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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Snow Mountain Press (September 25, 2009)
Lois Drake has worked for more than twenty years in the fields of marketing and advertising. Born and raised in southern California, she traveled widely and taught elementary school children in Alaska and Finland. Drake is a lover of Tibet and its ancient culture and is especially intrigued by the possible intersection of Jesus’ travels in India and the mysterious Kushan race. Together with her husband she has made numerous trips to Tibet. They founded Friendship Homes and Schools, a nonprofit organization that began by assisting orphans in Tibet and remote parts of China. She became fascinated with imagining Jesus’ early years after reading of his journey to the East in The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Drake, a gifted storyteller who loves to write adult and children’s stories with a spiritual message, makes her home in Prescott, Arizona.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Snow Mountain Press (September 25, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Northwestern China, Taklamakan Desert,
four years after the birth of Jesus
Perched on a rock overlook, the two leaders peered into the encampment below. They could make out only the flickering red-amber glow from the guards’ campfire. Sounds carried better than light on this dark night. The men heard the stamp and snort of a restless horse, followed by an answer from another nearby. A warm breeze came up from the desert floor and with it the pungent smell of the herd. Now and then, the murmur of shuffling animals came along with the wind. A dog barked as if telling the animals to stay silent. A gruff voice quieted the dog, and there was stillness again.
Two dark shadows, gliding against the rock, continued their descent. No moon would show tonight. From the movement of the stars, the two knew an hour had passed since they started out from their hidden camp on the plateau high above. The black bluffs rose up from the canyon floor and formed a half-circle fortress.
As they noiselessly felt their way down, the two leaders drew closer to the northern side of the Hun encampment. The tents were barely visible in the darkness, but they sensed the arrangement of the camp. They stopped and waited on the cliff, only a stone’s throw from the closest tent and its sleeping occupants.
It would soon be time to begin. The sun would rise shortly. The men sat on the ledge above the valley floor and read the stars. Their ancestors had taught them precision with the sky.
The pair sat still and steadied their breathing. The large hoods of their coarse, red-brown cloaks hid their faces. They closed their eyes. With their rhythmic breathing, the two blended deeper and deeper into the walls of the canyon. The taller one took a long gold chain that hung from his neck. On the chain was a small gold medallion, which he allowed to rest in the palm of his hand. Even when he was not looking at it, the imprint burned brightly in his mind: a six-pointed star, with a three-part flame at its center. The Signet. His thumb passed back and forth over the symbol. He opened his eyes again and felt renewed confidence, determination, and focus. It was time.
In a breath, their feet landed on the sandy floor. The pair split and went in opposite directions. They knew that, at this moment, other hooded comrades were gliding silently in from different points on the downwind side of the camp. Only seven in total, they were enough.
Quickly, quickly. It would not be long before the dogs—yes!—there was the first mastiff, and a second, with wild and ferocious growls that awakened the sleeping Huns. More dogs barked. The hooded figures were past the first tents and nearing the horses’ tethers. The dogs charged. In perfect calm, one of the silhouettes raised a hand and spoke a single word in his native Kushan tongue, “Peace.”
The lead dog paused a fraction of a second.
Phhhht. Phhhht. Tiny blow reeds came from the cloaks of the other raiders, who quickly blew their darts into the dogs. The mastiffs ambled and whimpered slightly before they fell in sleep.
Sharp knives cut through the tethers holding the horses. Three animals had been tied to each of the strong iron rings driven into the ground––thirty horses in all. The silent team selected from those they had freed and led some away.
Only six animals—two stallions and four mares, stolen by the Huns from the Kushan village—were big horses, taller than a man. The marauding Hun party would be greatly set back if the rest were scattered. The herd was already nervous, stamping and snorting.
Alerted by the dogs and the sounds of the frightened horses, the encampment suddenly came to life. Torches were lit, and there was a clatter of weapons being gathered. The guards shouted and drew arrows, straining to see in the dark amid the animals. Some horses reared and the herd turned anxiously from side to side, ready to bolt. Dozens of torch-carrying men kept them in place.
One of the seven crossed deftly to the biggest, blue-black stallion. Stolen by the Huns, it was now the chief’s horse and was under its own guard. The person made a soft clucking noise and met the eyes of the stallion, which stood transfixed. Suddenly a torch glared. Then came the shout of a guard: “Aiii yaah!”
The knife cut through the tether, and then the cloaked figure crouched under the horse for protection. It was too late to prevent the pain of an arrow that burned into the raider’s shoulder. Falling back slightly, the raider broke off the arrow’s shaft near the head and remained under the horse as the guards approached.
A thought rang out loudly in the raider’s mind: “Yes. It’s time.” Suddenly there was a mighty, piercing, shattering sound as the team, perfectly in unison with a great shout from deep within their beings, invoked the sacred, ancient Tokharian words “Appakke Nakte!”—meaning Father God. It was only a moment, but it was sufficient.
Twenty-four freed Hun horses charged wildly in every direction. Overwhelmed, the guards and soldiers strained to see the intruders while at the same time attempting to stop the bolting horses. Tents collapsed as the wild-eyed steeds panicked and reared against them. Galloping and shouting echoed in every direction. Through it, six horses led by seven hooded figures trotted into the dark, moving closer and closer to the canyon wall before they disappeared.
The seven and their captive steeds reached the canyon wall. Looking back into the darkness, they saw pinpricks of torches bouncing up and down behind them. Soon these would gather to follow their tracks, which for now were still obscured by the confusion and the blackness.
