The following is an excerpt from my book in progress.
I felt as if the secrets of divine mystery were being revealed to me as I read and studied The Wrath of Telipinu, the glory of heaven stored in humble earthen vessels. Here was language I understood. This was why I felt so long estranged: my God was hiding.
It wasn’t my God’s fault--I knew that. It could never be his fault. He wasn’t an ill-tempered fool like Telipinu. The offense, the sin, was mine. I had broken faith with him, for we all had. That was the message of evangelical Christianity: that each human had been born enslaved to sin because of the treachery of our ancestors, Adam and Eve, who ate the forbidden fruit from the one God’s garden.
The pieces of my life’s, even the world’s, jigsaw seemed to be coming together. Telipinu had abandoned his temple, his own cult image, and the land that he tended and governed. My God had done the same in spatial reverse. He hadn’t abandoned his garden-temple or his land, but driven his human images out of it. My only hope, the world’s only hope, was a return to that divine garden, the land of my birth, the cosmic center.
I was and always would be a wanderer on the earth, a refugee in my house of bodily origin. Until the Last Day, when Jesus the son of the one God returned to revive the dying earth, I would never be at home.
I held this story to my breast and let it shape my interiors. I even wrote a creative retelling of the biblical stories of Adam and Eve, trying to revive the mythic resonances of the originals that were so often lost on churched readers.
The Prologue to The Wandering God went something like this.
On a mountain range spread with conifers, a modest shrine of cedar and calcareous limestone sits on a rocky platform about a mile east of the river’s edge.
The shrine’s three walls are built of quarried stone blocks, but the roof is formed of cedar, and panels of cedar line the interior so that no stone can be seen. The front of the shrine has no wall, only three stone stairs leading to a two-columned portico that looks onto the god’s cella where an offering table sits before the god’s empty altar bench.
The lone priest who tends this forest shrine lives in a small limestone house a short distance from the god’s.
Each morning, the priest takes a reed basket and walks to the bank of the river to pick from the few wild fruit trees that grow there, sprouted (some say) from seeds carried by winds from the garden of the god. When the priest returns, he enters the god’s cella and arranges the fruit before the vacant altar bench on the low offering table of stone. He sees to the lamp that burns perpetually, and offers the daily rite of incense.
Then he returns to the river or roams the forest, waiting for the pilgrims who visit his shrine. Days he waits. Sometimes weeks or months. But always, they come–wanderers in search of the garden of the god.
No mortal eye has seen it for thousands of years, the priest tells the pilgrims, except in dreams and visions. Since the day the god drove humans out of his garden, no one has found its gates, though many have gone in search of it. Dear pilgrims, beware. If you journey beyond this shrine into the thick of the holy cedars, you will not find what you seek. Should you find the Place of the Four Waters and the garden walls, you will not be able to enter, for the god has shut it away from mortals that we may not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever with dull eyes and gaunt cheeks.
Sit, says the priest, spreading out what fruit remains in the basket and pouring wine into vessels. Eat. Drink. Let the god’s incense soothe your mind that you may remember what no eye has seen. Come, I will tell you the story of the god’s garden, and unveil the mystery of his empty shrine.
In the days before the rains, when water used to well up from springs to water the face of the ground, there was no human to cultivate the earth. So one day, the god knelt in the damp earth and worked it into the form of a man. When he was finished, the god put his lips to the clay man’s mouth and breathed into him, and the man became skin and blood and breath.
The god planted a garden in the east, and there he put the human to cultivate and care for it. The god made trees spring up from the ground. He filled the garden with trees of lemons, oranges, figs, apricots, and date palms to delight the tongue, and to please the eye he grew oaks, pines, and cedars. (The wood of this house is cut of an ancient cedar felled from that sacred grove.)
In holy language, when a god plants a garden, we say he has built a house or temple, for it is his divine residence on earth, the tip of his throne room extending into the earth. (As the ancients have said: heaven is his throne, earth is his footstool.)
But we also say it is the house of the human, for the god gave its fruits and its tending over to the man he made from dust. The god and the human share one house, one rule, one destiny.
Wayfarers, on your journey here to the ends of the earth you have passed many shrines great and small to many gods of little and much renown. You have seen their cult images of wood and stone sitting on their altar benches, how their faces of hammered gold and lapis lazuli dazzle the eye.
Here at the edge of the world, you find no image in the shrine of the god whose garden you seek. You see nothing but a humble offering table and a lamp and an altar of incense. You come to a house of flame and smoke, not of form or face, for the god’s visage cannot be seen in cedar or diorite, but in the face of humankind.
