This piece is a part of a larger project which dreams of the peace of the Resurrection.
Chapter 3: A Conversation with Friends
It is appointed for each person once to die…and then the judgment.
“Well, she’s coming for a visit.” I said with some anticipation to my little raccoon friend as we crossed the valley on my way back to our mountain. He’d managed to find me on the way out of town and had been following at a short distance, pausing only when he found something along the way more interesting than me. Most likely what kept him following was the smell of food coming from my pack. She had packed a few lunches for me for the trip back: some cheese and bread, one of those caramel apples from the fair wrapped in wax paper, and a bottle of fresh water. The bandit (I had taken to calling him that) stopped and gave me a quizzical look when I spoke. I’m never sure whether he’s really understanding me, or just being a raccoon. But, for a moment, I got the feeling that he was puzzled by my sense of excitement and my anticipation at her visit.
The visit itself was a few days away. She and her father both had some business to take care of in town following the festival and I’d begged for those days to prepare the house. Also, a few old friends were coming into town and they wanted to wait for them so they could all travel to my place together. Truthfully, I wasn’t worried about her coming—in fact, I was thrilled about that. “Worry” or “anxiety,” especially when it comes to preparing the house for guests, just isn’t an issue in the resurrection. When you have all eternity to spend time with someone…let’s just say the pressure to impress or to make things “perfect” is off.
What anticipation I felt was far more about wanting to get to know her father better. He had died several years before I’d met her in the time before and the stories she’d told about him revealed a warm, down-to-earth man with a great sense of humor. I remember always thinking, when she’d tell me stories about him, “I wish I could have met him. I think we’d have gotten along well.” We’ve met many times now, but I’ve always wanted to talk to him more.
It took the bandit and me a little more than a day to get back home. We took our time and stopped often to rest and enjoy the scenery. One spot, especially, is my favorite. About halfway up my forested mountain, between the foothills and my cabin, is the strangest little grotto. There is a cool oasis, where the stream that loosely follows the little path into town widens and shallows enough that you can see the brook trout enjoying the rippling sunlight which dances beneath the surface of the water on the smooth stones nestled in the sandy bottom. The pool isn’t deep enough to swim in, but the water is clean and swift enough to drink, though quiet and peaceful as the passing clouds overhead. What is strange about this spot is that it is populated, not by the forest conifers, oaks, and chestnuts common to these hills, but by a family of three thick verdant willows whose branches seem to sigh lazily around the cool stillness of the water—the longest of which actually dip their ends into the clear stream. Their tendrils create a thin veil, obscuring this spot from the perspective of the path. Were one walking by very quickly and not paying attention to the trees, it would likely not even be noticeable. In fact, I only knew of it because I once saw a young doe disappear through the willows when I was taking an evening hike after dinner. Since that day, I rarely walk this way that I don’t spend at least an hour in that spot, dropping pebbles into the stream or sleeping at the root of the willows. This walk was no different.
When I got home the next day, I thought I would get started right away preparing the house for their arrival. But it was such a nice morning and the breeze was blowing through the trees so softly that it seemed a perfect day to sit outside and think. So, I spent the morning on my porch with my eyes closed, enjoying the air. Besides that, now that I think about it, there wasn’t much to do to my house anyhow.
That said, in the afternoon I woke up from a very refreshing nap right where I’d fallen asleep on the porch and realized that there was one project I was interested in doing before they’d come. I’d been thinking about creating a new walk to the house with some flat stones I’d found down by the stream. It was going to require that I take my shovel and cut a little foot-path that led from my steps to the main path that led up the hill. So, after a quick bite to eat, I went around the house to the small tool box next to the back steps. It was there that I found a note someone had left. It read:
Greetings, neighbor! I am building a new house on the other side of the ridge and needed a few tools to get started. A friend told me you had some tools, so I borrowed a few. I will bring them back soon, but if you need them, I’m building just a few minutes’ walk down the south side of the ridge.