An owl hooted. “Zhu Li,” observed the tallest man. He answered the call and the party moved along the canyon wall another 200 paces. The wounded person, smaller than the others, walked toward the front of the group.
They paused to look out across the canyon floor.
The torches below had coalesced into one group. Clearly the party’s tracks had been discovered and the pursuers, some mounted, shouted with exuberance since they knew the tracks would lead to the impasse of the canyon wall. The cries of the Huns echoed wildly off the massive stone cliff.
The team never wavered. They crossed a dry creek bed and the tall one responded once more to the cry of the owl.
Past a rock face, they made a sudden turn where they entered a narrow slot canyon, the contorted and sculpted work of water and wind over eons. Its walls reached up to the sky. Twisting far into the cliff face, the slot canyon was only a few inches wider than the horses. The group walked upstream. The creek bed was dry now, but when water did run, it ran in a fury. The horses became nervous. The small raider clucked consolingly and the group continued up the narrow canyon.
The shouts of the Huns became softer because the turns of the slot canyon muffled them. The tracks, however, would quickly lead the way. There was no time to spare. Their secret place could not be discovered. The group knew, as the Ancient Ones had taught them, that timing was critical.
Once more the owl hooted. The call was returned. They looked at the sky and the tall man raised his hand. For many days he had been performing a sacred ritual at the home of the Kushans, seeking the will and protection of Appakke Nakte.
He watched the sky. Calmly he sent his vocal entreaty for deliverance, calling upon the God of his fathers.
In the inner, mystical temple of his heart, his awareness of God expanded beyond the physical world to hear the Father’s assurance: “Fear not. I am with you.”
He felt an unspoken confirmation of God’s will pulsate through his body. From that point of contact with God, he sent a great release of sound as he chanted in devotion the holy name, Appakke Nakte––many times, strongly, with authority, again and again––until they heard the rumbling. “Our Father, I thank thee. Thy will be done. May all life be blessed by your wisdom, power, and love.”
The rumbling became incredibly loud. It was the approach of that desert anomaly: the flash flood. For several days, the water had poured through the higher elevations. Cascading down, ever down, it would hit the canyon as a raging torrent. The slot canyon was created by the same process repeated over millennia. The approaching wall of water would instantly obliterate anything in its path. The roar was deafening.
Torchlight and a Hun’s shout came from around the last turn. They heard another holler. The tall leader reached high on the rock wall and felt the palm-size six-pointed star carved there. He leaned his weight against it. The wall gave in slightly, and the seven pushed hard to move the stone enough to enter. A torch and the smiling face of Zhu Li greeted them inside. “Come! Come!” he beamed.
Seven hooded figures and the horses they led quickly passed through. They leaned back against the rock, heaved it in place, and immediately heard the roar of water surge by. Small drips trickled at the side of the stone door. The group and their charges were safe. The tracks were gone.
The Huns were scattered by water and confusion. Proceeding forward was impossible. Others in the rear turned around and raced from the oncoming water, in an attempt to either climb a high embankment or reach the open expanse of the valley floor.
The Hun chief, with his second-in-command, scrambled up a rocky slope and watched in disbelief as the torrent cut them off from the Kushans. “Barbarians!” the chief seethed with contempt and rage. “They have escaped tonight, but we will drive them from the highlands and kill every last one. Their king will pay dearly for this.”
The aide spat on the ground. He was furious and his eyes narrowed as he surveyed the chaos. “Someone must pay for this blunder tonight,” he hissed.
“Shall it be you?” the chief sneered back angrily.
“Do you question my leadership?” The swarthy leader eyed his aide suspiciously before turning back to the scene. “Return to camp and execute the guards who were on duty,” he said, and then kicked his horse and rode toward the valley.
Behind the stone door, Zhu Li led the band by torchlight around the curve of a subterranean passage. The light of the torch created a gleam upon his blue cap and blue silk tunic. A long braid of black hair lay flat upon his back. He was the height of the smallest raider, almost like a spirit hurrying ahead of the group. His dark, almond-shaped eyes sparkled with the flicker of the torch. White leggings, which wrapped his calves up to his blue silk trousers, stood out in the torchlight.
Finally, after several hundred paces, the group saw the tunnel open to a huge cavern of blackness. The only light in the center of the dark expanse was Zhu Li’s campfire. Over it was an iron pot, decorated with ancient symbols and simmering with steam. Around the edges of the cavern, dried clumps of grass and wooden pails of water awaited the horses. Carved jade decanters rested on ornate boxes, with delicate jade teacups next to them. Richly lacquered chopsticks lay across empty bowls awaiting rice, vegetables, and other delicacies simmering in the pot. The wounded figure sank in exhaustion onto one of the thick mats rolled out near the fire.
The tall man at last threw back his hood. A crop of red hair, cut straight across his forehead, and a beard trimmed close around his chin framed his blue eyes and ruddy complexion. Taktu’s long, thin nose and high, angular cheekbones were a dramatic contrast to the flat nose and long face of Zhu Li, whose own beard hung daintily from his chin.
“Well done!” Taktu said to Zhu Li with a smile. Then, his brow furrowed and his voice turned low and serious as he said, “The queen is injured.”
While the others tended to the horses, Taktu and Zhu Li bent down next to the small figure on the mat. King Taktu was the ruler of the Kushan people; generations before, the Huns had driven the Kushan out of the Tarim Basin, over the mountains, and into Bactria.
