“I am very concerned that you continue to refer to yourself as unclean.”
“Aren’t I? I was never clean enough as a Christian. I’m sure as an apostate, I’m irredeemably so.” I could not help but smirk at my pun. The godform furrowed an eyebrow in response. When I spoke again, it was without mirth. “Ask your angels. Ask your messengers and your door guards. Ask the pulpit hammers and the book burners. Ask the congregations, lay and ordained, that hounded me and placed me at their feet when they weren’t breaking rods across my back. Ask those who were supposed to be reflecting you and the holiness they claimed came from you. And they will tell you, I was unclean before I left, and the only reason why I was able to leave in the first place was that I am unclean and will always be so.”
This didn’t feel like any mountain I have been standing on, physical or otherwise. Far above us, the clouds kneaded themselves as they circled the unseen summit from a far and respectable distance. The horizon was not quite orange, not quite purple, neither dusk nor dawn, but deprived of the Sun just the same. As I watched, the brightest glow that signified where the subterranean sun was closest neither faded or increased, but just kept moving slowly to my right. Somehow I knew it was circling the mountain and that it would never come above the horizon.
The Christian god presented himself in a formally informal stiff collared, long sleeve linen shirt covered by a warmly knitted sleeveless sweater and crisply ironed khaki slacks. He fit the stereotype of Suburban White Collar Dad who has better sense than to buy the red convertible that weaker willed men would indulge in but still remembers the mistakes of his youth and yearns for the thrill that came with them. It was hard to see color in the dim twilight. I had the feeling color really didn’t matter.
He stuck his hands in his pockets and turned away from me, sighing. I crouched and braced for assault from the eight angels that were remaining out of my sight by his command but did not keep their hatred of me concealed. He looked in the direction of the Sun’s signature glow. “They will not attack you. I have not commanded it.”
“Which angel carried your command for [those elders] to attack me? Or did you also not command that as well?”
“You don’t trust me.”
“Something, something, cold day in hell, something.”
He huffed something I could misinterpret as laughter and glanced at me briefly before returning to study the sliding away of the solar glow. I did not understand why his face looked pained. As if my disbelief could possibly hurt his feelings.
We spoke of politics and ideological opiates. We conversed regarding the multitudes of expressions of Christianity. We settled the boundaries I would not cross again and the repercussions of the oaths that defined them. He took me to task for my bastardized Tree of Life and my rejection of St. Cyprian. I laughed and said I was living up to my names.
“Once a god thief, always a god thief. And the only way I could be a god thief is to be [Rebellion].”
“So I’ve heard.”
The solar glow was now fully to the right of my position, where before it was slightly to the left of directly in front of me. The godform continued turning to watch its retreat behind the bulk of the mountain we were conversing on.
“I understand you have been… requested… to meet with a certain someone.”
Oh this is going to be a very interesting topic. “I have. By someone who is not supposed to have that connection.”
“You know who she is.”
“And still you are content with the deception.”
“But is it a deception, though? It is a play on words that legitimately comforts those who do not know and legitimately amuses those who do. She is Mary Theotokos, and she is the Queen of Heaven. I have no cognitive dissonance. She doesn’t seek to subvert. She only wants me to be okay. Besides, the Lwa and the Orisha play a more serious game with the horses in your stables. To the point where only the ridden know who is riding.”
He turned to face me fully, folding his hands gently in front of him. “Do you?”
The hatred emanated from the eight angels were suddenly moved a great distance from my senses. There was now no one on this mountain but myself and the god that I have loved and hated.
I planted my feet and spoke dryly. “Fuck games. Speak plain.”
“Why do you say you are unclean?”
I scrambled away from him under the command of a futile instinct. I ascended only a foot in elevation, but I was suddenly aware of a great and devouring fire further up the slope of a suddenly revealed holy mountain. The realization frightened me and I searched with all my senses for an avenue of escape. All I could find were great pools of fresh water far below me.
