dwelt in joy everlasting? Was this first father general man, or was he, with excess of weakness, poorly placed in the Garden, and raised above his rightful station?'

"And, in the landscape around this figure, there was, like rushing water or moaning wind, the wailing complaint of many voices; mothers who had suffered their children's loss, wives who mourned their husbands. Heaven, either its face turned away, or else quick to condemn Adam's sons, thought these woes just punishment: punishment on man's general kind, though the transgressor had long passed away. The punishment was meted out blindly, impartial to the righteous and unrighteous alike; a plague over all the earth.

"And then, another man, this time meek in his manner, complained: 'Lord, what have we done to deserve this harsh sentence, year after year, generation after generation? Why do you say that the strong, the passionate ones, are accursed, when all suffer equally in sorrow and loss? Why should we temper our hearts, and moderate our passions, when wrath and reward are so mindlessly administered? Lord, have You utterly forgotten Your love for man? You watch us labour to bring forth crops from the earth, sustenance so hard won, yet never in abundance; You give nature temporal power to bring forth plants from the wilderness, though the wilderness, our common habitation, is strongest of all. Do you hear our prayers? Is the throne of God unassailable for meek hearts as well as proud? Our children die, just like the sons of Cain, the passionate ones. Have you left us to suffer this infernal world without end?'

"Thus they spoke; thus was my vision."

Adam was shaken to the core; he despaired of this prophecy, though what right had he to question God's justice? The punishment, as Gabriel had revealed, extended to all his kin. Yet now, laid out before him like this, it seemed impossibly harsh. What else could he do but give in to despair, when all his sons were equally accursed?

Despair took root inside him; like a poison weed it suffocated hope. He felt like he was being buried at last, his eyes covered with numbing clay, and wanted to cry out, waiting for his breath to expire, to slip into forgetful death. Even as he heard Lemekh's words, he knew that this was the final consequence of the Fall.

Lemekh saw his dark look and spoke up. "I am sorry if I bear bad news. I did not ask to be the vessel of God's revelations, but He has chosen me nonetheless. When you committed that single act of disobedience, you invited chaos into the world, and set the members at war with each other. All nature is divided against itself, so too the heart of man. Division has rent the created world. Nature is fallen: we hunger, we thirst, we suffer the evils of natural life and the evils of natural man."

"So harsh a punishment, for my one error?"

"Adam, I want you to tell me about that day in the Garden, when you saw that Eve had plucked the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Hadn't God told you what would happen when the fruit was eaten?"

Adam had long delayed this moment; from the day Cain had reached the age of understanding, he had chosen to tell him the consequences of the Fall, not the act from which these had resulted.

"I cannot go back. I cannot tell you about that moment when I disobeyed the commandment. What do you want to know? We served God with love, and He loved us with a single condition: that we leave untouched the fruit of the tree of knowledge. We ate and were punished. There is nothing I could tell you about that moment that would make you better understand our Fall. God kept nothing hidden from us; we were commanded not to do so, and we broke the commandment. So, when you talk to me about these rages and murders, about how far we have fallen, I have to say: yes, it was I who brought us thus low. I am the father who neglected his field of earth, and now it is barren and unyielding for my sons. I have left them a legacy of pain and discord. I am worthy of reproach, not God."

"It is said that God knows all things, that not a grain of sand in the desert can be shifted by the wind without Him knowing it. The gift of prophecy allows one a glimpse of futurity, of the time before time and the time to come, which is why I say these things to you. What of the adversary, who tempts men and bends their hearts to his will? Before you were made, and placed in that conditional paradise, there was war in Heaven. A third part of Heaven rose up in revolt, the first transgression, born out of defiant will. Satan, thrown down to Hell, was given reign over the world, his territories encompassing all but Eden, without your knowledge. Given the freedom to act, with exception of one edict, you were kept unaware in Eden; God set the angels at the borders, but told you nothing of this danger newly risen. And, somehow, the devil escaped their notice when he stole into paradise.

"His eye, apparently never closed, did not see the tempter creep, with a serpent's stealth, towards Eve whilst she was alone in some quiet place of Eden. Undiscovered, Satan tempted Eve and finally achieved, as if in revenge for loss of Heaven, the fall of mankind. Still it was man, the sole accused, who received punishment for his lapse.