Taktu pushed back the hood from his wife’s face. She lay with her eyes closed. She breathed deeply, with all her attention fixed on her breath, but her meditation was not enough to erase the pain and exhaustion showing on her face. Like her husband and the others in this elite, secret band, Queen Sarah was highly trained and disciplined in the ways of the Ancient Ones. Her face––the forehead now knotted in pain––was clear and beautiful, with a tawny complexion offset by dark ringlets that fell to her shoulders. She opened her wide brown eyes, smiled, and interrupted her meditation to say, “Our Father was with us. It was a great victory.”
Taktu untied the top of the queen’s cloak and gently moved the soft white muslin undergarment off her shoulder. Zhu Li seemed unperturbed as he took a small packet from inside his belt and unfolded its cloth cover. Carefully, he placed a needle at each of Sarah’s eyebrows and turned the thin spikes delicately so as not to inflict pain. A third needle he placed at the queen’s chin.
“Tell me when the pain stops,” Zhu Li said to Queen Sarah. He allowed these to set a moment, until Sarah told him the pain was gone.
“Good,” he replied and went to work bathing the wound and removing the arrowhead with a small blade. All the while he softly chanted, appealing to the Divine Mother he knew from his culture of the Far East. To him, the Heavenly Mother was the manifestation of mercy, compassion, and healing.
Soon the wound was dressed and the queen lay propped on a cushion, sipping hot broth while the others also rested and ate. They would remain in this cavern for at least another day and night. During this time, a scout could make sure that the Huns had indeed departed before the group made its way back up the canyon and into the highlands.
Revived by the easing of pain and the eating of light food, Sarah asked Zhu Li, “What news do you have of our son?”
Zhu Li laughed. “The mighty warrior, little Vima Kadphises? See for yourself!”
The queen’s nursemaid, Lariska, stepped forward from the shadows into the ring of campfire light, holding the six-month-old baby in her arms. “Here is your son, my queen.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up. “Yekte Vima!” she called out, laughing with delight. Sarah cradled her son on her uninjured shoulder. “Did you bring all of our court?” the queen joked, looking at Zhu Li.
“Only the most trusted,” he replied, “to help us. And yekte Vima”––little Vima––“wanted to come! How could I refuse? Please, try to sleep.”
With her baby at her side and her husband resting next to her, Queen Sarah closed her eyes again.
Nazareth, fourteen years after the birth of Jesus
The noonday sun shone hotly above the bustling marketplace. From vendors in the dusty square, Mary gathered ingredients for making the flat, round bread her family ate with lentils, spiced vegetables, and other dishes she prepared. Her husband, Joseph remained at home, working with young Jesus in the carpentry shop that provided a livelihood for the family.
Stopping at a cloth-covered stall, Mary offered a farmer two coins for a portion of grain. The bent old man scooped a hollow gourd into the large, rough-sewn sack of wheat sitting open on the ground. He filled the gourd twice, each time pouring its contents into the cloth pouch hanging from Mary’s shoulder. Two little children held onto Mary’s robe.
A fine gentleman, obviously of some means, stood at her side and vied for her attention midst the children and the seller.
“Mary, it is time that we plan carefully for the continuation of his education. The Heavenly Father has his time for all things. I will be leaving soon, and he must not miss this opportunity to meet his teacher. Who knows when it will come again?”
“Yes, I know,” Mary replied gently to her uncle. “Do you think it is truly the Father’s will for him to go away again? Jesus is young. He needs more time with Joseph to learn his trade, and more time to grow into real manhood. I must pray about this. Our Heavenly Father will surely make Jesus’ path clear.”
Mary wondered if the real reason for her hesitancy was that it was indeed his time. Mature and sensitive for her thirty years, she was also a devoted mother. The reality of separating was hard to bear. One of the children with her, a young boy with golden curls, found a stone and threw it, laughing at a mongrel dog skulking around the stalls.
“James!” Mary reprimanded. “It is not right to hurt that poor dog. He has done nothing to you.”
The toddler girl at her knee whined, “Mama, I’m hungry.”
Mary looked plaintively into the gentleman’s face. “Uncle Joseph, perhaps we should talk about this later,” she said, sighing and smiling faintly.
“Yes,” he responded, relenting for now. “Bring the family to my home tonight for dinner.”
“But Jesus will be with us and I don’t want him to be troubled.”
“It’s fine. He will understand.”
Mary knew this was true. She nodded and, gathering her pouch, hurried the children home.
The house of Joseph of Arimathea was situated on the edge of town. It was always exciting for Jesus and his brother and sister to visit their great-uncle’s home because it was full of exotic souvenirs from his travels.
He was a successful merchant who had gone on trips as far as the northern islands across the sea and eastward into India. For most people, these places existed only in the realm of stories. Joseph’s house was more than just one of the largest Jewish homes in Nazareth. It was also an elegant showcase of his wares, often visited by the servants of Roman nobility who came to procure handsome furnishings from India or carved marble from Greece. Colorful silk tapestries draped the walls, and rainbows of rich silk fabrics were stacked in neat folds on benches and shelves. Best of all was the thick smell of spices, oils, and precious incense brought back from the markets of foreign lands.
Joseph was generous in giving sizable discounts to the Roman governor, his court in Jerusalem, and to his local representatives in Nazareth. After every journey, Joseph’s servants delivered beautiful gifts of gold, jewels, and silks along with an announcement of the arrival of special items that might interest the prefect. These Roman connections were priceless not only for favor in political matters, the least of which was taxes, but also—and most significantly—for the protection of the Roman army. While Joseph had his own servants, he also depended upon the Roman army to afford him safe passage through their lands, both in his own country and around Rome.
