Re-inspiration of the Book of Mark

a short story for the end of Holy Week

I wrote this as a reflection as I pass through my time of Lent, and look ahead to Eastertide when I will reaffirm my baptismal vows. It is a reflection on the Book of Mark. Jesus preached to incredulous and unbelieving people, teachers of the Law, Gentiles, and disciples alike, & the undertones of Jesus’ frustration at their lack of faith and understanding is written in Mark’s short yet deep account of the life and teachings of Christ, bringing us all the way to the Resurrection, an end of which leaves more of a question than an answer…

Suzanne Pringle

I

am standing at a precipice. I realize that this will be the ultimate cliché, but perhaps I dream in cliché, and my life is a cliché, as though Douglas Coupland were sitting behind his laptop conceiving of a new dark comedy into which he will cast me as the protagonist, hurling me headlong and haplessly into a new charade from which I will need to disentangle myself…

I digress. I am standing at the precipice, a giant chasm separating me from a figure sitting in a tree across the divide with a thick book on his lap. I know this is Jesus, because only Jesus sits in trees on the other side of a chasm in a cliché, and I am on the opposite side, the desire to join him growing rapidly in the pit of my stomach like one of those tiny rubber-like dinosaurs that expand and get smushed when placed in a too-small glass of water.

He looks up at me with a smile that suggests he was waiting for me and that his book was only a ruse, and he sits up and places it beside him and kicks his feet together in expectation. We lock eyes, and I suddenly feel ravenous, and my mouth and throat are coated in cotton, and my eyes get hot and dried up the way they do when I zone out in front of a campfire. He urges me over to him, but I don’t know what I must do to traverse the gap, so I close my eyes and envision…

…I am reaching out to Jesus’ outstretched hand, across the chasm. The ground begins to move, and our respective sides begin to press toward each other, closing the chasm. I can now touch his finger tips, and we are smiling. My hunger is insatiable and I think of what I should make for dinner tonight…
Suddenly, the moving ground shudders to a halt and the jolt wakes me from my reverie. I blink my dry eyes to bring tears, but nothing comes. I am parched. I need water. Jesus is once again in the tree across the great divide, his finger aggressively tracing the words across the page, one leg swinging somewhat forcibly back and forth. His ear is still cocked toward me; his face is angled toward mine, and his eyes dart from time to time over to me, with a sort of frustrated impatience, like a kid at school waiting for the clock to hit the magic hour which will set him free for the Summer.

I am becoming delirious with hunger pains and thirst; the growth in my stomach threatening to burst through my skin and I begin to writhe with a growing anxiety. I look around for water, dig in my pockets for a piece of gum, a cigarette, a flask- anything to take off the edge. Nothing. In complete frustration, I violently kick a stone over the precipice. It careens over the edge and seconds later is met at the base with a dull, hollow ‘tink’. I peer over the edge of the cliff, and it takes a few beats before the horror of what I see develops in my brain like a Polaroid:

The base of the chasm is lined and piled with thousands and thousands of glass bottles, some intact, and others smashed open, revealing their contents for all the world to see. Snapshots of me flutter freely in the breeze, incriminating me before my Lord, before the Universe. Pictures of all the horrible things I had ever done tumble over one another like rolling waves on the shore, the most shameful of which are the shots revealing my darkest moments, the ones where my weakened will would force me into my most secret vice. To my shock and anguish, I see Jesus in every one, his arms reaching out in preparation to catch me when I would inevitably fall. Jesus had now climbed down from the tree and was crouched over the edge of the precipice, and to my humiliation was scanning the debris and the photos carefully, deep in thought. He looks at me, eyes red. His face bears frustration, sadness, rejection, exasperation and grief, but all of those expressions seem simultaneously tinged with compassion and love. His moist eyes search mine, which are now like sandpaper against my lids. My gut feels like it weighs a hundred pounds and I sink under the weight. My knees hit the stony ground and throb but I don’t care. I heave and double over onto my hands, and soon my elbows give out and I am face-first in the dirt, tears still not coming, the walls of my throat sticking together from dehydration. The wind picks up and the photos lift out of the canyon and swirl around my body, dipping and pecking at my exposed flesh like vultures on a dying snake. A shudder begins to convulse through my body, starting at my toes and coursing all the way up through my teeth, escaping my lips in a long, shaky whimper. I feel shame, I feel guilt, I feel evil, & I feel death fast approaching. The photos retreat in the force of a shifting cross-breeze, and lay to rest again in the canyon’s base, and as I peel back my eyelids to watch, to will them to disappear, I see Jesus, standing at the edge, watching me, tears streaming down his face, the anguish of a broken unslaked heart spilling over and splashing droplets into the abyss.

He meets my gaze one final time, and for one suspended moment we seem to be of one mind, and my spirit agrees with the terrible gravity of what must be done: I nod my head, and my Saviour leaps into the canyon, diving headlong and crashing onto the broken glass below. His body breaks and a thousand shards of glass pierce his skin, and his blood flows, pouring out and drowning all record of my sin, filling up the canyon until the ledge upon where I lay becomes a shore, and the divide becomes a passage over which I cross to the other side.

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