On the day that the god sculpted the man of clay, he formed a woman also. He made a deep sleep fall on the man, and while he was sleeping, the god pushed his fingers into the man's side as if it were still clay and pulled out a rib, which he worked into a woman.
He made the humans his images, his body on earth to cultivate the land and care for every living thing. You see no image in this shrine, for you are the god’s image, his body in exile, his estranged offspring. We are his images cast out of the garden, strangers to the earth from which he fashioned us.
You see an offering table of fruit: it is the god’s fruit we cannot eat because our ancestors spurned the banquet he spread for them and sought the fruit he had forbidden them to taste.
When the god planted the garden and made trees sprout from the ground, he put two trees in the middle of the garden. The first tree was a tree of life, said to grant immortality to those who ate of it. The second was a tree of knowledge, said to bring illumination.
The fruit of this tree would alter the eyes of its eaters and give them the power to know good and evil. To those who were strong enough to wield its powers, it would give them skill to see all that transpires beneath the sun and reject the ways that lead to death and choose the paths of life.
But those who were ignorant and unskilled in the tree’s power, it would make discontent with the delights of the garden and the hallowed ground so that they would become transfixed by all that is foul: bloodshed, greed, exploitation, oppression, suspicion of all that is beautiful and pleasant to the senses.
The man and woman knew nothing of this tree’s powers, only what the god had said: that they should eat of every tree except this tree of knowledge, for death would surely follow if they tasted of it.
The god offered the humans every tree but one, and for a time they were pleased with this bounty.
But one day, a loquacious serpent crept up to their table and told the humans a different story about the god and the grove of trees that filled his garden.
The snake said that the god of the garden feared the humans would usurp his authority, for the fruit from the knowledge tree had the power to make them like gods if they ate of it. The garden could be theirs alone, the serpent said. They need not rely on the hospitality of this god so stingy as to deny them this succulent fruit. They could seize the garden as their own possession and rule the house as gods instead of mortals.
Mark the bitterness of the serpent’s shrewdness, friends. What delights did it offer that the humans did not already possess? Were they not sculpted as the image of divinity? Were they not animated by divine breath? Did they not have charge of all that lives and moves on the earth? What did they desire that the god had not given them? What did they have yet to possess save the immortality that would be theirs if they would only eat the food the god had set before them?
The god could feel the sweet tang of the fruit’s juices in his mouth the moment his images sank their teeth into it. He called out to them in the garden, but they hid from his face and ran into the thick of the grove.
The god feared that his images would find the tree of life, eat its fruit, and live forever with turned faces and greedy eyes. Before the humans could reach up and pluck from the tree of life, the god drove them out of his garden into the wild of uncultivated lands.
There they wandered the untamed earth and tried to build their own kingdom. They wanted no share in the god’s bounty and set their faces toward their own house. The god and his images became two divided and unequal kingdoms. Two houses, two rules, two destinies.
But when the god’s images passed through the garden gate, the god felt a sharp pain down his middle, and he gasped for breath. He could end this now, he thought. He had only to say the word to the winged guardian stationed at the gate and its flaming sword would cut down the images in their tracks. The divine breath that animated their bodies would abandon them and they would again become dust.
But the god said nothing as his heirs fled further from the entrance to the garden, only winced fiercely and turned his face away.
The priest falls silent. His eyes search the dirt as day turns to dusk, and the pilgrims look toward the lamp that burns beside the altar bench. The sweet prick of cedar and citrus lingers in the air.
The priest takes a deep breath and resumes his tale.
At the place where the waters divide into four rivers stands a wall of rounded, baked brick surrounding the garden of the god. The bricks are painted sapphire, turquoise, and emerald. Rows of gold-plated bricks gild its parapets and delineate the edges of the arched gates of hammered bronze. The gates, closed and secured with bars, once opened into the eastern part of the garden where the gazelle grazed on herbs and shrubs, and the raven nested in the branches of the olive tree.
Thorns and thistles entangle it now, for its gardeners have fled. The jackals and hyenas haunt its ruins, and the Anzu bird screeches at the wild goats that gather by the nettles of the boxthorn.
Outside the gate that no one has entered for thousands of years hovers a guardian with four heads: human, eagle, ox, and lion. Its feet are the hooves of a calf, but its human hands grasp the hilt of a flaming sword. The sound of its four wings beating the air fills the garden night and day, drowning out the cry of the Anzu and the howl of jackals.
The sword of the four-faced cherub burns throughout the ages, barring the way to the tree of immortality. Since the day the god drove the humans out of his garden, no one has dared approach its walls.