Many of Joseph’s Jewish friends criticized his familiarity with the Romans, but they could not criticize his devotion to God, nor his donations to the temple in Jerusalem and the synagogues elsewhere. Joseph of Arimathea was known for his piety, fairness, and generosity.
That evening, as the family walked through the labyrinth of twisted byways to reach the great man’s house, Jesus reflected on his childhood years under the merchant’s care. Joseph and Mary had entrusted this great-uncle with Jesus as a boy, allowing him to escort their child far from home across the sea. The adults agreed that the northern isles would be safer than the vicinities of Egypt or Galilee.
There, on those isles, Jesus had studied with the finest teachers of his time. Even now, the teen could still see himself as a tender seven-year-old, clutching Uncle Joseph’s hand while their ship plowed through rough seas. Though determined to study and prepare for his Father’s calling, he remembered tears burning his cheeks on the day Joseph of Arimathea returned home, leaving Jesus behind in the foreign land, brave yet bereft of all blood-kin.
In that moment, he could once again smell the porridge cooking in the thatched hut he shared with his elderly tutor. Jesus’ stomach churned as he thought of the burly boys who taunted him when he left the sanctity of the hut.
Finally, his body again felt the peace of self-control; the old man had taught him this through long and tedious lessons that were nevertheless enthralling observations of nature, the elements, the plants, animals, and people.
Every morning the tutor and his small, prodigious pupil worshipped the great Father. All day and long into the night they studied the skies, the wind, water, fire, earth, and its inhabitants great and small. Jesus learned to read the faces, emotions, thoughts, and motives of people around him. The boy’s mind became sharp and disciplined. Jesus’ intuition developed. When Joseph of Arimathea returned for Jesus several years later, he had found a changed boy.
Jesus had returned to Nazareth, continuing his study of Hebrew law, and in a year or two he was astounding the rabbis in the temple in Jerusalem with his knowledge and interpretation of the scriptures.
At last the small group arrived at their destination. Uncle Joseph himself opened wide the heavy wooden double doors with brass ornamentation.
There stood the family before him. Mary held little Miriam in her arms. Her husband stood next to her. He and Joseph of Arimathea were close friends with high regard for each other. Next to Joseph of Nazareth was little James and then Jesus, who stood almost as tall as his father.
“Welcome!” With outstretched arms, Joseph of Arimathea focused his attention on the three children. Jesus was almost fourteen, James was eight, and Miriam was three. “Who will find the hidden treasure?” he teased. Joseph bent over, smiling mischievously at Miriam and James.
A widower, “Uncle Joseph” cherished the three children as his own. He missed them in his long absences, and while careful not to provide them with an overabundance of gifts, this great-uncle took pleasure in delighting the children with special treats and games that he had devised on his trips.
Miriam seriously studied Uncle Joseph’s round face and pondered his question about finding the hidden treasure. As Joseph bent over, Miriam took her chubby little hands and placed them on each side of his silvery beard. The three adults and Jesus worked hard to stifle laughs when Miriam looked deeply into her uncle’s blue eyes and said slowly with somber inflection, “Uncle Joseph, our good Father shows us all things.”
Laughing, Joseph placed his hand on the top of her head. “Ah, my wise little Miriam,” he said as he crouched next to her, “how can I argue with the truth? All right.
I will be just like our good Father when you are seeking his will. I will give you clues to guide you!
“Come close,” he said to both James and Miriam. Joseph extended his arms to reach around the two and in a loud whisper announced, “This treasure is alive! His ancestor played mischief long ago in the Far East and was named Hanuman! You will find him with a mysterious stranger. And”–– he winked––“one of his favorite fruits is dates.” From the small bag he wore slung across his chest, Joseph took several dates and handed them to the two children. “Now, go find him!”
As the children ran through the familiar house, Uncle Joseph took Mary, Jesus, and Joseph into his main room. Servants came with basins of water for washing. The family members settled onto comfortable cushions around the low table while servants laid flat breads, spicy vegetables, cheese, nuts, and fruits before them. Uncle Joseph spread his hands over the food. “My blessed loved ones, let us pray. Creator of all, bless this food and this company. Guide us in the ways of Abraham to follow thy will. Strengthen the fire in our hearts. Reveal to us thy perfect plan for thy beloved son Jesus.”
Jesus fidgeted. Why the special prayer about me today? he wondered without asking out loud. He had the uncanny sense that something was about to happen. He stole a quizzical look at Uncle Joseph, then at his parents, and perceived uneasiness in their faces. Were they keeping something from him? Suddenly his appetite faded as he pondered the purpose of this family gathering.
Joseph continued, “So, my nephew, tell me about your studies. Are you still spending a great deal of time in the synagogue?”
“Yes, Uncle,” Jesus replied. “The rabbis allow me to come when I want to now, and I try to memorize the Torah and the teachings on the law when I am there.” The young man sensed his family would be concerned if he didn’t eat. He broke off a piece of bread. His long-fingered hands were at once strong and fine. He nibbled absently as he concentrated on the family members and waited for their conversation to unfold.
Like other men of his Jewish sect in Nazareth, Jesus wore a long white tunic. His face showed only the faintest traces of the beard that would soon frame his pleasant features. Jesus’ expressive eyes often flickered with joy and wisdom, and at times a sorrow that neither he nor anyone in his family could explain.