Now, in the time before, doing something like that was just not heard of—at least in the times and places I’d lived. But in the resurrection, it’s kind of common. We just don’t feel the same way about things that we used to back then. If I have something, and someone needs it, why not let them use it? In the resurrection, people are more important than things. So, when I opened the tool box and found he’d borrowed a mallet, the hand drill, and a saw, instead of feeling anger that “my” tools were not there, my first thought was joy at having a new neighbor to meet, and I decided that this afternoon was a perfect time to go and visit him. Although he’d left the shovel, which was all I needed for my project, it just felt like a better choice to go meet my new neighbor.
So, I grabbed some food, a few apples and a bottle of water, and hiked to the south side of the ridge, with the bandit following close behind. Within about an hour we started to hear the sound of tools: sawing, hammering, and the sound of voices. Apparently he and his friends were hard at work preparing a small cabin. There were four men working, two cutting a rough-hewn beam, and the other two working at securing another beam as a corner pillar for an open cabin, like mine.
“Hello!” I called as I came within earshot. I knew I had to raise my voice to be heard over the sound of the work. It must have startled them because they all stopped working to see who it was. One of the men wiped his forehead with his sleeve, slipped off a glove, and walked over to meet me.
“You must be my new neighbor,” he said with his hand stretched out toward mine. “Hello! My name is Seth. This is Jonathan, and those two sweaty guys with the saw are Mark and Thomas.” He was smiling when our hands finally clasped. “Hope we didn’t put you out borrowing your tools.”
“No, not at all.” I said. “I just got back from a visit into town and was preparing to do a little landscape project when I noticed your note. Use whatever you need as long as you need. I brought a few apples from the orchard if you all are hungry.”
The men were glad for a reason to take a break so we sat down and talked for a while. Seth was from a time long before mine (about three hundred years) in the time before and his friends lived far from this mountain. They had come to help him put together the frame for his house before heading back to their own part of the world. The five of us chatted for a little while and then Seth’s friends said that they wanted to get back to work.
“Well,” I said, “I need to get back anyhow. I have company coming in a few days and I need to get my project finished before they arrive.”
“Hmm…why don’t you let me come and help you get it done? Won’t take long to do, and these guys know more about getting the frame up than I do. It would give me a chance to help a new neighbor.”
I was happy for the help but didn’t want to put Seth out—or his friends. But the other men seemed fine with the idea. So, as Seth and I walked back to my house he explained that, since the earliest part of this time, Jonathan, Mark, and Thomas had spent many years developing their skills as builders. In the time before, the shortness of our lives meant that there was only so much time to learn to do things well and survival generally meant one’s energy and time was a precious commodity. In this time, we’ve discovered that, with survival no longer the primary concern, a few centuries of experience could prepare people marvelously for tasks that, at one time, might have seemed impossible. With simple hand tools, and the skills of his three friends, Seth expected that they would have a stone foundation for a fireplace and a basic frame for an open cabin within a few weeks or so. “In fact,” he said with a chuckle, “we’re so good at it, I don’t even have to help that much!”
As we approached my house, the bandit, who had scampered off when I left to meet my new friends, started following us at a distance.
“Looks like you’ve got a shadow.” Seth said, looking back at him.
When we came to the house we got right to work. He actually knew quite a bit about landscaping. He helped me cut the path and begin laying some of the stones I had been collecting. We gathered a few wheel-barrows full of pine needles for pine straw to lay around the edges of the stones to discourage weeds from growing up. All in all we finished the little project that afternoon.
“I ought to get back.” Seth said as we wrapped up. “The guys are probably about ready to call it a day.”
“Let me give you some food to take with you. Our neighbors down the path keep me stocked on bread and cheese and there is a garden further down the way to get fresh vegetables.” I opened the cabinet and gave him enough food for a nice little meal. He gratefully accepted.
“Oh, another thing. You’ll also find that there is a fantastic little stream along the west side of the ridge, about half a mile north of here,” I pointed roughly in the right direction. This was a different pool than the one I mentioned before, coming up the east side. “About a quarter-mile along the ridge path headed northeast, you’ll find a path that cuts off to the left downhill. It’s marked with a small sign that says ‘Siloam.’ Follow that path and you’ll eventually come along side the stream. If you keep following the path, it will eventually diverge with the stream and you’ll find yourself walking down a moderately steep hill. As you come down, you’ll see the path has brought you around a culvert with a large, clear pool formed by the stream which falls over some jutting stones about twenty-five feet above. The pool is fairly deep and big enough for many people to share. Of course, you could always just wash up down at the Berea well, but after a hot day of work, I find a dip in that pool does wonders for me.”
