Departing Dearbháil

Liam watched the boy move through the shadows and noted that his movements held the familiar grace of the faerie world he was leaving behind. The Book of Lore & Legends was tucked firmly in his pack and he wove his way through trees and thickets toward the sea where Luiseach would meet him and see him off on his departure from the Irish Isle. Like Liam had been years before, the boy was tasked with protecting the sacred magic from the Dark One. Of course, what none but Liam knew was part of the sacred magic remained here, on the Isle, and another part resided with someone known only to Liam. Despite its name and the history it held, the Book of Lore & Legends held little connection to the sacred magic now that those pages had been removed by Liam.

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As the boy neared the sea, Liam sensed the shifting darkness and willed the boy and Luiseach to move quickly through this final stage of the boy’s passage into the human world. For quite some time now, Liam had felt Myrddin, the Dark One, winding his way into Dearbháil seeking the ancient magic that had existed long before many of the faeries except for Dearbháil, Luiseach, and Ulleam (before he became Liam).

At last the boy stood upon the rocky shore and the cloaked figure of Luiseach approached from behind the dunes. Overhead the clouds closed in over the moon, leaving the sea and the forest edge in deeper darkness and Liam sensed the Dark One hidden too close by. The boy must have felt it also within the Book’s power, for his head looked to and fro as if in alarm and he clutched his sack closer to his chest, searching for escape.

“Luiseach,” the boy called to the approaching figure. She did not respond and Liam realized that the figure was not, in fact, Luiseach, but Myrddin himself. How had he known where the boy would be, Liam wondered.

“Run!” Liam shouted from the tree line. Liam, too, began to run, but unlike the boy who ran from the shore at Liam’s insistence, Liam ran toward it, and toward Myrddin. From the dunes, the boy watched the aura surrounding the cloaked figure shift and grow, a menacing darkness swirling around the figure and overtaking all that it touched with ink-black dense darkness until the boy could no longer see either figure on the beach.

“You must go now.” Luiseach appeared beside the boy from the surrounding darkness.

“Who is that on the beach?”

“Myrddin is seeking the magic. There is no time for anything but leaving now,” Luiseach told him.

“To where?”

“Ulleam did not say your destination in his instructions except for an address in Boston.”

“Boston,” the boy repeated.

“And, dear Anrái, your human name will be Henry, as close a connection to home that you will have aside from the Book,” said Luiseach.

“Henry,” he said, trying on the name.

“You will grow into it,” Luiseach assured him. “Now, you must go. And, remember, the Book’s portal to Dearbháil must only be used as a means to protect the sacred magic.”

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Henry nodded. Behind them, on the beach, the storm of darkness intensified until it exploded across the sky like a tempest. The sizzle of lightening in the sky gave Luiseach and Henry a brief glimpse of the two figures on the beach, and they could see that the one who had run down from the trees and was holding off the Dark One was weakening. Luiseach turned to the boy and anointed him with a tincture she pulled from within her cloak and chanted the ancient verses that would send Anrái into the human world to become Henry where he would protect the sacred magic. [Insert an Incantation later]

As Luiseach spoke the final word of the Incantation, thunder rumbled and lightening split the sky and Henry disappeared into the night. With haste, Luiseach cloaked herself in the essence of hyssop and lavender and flitted swiftly into the deep center of the forest of Dearbháil. Behind her, weak and worn, Liam lay half dead from his effort against Myrddin and yet he gave thanks that Myrddin left him in pursuit of the boy and Luiseach, neither of whom he knew Myrrdin would find. With great effort, he, too, covered himself against the night and made his way toward the town he’d left much too soon to hide himself from all those who still sought him.

Henry stood in the middle of the Public Gardens with only his pack and an address. He wondered again at the distance between Boston and the Irish Isle and how being here related at all to the sacred magic, but for the moment he sat enchanted by the misty essence of the pond, the weeping willows, and other looming and bending trees that stood like sentries along the pond’s edge. Henry had chosen one such weeping willow as his temporary haven from the human world. Hidden from the people who were walking with determined gaits through the garden, Henry stared at the address and wondered what he would discover there. For this night, however, he chose to bed down beneath the tender branches that stretched toward the ground and gave him a small sense of being at home in Dearbháil.