“That is excellent,” Joseph exclaimed. “And what do you know of your reputation? Do you know that you are the talk of our people?” he asked, smiling. “And of the Romans?” he added more seriously.
Jesus regarded his great-uncle and without pretense or pride, replied softly, “More people have been gathering when I explain my understanding of the scriptures.”
“And have you noticed any Roman guards in the crowds?” Joseph of Arimathea pressed.
Jesus shook his head from side to side. He asked himself why he was feeling more and more restless. It was clear Uncle Joseph had news that would affect him.
Joseph of Arimathea turned to Joseph and Mary. “I tell you, when I came back from my journey, I was accosted by the priests of the temple wanting to learn more about my nephew. The Romans who came to my home were also asking questions. Because he is such a gifted young man, some people are already proclaiming him to be the fulfillment of prophecy and the Messiah they are waiting for. This gives me grave concern for Jesus’ safety. My dear ones, in my opinion, there is no time to lose.
“Brother,” he addressed Mary’s husband, “you were wise to live in Egypt with your family in those early years. Upon your return to Nazareth, and with Jesus studying in the northern isles as a boy, you have all been able to blend in and live peacefully, until now.”
“Jesus,” Mary said, “perhaps it is time you worked more in your father’s business and learned his trade better. You must always have an honest way to support yourself while you do the Almighty’s work, even if someday you are meant to be a rabbi. By working more with your father now, there will be less attention paid toward you.”
Joseph took the hand of his young wife into his
own leathered one. His hair was silvery, yet his body was firm, tan, and strong. Joseph of Nazareth was a master craftsman. He designed intricate furnishings, temple accessories, and inlaid wooden chests with secret compartments, carefully wrought by his staff. His work was much demanded by nobility, even in Egypt. He often meditated alone in his chambers, contemplating prophecy and seeking answers through prayer and study of Hebrew law.
He looked into his wife’s face, at her expression of concern. Jesus was her first child, born of prophecy known to the secret Order of Melchizedek, a brotherhood and sisterhood of devout souls steeped in traditions of mysticism and seeking to follow God’s will.
Jesus was Mary’s only child for several years. The family knew his heritage and his lineage. Because of this, they had gone to great lengths to protect and educate him in the inner ways of the Father. They believed his role was to be a master teacher and prophet. What they didn’t know was how God’s plan would be revealed.
Jesus’ discomfort did not dissipate as the meal progressed. He remembered when he had once been separated from his parents during their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Then he had thought nothing of the crowded streets or of whether his mother and father would be concerned by his disappearance. He had been overcome by the command of his Heavenly Father to learn more and give more. When at last his parents found him with the rabbis in the temple, Jesus was oblivious to time, and to the need for food and rest. His response was, “I’m doing my Father’s work.”
Now Jesus’ sense of an inner command grew again, and it was caused not only by his great-uncle’s interrogation about his more recent activities. Jesus once again felt the burning drive to learn. It was an unquenchable thirst, and although he was powerless to dismiss the feeling, he was hesitant about breaking the news to his family—especially to his incomparable mother.
The young man wrestled with a desire to keep his thoughts to himself, but knew he must speak. He often marveled at his father’s diplomacy when dealing with wealthy customers. Joseph could explain his designs and prices with such ease and at just the right moment. The craftsman’s opinion was almost always accepted. Jesus, on the other hand, could never withhold a word he felt pressed to say, regardless of the possible effect on the hearer. But he feared tonight that his mother would be saddened. He felt the nervous rush of his heartbeat.
“Uncle,” Jesus said, breaking the silence, “although I have already studied and learned much, our Father is pressing me to find a still-greater teacher than those who have instructed me already. John and I have talked many late nights about our missions. It is time for me to go and find the one who can instruct and prepare me.”
There. It was out. Jesus sucked in a deep breath and felt his heart and stomach calm down.
Mary looked tenderly at her son. She knew from her own experience that the Creator worked in miraculous ways. If her son felt the Father’s prompting, she could not deny it. She must encourage Jesus to follow that inner direction. At the same time, Mary was also a wise mother, knowing it was her job as a loving parent to properly instruct and guide her boy. Gently she tested his resolve with her questions.
“Jesus, where will you find your teacher? Do you know who he is? And, our Father is the one who instructs us in all things. Do you need to seek him in faraway places? He is always here with you. There are many rabbis who can continue to teach you.
“And as for your cousin John, his fervor is strong. Only he can find God’s will for his own path, just as only you can listen to the Father for your own inner directions. Others, such as Uncle Joseph, may have ideas about travel to distant and dangerous lands, but only you can discern your Father’s calling.”
The three men and the woman at the table sat silently, lost in their thoughts.
Finally Joseph of Arimathea spoke.
“My niece, blessed of heaven, you have beheld the face of an angel, a messenger of the Most High. The Creator as a mother is so strong in your heart that even I feel her defense of her child through you.” He turned to Jesus. “Your mother is right. You and John both have holy missions. I believe John will prepare the hearts of men and women for greater understanding, and you, young man, will save them by showing true peace through the inner knowledge of the Almighty in their hearts. How, we do not know. But as your guardians, we all know you must be trained. The Father, with our help, will direct you in your course.”
“Yes,” said Mary calmly. And, still testing her son’s resolve, she added, “This is true. Do not forget there is wisdom right here in Nazareth and beyond in Jerusalem. Already you have been taught a great deal about the ways of devotion and union with the Father.”
