This morning I found myself at the front entrance of my office building, watching a cat sitting on the other side of the glass. He was a perplexing fellow, quite clean and with plenty of fat on his ribs. I don’t think he was a stray. Yet, he seemed so intent to stare through the glass at me, moving about slightly, as if he were anxious to be “let in.”

After a few minutes of watching him I left the lobby and headed back toward my office, a full day of work ahead of me (not that there is much work to be done mind you). Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder after this cat’s life. Was he just loitering, soon to dispatch himself back to his own home somewhere in the neighborhood where he will eat his fill of some canned food delicacy, curl up by a warm fire, and fall fast asleep? Was he dumped at our doorstep because his abandoning owners could no longer provide for him, given the state of social and economic decay?

In relation to mine, was this cat’s life better or worse on the grand scale? Has his life (like my own) been preordained? Was he created for a specific purpose? How could I possibly know this was true of me?

By the time I got back to my office and closed and locked myself away from the world, sat down at my desk, I was thinking about Ephesians 2:10 and what it truly means to have no free will at all.

Is that what this passage even means?

Really? This Was Pre-Ordained?

The verse is this:

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Not touching the declaration that we are created by him (his workmanship) or that even more sensationalist statement that we are “created in Christ Jesus” (aren’t we all created by, for, and held together by Christ – Co 1:17), it is pretty clear by this verse that:

1. We were created “for” or to do good works.
2. God “prepared” those good works ahead of time.
3. Those good works (rather than us) were predestined for us to walk in.

It’s clear from the text that we were not predestined but the works themselves were ordered in such a way that we should walk in them. But, the issue I’m wresting with still remains.

Is this really what was preordained before I ever existed? This life? These things I do? These are of course specific to “good works” as opposed to “wicked works” (Col 1:21). Regardless of whether there is free will or only predestination, there is certainly some element of pre-thought that God has put into what we will be doing with our time on this earth while we live. If, when Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago, he knew every single sin I would do, if there are countless books in heaven that serve as the official record of everything I’ve ever done (or even maybe will do) (Re 20:12), then either God designed the events of my life ahead of time or he has some third level kind of first man magic that we cannot comprehend – a kind of precognition capabilities, some form of middle knowledge (not the molinist kind mind you), that is capable of deciphering future events accurately. We know from Matthew 10:29 that not a single sparrow falls to the ground (dead) part from the Father’s will.

Really?

If a bird then certainly a neighbor’s cat and if a neighbor’s cat then certainly my own fate must be somehow inextricably wrapped up in God’s pre-prepared plans for my individual lifespan and all the events held within it.

So was it preordained that I would join the military? That it would ultimately be a negative experience? Was it preordained that I would be deceived by not only the government but by my own culture in so many ways, to the point that today I have no idea what the truth actually is or if there is even a way to determine truth from so many lies?

Was it preordained that I would marry in good faith only to be betrayed and abandoned?

Yet, simultaneously, I can’t help but count my blessings also, right? Today I have the greatest job of my dreams. Not because it pays large amounts of money or that it’s a position of great authority or that it’s a job that really makes a difference. None of these things really matter to me anyway. And that’s the point. The job I have today is a job of my dreams because it not only lets me work in near isolation, it also takes up only 2 works days a week, and is EXTREMELY easy to do each week. I also live in paradise (or near it anyway). I have not only my house paid for, but the Eden property is paid for, and I literally want for nothing. I have double what I need, more than what I want. Not a day exists where I’m not full or warn or protected from the elements. The technology that I have at my fingertips (for quite less than it really should be) is the rival of many countries at the turn of the century. I have a massive private library at my disposal, virtually limitless access to the whole breath of human knowledge for a measly $40 / month internet connection that is completely mobile and works 24/7 in my pocket. Much of my time is spent on the leisure activities of the wealthy and royalty of the past – on philosophy, on theology, on writing and pondering the intellectual and philosophical mysteries of my age.

But, I’m left with the question still. Was this all preordained by God to happen in my life this way? Or has there been a terrible, terrible mistake? Have I somehow missed the opportunity I was afforded? Have I squandered the success that God wanted for me? Did he want me to be successful to begin with? Is success even a measure that God would use? To individuals around the world who live in object poverty or under oppression, their view of my life might be one of sheer disbelief at how fortunate I’ve been throughout my entire existence, just by chance that I was born where I was born at the time in history in which I found myself in.