Seth was grateful for the information about the pool and I promised to help him complete his cabin after his friends finished the framing.
“Listen,” I said, “Why don’t you guys come over in a few days and hang out with us? I’d love to get to know you a little better.”
He agreed, patted the bandit on the head, and he headed off.
The next few days I spent trying to get the place ready for company in earnest. I knew we’d probably talk well into the night, so I tried to put aside enough dry wood to keep a nice fire going in the fireplace in the evenings. I collected what I hoped would be enough food to feed five or six people for a week, though I was pretty sure it wouldn’t last anywhere near that long. Most everyone would probably bring sleeping bags and their own mats, but I had a few spare sheets and blankets I laid out and hung up a few hammocks I kept in a small closet. There were sturdy metal eyelet hooks mounted on several of the adjacent support beams and, when company is coming, I often hang both sides of each hammock on one beam so that when someone wants to use one, they only need to stretch one hook over to the other beam. I also swept the floors several times, gathered as many chairs around the fireplace as I had, and straightened up as well as I could.
On the fourth day after coming home, about mid-morning, the bandit started chittering away and headed to the front porch. “What’s going on, pal?” I asked as I followed him. He’d heard my company coming up the path long before I had but when I came out of the house I saw them, too. V was walking with her father and two other friends we had known from the time before. Hannah had been several years younger and the other, Naomi, several years older. As they approached the steps, we greeted each other with hugs and laughter. I had not seen these dear friends in many years.
“Come in, friends,” I said as they clomped up the wooden steps. “Can I get you something to drink? I’ve got a pitcher of fresh water from the well, some tea brewing, and some lemonade.” Knowing my love’s father as I did, I knew what he might ask for, “Steve, I was able to get a few growlers of cold beer from one of my neighbors up north. It’s in the icebox outside. Just open the trap door on the back porch. Everyone, feel free to wash up at the well pump. I’ve got some clean towels here to wet down and cool off with.”
As he headed to the back porch, the ladies took a few minutes to clean up from the trip up the mountain. He came back with a growler and two good sized tankards, handed me one, and we went out on the front porch to sit and smoke and talk about the view. As we chatted, we were treated to a show as my neighbor’s two border collies had come down the path and found a small herd of whitetail deer on the other side of a long, hewn split rail fence. Used to keeping sheep, the dogs seemed to think it their duty to try to herd the deer back to my neighbor’s house. However, the deer had other plans and would either stare at the dogs quizzically or leap across the fence to avoid them. When they did, the dogs scurried to a place they could pass under the fence to try to get to them. This went on for several minutes, until my neighbor came down the path and called “Alpha! Beta!” Steve and I waved at him when he saw us, and he shrugged and smiled as the border collies proudly ran to meet him. As he headed back home, V and her friends came to sit on the porch with us and we watched shadows lengthen in the afternoon sun and listened to the wind rush through the trees as we talked.
Later that evening, as V and I prepared a meal for our guests, Seth and his friends stopped by. Luckily, we had prepared enough food for everyone. I had also brought a few fresh watermelons from the community garden, thinking they would last the five of us for a few days. However, with nine of us, I started to suspect I might need to make another trip before tomorrow evening.
While everyone was having their second and, sometimes, third slices of cool melon, I stepped out behind the cabin to gather a few armloads of firewood. As I stepped out of the lamplight of the cabin into the burgeoning darkness, the chatter and laughter of the gathering gave way to the chirping of crickets, katydids, and tree frogs and the distant “who hoots for you” of the neighborhood barred owls. Even with all of that commotion, I couldn’t help looking up at the sky through the clearing of the trees around my cabin to see the brightness of the countless stars set against the black backdrop of the night. In the time I’m from, we had so lit up the night with outdoor lights that it had become rare to find a place dark enough to see the milky galaxy. In the resurrection, especially away from the towns, the evening sun gives way to the wondrous depths of the universe. It always feels like looking into a deep, clear, celestial sea of time.
