Part 12 (end)
We left early in the morning. Such a beautiful morning, and spring, and Yeshua’s words in my ear: Go to Galilee, I will be there.
But of course always the doubt: it can’t be true that someone returns from the realm of the dead, it can’t be true that you can see and touch him, that doesn’t happen, we have fooled ourselves, over-stimulated as we were we imagined something for consolation.
But why then my happiness? Where does the feeling come from that HE is near to me?
It was near Sebaste that we met a troupe of riders. It was a whole cohort. Romans. They rode to the south. They rode in a great hurry. Was something happening in Yerushalayim to cause them to be ordered there. Had unrest broken out? Had Bar Abba been able to bring about the uprising? Was the great uprising taking place? If Yeshua’s death had been the signal? If the uprising in Yerushalayim meant an uprising in all Yisrael?
Yochanan, do you remember Yeshua’s words: I throw fire on the earth and wish nothing more ardently than that it burn.
But not that way. Not as an uprising, not as violence, not as a battle between peoples!
Yes, but you told me the story about that Prometheus who stole fire from the gods in order to give it to men, and that he was cruelly punished for it.
Do you think that? How difficult it is for you and for us all to escape from the old images: Zeus, Jupiter, Adonai: violent rulers, strict judges, hard fathers. Miryam, Yeshua didn’t need to steal the fire from a jealous god: he stole it from himself, HE is the fire, and that fire is spirit, and whoever lets it burn in him is godlike.
That evening we were already near the border of Galilee. We looked for an inn there. Then we met Shimon and Andrew. They acted half crazed. Are you drunk? What are you saying? We don’t understand a word. Shimon, you tell us.
We saw the rabbi! And he ate supper with us, here, an hour ago! There’s the cup he drank out of, it’s still half full, and there, that half a piece of bread! We met him underway.
From the beginning. Underway. Where, how?
We were going along and suddenly, we didn’t hear any footsteps, someone was alongside us who asks: You are sad, friends, why? We say: Yes, why: because something happened in Yerushalayim that affects us. What? He says. The Rabbi Yeshua, who they hanged. So? He asks. And what else? What else: he’s dead, do you understand? He looks at us so curiously: Is he really dead? I say: Yes and no. He says: What’s that supposed to mean, is he dead or not? Yes, I say, that’s just what we can’t handle. He says: You’ll never be able to handle it, friend. I say: He died, that’s for sure, but then the tomb was empty and some women claim to have seen him, alive! But that’s women’s talk due to grief.
Shimon! I said.
He felt ashamed.
I didn’t want to tell the stranger everything at once.
All right. Go on.
Yes, well, meanwhile it was evening and I say: We’re going to the inn there. Come along, friend. It was very strange. I didn’t want to let that stranger go away for anything in the world. He stayed, and we ordered food and drink. He says: Do you have money, I have none. Yes, yes, we do. Then he smiles and the smile seems familiar to us, but we still don’t think anything more. And then he asks: Who was the man they crucified, and why? Why, that’s a long story, and who he really was, we don’t know that. Don’t be angry, but we don’t want to talk about it, it pains us. He smiles again and I kick Andrew and indicate the face of the guy to him, and we stare at it, and the man keeps smiling and we’re warm, but do you think our eyes were opened? No. The food is brought. Sea fish and bread, and wine, and the stranger eats and drinks, why not, why shouldn’t a man eat and drink. But then, now it’s coming: then he takes the bread and breaks it in three pieces, and dips a piece in the wine and hands it to me, and then one to Andrew. Then it dawns on us, it dawns on us like a bolt of lightning, and at the same moment he disappears. Simply gone. The serving girl said: Where’s the third one gone, I didn’t see him leave and I was always here. Yes, look, there’s his cup, half full, and his piece of bread, let’s share it! Let’s do as he did.
It was Shimon who first celebrated the supper with us, and we were all in tears.
The next day we went on together, and I kept looking back to see if someone was following. Wasn’t his promise to be seen again also meant for me? Or couldn’t I expect it after the encounter at the tomb?
