Thursday, December 11, 2008

Secundus among the Franks

Beloved, as you commanded, I write as myself. I hope this letter is not too long for you that you will pass by it too quickly.

The first two days on the top of the world with you and your loyal Frankish troops were such an experience. The space was so free I almost felt the fear of faithlessness as if Celtic mauraders might be lurking in the woods. Not that I was not under Rome's protection, nor was there failure of order under my estate and its business. But I had to trust your rhythms and reconnaisance rather than my familiar ways. And the coastlands are well subdued and well watered from the aquifer you and your troop have constructed.

But my ways or yours, I could not help but reflect that there is no such protection - no Rome, no business, no hearth - between the Most High and me. And I thought I knew! Or at least that I was known. And I am, but still I knew the pity expressed by that pair of psalms - there they feared fear where no fear was.

I, Secundus, realize that I may not be able to complete what I have undertaken. Someone greater than I, Parvule, may have to complete the translation of the Gospel for you. Latin is my fourth tongue and I feel very awkward in it. (You will remember that I was born in Palestine just prior to the great destruction. My sister taught me Aramaic by signs, then Hebrew by writing, then Greek by touch. As you know, when I first met you and Gaius, our patron, my ears were not yet open. Not till Prima died did I gain my outer hearing.)

I learned Latin in writing from Gaius before his death when the estate passed to my father. When my ears became unstopped, I had to learn it all again. How strange I sounded to those born with hearing, mixing my ae's and ah's and with missing or additional h's everywhere.

Beloved, it was good to visit you in the high places. I feel confident that you will not forget where we started and that you will preserve the pages I have delivered you on this trip, for I am found as one with you by the Spirit that we together might live to God through the one who died.

I remember now with pleasure the view from your barracks, row upon row of hills in the bright sun, half-circles of the great sea in the distance - too bright to look at. The mornings cold, leaving frost on the trail to the source, the sunrise - direct orange in the face - emerging suddenly over the crisp horizon.

What a wind when we first arrived. My guide and I wondered if I, hobbling with my support, could stand its majesty bending the trees to bow in worship under its gusts. I am glad it calmed. The afternoons were so warm one scarcely needed covering. I was glad for the warmth of your dwelling in the evenings.

My return to Greece from Fraeius was uneventful. Not so my descent to that port without my guide. From Mons to Fraeius, the very passage you know so well and the destination some 18 miles away that can be seen from the hill, was filled with foreboding. It took us two days and I constantly missed my guide that had been assigned to me so generously for the way up. I do hope she has recovered from her sudden illness. Without her, I was treated sometime most shamelessly. If only they had heard the phrase, be not inhospitable to strangers. For though I am no angel, known or unknown, we do represent Christ in the flesh for them. And it is not an angel being entertained but God himself in this bridal aspect. But these were small things - and I count them as nothing.

Fraeius is so similar to New Corinth, both founded within a few years of each other, more than 150 years ago by Julius Caesar. Our ships met me as planned and we returned with a brief stop at Ostia and the new Pompeii, a city not yet 40 and so tiny compared with its predessor where Gaius in time past rescued Artemis and the young Titus Vetti.

The glass lamp holder which your friend made for us with his hot breath now adorns our scriptorium adding a touch of blue to our red-brown scrolls and yellowed codices - a rarety indeed.

The older I get, Beloved, the more tender my metaphors become. Gaius had a similar tendency. I have here his notes to you from prison. I wonder, now that you have learned letters, how you can read them for they are so complete in their attempt to portray our Lord's love - sparing nothing in attributing glory to his love for you and your sweetness to him. It was not easy for him so to learn Christ. It has not been easy for you either. Marcellus, unknowingly the agent of Christ, did well to find you a remote posting - such a beautiful part of the world.

Christ is the same everywhere, here in Corinth as in Mons and Fraeius, whether one knows him or not, before the birth of Jesus or after. But think 'thank you' or 'help' and he is with us. There is no need for sacrifice, only the inner ear. My outer ear was blocked, but Prima opened my inner ear when I was yet knee-height. We were fortunate, being raised in the Hebrew tradition, to know their hope through Torah, Psalms, and Prophets. The word is not hard to hear - in Torah, the anointed word to Moses, in the Psalms, the anointing word to David, and in the Prophets, the word of anointing on the mouthpiece to the whole people.

Still they could not know how fullness would come to be: not just a priest anointed but an Anointing High Priest of the greater order of Melchizedek to whom Levi paid tithes while still in the third generation of his father's loins. Not just a prophet with anointing word, but the Word himself learning self-expression in a body like ours and then too in our bodies. Let the heart pay attention and disregard its own self-delusion and arrogance. Not just a king as anointed son, but the Son as King anointed without measure and spending in full for the people - not the people having to spend in full for the king. Not just a shepherd but the Shepherd King of Israel, the Lord himself. So the shepherds of Bethlehem were able to hear the wonders spoken of by the angel. He reveals the name Jesus to Mary but the angels reveal the universal hope of the just King, Christ the Lord, to the shepherds of the field and to all others of low or high degree - as the psalm of David announces.

What a ransom! Who can pay the ransom for his friend? That one can and did exactly as David prophesied in that same psalm. This Christ - of Abraham, of Moses, of Levi, of David, of Jeremiah - is the same to whom we turn with our thank-you today. So he is able to save those who call on him. And so in helping and giving of ourselves, we, his body, share his ministry. This is no mistral wind enforcing prostration from trees, nor have we hot breath blown into our glass without our permission, but this Spirit, to whom we are being fully opened, we adore with the same love he has given to us.

One must apply oneself to a little study to hear with greater Acuity - but it is not hard to say 'help' or 'thank-you' and stop to listen. He himself answers every call. Just consider the shades of green, white, gold, and blue when you raise your eyes and contemplate the ranges of hills between you and the great sea. Even as I lift my eyes and see the Gulf of Corinth and the hills beyond, grey stone, green woods, blue sky, and brighter as I imagine the boats sent out today to be dragged over the isthmus on their way to Macedonia and Ephesus. By the time you get this letter they will be back - at least so I hope - with trades completed, brokerage paid, and a reasonable profit for wages on the estate. Next time I will accompany them and see if we can go as far to the east as I was with you in the west - perhaps even to bring back gold from Colchis to this city of Jason.

As you know, Gaius did not allow slavery on the estate after his freedom in Christ. Such earned him the emperor's wrath (especially since it also earned my father his freedom and the estate by inheritance.) Nero, Vespasian, and Titus put up with Gaius, but Domitian wanted him out of the way as a bad example for business in the empire. It could be that Trajan finds me similarly annoying, but he still thinks I am deaf and so continues to pity me. Perhaps I will outlive him yet.

Parvule, I will bring this letter to a close with the remembrance of the blessing we shared. Continue with those in your company to eat and drink this Christ and to find your strength in our prophet, priest, shepherd King who has found our price in himself and assured our redemption by his Spirit's presence in us.

Editor's notes. For Gaius' letters to Parvulus see here. The psalm noted is Psalm 49.

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