I sighed, and started picking up some quarter logs, having to work around my raccoon friend who had sought refuge on top of the wood pile. “Too much chatter even for you, huh?” I said as I walked up the back steps. As I set the logs down next to the round stone footer of the fireplace, everyone else took turns washing the sticky traces of the watermelon from their faces and hands and arms. After that, everyone found a chair to sit in (V saved me a seat next to her), Steve packed his pipe with a sweet blend of tobacco, and I lit some kindling in the fireplace. Soon we had a comfortable fire, and the evening brought a sleepy, reflective, and smoky conversation.
I was just sitting down to hear Mark and Thomas finish describing the process of framing Seth’s new cabin. “We were especially grateful to find someone with tools nearby!” Thomas said. “We’ve come from so far away and didn’t carry much with us.”
“I’m just glad you didn’t have to walk far to get to them!” I said. “What’s mine is yours.”
“Well, we’ll be sure they get back in your toolbox.” Mark said.
“Just leave them with Seth.” I replied. “We’ll probably use them as he and I continue the house. Anyway, he needs them more than I do at the moment. If I need one of them, I just come and get it from him!”
There was a slight pause as the fire began to catch in the fireplace and the quarter logs began to pop. With the brief lulls in the conversation, the chirping crickets and frogs seemed to get louder and the smoke of the fire blended with the smoke from Steve’s pipe, filling the room with a delicious warmth.
Hannah, who’d been quiet most of the evening, spoke up, “I think that one of the things I most love about this time is just that.”
“Just what?” said V.
“You know…just that people feel so differently about things. In our time in the time before, it felt like our whole culture was obsessed with the acquisition and ownership of things.”
Steve nodded, thoughtfully. I added, “That was pretty much it. The whole civilization was founded on the individual’s right to own property. That was the ‘ideal.’”
“Right,” replied Hannah. “And I think now how ingrained that was, even in me—even though my husband and I were never very materialistic—not by our culture’s standards, I guess. What I mean is that it was never something we questioned. What our neighbors ‘owned’ was ‘theirs.’ And if one person needed something that someone else had…well, it was just a different time.”
“I remember you questioning it,” V said, winking at Hannah.
“Oh, maybe we did. I find I remember less and less of that time. That said, I look back now and feel like, at least in our time in the time before, the relentless pursuit of every individual to own more, even more than they needed, was about as destructive a force as it could be. Compared to the way we treat each other now, I just can’t imagine living in that time again. I suppose, maybe before our time in the time before, it was better.”
“Not much,” Jonathan replied. “I lived a few centuries before you did. Let me tell you, I saw people doing things to one another in the name of ownership that I have tried hard to forget. I lived in a land where the new settlers spent many decades committing horrific atrocities against the indigenous people in order to get the property they were on. Oh, it was always about ‘progress’ or ‘security’ or ‘safety,’ but when you looked very hard at it, you could almost always tell it was about greed.”
“Eventually people owned people,” added Mark.
Naomi sighed, “Well, looks like things didn’t change that much between your time and ours.”
“Based on what I read, they didn’t change much the whole time in the time before,” said Steve.
“And here we are in this time,” Seth added, “and I find myself thinking sometimes that so many of the people I knew from the time before aren’t here, and so many I thought would not be here are here. And it makes me sad sometimes. Then, I sometimes think, would the people I’m sad about have wanted to be here?”
“I can’t imagine not wanting to be in the resurrection,” Hannah said, wistfully.
“Me either,” replied Seth. “But, imagine a person whose highest ideal was property ownership, the hording of ‘things.’ Imagine someone whose goal was only the exploitation of the land and the resources, in order to own or to exercise power. Imagine someone who actually loved money being in a world like this one. Even worse, imagine someone whose only thought was to control others around them being here now, living in a world in which there is only community and friendship with one another.”
“Even heaven would be hell…” I said, under my breath.
V heard me and turned with a smile. “Hmm?” She usually knew the difference between when I said something and when I had something to say.