He unclasped his hands and held them out in supplication towards me. “Why? Why do you say you are unclean, when my spirit still dwells within you? You have left the trappings and signal flags of [the Christian faith], yes. You have left the outward displays, the rituals, and the gatherings of those who nominally share beliefs, but I have never left you.”
I felt a discomforting heat welling up from a depth where only soul exists. “I’m… apostate…” Wisps of smoke punctuated the syllables. This was not a heat that came about by my will or emotions. This was… cleaner… and brighter.
“The day you walked away… I followed you. Do you remember?”
But I forfeited all that a few years later… didn’t I?
I didn’t realize I had fallen until the rough ground dug into my face and hands. I didn’t recognize the shrieking that came from my body or the shaking that was the expression of overwhelming fear.
His voice multiplied into harmonies and echoes not humanly possible to create or process. It still kept the Suburban Dad base tone, and that filled me with a humor that drove me onto my back to attack the air with my horrified laughter as he spoke and I was unable to bear the weight of sound.
“I know what others have prayed to me regarding you. I know what those who hated you have plead for or attempted to call into being for no other reason than you exist. But hear me, [Rebellion], I love you. I have loved you before you took on flesh, and I have loved you through every reaction you have expressed to the pain you have been forced to bear. You chose to walk away that day, for reasons that you were misled to accept and did not know how to counter.” I could no longer sense his form, and his voice seemed to come from everywhere outside of me. “I chose to follow you and place my spirit within you.”
I arched in something like pain as the heat invaded my body. Each fragment of bone, each vein and artery, each cell, each mote of being inflamed. The jet of flame that forced its way out of my mouth was not accompanied by piercing notes of pain.
I did not understand why this… searing… caused me to laugh uncontrollably.
I shrieked like a child completely surrendered to happiness.
I laughed… like I did that day…
And like that day, I was completely overcome. I had slumped against the wall as the only human witness came racing around the counter to catch me. She stared in wonder as the invasive wind that accompanied my entrance to the establishment threw around everything in the foyer that was not furniture. The gusts kept the front door open and reached even to the hall where I had lost control of my legs and was hyperventilating. The strangely body-warmth wind played with her hair and dried up the tears fleeing my face before subsiding as quickly as they entered.
But here, only the hard ground of the mountain held me. No winds whipped around my body, but the living flame reached into every part of my innermosts and left no place unheated. I could not see as the fire blinded me. I could not feel nothing except the presence of a god I had turned away from.
“Why do you call yourself unclean? My spirit does not abide in unclean places, and what I have made clean, remains clean, or my spirit would not remain there.” The fire ceases and my body collapses onto the heat-driven ground. “And my spirit remains with you. As I promised.”
With the solar glow from the subterranean sun now on the far side of the mountain, it was nearly too dark for human eyes to see. Certainly, too dark for spiritually compromised human eyes to see a damn thing. I could only hear that the godform has collected himself back into the Suburban Dad that started our conversation.
A sharp pain in my abdomen prevented me from surrendering to rest. The wound in my soul has split open again, forced apart by the vigorous actions of the divine spirit working its way through long cooled avenues in my psyche. The godform knelt beside me and pulled out a shard of glass.
“You are not unclean.” The glass shattered under the weight of his words, becoming quickly disintegrating sand that dispersed away from me.
“There will be other situations where you are ritually unclean, and you will have to deal with them as those occasions arise, but you are not unclean to me. But you must have faith to accept this, or you will not be allowed to ascend this mountain further.”
Large hands smooth together the exposed skin before pulling my forgotten cloak in an acknowledgement of my modesty. “I have always loved you, [Rebellion]. And I too, only want for you to be okay.”
I realized then I was crying. Too exhausted to respond, I surrendered to his watchful gaze on the holy mountain, and then to the mountain itself.
Far below me, I could hear the soft mutterings of fresh, sweet water echoing the god’s declaration. Far above me, I could hear the sharp pronouncements of fire that burned without fuel.
Though no night descended upon the mountain, I slept as though dead, just the same.