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“Hey!” Henry awoke to someone rocking him to and fro with a booted foot on his legs. “This is my spot so move on.” With a groan, Henry sat up and looked at the man whose face was now inches from his own. “Didja hear me, boy?” the man demanded.

“I did,” replied Henry.

“Then move on out,” the man said.

“If you’ll just help me out with something, I’ll certainly move from this spot.”

“I don’t owe you no help.”

Winsome, Amazing Grace

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)

What is it about Jesus that draws us to Him?

When He walked through the world, crowds followed Him and people crushed in around Him because they wanted to be near Him, to see Him, to touch Him, and to hear Him speak. They couldn’t get enough of Him.

I’d suggest it’s because there was a winsome quality about Him that was unlike the rigidity and line-towing condemnation of the religious elite, the Pharisees and Sadducees. He cared about people and they could feel it. Where the religious elite focused on the rules, Jesus focused on grace and unconditional love.

And often, he sought out the lost, the lonely, the misfits and the miscreants.

For example, when he walked through Jericho one time, Jesus befriended one of his culture’s lowest sinners: a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Though the crowd was thick around Jesus, Zacchaeus, who was much shorter than the majority of the crowd, was intensely interested in getting a glimpse of this man called Jesus.

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We don’t know his motivation but we know Zacchaeus put a lot of effort into seeing Jesus that day on the road, including running ahead of the crowd and climbing up into a sycamore tree. Clearly, like everyone else, Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, so perhaps it was nothing more than wanting to catch a glimpse of celebrity.

But I’d suggest it was something more.

I’d suggest Zacchaeus had a deep longing to be included, to be a part of something that mattered. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector and that put him at the top of the lowest sinners and outcasts. Tax collectors were known for cheating people and getting rich by taking more than what was theirs. Perhaps, for Zacchaeus, his money and his things filled in for the connection to and relationship with people for which he truly yearned.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt like Zacchaeus at times, felt like I don’t belong, felt like I’m not sure how I fit in or if I fit in or where I fit in. And, like Zacchaeus, I’ve filled the hole where relationships belong with other things: busyness, Netflix binges, FaceBook scrolling, eating.

And, then, Jesus.

Jesus entered his town and Zacchaeus needed to see this man for himself and to be a part of this moment along with everyone else; the everyone else who typically shunned him and ignored him and judged him. When he couldn’t get through the crowd or see over the crowd, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree as Jesus neared the spot.

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Like Zacchaeus, I’ve needed to find Jesus, to see Him, to hear from Him, to be in His presence. And so I’ve climbed my own version of a sycamore tree, desperate to see this Jesus: an early morning prayer time, a late-night seeking from the dark bedroom of my 8 year old who can’t fall back to sleep, a teaching sermon on a podcast.

And, then, Jesus.

When Jesus comes to that sycamore tree, he stops and looks up and sees Zacchaeus. Because when we look for Jesus, He find us. And not only does Jesus see Zacchaeus, He calls out to him. There, in front of the crowd, Jesus chooses Zacchaeus, singling him out: “hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

Jesus doesn’t say I’d like to stay at your house or I was wondering if I could stay at your house; He says must stay at your house. Jesus feels compelled to join Zacchaeus in his home and Zacchaeus receives him joyfully even as the crowd grumbles and rolls their eyes that Jesus would choose such an awful sinner to visit.

And, then, Jesus.

Jesus says the same to us in the same winsome way: must stay at your house. I see you and I am delighted that you are looking for me. Here I am. Let’s spend some time together.

Will Zacchaeus be received better by his neighbors now? Will Zacchaeus now be included instead of excluded? We don’t know but I would suggest that at least he will find a place among others who were found by Jesus and His winsome, amazing grace.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Because Jesus.