There was the sea, blue and still, and the meadows were still spring green, and the fishing boats were on the water and Yerushalayim was far away, a foul, incomprehensible dream, and soon the rabbi would come, step into the boat and preach.
Nothing. Only the great stillness.
Shimon took me with him to his home. His wife and mother-in-law greeted him with joy and scolding: Now you’ve had your experience, we heard about it, now you know how good it is to be home, now you’ll stay.
Poor people. He didn’t even stay three weeks with them, and he never returned.
I went to the sea. The fish jumped, no breeze moved the water, the weather became gloomy. My temptation was to think: the Sun God has gone, how can one live without him? Only those who have lived with him know what it is to live without him.
Suddenly a breath of wind brushed me, but no leaf moved and the mirror of the sea stayed smooth
I reached into the air, but there was nothing. But something had passed by. I wondered, until one of ours came running: Come, come, the rabbi is here!
Why didn’t I run after him right away? Didn’t I believe him?
I didn’t run because I believed him. Again a spirit-like encounter, again a farewell. No.
I followed the messenger slowly.
You came too late, Miryam.
He’s gone. He stood there; he sat here at the fire. We were roasting fish and he was suddenly here and said: Give me something to eat. Just like that. We gave him a fish. He ate it. Look, there is the fish head, there are the bones. But no footprints in the sand.
A cat came and took the fish head.
You, I said, don’t know whose fish you are eating.
I was close to ripping the head from its mouth.
Ants fell on the bones and picked them clean.
Since then I have never eaten fish again.
We stayed three weeks in Galilee and it seemed like it was three years earlier: the fishermen were out, they threw out their nets and brought them in the next morning, not rich hauls, just the usual. The women salted the fish or hung them on lines to dry in the air, the children helped pack them in baskets. Talk, more talk, laughter, peace, or sometimes an argument. Normal life. How long? Continuously until our natural death? Why not? The three years with the rabbi had strained us to the utmost. Three years counted as though they were thirty. For the first time in my life I thought: to have a family, children, a house, and quiet, and to know nothing of that rabbi and his extreme expectations. What for? Where did it lead?
The great temptation. It overcame the others too. We hid our thoughts, but we all knew what we were thinking.
From day to day I became more restless.
Yochanan, Shimon, do we want to stay stuck here? What about our mission?
What do you want to do?
I want to go to Yerushalayim.
Shimon said: Why to Yerushalayim? That’s just the place where we can’t go now. It’s full of unrest.
Exactly: the hour for the new is where there is unrest.
They’ll arrest us as followers of the crucified one, as enemies of Rome, just think! We have no more friends there.
How do you know that? Veronica is there, and the three in Bethany, and Josef and Nicodemus – the mustard seed, Shimon!
Yes, of course.
If you won’t go I’ll go alone. At the tomb the rabbi told me: Go and tell all that you have seen me and that I live. That’s what he said and that’s what I’ll do.
Oh, Miryam, you’re just like the rabbi: obstinate and demanding the impossible. Like that time when we were fishing and no fish came, and he said: Throw your nets out. I say: It makes no sense. He says: Throw out your nets. I did it. And the fish came.
Well! And you, Yochanan.
I’ll go with you. Light is stronger than darkness.
So we went wandering again, without the rabbi and without Yehuda.
I said: Why are we so lame and wingless, friends? Why is it? We act like a herd of sheep whose shepherd has died and don’t know where to go. Our shepherd lives!
Yes, of course, but what will become of us no one knows. When he was with us he said: We’re going here or there, we’ll do this or that, it is so or so, and everything was clear. But now.
Now, I said, we must show what we learned with him. Now we must decide for ourselves.
I acted bravely in order to give the others courage, but my courage was difficult, every gust of wind made it unsure, and there were many hard gusts during that journey: a foreman whipped a farm worker; a farmhouse burned down; a persecuted, dispossessed family who led two donkeys carrying all their possessions, mounted police, and spies who approached us: Who are you, where are you going, may we accompany you for a while? And two crosses on a hill on which people were being crucified, of whom one still lived: political, for common criminals weren’t usually crucified, they were stoned. Guards kept me from going closer. Roman blood and fire.