I think of the cat, though, and I can’t help but wonder why God would allow so much suffering to go on in this world. Why wouldn’t he just put a stop to it once and for all? We’re waiting for his return, right? Are the lives yet to be born, yet to be saved, really worth the sheer volume of suffering that will take place while we wait?

Humans suffer at the hands of natural disasters, at the hand of happenstance and unforeseen events, but none more so than at the unforgiving hands of their fellow earth dwellers. Is there not yet enough of population on the rolls of heaven? Of course, I can flippantly ask this since I’m (assumably) one of those written in the book, right? What a tragedy if God could be convinced by my feeble argument and close the doors unexpectedly to all those who haven’t even had a chance yet to be included into the fold.

Would I suffer a little longer, must the human race suffer still for the hope of those yet to come? Who are we to argue that there’s enough since we are included and they are the undefined other yet to be conceived?

Such a mixed bag of nuts is this life. I cannot tell the difference between what is good and what is ill.

This is the Best Option from the Myriad of Possible Choices?

Those who argue for God having and exercising middle knowledge (I’m trying to separate here middle knowledge as a biblical concept from the molinist philosophical concept which is a theological error) who not only say that the cat in question has this life in which it is granted to live, but there are in existence (if only in a perpetual state of potentiality) limitless number of other iterations of existence where the cat made different choices or different variables of experience were exacted upon the cat from external forces. In some of these alternatives, the cat never made it to my office building for one reason or another. In at least one alternate existence I acted on my desire to open the door and try and pet the cat and the cat ran inside the building. In another, the cat bit me when I reached down to pet it, and in yet another still, the cat was waiting for me when I got to my car this evening and I took it home with me.

The same is true of my own life. The myriad of iterations of possible existences exist separate from this particular iteration I am existing (and living) in now only because I am actually experiencing this particular iteration at this moment. Who is to say that I (as an individual entity) did not experience a different iteration at a different time in the past or will so in the future? Whose to say I am not experiencing all the limitless variations of experiences simultaneously, experienced by a limitless number of “I” entities? But, this is a weedy section of the lake because who is to define then the “I” is the same in all iterations? Wouldn’t each “I” be a separate and distinct individual? Sure there would be similarities, but such occur with individuals in our every day experience. There was when I was in junior high (7th grade) a 9th grader who people said looked exactly like me. We dressed the same. We had the same long hair. We listened to the same kind of music. Yet we only spoke to each other once that I can remember and had very little to say to each other (years later I would sit a few tables down from him at a pizza parlor only to discover that he, too, became a Christian shortly after finishing high school as did I).

Of course, there is no way to determine which of these variations of existence is the optimal one. Maybe they are all optimal in their own unique way. Maybe it is not our place to distinquish one from another. It is even quite possible that no other iteration even exists outside of our own creative imaginations and only this present experience in which we live and breathe is the only truly “real” experience being had on any possible plane of existence.

I personally have always argued, from even a very young age, that there is only one fundamental underline reality in existence. As a buddhist I would argue that it was impossible for the buddhist world view and the Christian worldview to both be correct simultaneously. One would in the end turn out to be correct and the other would be a falsehood. It was this proposition that drove much of my spiritual searching as an adolescent and into my teen years – through Satanism, into Buddhism, and ultimately Christianity (it was not why I became a Christian but afterward it has been a driving question in my Christian research).

Likewise, after becoming a Christian, I would naturally argue for the uniqueness of individual as created, shaped, and formed by the experiences that made it. The individual “I” entity was formed continually by it’s past and present experiences. In fact, I would argue that somehow the individual today is not wholly the same individual of five years ago, since the latter lacks the five years of experiences that shaped the former (yet, the I that is experiencing today is somehow “linked” to the I that was experiencing five years ago, but the link remains unknown).

This kind of thinking goes hand in hand with a theory of iterative experiences and would subsequently define each iterative individual to be distinct from all other versions in existence. It would also separate the unique individual from any potential individual that may not yet exist but could possibly exist at some point in the future.

The bottom line is, we simply don’t know and do not even have the capacity to find out if other iterative identities exist. There is no way to know if there are other identities who are experiencing lives such as our (or maybe unlike ours). There is no way, in fact, to know with any certainty that we as individuals are even experiencing our own lives in any concrete or definitive ways, other than the perpetuality of personal experience as it is. It is entirely possible that I (Isaac Hunter) am the only actual identity actively experiencing this world and all others and everything else within that world of experience is an involuntary manifestation of my own will or my own perception (or delusion). My individuality persists from day to day, despite the mysterious unconscious state of sleep that demands it’s due after 16 hours of consciousness. Yet, this continuity from day to day, and the mysterious connectivity between all these days with my individual “feeling” of unique individuality serve as the only anchors that tether me to any kind of formative “I” experience.

