Friday, January 15, 2010

Music and Silence

Last night I was listening to Focus on the Family’s audio dramatization of C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (whew, that was a mouthful…) and I came upon a rather intriguing statement. I quote from the book, letter number 22, “…it [speaking of a certain Christian home] bears a sickening resemblance to the description one human writer made of Heaven: ‘the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence.’”

Screwtape goes on to say, “Music and Silence – how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father [For those unfamiliar with The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape is a demon, and the 'Father' he is referring to in this case in Satan. It sounds pretty freaky, but it's a very good book.]] entered Hell…no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise – Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless…We will make the whole universe a noise in the end…The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down.”

Well, seeing as it was nighttime and I was lying there in bed with nothing else to do, I started thinking. (I ended up staying awake until nearly midnight…that wasn’t part of the plan. *yawn*)
Music and silence? Why would the writer that Screwtape referred to say that? What’s so significant about those two things? Well, this is the connection I’ve made, whether it’s what the original writer intended or otherwise.

First of all, what do we know about Heaven? That our days will be filled with praise, eternal rejoicing unto the Lord. And, usually, praise and worship is accompanied by music. So, music = praise. The way I see it, whether or not we are actually making music, our hearts will be singing, and we will be forever glorifying God with all we have in us. Our lives will be songs, exalting his love, goodness, and holiness.

But Music definitely shouldn't be reserved for Heaven alone! In our daily lives here on Earth, we must strive to bring Him honor in all that we say and do. Let nothing you say or do give anyone any reason to doubt your God. Give Him the glory he deserves. Make Music for Him. (Something that immediately comes to mind is Casting Crown’s song, Lifesong. How appropriate!)

Now, what about Silence? Well, I’ve found that it is in the calm quiet, early in the morning or late at night, when my thoughts turn so much more easily to the Lord. It is then that I can focus. I can pray; speak to Him about all that is on my heart. I can read His words without interruption and meditate on what He is trying to tell me. It is so easy to become distracted by the Noise of life, that we need Silence. In the Silence we hear His voice clearer, for it is then that we have surrendered our attentions to Him alone.

So, in Heaven, and on Earth as well, we have Music and Silence; Praise and Meditation; Worship and Communication; Singing and Listening.

So, now you know what to expect if I say anything like, "I was laying in bed last night..."


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Excerpt from Escape into Darkness

This is an excerpt from the first chapter of my OYAN ( novel, Escape into Darkness. I had the synopsis posted on the sidebar at one point, but took it down so that it couldn't be, uh, stolen. (I'm paranoid...) Anyway, this (below) is not the entire first chapter, but the first scene from it. And, I am going to ask a few questions. Does it provoke your curiosity? Would you keep reading? Does it make sense? I would greatly appreciate anything anyone has to say. Please, and thank you, very much. :-)


Chapter 1

I drew in a sharp breath and laid a hand to my lower back. The welt that had emerged since last night still stung. And why shouldn’t it? Master Dryte was an expert marksman from what I’d heard; surely he could lay several well placed thrashings to the back of a young slave girl like myself.

Grimacing, I wrung out the last tunic over the washbasin. After hanging it on the line with the others, I hefted the tub up to dump it. Yet, Mistress didn’t like for me to dump it in the stone courtyard, as I painfully found out long ago, so I staggered toward the grass to pour out the soapy, murky contents.


I yelped, startled by the loud voice, and dropped the tub on the cobbled stone. The heavy basin landed on my foot. “Ouch!” I cried. Water sloshed out, soaking my skirts, as well as the floor. “Ooh!”

“Oh, Keilah!”

I pried my foot out from under it and spun around. A tall young man stood by the courtyard gate, grimacing. “Rylen!” I shouted at him. “Look what you made me do!”

Rylen unlatched the gate and slipped inside the fence. “Sorry,” he said, his voice sympathetic. “I’ll help you clean it up.”

I sighed and picked up the tub, now much lighter. “Never mind that. It’ll dry pretty quick. I just hope she doesn’t find out.” I dumped the rest out on the grass and set the tub against the side of the cottage. “Now, what was it?” I asked, wringing out the hem of my skirt.

Rylen blinked, probably trying to remember. “Oh! Right. Father gave me a horse! Do you want to see her?”

I drew my head back. “Really? For you to train?”

“Yes. He said he thinks I’m ready.”

“Oh, wonderful! I’d love to see, but I don’t think...”