Suddenly I screamed, threw myself on the ground and banged my head on the earth. The others were shocked. They thought I had fallen to a demon. However, I was very clear. Completely clear. I was at that moment my people: Yisrael, who screamed to heaven. The scream that was meant to reach the savior and bring him by force.
But where was he? Yeshua, he hadn’t saved Yisrael. The dream is dreamed out. Shouldn’t one join Bar Abba after all?
I stood up and said: It’s all right, it was just that sight, you understand. Let’s go on.
Yochanan said: Miryam, Miryam, you are susceptible to temptations from the realm of darkness.
And you, friend, are a master at ignoring the suffering of our people. You keep your mind as clean as your hands. Why didn’t you just disappear with your master into the light?
Shimon said: Listening to you both makes one feel confused. You were his best pupils.
That’s why! His teaching was simple, or at least one can understand it as simple, but applying it to life, Shimon! If the rabbi teaches: Love your enemies, and you see that over there on the hill! And you yourself, friend, cut a soldier’s ear off, and if your blow had been to his throat, what then?
Then I would be a murderer, said Shimon innocently.
But I only wanted to protect the rabbi.
And those who hang there only wanted to protect Yisrael’s freedom and dignity. What’s the difference?
Shimon had no answer. Since he had denied the rabbi at the cock’s crowing he had been a broken man. In his eyes the request for forgiveness was uppermost. He could only grant forgiveness to himself though. He never did it. And if it was true that the rabbi wanted him to be the leader of the first community, it was because of this humility.
So we arrived in Yerushalayim. Again a feast was being prepared, a harvest thanksgiving feast, to be celebrated fifty days after Passover. We found quarters in Bethany. We heard there that our situation wasn’t so bad after all. There was a loyal group, over a hundred. They met once here, once there and kept together and celebrated the remembrance meal and taught children. But a shepherd was missing. The orphans lacked a father, a mother.
We decided to meet secretly on the feast day and in the house where the departure feast was celebrated. Martha and Veronica acted as messengers.
Our men didn’t yet dare to go into the city. When they left the house it was only to the nearby olive groves.
And it was here where some of them said they saw the rabbi again, the last time, he had transformed himself to pure light before their eyes, and then “ascended”, it seemed to them. Could be, I thought. But “ascended” to where? For him there is no direction and no place, none except in us. Not ascended, but entered into, penetrated into us. That yes, not otherwise. Where does THE Light go, when it’s extinguished? And where should the light go if it’s inextinguishable?
I, though, was a hearth in which the last coals were dying out. I accepted the story about the ascension half-heartedly, with a mixture of mistrust: what if a demon which took Yeshua’s form duped us. But why? So that we could be fooled into only believing what we see, instead of having pure faith in the spiritual teaching? Worse: so we cannot differentiate illusion from reality. Still worse: so that we should consider everything we experienced with Yeshua as illusory. Or also so that we should think that Yeshua was never a real man, but only a spiritual manifestation.
Stupid talk, Shimon said. Didn’t you see him suffer and die, really? Do you think that was delusion? It was a man’s death, a terrible one, and no trick. What kind of people are you, anyway?
Shimon, I don’t mean that.
Perhaps spirit and matter aren’t really different. And maybe someone who has been initiated can appear alternately in a spiritual form and an earthly body. Maybe earthly matter can appear finer, then denser. Perhaps it is all the same, namely light, and it returns to the light from which it came.
Oh, Yochanan, you arch-intellectual, Shimon said, you’ll think yourself to death. The Greeks, those pagans, have put a bunch of fleas in your ear. Isn’t it enough for you that he lived and we lived with him, and he lives on?
Happy Shimon, Yochanan said. But thinking is a wonderful thing, and the Rabbi did not forbid it, on the contrary, he always gave us new puzzles to solve in the parables and expected us to solve them.
To each his own, Shimon said. I’m no scholar, I’m a fisherman. I can’t participate in such complicated discussions.