Am I really here? Am I really experience this moment or the next or the one after that? There is no way to tell other than the conscious reception of input – from the five senses and from my self-awareness of that stimuli – that I am here and that I do exist and that I am experiencing not only the state of existence but the external world that surrounds me.

The external world only exists by a preponderance of evidence in support of it. It has remained reliable. It has remained internally and externally consistent over time and by familiarity of use. Every day I wake and find a solid floor under my feet on which I can walk. Here at the office. On my way to my car. In my home. At the store. And this is true for every tangible experience I have in my day to day, moment to moment existence. The rules which lend to the stability of the external world have established a scaffolding within which the “I” entity that is defined (or that I define) as myself can ponder further deeper thoughts within my own mind (or conscious awareness). I can entertain worldview, and explanations of the origins and endings of this experience in which I’m in the midst and experiencing at this moment. I have no actual evidence of either (no sensory evidence). Worldview manipulation and exploration is no different, really, from the imaginative worlds I create in stories and in my novels. They both exist within the same infrastructure that is not the external world (but rather exist in the interior world of my mind or my imagination). Because of this there is no way to determine how genuine or valid or accurate a particular worldview might be or how inaccurate it is, at least while bound (for whatever reason) to this external dimensionality. It is just as probable that no imagined worldview is any more accurate than any other. The atheist might have cornered the market on accurate depictions of reality as it is. Then again, they might be those most pitiable once this external existence has passed and we come face to face with that which authored our existence, our identity, and our ultimate fates.

Am I to Blame?

Ah, such anguish this question does engender in the massive of those so sensitive to argue vehemently that they are not to blame for their own actions. They cry aloud and gnash their teeth against their creator, screaming and stomping about like spoiled children bereft of both toy or contentment. The question echoes in all our heads from time immemorial:

How can God hold us responsible for the actions we do in this life if those actions were prepared beforehand for us to walk in?

Of course, the first argument that should be presented is one straight from Paul’s pen: “Who are you to argue against God” (Ro 9:20)? He unequivocally states “Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory” (Ro 9:20-23).

First and foremost, the greatest hurdle we have is accepting the fact that we are the clay in this explanation. How often have I questioned God in his wisdom of not only creating me the way in which I currently am, but in creating me at all. I was never consulted when I was about to be brought forth. God never asked either my permission or my opinion on the matter. My conclusion was never consulted, given the facts of the case, if I was willing to participate in this grand experiment that is life. Are we the invention of God? At some point, in some capacity, since we are God’s handiwork and were formed by him in the womb (Psalm 139:13) and knew me before I even existed (Jeremiah 1:5), in fact, God knew and recorded beforehand everything I would ever do (Psalm 139:16).

But, in the end, we are nothing more than this. A created thing. We have been given a limited capacity to perceive, to respond, to know the limits of our allotment. That is all. We have no free will other than what has been granted to us by a creator we know literally nothing about.

It is God who determines which kind of clay we are, or what that clay was used for: as a vessel for honor or a vessel for dishonor. Which one are you? Which one am I? The dishonored vessel was created purposefully to illustrate his wrath (vessels of wrath) for the benefit of those who he will show mercy (vessels of mercy). Those of wrath were prepared for destruction, those of mercy were prepared for glory.

In the end our opinion does not matter. What we think is inconsequential. All that matters is the determination of the creator, the one who has the power over the living and the dead, the one who has the legitimate authority over the heavens and the earth and everything found in them. The angels. The mysteries. All of humanity. All of the animal kingdom. All of the unknown regions that are left still unexplored. The deep places of interstellar space that we have yet to be able to visit, let alone accurately comprehend. The secrets of God himself. God ultimately determines, by whatever measure and against whatever yardstick, the intent and purpose for his own creative works, which includes the creation and bringing to life each and every one of us and all whoever has lived upon the earth from Adam on. There is no escaping this fundamental truth of reality.

But, does that mean I am still guilty for what I do? Apparently so.

The Cancer of Indecision

I play the odds of counterfactuals and have done so for most of my life. Always double guessing what one decision will mean over another. Always wondering why certain events took place, especially those that were out of my control. It can lead to indecision if one is not careful, fearful of making a choice, terrified that the consequences of any choice might be worse than if no choice had been made at all.