"God, knowing all things, would have known of Satan's disobedience before it was manifest in his revolt; since He sees into the hearts of angels and men, why did He permit Satan to act against Him, first in Heaven, then in Eden? And you, Adam, if truly free, why not guarded better against the adversary, since in cunning, you were no match for one who had commanded the legions of archangels? Why did He allow evil to enter Eden, if truly paradise?

"Tell me, what is evil? From whence did it come? Did He place evil in your heart when you were first formed? Nothing in the created universe is external to God; nothing exists that was not originated by Him. Why then this proud defiance, this will to ascend higher and higher still, in Lucifer, the archangel, driving him to try to usurp the place of God? Is it, perhaps, that God placed imperfection in the heart of an archangel, just as He placed it there in your own heart, for some mysterious purpose undisclosed? Evil, burning ambition, disobedience, would not have grown unchecked. What purpose then did God have in allowing the fall of those He created, and then in punishing one with endless misery, the other with mortal suffering? Why create evil in the first place, or place its seed somewhere in the universe - and what place more fertile than the mind of a man of clay? - then sit back, and allow the thing to sprout up, under the pretence that all, man and angels alike, are truly free? Can the thought of evil pass unblemished in the mind of an angel? Satan was second only to God, yet evil entered his mind and he revolted. And now, the angels fallen in hell are eternally punished, and these generations of men left to suffer this mortal curse, the meek and the corrupt alike.

"Was evil created by God? What is the point of giving angels and men the freedom to do evil, when we are punished as if we were the ones to create evil in the first place? Didn't He know that in giving us this freedom, He would Himself create the discord that has entered the world? If He knew, what purpose does He have?

"These are the things that I wanted to relate to you, Adam. You seem to have grown tired; it is time I left you. I did not come to place doubt in your mind; merely to help you understand your own actions, and the actions of Cain. It is your right to know these things, and it would seem that God has decreed it. Sleep soundly, father."

Adam watched Lemekh climb down towards the village. The night was impartial to his growing unrest, his attempts to understand the mind of God. In a single stroke, Lemekh had overturned the firmest of his beliefs. He had made him query the origin of all things, going back further than the eating of the apple in Eden, further than Lucifer's revolt against God. How far would his mind regress at last - to the Father of all created things? Knowledge had a bitter taste indeed. It was a knowledge without sufficient answers, a knowledge of the existence of mystery. No matter how far his mind penetrated into the past, into the time before time, there was a faceless void at the end of it all, a darkness where there should have been light. If, wanting to know God's mind, he tried to illuminate the mystery of evil, wouldn't he be equal to Satan? The first steps of knowledge allowed one to see the order of the world, but what of when the mind ascended to the highest point? Having striven to get so far, what if it was impossible to turn back? The result was to be lost in the remotest darkness with no means of return. Knowledge is not an ascent, Adam thought, it is a fall. It is a plunge into the abyss, leaving us, like the fallen angels, at the lowest point of despair. Satan said that the fruit would make us like gods, but it is not so: in our arrogance, we thought our minds of clay could comprehend the mysteries of God.

Returning, Adam did not sleep well that night; he was assailed by the same bitter despair. It was as if he had taken the final plunge into the abyss, and now there was only death to come and free him from knowledge's oppression, from the fruit's mortal taste. Beginning with the pain of seeing a fallen world, and seeing his children scattered and turned against one another, knowledge had spread to the last places of his innocence and burnt them up.

He felt Seth breathing on the straw nearby; a final, desperate prayer made him call down a blessing on his favourite son: do not curse him with the desire for knowledge, Adam prayed. Make him truly a man of clay, so that he will never seek to question God's purpose in things; do not make a thing of nature ascend higher than it was made to. These mysteries are not for him.

By the morning, Adam was awake, but he could not arise because pain, forgotten these past weeks, had returned with renewed force. He knew that he had precious little time left. What purpose to climb Horeb now, since Lemekh had delivered to him this final revelation? It was time for him to die.

Chapter Seventeen

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