Rylen shook his head. “Father got you thirty minutes of leave. You’ll be fine. Come on.”

“Well...all right.” I snatched my kerchief from the pocket of my apron and tied it around my head, so that it hung down to my shoulders. Mistress required me, as all the female slaves were to do, to wear the veil when I went out. They set us apart from the village girls.

I followed Rylen out of the gate and through the winding main streets of the village toward his father’s smithy shop and stables, which were not that far from my master’s home.

On the days that I had minimal amounts of work – those being mostly on holy days or festivals, which were few and far between indeed – I often went to the stables to visit and assist in any way I could. When with people who treat me well, work never seems near as grueling. It’s even enjoyable. As long as there are no whips nearby.

One of the most treasured memories I have occurred over a period of a few days three summers ago, several months before the raid. Father woke Mama, Alena, Darrin, and I early and took us out to the fields for a seasonal round of surveying. After Father retired from his profitable architecture exploits, he had taken back to the land, like his father, and his father’s father before him.

The days were hot and humid, yet as we went through the farmlands, we stopped often to work alongside the servants. They were not slaves, forced to work in unbearable conditions with cruel, heartless masters ripping their backs under stinging cords, but all were paid employees of my father’s. They were treated well -- not as animals. He taught us the difference.

As we worked, we talked with them. I had many enjoyable conversations during that time, with young and old alike. Mama, Alena, and I would often return to the wagon and supply fresh water and food for the workers. And, whether we brought it to them, or they had to supply their own with the money from their pockets, they always had enough to eat.

Life is so different now.

Here in the village, those working in the fields are often shackled together by their ankles. The scraps of clothing that do little more than cover their bodies in the necessary places, hang off of their malnourished frames like loose sacks. And it is not unusual to see several being whipped to the point of death each day.

So, so different.

I shook the thoughts from my mind and trotted to catch up with Rylen. We entered through the side of his father’s shop and went straight to the door to the stable area.

Grooms and stable hands bustled about, carrying things back and forth. I dodged a boy wheeling a cart full of droppings and sidestepped a pile on the floor that he must have missed.

“Where is she?” I asked.

“Out in the back pasture. Pap bought her, along with four other foals, at the auction in Framburn last week. They arrived yesterday.”

Once we’d reached the door that would lead out of the stable and into the paddocks, I turned, reaching for the handle. Rylen kept walking. “Uh, Ry?” I furrowed my brow. “Isn’t it this way?”
Rylen made his way back to me, hesitated, and then grasped my wrist. “Well, yes, but…” He inhaled and glanced around, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Just, keep following me. We aren’t going out to the field.”

“But I thought you said –”

“I know! Just, come on.”

I allowed myself to be pulled along the corridor for a few more meters. Rylen stopped at the ladder to the hayloft. “Go on up. I’ll be back in a minute.”

I stepped onto the first rung. “I don’t have a whole lot of time, you know.”

“I’ll hurry.”

I clambered up the ladder and plopped down on a bale to wait. What in the world is going on? I picked at the straw and twirled a blade between my fingers; the sweet smells of horse and hay drifted through my senses.


I looked up. That was fast. Rylen came and sat next to me. He had a fat, leather-wrapped bundle in his hands. “This came for you.”

I drew my head back. Slaves never received anything. It was forbidden. Questions flew from my lips. “For me? What is it? Who is it from? And how did you get it?”

“I don’t know anything about it except what Pap told me. He brought it back with him from Framburn. He got it from some messenger. Mysterious fellow, he said,” He shifted and held out the bundle. “It’s addressed to you.”

I took the package from his hands. It was bound with small, thin cords of rope, crisscrossing over the leather. I slid them off, dropping them onto the hay-littered floor. I peeled back the outer wrapping, revealing another cloth, a thick, woven dark blue one, beneath. I stopped and stroked the fabric. “Why, this reminds me of...” I pulled it away and set aside the small contents of the package without looking at them. I shook out the cloth and gasped. “It is!”

“What?” Rylen asked. “It’s just the wrapping.”

“No.” I grinned, shaking my head. “It’s my Mama’s shawl!” I wrapped it around my shoulders and pressed the cloth against my face, inhaling deeply. The familiar scent filled my nostrils, sending a shiver down my spine. I sighed. “It is.”

Rylen nudged me. “Keilah. What was in it?”

