Wednesday, September 3, 2014

prophet on the 6 train

"Well, it's quite obvious," said Peter placidly, "that your main problem is that you think evil is more real than good."
Paul almost choked on his carrot cake. He sputtered, wordlessly, trying to navigate his utter indignation and swallowing the dense, walnut-spotted cake. The cream cheese frosting (absolutely delicious) was sticking to his tongue and slowing down the speed of his response. He took a long pull from his beer bottle and then turned to his beloved leader.
"Um excuse you?" was the first retort Paul could pull out of his arsenal. Not an excellent choice, but it got the point across. It was one of those rare moments where the word fit the thought verbatim.

Peter looked with sympathy upon this rash and loquacious young man. It was so hard to be young, he thought. Time still seemed to matter to the young. They put too much emphasis on time and then were dismayed to discover that they could not be patient. Patience, mused Peter, was second nature to the elderly, yet surprisingly difficult for the young to cultivate. Time eased his grip on those who were about to leave his clutches anyway. But the young--the young were very certainly caught in the thickest throes of time. Despite his brilliance, his clarity, his wisdom and expression beyond his years, Paul was certainly no exception. Paul was too bright really. Thy brilliance is the only cloud that hides thee, thought Peter. Paul was one of those rare individuals who would rashly and unflinchingly stare into the face of the sun. Paul was...what was the word...inspired. Yes. Quite inspired, truly. Peter relished the formerly rare and yet increasingly more numerous, always poignant, moments when Paul would say something, and Peter would turn sharply to stare at him, expecting to turn and see the face of Him, of the Master. It was uncanny, that was for sure. Oh. Goodness. Paul had been talking, and Peter hadn't been listening.

Now Paul was out of breath, so Peter took it as a sign this was his moment to step in.
"Do, excuse me. All I meant is that I think you forget, too often, that evil is like a shadow. It is a distortion of a body walking in the light. The tiniest piece of goodness is far more real than legion shadows of evil."
Paul sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair. Peter, he found, was usually right. But it was, more often than not, difficult to accept what he said without a fight. (Although he had learned the hard way that fighting with Peter usually went south for Peter's opponent.) Paul really wanted, more than anything, to retreat backwards. Backwards to where there were places of goodness and gentleness. Back to where Grecian orderliness and tidiness were the rules of the day. Back to where order and light and love were all taken for granted. Somedays, he felt that being the Apostle to the Gentiles was a bit more than he signed up for. But no one knocked him off his horse, offering him a different position, so he figured he was sort of stuck with what he'd got.
He decided to take the plunge and just tell Peter what was on his mind. As a general rule, Paul never said exactly what was on his mind. Unfiltered honesty was a dangerous policy. But, Peter was so damn intuitive, he could spot an off-kilter vibration in your heart a mile a way. It usually was best to just tell him the unvarnished, unfiltered truth.
"Actually, Peter, I think I forget mostly that the world around me is not divided up into little worlds--it's just the world."
"I don't follow," Peter responded, with a perfect poker face. Paul thought that Peter followed all too well. But he knew this pedagogical approach like the back of his hand. Peter was pushing him further into the truth. It was aggravating, but nonetheless highly effective.
"The world isn't divided up into tiny spheres of influence; it's all one big glorious dance, isn't it?"
"I'd agree."
"Thank you. Right, well, for whatever reason, the pieces of the dance that I am familiar with are not meant to be kept separate, sealed off from these other strange, foreign, uncomfortable passages that I've encountered as of late. They are meant to inform those, join them, add to them. There isn't a difference between Jerusalem and Rome. Or, I suppose even if there seems to be, there doesn't have to be. I don't know if that's an answer, but I think that's the only answer I can find to reconcile the two. Because there is darkness, and I don't think anyone will deny that. But if the light is kept away from the darkness, then the darkness will never become light. Whereas, if light and darkness meet, light always wins, right?"

Peter stared at Paul, and instead of seeing Paul, he saw Him who His heart loved so deeply. He saw the man who had told Him everything he had ever done. A memory flooded his waking eyes: the memory of the Master's face, distorted in a grimace of pain. Get behind me, Satan, he had whispered. Peter felt a sharp knife slice through his heart as he remembered how his own face mirrored the pain on Jesus'. Peter remembered realizing, in that suspended, hateful moment, with a cold, awful dead feeling in his stomach: "He is hurt." Peter didn't know that He could be hurt. He had always seemed so strong, so confident, so even-keeled and unflappable. "And I have hurt Him." The cold dead feeling didn't go away. He could feel the pain, some sort of interior agony ripple through his beloved Master and he didn't like it one bit. It felt like there were waves rolling in the earth underneath his feet. He felt sick.

And suddenly he was back to the present, sitting by the fig tree with Paul. Paul was still waiting for an answer to his question. Oh. Apparently it hadn't been a rhetorical question. Well, that was somewhat flattering. Paul usually only asked rhetorical questions. Peter knew this was mostly just habit, but he had often though about warning Paul against the pride which can lead you to think no other humans could possibly give you the answers. Now was not the time, though.

"Right. But after every time we gain the summit, we'll find ourselves crashing down again. Pride goeth before a fall doesn't even begin to cover it."

Paul pondered this unexpected answer. It seemed a lot like a non sequitur to him. But you never knew with Peter. So he accepted it. He figured that it could have been a lesson in connection. Perhaps these two statements were connected by some spiritual secret he had not yet uncovered.

Speaking as he often did, on an impulse Paul said to companion: "You are a good man, Peter."
Caught off guard by this unexpected affirmation, Peter responded in kind:
"I'm glad, Paul, that you were knocked off your high horse. You are quite a gift to all of us."
Paul often wondered why talking with Peter was harder than talking with Luke or Tertius or Timothy. But he think perhaps he understood why. Peter and he spoke the same word, but in different tongues. And they cared too much about that one word and about each other to be compromise their different languages.
It was never an effortless friendship. But Paul decided again and again that Peter was a friend worth the effort.

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