Words of Conviction

Have you ever read a story or listened to the lyrics of a song or seen a play or looked at a piece of art that convicted you in some way?

Maybe it caused you to question a belief you’ve held much of your life.

Maybe it invited you to look into your heart and to examine important aspects of your life.

-Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced.Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Maybe it resonated with you and motivated you to take action on something that mattered deeply.

Maybe it angered you or inspired you or brought you to tears.

Words. Art. Music. Stories.

They have the ability to pierce our soul, to break our hearts, and to consider the world differently. These words from Aldous Huxley remind me that as a writer, my words hold a power like little else: they’ll go through anything.

Of course, the caveat is they must be used properly. For me, this means they must be honest. They must carry the integrity and vulnerability of the writer’s soul unabashedly into the world and invite the reader to examine them; but even more, they must encourage the reader to examine them: the words, the writer’s soul and intentions, and, hopefully and eventually, his heart and soul.

Words intended only to guilt or shame or judge will go through nothing. They will be left on the page, left to wither like unharvested fruit on the vine.

But words intended to inspire or encourage or question or examine, words that carry truth and humility and vulnerability and beauty (even in their potential condemnation or conviction), those words can go through anything: hardened hearts, ignorant responses, shallow minds, stubborn refusal to listen. Those words will become newness, change, possibility, opportunity.

Here’s to inviting readers into your stories and leaving them pierced with hope, truth, possibility, and inspiration.

When Writing, Be Obsessive

It’s early Saturday evening here, a little after 5:00 p.m. EDT. Even so, as I reflect upon this quote from Franz Kafka, I find my mind swirling with writing and story ideas and my fingers twitching with the need, the desire, to capture those ideas.

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. Franz Kafka

So, even though it’s Saturday evening, I want to challenge you to build in time for you this weekend to write something, anything. Give yourself permission to sit with your computer or with pen and paper and write. Steal 15 or 30 minutes from cleaning the kitchen or folding the laundry or watching Sports Center or catching the first innings of the game and write something.

And heed Kafka’s words: don’t bend or water it down. Let your words, your ideas, fall onto the page with freedom. Let your story unfold and your characters take shape on this journey of story to which you are submitting. Don’t hold back.

There are no expectations save for honesty; honesty to your soul and to your words and to your characters and to your story. Give yourself permission to follow your words without caution, without hedging, without fear.

Let your words, and your intense obsessions, guide you as you bleed your words onto the page.

The Sacred Magic

(the following are the 1,129 words from today’s one-hour writing sprint)

Máire was roused from her restless sleep by the insistence and demand in his words. “Rise and return to Luiseach and your duties there.” Myrddin’s voice was thick with frustration and his eyes did not meet hers. “This time you must not let her escape you,” he said, and she read the threat of his words plainly. Even so, she spoke her version of events to him.woods-690415_1280

“I came out to meet you, my lord,” she said, and though he looked at her not, Máire held her gaze upon him in order to convey more courage than she felt. “It seemed a perfect plan.”

“It is time for me to claim the Sacred Magic that was mine to have from the dawn of Dearbháil,” he replied, “and to do that, I must track down the missing element that has eluded me now for far too long.” He looked at her then but she saw none of the care he had shown her in the past. “Go. Return to your duties and report to me the place where she has gone.”

As Máire rose, she stumbled slightly from the pain and sudden shifting in her head, landing in his arms. She fingered the cut on along her hair and said nothing as she leaned into him. After several moments, Myrddin wrapped his arms around her and steadied her on her feet. “I meant only to clear the way for you,” she whispered. With familiar tenderness, he touched the hair near her cut and sat her gently upon a rock beside the fire. Without a word, he moved cloaked in his familiar aura of darkness and out of her sight. She heard the sounds of water in a vessel somewhere beyond the light of the fire and he returned with a damp woven cloth. With a gentle, intimate touch, he cleaned the area around the gash and then treated it with ointment from a small mortar. When he finished he pulled her back into his arms and held her there where she melted into him once more.