“Oh.” I picked up the former contents, turning them over in my hands. A small, fat book bound in soft, white calfskin and a sealed letter. I opened the letter first, immediately recognizing the small, perfect handwriting. Handwriting I hadn’t seen for more than three years. I glanced at the upper corner or the page; the date written there was a year old.

Dearest Niece,
If this letter ever reaches you, praise be to the
Father in Heaven. As I have little time for formalities, I will simply say that I miss you, and that I long to see you once more. God has been gracious and
has kept my brothers and me well. My home has recently begun to receive boarders, many of which are ill and seeking refuge from their daily trials. We are tending to them as well as we know how.

One of the boarders, a young man named Darrin, came to me one night, saying that he had news of my blood-brother, whom I had not heard from in some time. He said that he and his wife had recently moved to a small fishing village up North, Yarom, I believe, and that he (the young man) had accompanied them for the journey. Problems arose, and the young
man had to leave the village. He expressed to me that he had hoped to bring my brother back to visit, but he had been unable to leave the village due to an … occupational problem.

He also told me that the couple’s daughter had not been heard from since they relocated. They had wanted her to join them, but, for some reason, she was unable.

Niece, I now must make a request of you. We have an abundance of people staying with us, and are thus unable to care for them all the way that we should. Also, I have need of your discerning mind and able youth concerning other matters of which I dare not put down in writing. Please, if you can, will you come? I beseech thee, dear niece. Come to me, for I need your help. And, remember as you make your decision, that even when things seem most hopeless, our Heavenly Father is always there, to be our Comfort and our Guide. God bless
you. I hope to see you soon.

In Christ, your loving uncle,

I blinked. What a strange letter! Obviously, it was from my uncle, Israel, but why had he used “Jacob” to sign it? And it was so vague! Boarders? Brothers? And what was all that about my brother, Darrin? And the very last paragraph seemed quite out of place. I sighed and folded the letter up, sticking it in the front cover of the book. I had a feeling that there was much more information contained in the letter than I was seeing.

Rylen nudged me, awakening me from my fog. “What was that?” he asked, a look of concern on his face.

“It’s from my uncle.” I sat for another moment, not saying anything. Then, I gasped. “Oh, no!” I jumped up and wrenched the shawl from my shoulders, stuffing it, along with the letter and the book, in Rylen’s hands. “Ry, I’m sorry, but I have to get back. I can’t take all this with me -- Mistress will have my head if she finds it. Will you take it back with you?”

“Well, of course, but –”

“No, I have to go. You can read it if you want, but it probably won’t make sense. I don’t even understand it!” I dashed to the ladder, kicking up a storm of straw. “I’ll see you later, and then we can figure it out!”

I climbed down the ladder and ran through the aisle, stopping at the access gate to the pasture instead of going all the way to the shop entrance. Pushing aside the sliding door, I slipped out the back. Perhaps, if I could make it back to the house without running into any crowds, I just might make it back before my time ran out. Though, it wasn’t likely.

I rounded the corner of the large building and took off at a sprint through the streets of Ridefel. I took a shortcut, sticking to the side roads and alleys, arriving back at the prominent home of my master within minutes. The gate to the courtyard still stood open, swinging back and forth in the light breeze. I bit my lip and ducked back through it, latching it softly behind me. I checked the water spot on the stone; I hadn’t yet dried completely. If I got back to my chores and worked diligently, I might be able to avoid a confrontation by the Missus.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"The Living Waters" (Part 2 of 2)

(...continued from the last "installment"...)

“And how, my lord, did you come to reside in this plated armor?”

I heaved a deep breath. “That is a much more complicated tale, dear girl.”

“I have nowhere that demands my presence at this time.”

“Very well.” I stared into the rippling water. My reflection, a distorted, snaky visage, stared back at me. I shifted my gaze to the reflection of the Child. “About seven years ago, I came upon the chance of a lifetime. A neighboring empire had begun to wage war with us, and had been viciously defeated in the last battle. I grew haughty and determined to add that kingdom onto my own. I knew we could not be defeated.

“I was so swelled with pride. I reveled in the enjoyment of it all for some time, but then I began to grow bored. I wanted some excitement, so I sent a regiment of poorly trained soldiers into a battle so I could make sport of them. I stood at a distance, watching them be slaughtered, giving not a thought to the fact that these men had families—wives, children,” I looked down at my forelegs and a large tear rolled down my snout and stopped, dangling on my chin. I blinked and the tear splashed onto my claws. I looked back up at the Child. “And I sat there on my high horse, laughing.”