I replied, “Something I once heard someone say. ‘Heaven would be hell for someone who desired to be autonomous.’ A person whose goal was to own, use, and throw away would be miserable in the Kingdom of God. We all own nothing. And, owning nothing, we share everything. Our neighbors…our friends…the places and creatures of this world are not here for us to use, but for us to care for. We are a part of one another, and a part of the places and people around us. Ironically, chasing wealth and riches was chasing a lonely prison of isolation and death, and destroying the people, land, and creatures along the way. Now, in this time, we find ourselves caring for the land and creatures, caring for one another, and enjoying everything together. This is as it should be. But to think otherwise…that person would be miserable in a place like this.”
The conversation paused for a moment. I continued.
“I had a friend who liked to think that all people would be in the resurrection. I understood why he felt that way; I suppose it was a nice thought. But I never understood why a person who didn’t want what was good and right in that time would suddenly want to live what was good and right in this time.
“Truth is, I always wondered about those who thought of themselves as ‘saved,’ but whose imaginations were held captive by the values of the culture—those who claimed to follow our master, but whose actions were anything but his, based on violence, fear, and selfishness—the kind of people who would destroy people and places in the name of God. My friend once said, ‘But if someone claims to love Jesus, well, that’s what matters, right?’ But I remember thinking that a person may claim to love Jesus and, in fact, love something very much other than Jesus and just call it ‘Jesus.’ People always had a way of baptizing the evils they loved and making a religion out of it. Jesus, himself, I think, when I remember the old stories, frequently found that people did all manner of evil in the name of God, yet did not truly love God as he is—and they killed him for it. Seems to me that a lot of folks who thought they ‘loved Jesus’ wouldn’t have liked his world very much at all.”
“Didn’t turn out that way, did it?” said Mark. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord….”
“Makes one think differently about ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart also be,’” said V.
“Truthfully, I’ve thought about that so many times,” Naomi interjected. “You know, there were so many things that I loved in the time before. Take cooking, for example…”
“Please do! I remember your gourmet meals!” I said.
Pardoning my interruption with only a slight playful roll of her eyes, she said, “I always loved to cook. I loved to explore the different ways I could prepare food and all of the different flavors and choices. And I loved to sit down and see people enjoying what I’d prepared—I still love it. It made me feel joy to watch people eat and to know that they were enjoying something I’d worked to give them. I loved knowing that I was giving them life, and that they liked the life I was giving them. Even when I was tired, I felt at peace.”
“That, I think, is the joy of God,” said V. “To feel his pleasure as a result of your love…to enjoy his creation and contribute to it is to experience the love of God. That’s the work of the Kingdom, I think.”
Naomi thought for a moment and replied, “I think that’s right. But I always wondered if I would lose that in ‘Heaven.’ I always thought I was supposed to be thinking about ‘higher’ things, more ‘spiritual’ things. In the end, though, I think that kind of ‘spiritualism’ was the opposite of the Gospel. In the end, sharing food with my neighbors was the Gospel itself. Our laughter and joy and fellowship was peace.”
Thomas spoke up, “Mark and I were talking about that on the trip here. We feel the same way about building. You know, in the time before, if we’d have been asked to build a house, we might have seen it as a chore.” Looking at Mark, he added, “I don’t want to speak for Mark, but I feel like when we build, we’re participating in the work of creation.”
“You’ll get no argument here,” Mark said.
At this point, everyone started speaking.
“For me, it’s that way when I tend our garden, or visit with my neighbors. Especially when I’m tending the garden with our neighbors.”
“I feel that way when I share books and talk about them with people in town.”
“I love caring for the creatures who live here on the mountain. I feel…I don’t know how else to say it…holy when I see them doing what they do.”
“Whenever I sit down to eat with friends, I feel like we are sharing something meaningful and true. I don’t have a complete way to express it.”
After a moment or two, Steve said, “Whenever I’m not here in town with my daughter or traveling, I often find myself out on the lake in my rowboat. Usually have a close friend or two with me. Usually fishing. When the breeze is blowing and the trees are reflected on the surface of the water against the blue sky, it doesn’t matter if we catch anything or not. Sometimes I go out in the boat and just lay back and look up at the clouds and think. Sometimes I think so long that I wake up and the sun has moved to the horizon and the shadows are long and I am grateful just to be here and to be alive and whole. Those moments, I feel the pleasure of God, like he’s sitting in the boat with me and…there isn’t another word for it but joy.”