He said that shortly before his first public appearance, when his tongue was loosened and he gave that wonderful speech which caused such a great change and brought so many new friends, and also powerful enemies, and the most powerful was the person who watched as young Stephanos was stoned to death: Shaulus, who later called himself Paulus.
It’s hard for me to talk about him.
He was a Jew, but whether by birth or free decision also a Roman citizen, and a Roman officer and occupier of Yisrael, proud of his Roman citizenship, boasting of it even when he had long been a follower of Yeshua, especially when he was arrested and condemned to death and couldn’t be crucified like other Jews, like Shimon-Petrus, for example. He was spared crucifixion, notwithstanding Yeshua’s crucifixion, an apostle of whom he called himself. So he was beheaded, in Rome.
A righteous one and, like all the righteous, hard against all lawbreakers. So he stood there and watched the stoning.
And it wasn’t only that victim. The persecution began and Shaulus became the most relentless persecutor. No house was left unsearched, no trace not followed. Many fled the country, but also many didn’t reach the border and were murdered underway. Many dead there are in Shaulus’s account!
We women hid at first in Bethany, but then we heard that Shaulus was looking especially for us, because he said that the women were the greatest danger, being the most zealous followers of that Yeshua, who gave them rank and rights which are not applicable to them by nature and God’s will, and they guard the memory of that rabbi as mothers their children and defend their faith with hook or crook, above all that Miryam of Magdala who claims to have seen the resurrected one first and tells the story everywhere. If one wants to destroy the new, then one must destroy this woman.
One night Nicodemus and Josef brought us to the sea, bought us an old sailboat, hired two Phoenician sailors and left us to our fate, which seemed better to us than death at the hands of Shaulus.
Yeshua’s mother, Miryam, wasn’t with us. Yochanan took her with him to Ephesus, where she died. What happened to the others, Andrew, Shimon, Philippos and the rest, I didn’t know until much later. It was possible that they were all dead. It was possible that they had saved themselves by fleeing to Syria or to Dekopolis and that they were preaching there. It was possible that they had returned to the old under pressure from the persecution, not from conviction.
But what actually happened in our old homeland, which we never saw again, we hadn’t considered possible: our people didn’t change, it was Shaulus who converted to the new. A strange story, which he told everywhere and which wasn’t unbelievable; although one must keep in mind that he was a poet and had a fiery power of imagination. What he told was this: he was following one of the escapees along the road to Damascus when he was hit by lightning, knocked off his horse and lay there for three days blind and unconscious, and then arose as completely converted.
He simply flipped the coin, changed his name to Paulus and, again on his high horse, a self-appointed apostle without consulting Shimon and Andrew, claiming that Yeshua appeared to him in the clouds, Yeshua the resurrected, and now he believed in the resurrection, and he believed as fanatically in it as he had previously denied it, and founded his teaching exclusively on the following: If he wasn’t resurrected, then my preaching is unfounded and our faith is unfounded, and we are not redeemed, but are still slaves of sin.
Messengers who traveled back and forth on the coast reported that to me. What should I say about it, I, the first witness to the resurrection, charged by Yeshua himself to announce it! Not a word about that. Not a word about us, the women who supported the young movement with our money, who first saw the resurrected one, who accompanied him to the crucifixion despite the danger and stood under the cross and held out till the end. Nothing about that. Later in his letters there is mention of women when they donate money and obediently carry out minor tasks. Didn’t he know about us? Oh yes, he did. But he wanted to forget it, he wanted to sacrifice us to forgetfulness. He did the same with our men. How he treated them, how he pushed Shimon and Andrew aside, those uneducated Jews! It was as though before Shaulus nothing happened, as though he got everything rolling.