The girl bit her lip as tears welled in her own eyes. She looked down at the blossom and twirled it by its stem absentmindedly. I sighed, hot steam rushing from my nostrils. “Finally, near nightfall, I began to grow weary. So I sounded my horn, giving the signal to retreat. The remaining soldiers scurried back, stumbling from exhaustion. As they gathered around me, I counted them. Out of all the men I sent out, at least a hundred, only twenty-three remained. And I didn’t care. I turned and spurred my horse, leaving the men to find their own way home. So what if they never returned? They were expendable, I thought.

“That night I tossed and turned. My mind was restless and would not allow my body to slip into silent repose. I got up and wandered the halls for a while and then lay back down. I had finally calmed down a little and was just beginning to fall asleep, when I sensed that something was amiss. I felt a dampness against my cheek and opened my eyes. A mist had filled the room, thick and white. A ghostly figure stood before me, shrouded in a cloak of fog. He had a kind face, yet his eyes were unbelievably sad. He grasped my hand and pulled me up. I stood before him, dumbstruck. I puzzled over it for a brief moment, then decided that it was simply a dream. I drew myself up and looked him defiantly in the eyes. ‘What do you want, spirit?’ I asked. He simply smiled.” I chuckled, remembering. “I hated that smile. It was full of pity and sorrow. I felt like he was belittling me. I grew furious. I needed no sympathy from others. But before I could protest, he spoke. All he said was, ‘Come.’ His voice was hypnotizing. I was enchanted. Before I realized what was happening, he had pulled my by the hand to the center of the room. He brought his free hand up above our heads and waved it around us both. My room dissolved in a flash of sparkling light. What stood in its place when the light faded was this valley.”

The Child’s eyes grew wide with curiosity. “Truly, my lord?”

“Truly, dear one. I turned to the man, saying, ‘Where are we?’ ‘The Valley,’ was his reply. ‘Why are we here?’ I asked, prodding him for more information. ‘We are here for you. You actions have been wicked these last years. It is time for you to see that. But remember -- not all men have an opportunity to change in their lives.’ As he was speaking, I remember that my arms and legs had begun to ache terribly. My head swirled and I collapsed to my knees. The man continued speaking. ‘I was sent to you from on High, to show you the errors in your ways. You have allowed the Enemy to capture your mind; his wooing has earned your heart. And now you will see what you have become.’

“Darkness began to emanate from within me. My head throbbed wretchedly and my limbs began to burn. Claws sprouted from my fingertips, from my toes. My skin thickened and scaly, dry patches appeared. Spines shot front my back, tearing my nightshirt. I doubled over, screaming in pain. I writhed on the ground, feeling my body twist and change. As soon as my skull felt as if it was about to explode, it stopped. I just lay there, feeling as if I had the weight of the entire world upon my back. I tried to rise, but I couldn’t move. ‘What have you done to me?!’ I shouted. I retaliated when I heard my own voice. I still do.

“I looked all around for the man, but he was gone. I was sure by now that it was a dream. But, over the next few days, when I still had not awakened, I came to a different conclusion. I don’t know how long ago that was, for I stopped trying to keep track of the time. But over the days and weeks, I began to think more and more about what the man had said. I began to realize what I was. I had taken on the clothing of a crafty serpent, the very image of the Enemy himself.”

I had finished my tale. The Child stood, tucked the lily into the belt of her gown, and stepped lightly around the greenery growing near the edge of the pool. She came close to me and laid her hand upon my brow. Her touch was warming; it felt good on my cool scales. “Dragon,” she said. “I shall now tell you the true reason why you drink of this water.” She kneeled at the edge, her hand now lingering on my jowls. “Look.”

I hesitantly turned my gaze downward. There it was again. That wretched snake. “Ah,” she said. “You do not wish to see the evidence of your sins. Am I correct?”

I grunted. “You are.”

“Yet, you return to this pool, day after day. Why? You know that it will cause you pain.”

“Ah, yes, but if I am to survive, I must endure that pain. I tried forsaking the water once. I shall never attempt that again.”

“So you admit that you need the water? Even if it tells you things you do not wish to be reminded of?”

Was this girl daft? How many times would I have to repeat it? “Yes, Child,” I said, a little more forcefully than I meant to. “Yes, I need the water.”