“Since being here in this time, have you ever found yourself working on something,” Jonathan said, “working on it so hard for so long that you forgot how long you’d been at it? You work until your arms and legs are sore and your clothes are wet. And you realize you could eat a whole house, so you go and clean up and the water feels so wonderful and your muscles start to relax…and then you eat and it feels so good to be full and clean and tired? Sometimes I get that way and I lay down next to my beautiful Susan at night (who’s usually worked right next to me all day) and we drift off to sleep under the cool breeze, holding one another. I feel close to God when I’m that tired. I feel like God on the seventh day.”
V clasped my hand. “Where your treasure is, is where your heart is,” she said. “If your treasure is the land itself, the people, the creatures, the work, I suppose your heart is truly full now. I suppose that’s the difference between ‘ownership’ and ‘worship.’ Worship is taking a godlike part in creation. Ownership was a perversion of that role. One is love that is fulfilling and real, and the other lust that is corrupting and false. The bad news was, lust meant destruction. But love…well, in the end, we got to keep the things we loved. I suppose it was because we were meant to love them.”
V and I always thought the same way about such things, but after 6 centuries, she can still take my breath away. “Remember the old story,” I added, “in Genesis, when the first man was told to ‘name the creatures?’ I always had this ridiculous image of a naked guy sitting on a rock and all of these animals being walked in front of him. ‘Giraffe, gazelle, anteater, yada, yada…’.” Several of the group laughed.
“Some time ago I realized that it meant something very different. It meant that God had given us a special honor, that he had called his creatures good and then turned and said, ‘Now you call them something.’ It meant that he was asking people to participate in the act of creating. According to the story, creation was a speech act. And we were asked to speak as well. Of course, the risk was we might call the creation a ‘resource to be used.’ But what he wanted us to call it was ‘good,’ to love it and see our role within it. And now that I’m here, I think it’s good.”
“Here, here,” said Steve, raising his tankard.
“You know,” Hannah said, “I used to think it was pointless to think about what life would be like in this time. I had been told that ‘the more we think about Heaven, the less good we’ll be on earth.’”
I said, “What do you think now?”
She said, “I realize now that if we had been thinking of what life would have been like in this time, we might have lived very differently in that time. I think the point of being followers was that we were supposed to live then as if things were the way they are now. If we had done that more often, it would have been like we were living as a witness then to the way God was going to make things…you know, the way they are now.”
Naomi thought for a moment. “You know, you’re probably right. It was just hard to see back then. It was a scary time, and not many people could appreciate this.”
“Yes,” she said, “it was. It was hard to imagine how to live peacefully in such a violent world. It was hard not to think about ownership and power and it was hard not to be impressed by things that were big and shiny, or things that seemed to offer security and safety. But the truth is, now that we have such peace, I have a much harder time imagining how I ever lived so violently, greedily, and selfishly before. I wish I’d tried harder.”
“Here, here,” I said, taking my cue from Steve.
There was a quiet lull in the conversation. A few yawns and stretches and eyes turning to the hammocks which looked more and more inviting.
V said, “You know…one more thought. It’s true that there are many who truly didn’t understand and who, based on what they thought was true, probably didn’t have anything like this in mind.”
I had some idea where she was going with this.
She continued, “But I feel like one of the things we’ve all realized is that not many of us had expected this at all. Sure, there are people who probably could never have been happy in this time. But, there are many who truly wanted what was good, even if they didn’t know it. We all are among them.”
Several voices, this time, said, “Here, here.”
“It seems to me that, perhaps, what we’re experiencing as we live now is the judgement, the long correction of the things we couldn’t fathom and the growth of our new minds as we begin to comprehend what it means to live in peace and truth in God’s creation. Some folks understood better than others. None of us understood well. Some rejected it outright. They are not here. Others lived as best as they could fathom. They are all around us, learning with us. It was appointed once to die…” she paused.
“And then the judgment.”
 Many of the local cabins have their own short well-pumps built into them. However, here and there are common wells with pumps along the path between some of the local hill villages. These are set aside for people traveling by, or for folks to use as they go from place to place. Every now and then you’ll find three or four neighbors gathered around one taking.