“So much depends on our success,” he said and she let his words wrap around her like they had so many times in the past, binding them together in the darkness. “This barrier between our world and the humans serves no longer serves any purpose. It is time for us to expand our reach, dear Máire, and I am thankful that you share that vision with me.”

His words wove through her dark curls and she raised her hands to his face and then, finally, let her eyes find his. Her fingers traced along his cheekbone and to his jaw and then, at last, she pushed herself up just enough to press her lips to his. She let her lips linger there one moment longer than she thought she should and then pulled away without looking at him and collecting her hair into a loose knot on her head. “I must go,” she said and disappeared out of his arms and into the woods.

Celtic Knot

Luiseach smoothed the hair off Sophia’s face and gently rubbed a tincture that smelled of lavender and other flowers Sophia couldn’t name along Sophia’s hairline and down around under her chin. “To help you remain at ease, child,” Luiseach told her. Sophia held the woman’s gaze and searched her eyes wondering what secrets of this world she must hold. Luiseach smiled and replied as if she read Sophia’s thoughts. “Indeed I hold many of the secrets of Dearbháil, its magic and its history and, oh, so many stories of Anrái and Uilleam, too.”

That name again. Why was it so familiar to her?

“All in good time, my child,” Luiseach replied, again as if she could read Sophia’s thoughts. “Your eyes express much of what you wonder,” Luiseach told her. “I see comfort when I speak of Uilleam. I see tenderness when I speak of Anrái. I see fear when your eyes dart about this cottage that is unfamiliar to you but holds memories from your childhood.”

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“You are quite wise,” said Sophia.

“We all receive gifts of wisdom,” Luiseach said, “but not all of us tend that gift the same and so the wisdom wilts beneath the weight of our worries and desires.”

“Not all is as peaceful as this cottage,” Sophia said. “Like you, I see hidden truths in your eyes. There is danger here and I am somehow at the center of it.”

Luiseach smiled and stroked Sophia’s hair again. “Not you alone,” the old woman told her, “nor did you cause it be or bring it here when you stepped through the Book’s portal. It always was and is now coming into its full potential because at last you are here.”

Sophia wiped tears from her cheeks, wishing she could stop them from falling at all. But Luiseach covered her hands in her own and lean over her, as a mother would with a sick child. “Your tears are good things, dear one,” she said. “You were meant to find your way here, just as you did as a young girl searching for Anrái and for wonder and magic and love, so you do now, for those things and several others now that you are a grown woman.”

“Why?” Sophia asked her.

“Our journey is rarely about why, dear one, as much as it is about what you will do and who you will become in the face of what your journey brings to you.”

Sophia gave a small laugh despite the tears that still welled in her eyes. “You remind me of Anrái when you speak in such riddles,” said Sophia causing the old woman to smile so widely that her eyes crinkled and almost disappeared.

“I have never once spoken in a riddle.” From the doorway, Anrái’s words and accompanying smile cradled Sophia in its intimate familiarity.

“I’m sorry,” she said and the tears flowed with greater urgency at the sight of him.

He wrapped her in his arms and held her close so that his heartbeat became the steadying rhythm for her breathing, slowing her sobbing. “You have no reason to be sorry,” he told her. He took her face in his hands and kissed her with a passion the two had shared only in her dreams. When at last they moved apart, he held her hands in his and let his own tears fall. “When I couldn’t find you in the woods, I experienced fear I’ve never known before, even as a Chief Guardian here in Dearbháil who is responsible for protecting the Sacred Magic of the Isle.”

“I thought I could find you—” she began.

“— if you followed your heart,” he replied.

“But I was unable to find you.” Her tears began again.

The Tempest Aftermath Begins

(previously in Henry & Sophia):

“Please,” Máire said, “you must heed my words. You cannot be near the windows or venture out of doors.”