Joseph of Nazareth nodded silently. He, too, was pained at the thought of Jesus’ leaving again. He had a faraway expression on his face, even though he looked only at a tapestry on the opposite wall. He said, “There are more pathways to God in the world than can be found in our little Nazareth or even Jerusalem. The Anointed One is to be a savior and way-shower for the world.”
Mary rose quietly from her cushion. She sighed. Her heart yearned to assist young Jesus in differentiating between the inner promptings of his Father and the outer influences that could result in wrong choices. Nevertheless, she knew this was his personal test of manhood and discernment. Mary also knew that only in prayer could she find solace and help for her son without being overly protective.
Still, her obedience to the Creator was intensely painful. Jesus was her beloved son. She had worked hard to train him lovingly in the Father’s will, teaching him the laws of her people, kindness, and soul-testing. The inner circle of the secret Order of Melchizedek believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that he had led them lifetimes ago in golden ages upon Earth, long lost to the memories of the people.
The Order believed Jesus had returned to lead all sons and daughters of the Most High. More than that, he would be an example: one man who reminded all people of the Creator’s spark burning in their own hearts. He would be the Anointed One––Christos, in the Greek language they were familiar with.
Moreover, they believed that Jesus’ cousin John was also a prophet walking the earth again, sent to awaken the hearts of the lost sheep who had forgotten their divine heritage. To the Order of Melchizedek, it was not an accident that John came at this time to prepare many for the coming of the Christ.
“I will find the children in the garden so they can have their dinner,” Mary said, bowing her head slightly as she left the room.
The children’s delighted laughter floated in from the garden as Mary passed along the lattice-covered walkway. The flowering jasmine spread its fragrance in the evening air. Mary stopped in the shadow of a portico that opened into the garden. Hidden in the shadows of the walkway, she sought the attunement of her heart with the Almighty. The palm of her right hand pressed over the gold medallion hanging from her neck. Mary was sensitive to the Signet, a symbol of the light within her. Her hand felt warmth come into it as she pictured the star with its dancing flames. The image danced to life as she imagined the light of the Mother rising from the base of her spine and the light of the Father descending from above to meet in her own heart.
She went deeper into this light and was transported to an altar within. Upon the inner altar of white and rosy light, there burned three living flames, gently pulsating. They intertwined, yet were distinct. One was a brilliant rosy pink, one was a dazzling yellow, and the last was an intense blue. Mary saw herself kneeling in adoration before this living presence of the Divine as she observed a silvery crystal light rising up from the plumes, reminding her of sweet incense on the temple altars.
Transfixed by her vision, Mary silently dropped to her knees, her right hand upon her heart and her left placed over it. “O Father-Mother, my blessed parents and light of all sons and daughters, what is your will for your beloved son? Teach me how to be strong and how to assist him in his mission, your mission.” As she spoke, Mary felt comforted and reassured of the path ahead.
The plumes of light in her heart intensified. She paused, absorbing the holy silence, and then felt the soft voice of the flame impressing upon her. Set your sight upon the victory of my son. Keep the vision immaculate, my daughter.
Mary bowed her head and paused a few more moments to allow this understanding from her Divine Father and Mother to settle within her before the children’s laughter in the garden brought her back from her reverie. She rose to her feet, turned the corner, and entered the garden.
“James!” she exclaimed. “What have you there?”
At first, the scene was confusing. In the light of an oil lamp sat James with a small furry creature settled contentedly on the top of his head. It looked like a tiny man. Its long tail hung down over James’ shoulder, and its little furry hands pulled apart a date.
The creature quickly savored the bites, its quizzical face looking back and forth between the date and Mary. Miriam sat cross-legged a few feet away, giggling delightedly.
Between the two children stood a small, bald man, scarcely five feet tall. He was naked except for his white loincloth. His dark-brown body looked bony and sinewy, his shoulders slightly stooped. Yet there was a happy disposition about him, and it was clear he enjoyed the delight of the children. The man looked up at Mary and bowed low several times while smiling broadly, revealing missing front teeth. As he bowed, his right hand was tucked in slightly at his waist while his left arm waved in the air at his side. His left hand was gnarled into a claw-like shape with stiff, useless fingers.
“I am Awa,” he said. “I come with my little friend, Hanuman.” He nodded toward the monkey. “We traveled with Master Joseph from my homeland in the East.” He beamed.
“Mama!” James exclaimed. “Look!” The young boy slowly stood from his cross-legged position with Hanuman still balancing on his head. He walked carefully toward his mother. Hanuman, having finished his date, turned a few times on James’ head, causing Miriam to laugh all the more. When James was three feet from his mother, Hanuman suddenly leaped to Mary’s shoulder.
“Oh!” she gasped, totally surprised yet quickly giving a smile to the friendly creature.
“Hanuman! Come here!” Awa commanded. Immediately the little monkey dropped down, scampered across the garden, jumped up onto Awa’s shoulder and peeked shyly from behind Awa’s neck. “So sorry,” Awa apologized with another round of little bows. Miriam and James’ laughter was joined by applause and laughs from behind Mary. She turned to see Jesus, her husband, and her uncle in the portico.
“Good show!” Joseph of Arimathea laughed as he clapped his hands. Stepping forward to join Mary, he said, “Awa is an excellent translator. Not only can he help me with trade, but he can also help Jesus as we travel through the East. I have already told him much about your son.”