But, the reality is, a choice is made regardless. Just by not making choice A we are making choice B. Choosing not to decide is a decision in and of itself. It is the opportunity cost of life. Too often I’ve felt as if my indecision has cost me opportunity, and of course it has. I find a job opportunity in Hawaii, yet I don’t even apply because I can talk myself out of it through intellectual indecision. I have a job that I like. I like where I live. It’s cheap here. There’s no crime. I own a home here. What if I discover I don’t like the job in Hawaii after I up and move? What if I’m accused by a student of something? What if the job evaporates after a year?

Looking back on my life I can see evidence or at least a persuasive argument that says God has been looking out for me for quite a long time. All of my life in fact. I’ve never been without a job when I needed one. Never been without a home or a place that was warm and dry and safe. Even the comforts of kings he doesn’t withhold form me.

Why would I not trust God in applying for the job in Hawaii? What kind of opportunities would open up for me there? Certainly good ones since we know that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Ro 8:28). Do I really believe this? Truly?

It is also true, though, that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. But I wonder how much of that depends on our own preparation and effort. Yet, I look back at the counterfactuals in my life: what if I had married my first fiancé? What if I had married Angela? What if my marriage would have survived? What if I had not gone into the military?

In all these scenarios it is easy to see negative outcomes. Every relationship would most likely end up in divorce and possibly with kids. If I had avoided the military how do I know that I would have gone to college or stayed in college? I’d already spent 12 years in school and hated it. There was no online schooling at that time. There was barely an internet. How do I know my fledgling faith in God would have survived the college environment? Maybe the entire purpose of me enlisting was wholly and solely to put me in an uncomfortable and isolated position to grow my faith, to establish me in the faith. Maybe there was no other way by which I would have survived.

Did I choose the life I currently live? Is it the result of my own decisions or indecisions? Or were they prepared beforehand and I’m just now walking in them? Did God not only know that this year I’d be working part time and spending the bulk of my free time researching topics in Christian Philosophy? Did he know that my writing career would amount to nothing but perpetual obscurity?

How would my life have been different if I had finished school after the military and become a high school English teacher instead?

The answers remain elusive at best. They are hidden from us like most everything else. We are given just enough to foster and fortify our faith and the rest is left to blindly trusting in a diety we know so little about. I for one am hoping the debriefing in the sky after the rapture will be a little more inclusive.

The Simulation of it All

Then, of course, is the question: is any of this even happening to me at all? Are we, in the end, to be found in another being’s dream? Are we a mere figment of the imagination of what we call God? Are we but characters sketched out on cosmic books for his mere amusement, much like I do when I write my novels and fill them with characters and give them actions to perform in my mind if not on the page?

Will we find out in the end, when all lis said and done and this existence comes finally to a close, that it was all an elaborate betrayal, a scheme, a set of datapoints on a graph, mere artifice and window dressing to what is actually to come? Will we then step from imagined to actual when we are transformed? At the heralding of the last trumpet, and the shout of the Lord, when the dead rise and those who remain are caught up into the air with them to meet Christ in the clouds, do we, will we then for the first time taste true existence and not just the poor placebo that this physical universe has turned out to be?

Is this really actually even happening to me? In any real or tangible way? How do we know? Have my experiences played out all these years within a simulation? Have they played out countless times, iteration after iteration as the board is reset and the game tried again?

Are Christopher and Jeremy and Dawn and Zack relatable to me as I am relatable to angelic beings? Are they no less real in their potentiality than I am? Are they simulations created by a simulation? What does that in turn tell us about God, who supposedly created our simulation? Is he but another simulation remaining to be mapped? Would it even be possible by us? When we arrive in heaven, in the Kingdom, will we have full access to the secret and dark places of God, or will there forever remain information undisclosed? Will I spent a good portion of eternity visiting people as they come to mind, people from my past, people who I am curious about – if they survived the great white throne, if they were counted as one written in the book of life – will I even remember my life here on earth or the things I did or the people I knew? There is some indication from the Bible that I won’t.

Is there a difference between being real and feeling real? If I experience this life in the physical universe with no means or mechanisms of escape from this physical dimensionality, and that experience “feels” as if it is real, then from at least my perspective that reality is real regardless of it actually being real. The thoughts I thought were thought. The deeds I chose to do were done. Despite countless lives being forgotten in totality in the existence of human history, every deed, every thought, every action the Bible claims were written and recorded in books that are somehow housed in heaven.