“I don’t understand,” said Sophia. Even as the words were on her tongue, the storm grew louder and the rain appeared as jagged pieces of glass in the flash of lightening that cut through the trees in the distance.

“Please,” Máire said again. “Please.” Sophia let Máire guide her back to the couch and once she was settled there Máire returned to the window, but despite her attempts to see through the storm, she could discern nothing. “You must wait here for Anrái. Do not move from this place, I beg you.”

Even before Sophia could nod her consent, Máire disappeared out the door and into the swirling tempest. Sophia hugged a pillow close to her chest and fixed her eyes upon the door. Was this more of the danger to which Máire had eluded to when they stood upon the portal? At that moment, the door to Anrái’s cottage flew open and Sophia could not hold back the scream that she’d been holding in her throat. As it mixed with the swell of the storm outside, Sophia became acutely aware of a foreboding force filling the space around her; it’s presence almost choked her and she gasped for breath and tears slid down her cheeks. Around her there was nothing but darkness and fear. She scrambled toward the door, following the sound of the storm, certain she could hear someone calling her name.

“I’m here,” she shouted into the wind. “I’m here!”

“At last,” a voice called from the storm. “I’ve come for you and found you at last.”

Sophia stumbled into the storm, the rain pelting her skin with a burning sensation and the thunder drowning out all other sound. “Papa!” she called. “I’m here!”

A presence of darkness loomed over her and the wind wailed and wherever she looked there was only the blackness of night. Was this what it had been like on the sea that day, she wondered. Were the village elders right? Was this a storm created by dark magic, an ancient evil? As she tried to calm her mind and slow her breathing and focus on the love in her heart for Henry and her father and her days on the Irish Isle, Sophia’s vision grew dim until at last she lost consciousness in the midst of the forest tempest held in the grip of a hand that grabbed her from the darkness.

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(here begins the new):

“Has there been any word?”

“None, dear heart.”

“She didn’t simply disappear.”

“Likely she has fled.”

Word of what? Who was speaking? And of whom? Someone, a girl, who was gone, disappeared, perhaps fled. It was all too much to process and she groaned with the pain of remembering and the pain of her listless limbs.

“Shhhhhh, shhhhhh, shhhhhh,” a gentle female voice hushed close to her ear, something a mother would do in her baby’s ear as she rocked her to sleep. “You’re safe.”

“Has she stirred at last?” a male voice spoke and she heard the strain of its worry even through the distant rumbling of thunder. Though she could not see the flashes of light signaling the fading storm, she sensed them in the rhythm of the rain and thunder; in her mind she saw the familiar summer storms that cloaked the small inlet where her father moored his fishing vessel and felt the relief of his safe return. But as the memory returned in full, she groaned again, this time for the grief of her loss as if it had happened only now. “She stirs and I shall speak with her,” the male voice was more insistent now.

“Soon,” the woman’s voice replied. “Her groans hold layers we must not disturb.”

Once more Sophia felt herself falling into darkness and she shuddered as another groan escaped her lips and her heart.

Celtic Knot

“She was close. All of it was close and almost complete. It was finished, but for him.” Myrrdin’s words pierced the darkness like a staccato of arrows aimed at his enemy’s heart.

If she were able to see him, Máire knew that his eyes would flash with the same brilliance and warning of an approaching storm, the lightening streaking and splitting the sky only moments before the crashing of thunder upon thunder upon thunder. She stroked her temple and ran her hand along the sticky gash just along her hairline. The pain and her fear caused her to tremble on the hardened ground and her bones seemed chilled far beyond the heat from the nearby fire. Without meaning to, Máire groaned from the weight of Myrrdin’s words as well as his presence and the deep ache in her head.

“At last,” he said, but she heard no relief or care in his voice and so she fluttered her eyes only a moment before giving in to the lure of the quiet darkness of her restless dreams.