Joseph sent the two little ones with the housekeeper to have their dinner and then continued, “Please tell my friends your story, Awa.”
Awa scratched his bald head and said, “There is not much to tell, Master. My family in the town of Benares was very poor. We are Sudras, laborers. My father collected refuse, my father’s father collected refuse, and I collected refuse. My father collected the refuse in a Brahman household. And so did his father’s father. Three times a day he took waste from the master’s big house to the faraway field. Some things he could save for our hut.
“One day my little sister, who was two, was caught under the wheels of an oxcart when the ox backed up suddenly. I was only five, but I tried to grab her before the cart came. I was too late. My foot was hurt, but I could still limp to go to my father. My father ran and took my little sister from the ground. Her chest was badly crushed, but he laid her under a tree and cried for help.
“Who was there to help? And why would they help this little one? In my country, people think, ‘She is only a girl. Better for the family to lose her than pay a dowry or have another mouth to feed.’ Still, we loved her. She was so sweet and beautiful. However, she breathed her last and my father brought her home.
“My mother was away from the hut, gathering scraps of cloth from the tailor to stuff pillows. My father went to find her. Mother came back to call upon the gods for my sister, but my father had to go back to the house of the Brahmans. I was small, but I had to go, too, and help with the slop buckets.
“I liked the house of the Brahman family, but we
were not allowed to look into their eyes, walk in their shadows, or look at their food, because that would be unclean. The Brahmans read the sacred words of the Vedas, but we could not read them, or even listen to them, for that would be unclean. I could not help it but to listen a little behind the walls. Sometimes I stopped to listen a lot, though that was dangerous. When you are small, people do not notice you so much.
“It was not a lucky day for my father. He was late because of my little sister’s death, and the Brahman’s daughter had become sick. The slop jar was full and smelly. The Brahman and his wife were very angry and upset. I think the daughter was very, very sick.” He nodded his head back and forth on his neck and clucked as if coming to a new revelation.
“‘Why have you not come?’ they shouted at my father. ‘You are lazy and stupid and you are causing our daughter’s death. Take this slop jar!’ they shouted at me. ‘We will deal with this stupid insect for his crimes.’ I was very afraid. I didn’t know what I should do.”
Though the story was fifty years in the past, Awa’s face winced in pain. He would have wrung his hands, but instead he grasped the stiff, claw-like fingers of his left hand.
“My father nodded to me, so I carefully picked up the jar. It was very heavy and I was shaking and still limping, but I did not spill a drop. I went outside and as I was leaving the courtyard, I heard the shouts of the Brahman, ‘Take this beast out behind the wall. I will be there myself.’ I could not turn around for I might accidentally look at the Brahman or his men and make it worse for my father. When I got behind the courtyard wall and was on my way to the field, I heard the lash and my father’s screams.
“I did my best to empty the pot and scrub it clean in a little stream, thinking the better I did, the better it would go for my father. I ran back and went the way of the servants in order to replace the slop jar. I called to a household servant, ‘Master, master! It is very, very clean!’ He looked at me, nodded, and told me to go home now, that I was too little and his master and mistress did not want to see me in the house again.
“I went home and told my mother what had happened. That night we found my father’s body behind the courtyard wall.”
Awa paused and took a breath. “And so,” he said, “it was very hard for my mother and me. She gathered rags and begged. I also begged and looked for work gathering refuse in the marketplace. The other refuse workers threatened me and said they already had this place for their own work. My mother became very thin. Her teeth and hair fell out, and finally she died when I was six. Some time later, a merchant said to me that his refuse worker had died so I could work for him, but that I was too little to be paid, so he would give me bread if I worked hard.
“That was a good job,” Awa said, smiling his toothless grin. “I could see and learn so many things in the marketplace, even while I was gathering refuse. I slept on the ground outside the merchant’s stall and all the time I worked, I listened. Over the years, I learned to speak the tongues of the traders who came to visit my master. They were different, and didn’t know our ways.
“But at last my master died and I was again without work. One of my friends in the marketplace was a beggar nearing the end of his life. He had this monkey, Hanuman, who was like his child. The monkey helped him beg.” Awa snapped his fingers. Furry little Hanuman jumped down from Awa’s shoulder, ran behind him and grabbed a wooden bowl, then ran to Mary, Joseph, and the others, holding up the bowl. Joseph of Nazareth laughed and dropped a small copper coin into it. Hanuman automatically and jerkingly bowed low and scampered back to Awa while the others laughed.
“You see,” said Awa, “he is a very good worker! That’s because––” here the story-teller paused and lowered his voice to a whisper feigning secrecy––“he is more than a monkey.”
Awa raised his voice for emphasis. “He is a nature spirit!” he proudly announced, and then added thoughtfully, “or maybe even a god in this furry form.”
The old man surveyed his audience, sensing disbelief. “It’s true, I tell you. Hanuman knows when there is danger long before I do. He warns me one way or another. His antics make people laugh. He lifts their hearts. No, this little monkey is not just a pet.” Awa’s emotions drove him on as he turned to the creature of his attention. “He is a hero, a warrior, a comic, a merchant! And he is my only son,” he concluded wistfully. “Hanuman even introduced me to Master Joseph by running to him in the marketplace. Who would do that but a nature spirit? That was a great day for me because Master Joseph asked me to work for him and told me much about Master Jesus, whom I call ‘Master Issa’ in my language.” With this comment, he bowed respectfully toward them all three times.