I received some copies of his letters to read, which he circulated and which also went to Lazarus, who was now bishop of our area. What language! That of a great poet, surely. How he spoke about love! Why did it leave me cold? Did he even know love? How self-righteous he was. I - I - I. In one moment: I am the least of all the apostles, and then: I work more than anyone, I suffer more than anyone. It was said that he had a sickness, epilepsy probably. I know nothing certain about that. And it wouldn’t have disturbed me if he had been ill. What did disturb me, rather what greatly disturbed me is something else: that he, like the Emperor Augustus, wanted to found a world empire with Yeshua as emperor, an empire of God, in which the enemies, those who are not baptized and who don’t stand under the Law, are all lost (that’s what he wrote). World domination by what was beginning to be called Christianity, that’s what he wanted. And he, a Roman citizen secretly still enthusiastic about the greatness of Rome, did everything possible to erect that empire, and it happened according to his will, if not during his lifetime: Christianity became the Roman state religion, and the Roman emperor Constantine carried the inscription on his helmet that he had seen in a dream alongside a cross of light: hoc vinci, that is, in the sign of the cross, and he had that and the inscription put on his soldiers’ battle shields and on the flag that was carried before him in war. By the sign of the cross you will be victorious over all who do not profess allegiance to Rome and to Christianity. By the sign of the cross on which Yeshua died by order of the Romans, not only according to the wish of the Jews. Oh, and by this sign they now kill.
That’s how our cause continued. You died for that, Rabbi. You wanted to bring peace. You have brought war. You, who were without violence. They murder in your name. You wanted to bring light to the earth. The shadows of the underworld have hung themselves on you like black grapes, so that you don’t achieve the resurrection. King of the unredeemed, you.
I screamed. I banged my head against the rocks and wished for death. Wait still for what? How much time had elapsed since Yeshua’s death? No longer to count by years. And how much time will elapse before he returns as he promised?
Did I still believe in the promised m of peace, or did I hold fast to that belief only because without it I would fall into the abyss? The wheel turned and turned and brought nothing new and plunged deeper into darkness and no one was there to stop the turning and sinking.
Then I heard a voice: Miryam!
I pushed myself back into the cave’s darkness. I knew the voice. I didn’t want to hear it.
The cave became light, but there was no one there except me. Delusion, wish-dream, fear-dream.
For the third time. Now finally I opened my mouth: Rabbi! And I began to tremble.
Would you leave me, my companion? You want to jump off the wheel into blissful non-suffering while I struggle to lift the weight of the earth’s matter. Do you leave me alone? Will you leave the place beneath the cross on which I hang? Why do you worry about the question: Where is the kingdom of peace? I AM the kingdom of peace!
That may be, I said. But we don’t see any of it. Where is the promised peace?
Are you still thinking in centuries? Think in millennia. The work for freedom has just begun. The ascension of humanity takes very long, Miryam!
Humanity has been trying for so long, Rabbi!
Long? Humanity is young on the earth.
Young? We Jews are an old people, extremely old.
There are older ones. And all are children. They test life and the ascent.
I see descent, Rabbi.
What you see as descent is transition.
You are patient, Rabbi.
My love is patient. I want to pull humanity high, up to the sphere of the Highest. I want to raise it with the power of my love. It must get there, for that’s where it originated. Miryam, you will accomplish the ascent, humanity will accomplish it, and you will stay until it is accomplished and the realm of peace is founded.
Then the voice was silent and the light went out. It went out slowly, in order not to frighten me with sudden darkness. That was the last time it was granted me to see the light and not merely the shadows on the cave’s walls.
My lover gave me little consolation and held me strictly to my word: I need no miracles and no faces to believe in you, Rabbi!
The trial of darkness, the night way. The blindness.
But when the dark is blackest and the way is lost, then he is near, the god; but like the wandering Odysseus he takes the form of a man, for only as a man can the god help men.
So I remain, and I am nothing else but the waiting for the realm of peace.
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
About the author:
Luise Rinser was born in Germany in 1911. In 1944 she was imprisoned by the Nazis for “high treason”. She was liberated by the Americans in 1945. The liberators were quicker than the hangman. She wrote over thirty books – novels, essays and diaries. She lived the last three years of her life near Rome – and died in March 2002. Upon her death Johannes Rau, President of Germany, acclaimed her as one of the great literary voices of post-war Germany. She didn’t allow herself to be influenced by temporary fashions and was always a courageous defender of freedom, democracy and human cooperation. “She will be missed by many, because in her books and essays she always sought the fundamental questions of life”.
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