Celtic Knot

“We know she could not have traveled far unless she was taken by the Dark One.” A different male voice stirred her from her drowsing dreams, but she remained still, hoping to hear more and to discern where she was and what had transpired in the tempest outside Anrái’s cottage. His voice floated in from a distance and she reasoned that he had not entered the room where she lay. In her haze, she held fiercely to its familiar gravelly tone; somehow, for reasons she could not yet at this moment reach, his voice made her feel safe.

“Has she stirred further?” he asked and she rested in his words and his concern.

“No, my lord, she has not.” She recognized the woman’s voice from earlier and its presence, too, provided her a deep comfort, as if her words and her voice cradled her inside them.

“Uilleam, we must speak if we are to formulate a plan before he returns.” The man with the strains of worry, and something else she was unable to name but with which she was deeply familiar and even connected to. And that name, Uilleam. She sensed its importance and its connection to her heart, but the night had left her with little memory but the forest tempest that had swallowed all of her.

But for His Grace

East to West

Have you ever done something you wish you hadn’t, either because it was something you shouldn’t have done or because you didn’t consider the consequences before taking action?

This may seem like a strange opening to a Winsome Wednesday post, but today, I’d like to shift my focus to the idea of winsome faith and winsome love. Not mine, but that of Jesus.

So, again, I pose the question: have you ever done something you wish you hadn’t? Something stupid? Something careless? Something that hurt someone else or yourself? Something wrong, perhaps even illegal? I certainly have, and the range of offenses is wide and the incidences too great for me to provide a definitive number.

And because of these, I have known and felt shame and guilt and humiliation and isolation and judgment (mine and others’) and ostracism, sometimes for a moment, sometimes for much longer.

If not for the grace of God.

If not for the redeeming love of Christ.

If not for the blood of Jesus.

If not for the compassion of the Savior.

One of the pictures of Jesus that draws me to Him is the time the religious elite hoped to trap Him by bringing before Him a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). The Law of Moses said she should be stoned (of course, they used only the portion of the Law that fit their purpose, because the Law called for both the man and woman to be stoned, a part of the story for a different post).

The words of the story tell us this woman was caught in the act of adultery, so my guess is she was dragged into the crowd naked, humiliated, scared, guilty and ashamed.

Jesus addresses none of this. Instead, he stoops down and begins writing in the sand.

Jesus drawing in the sand

(this photo & the next courtesy of http://www.LumoProject.com)

When I was in eighth grade, I was sitting in my Geometry class as someone handed out a worksheet we were meant to complete in class. I didn’t receive one and, without a thought, responded with a phrase I’d heard often during my formative years. It was racist and derogatory and I repeated it without recognizing its true hurtful nature. It was only when two fellow students called me on my actions that I realized what I’d said and how it had been received by the African-American student one row over.

Even today, 35 years later, I still feel the shame of uttering those hurtful, racist words. I still feel the humiliation of my callous ignorance and stupidity and the strong desire to disappear from that crowd of fellow students.

So, when I approach this scene in which mean-spirited religious leaders have dragged this woman purposely into the midst of a crowd where she is so incredibly exposed and vulnerable and humiliated, Jesus’ actions allow me to breathe when I would typically hold my breath, sharing her scorn and feeling her shame.

close up finger drawing in sand

He does not condemn her. He forgives her. The only finger He points is the one with which He draws in the sand. He pulls attention away from her and dares her accusers to cast the first stone only if they are sinless.

Of course, each in turn drops his stone and skulks away because none of us are guiltless, save Jesus. And, then, even He does not convict her, but frees her from her sin and from the humiliation, shame, guilt, pain. He admonishes her to sin no more, but given this picture of winsome love and compassion, to me, His voice is soft and sure and His words cloaked in unconditional love: go and sin no more.

From racist comments spoken in ignorance to adultery to hurting, hating, judging, thinking better of ourselves than we ought, and myriad offenses, we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans3:23). Even so, Jesus loves us and forgives us and redeems us and removes our sins as far as the east is from the west.

If ever there were a winsome figure of faith, tis Jesus. And it is He who allows me to say boldly and with great confidence

there, but for the grace of God, go I