In the reflection, I saw her smile softly. She began to speak again, yet as if to herself. “In the water, you see who you truly are. When you begin to look through the water, you see other things as they truly are. It is through the water, the Living Water, that all things are.” She turned to me. “Have you ever heard of the Living Water?”

“Living Water? No, never. Will you tell me?” I was humoring her now. I could see, clear as the pool itself, that she wanted more than anything to tell me of this Water.

“Yes,” she said, her face and eyes alive with passion. “The Living Water is the one thing that can truly fill thirsty souls. It quenches not only the body, but also the spirit. Once you partake of this Living Water, once you truly partake of it, your soul will never thirst again. Much like this water in front of us, it will fill you so that the only things you will ever need are manifested in it.”
“A pool where I shall only have to drink once?” I asked, thrilled at this notion. “Please, take me to it! I shall never have to see my reflection again!”

“It is not a physical pool, my lord. But it is real. This Water will not only fill you, but cleanse you, as only the Living Water can. It washes away the stains of your inmost being, turns scarlet sins into radiant righteousness. It calms your guilty conscience, and it will direct you from that point on. And, best of all, all you have to do is accept it. Take the Living Water, and douse your soul from head to foot. It will satisfy. It offers hope, forgiveness, and an eternal home in paradise, if only you will accept it. Drink deeply of this Water, Dragon. Drink, and you shall be enslaved by the Enemy no longer. The Giver of this Water, the Creator of all things, He who set everything in motion, will deny no one. You will shed your scales and splash in the cool fountains of His love, forever.”

I simply stared. Was what she was saying true? Cleansed? Forgiven? Forever? Was it too good to be true? Perhaps. But … it was something. Something that seemed to emanate peace. And peace was what I wanted — needed --, oh, so desperately!

“Child,” I said, with renewed interest. “How can I find this Water?”

“As I said before, my lord, it is not a tangible object. It is a gift, something you must ask of the Giver and then accept. Only then shall you begin to truly see.”

This was no longer a mere conversation. This was a life-changing discovery. I could truly be forgiven! Suddenly, I knew in my heart that all this Child was saying was true. “Yes,” I said reverently. “Yes, and ask I shall.”

It was then, as I closed my eyes and began to pour out my heart to the Giver of this Water, that I did begin to see. I also began to feel—to feel the weight of so many burdens lifted from my shoulders. With tears now running down my cheeks, I lifted my head and let out a long, triumphal cry. I was finally free.

The Child laughed, clapping her hands and dancing around. “Now,” she said. “If you wish, you may dive into the pool. Though your soul has been cleansed by the spiritual water, your physical appearance can be washed away by this water.” The Child motioned to the crystal pool at our feet.

“Is it necessary?”

“No. But it will give you a “proof”, a seal to a covenant, if you will, that your new life has truly begun.”

Without another word I dove headfirst into the water. It engulfed me, and no sooner than I had become completely immersed, I felt my body begin to change once more. But it was not painful. It felt like I was taking off a hot, itchy tunic. The water felt wonderful against my newly bared flesh. My claws disappeared, my spines shrunk and my face smoothed out. Again, this transformation took only a short while. When I felt complete, I broke the surface. I laughed with joy. After so long, trapped in that heavy armor, I now felt extremely light. I looked for the Child. I needed to thank her.

She was gone. I swam to the side of the pool and hoisted myself up over the edge. As I stood, a sudden, glowing radiance caught my eye. I looked down. My entire body was covered in a golden shroud of light. It shimmered and undulated, forming itself around my body. It settled and I felt the sudden weight of fabric against my skin. The light had formed itself into a golden robe. I patted the cloth, feeling its silky smoothness caress my flesh.

“Do you like it?”

I jerked my head up at the sound of the voice. The gentle, hypnotizing, familiar voice. There, before me, stood the man. Then man that had brought me to this place.
My stomach fluttered and my throat caught. I only nodded, for fear that my voice would crack.

He stepped closer to me until we stood eye to eye. “You have repented of your sins, and overcome the test. Well done, my son.” He extended his hand, offering it to me. “Will you come, and set right the wrong you left behind?”

I drew myself up and placed my hand in his. “I will.”

He brought his free hand up and waved it above us. As the valley disintegrated in a falling shower of light, I caught a glimpse of the man’s emerald eyes, chestnut hair, and the lily tucked into the belt of his tunic.