Are even those books real? Does that mean that where those books are housed (somewhere in heaven) this place is real whereas this place where I reside is not? In what ways is the supernatural realm more tangible, more essential, more of some unknown, undiscovered substance by which its realness is derived? Why is the human condition such that we must endure that which is not real before we can proceed on to that which is real? Why are men appointed to die once and then the judgment (He 9:27)? Why not skip this preoccupation, this distraction altogether and get on with what is or what will be actually happening? Are fates are already sealed. We are already preordained, some as vessels of mercy, others as vessels of wrath. Why not skip the preamble and get on with judgment and the hereafter? What benefit do we derive from a rehearsal?

Conclusion

Whether it be pre-knowldge, middle-knowledge, or omniscience, it is all a toss of the coin. At least from our perspective. From God’s perspective it appears as if there is only fate and that of the inescapable kind, as he has already run the scenarios out to their logical ends. He knows how the story will play out in every given iteration. He already knows what he has chosen for men. We can argue with him about this. We can beat our heads against the wall. We can wail and decry the unfair treatment of God’s wrath or argue how wicked his his final judgment of those on the earth. But, if God is who we claim him to be (and not the madman many often conclude he is), then what we think about his actions or his opinions or his decisions really don’t matter at all. All that matters is what Jesus thinks of us when we stand before him. All that matters is that at the day of Judgment Jesus will confess our name before God and before his angels (Re 3:5; Mal 3:17; Ma 10:32; Lu 12:8). Truly has it been said, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Ro 4:7-8).

This world and the life I’ve lived may not have turned out as I had thought it might (though roughly I am doing what I wanted to do when I was 17), it is still a life well lived, one of incredible comforts and ease, one of little demand or responsibility, one of few social pressures and even fewer familial obligations. I have lived under a mythic-like safety-net for my entire life, in near idealic conditions (especially in my youth). There is really no reason for complain or regret or second guessing, though I often do. Rather I should every day count my many multitude of blessings that God has poured out on me, to love and protect me throughout my life without demand for work or labor or any visible or tangible or outward kind of service. I sometimes wonder what sacrifice might be coming around the next bend. Yet, countless Christians have been born, lived, and died without any kind of sacrificial service in their life in this generation and several before that. Will they, in the end, receive no rewards and will gain entrance into the afterlife by sheer qualification alone (Ro 10:9-11)? I guess we can only wait and see. I would love the opportunity to talk to my grandparents right about now, or talk to Dr. Missler or my friend form high school who chose to kill himself rather than go on living. What are they experiencing now, if anything? What would be their advice from beyond the grave, I wonder. Unfortunately, the only option the living have is to wait and see.

Until my next post….


Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.


Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:


There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.

“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.

He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.

Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.

“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”

He chuckled at himself.

“So – ”

Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.

“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”

Mr. Eckey nodded.

“How long have you been a novitiate here?”

“Going on seven months now.”

“Hmm…and…”

He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.

“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”

“It has been – ”

Christopher thought about the question for a moment.

“ – wonderful.”

“I would assume it much different than – ”

Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.

“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”

 Christopher nodded.

“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”

“The decision?”

Mr. Eckey smiled.

“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”

Christopher shrugged.

“Not really. I guess. I just – ”

Unwanted images flashed through his mind.

Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.

“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”

He tapped his pen on the tablet.

 “Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”

“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”

“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”

Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.

“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”

“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.

“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”

The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.

“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”

“Previous?”

Mr. Eckey stopped writing.

“Your military career.”

“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”

Mr. Eckey put his pen down.

“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”

He shifted his weight on the hard bench.

“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”

“Are you talking about another monastery?”

“Actually – ”

Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.

“It’s an entirely different Order.”

Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.

“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”

Mr. Eckey waited a moment.

“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”

“What about it?”

“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”

Christopher shot him a quizzical look.

“How do you know that?”

“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”

Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.

“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”

“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”

Christopher tried to relax.

He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.

A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.

He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.

Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.

“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”

“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.

Mr. Eckey shook his head.

“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”

“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”

“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”

“I’m – I don’t – ”

Christopher stammered.

“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”

Mr. Eckey interrupted.

“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”

“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.

Mr. Eckey smiled.

“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”

“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”

“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”

“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.

“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.

Christopher said nothing.

“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”

The man shrugged.

“May I – ”

Christopher pondered his words.

“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”

“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”

Christopher shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”

“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”

He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.

“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”

“But, how – ”

Mr. Eckey put up a hand.

“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”

He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.

“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”

Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.

“What kind of need, exactly?”

The man just smiled.

“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”

Christopher looked back at the card.

“I will.”

“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”

He briefly looked around the grounds.

“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”

He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.

Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.

The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.

He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.


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