Mary, sitting on a low garden wall, asked, “What do you know about my son?”
With reverence, Awa replied, “I know that he has come from heaven and from ancient times to teach us and save us from our karma of dark days.”
Mary pondered the meaning of Awa’s strange words.
“Master Joseph told me,” he continued, “that Jesus must go to my land to find his teacher, prepare for his work, and speak to my people. I would serve him and Master Joseph with my life.”
Jesus observed Awa thoughtfully before asking, “And your hand? What happened to your left hand?”
“Oh this….” Awa looked down and continued. “One day when I was about thirty, I was discovered in the bushes outside the temple, listening to the Vedas, the sacred scriptures. In my bad luck, a Brahman came out to relieve himself and saw me. He was outraged, called the temple guards, and accused me of looking upon him in his privacy.
“They grabbed me and debated whether to kill me on the spot. The gods had mercy and one of those officials recognized me and said, ‘He is the refuse collector for a wealthy merchant who should keep a better watch over him. We will take his left hand and send him back. Let that be a lesson.’ So they immediately bound me and heated pine resin to boiling. With a big sword one of them struck at my hand with one blow, but it didn’t sever completely. ‘Never mind,’ another said, ‘it is a good enough cut to make it useless. Waste no more time on him but stop the bleeding and send him back to his master to keep him out of trouble.’
“When they plunged my almost-severed hand into the boiling resin, I passed out and knew nothing until I woke up behind my master’s stall with my hand and wrist bound in rags. When he saw I was awake, my master slapped my face and told me I had brought much shame upon his house and never to go near the temple again. He said I was lucky he did not throw me into the street like refuse.”
All were quiet.
Jesus’ thoughts swirled and he took a deep breath. Awa’s story had moved him profoundly. He felt impelled to be about his Father’s work.
The weight of his choice rested heavily upon him. Questions bounded into his mind. Should he travel with Uncle Joseph and leave behind his family? Would his mother grieve over his long absence? Would his journey to a distant land be futile, or would he find someone who could lead him even closer to his Father? Through all the painful questions, a persistent inner pull made him feel the only answer was to go forward.
Mary knew the difficult choice before her son. “Dear Lord,” she prayed silently, “truly you have set your flame into the hearts of many who by outer appearances are well disguised. Have you sent this one and his little friend to lead my son to find his teacher?”
When Jesus turned to her, Mary was not surprised, having become accustomed to her son’s answering her unspoken prayers.
“You are wise, Mother,” he said. “Indeed, the Creator places his flame within his children everywhere they are scattered, no matter what skins they wear. And then he calls them to their divine purposes.”
“Yes, my son,” Mary replied as she brought back
the vision that the soft voice had asked her to hold immaculate. “We honor all those who will help you in your quest.
“Come,” she said to Awa, “let us rejoin the children and all finish our dinner together.”
Suddenly there was a great pounding at the heavy front doors on the other side of the portico.
“The Messiah is in here!” they heard a woman scream. “I saw him go in!”
“Joseph of Arimathea!” male voices called, accompanied by more pounding. “Let us in! Introduce us to the one who has come to save us from the Romans and the Emperor!”
“Zealots,” Joseph of Arimathea whispered. “And noisy ones. What are they thinking? They believe the Messiah comes to save us from worldly politics!” He shook his head. “Well, do they want all the guards of Rome to come down upon Jesus and all of us? There is no time to lose. Jesus, Awa, and I must leave the city with my trading caravan tomorrow before sunrise. Pray that no guards have heard their cries tonight. Awa, do what you can to divert these people. Mary, gather the children now. You must all go out the back way. I will send my servant to accompany you home and come back for Jesus in the middle of the night.”
As they hurried away, Awa dropped his monkey down over the wall into the midst of the small crowd.
“What is it?” a voice cried in alarm. The group broke into a small circle around the chattering monkey. Awa opened the front double doors. The people were even more surprised to see this strange little brown-skinned man––with a crumpled hand, a toothless smile, wearing only a loincloth––greet them in the doorway to the house of Joseph of Arimathea.
“I am Awa,” he said in Aramaic, which the Jews spoke. He smiled and bowed. “I am the one you seek. Hanuman and I will save you from your troubles.” Awa snapped his fingers three times and Hanuman scampered up onto his shoulder.
Joseph of Arimathea appeared tall behind Awa. “This is my guest from the East,” he said. “I hope you don’t think he is going to save you from Rome. But you are welcome to come in, my friends, and he will certainly entertain you for the evening and make you forget about Rome for a while!”
The small group stood dumbfounded as Joseph stepped aside to make way for them to enter. Finally, blinking, one of the men said, “There must have been some mistake. Excuse us for bothering you, Master Joseph.” Turning to the others, he said, “Let’s go,” and they emptied into the quiet night muttering to one another about how Joseph of Arimathea seemed to become stranger with every passing day.
In the dark back alleys of Nazareth, the family of five and Joseph of Arimathea’s servant noiselessly passed through the city. Mary’s heart pounded. Jesus would leave before the sun came up. This mother did not know when or where she would ever see her son again. All but the little ones felt the poignancy of the impending separation, though they did not speak of it.
Mary once again mentally repeated the words that had entered her heart earlier in the evening. “Set your sight upon the victory of my son. Keep the vision immaculate, my daughter.” She checked her strong emotions before they could well up inside of her.
It would be seventeen years before Mary would once again embrace Jesus. Joseph of Nazareth would never see him again.