Monday, March 30, 2020
As We Know It - Chapters 28, 29 and 30
Jesus was holding a pint and looking extremely pleased with himself. He'd decided it would be a good idea to get Hamish on his own. Man to man... or, as close to that as he could achieve: deity to man. Singular. Deity to mankind would be a whole different ballgame and he really didn't want them all to have a pint in their hands if he ever attempted that. He wasn't even entirely sure he'd get away with referring to them as mankind anymore - it felt outdated given the direction the human race had gone. Personsapathetic might be more appropriate.
Hamish was also holding a pint and grinning broadly at how happy Jesus looked. It was like having a nephew or a God-child, excuse the pun, who had just turned 18 and you had the honour of taking him for his first pint. Jesus had sampled each of the ales Derek still had running before selecting the Doombar and leading Hamish over to a small table with two stools. Jesus was insisting on using a coaster and looked utterly delighted with proceedings.
Jesus had decided that he needed to hear from Hamish his own version of the issues in the Gilmore/Stewart household. He slightly suspected that Sarah was hiding something and before he got them all in a room together he wanted a bit of time with Hamish - he liked Hamish, and it was always interesting to talk to atheists. For him, it is a bit like you sitting down to a dinner party with someone who doesn't believe in people who read books.
"So..." Said Jesus, with a grin bounding back across his cheeks.
"So!" Said Hamish, mirroring the smile and wondering how much this looked like The Ring of Bells' first gay date.
"So, you proposed to Sarah?"
"I did." Said Hamish, and looked down at the table. Jesus was blunt.
"Really? I would have thought I should have done it years ago for it to be honourable in your opinion." Hamish tried to keep his tone chatty, he didn't want to seem accusatory - it was interesting to have the source here rather than a disciple. Once in an afterlife time experience.
"Times change. If you don't think religion moves with the years then you're a little stubborn. That's my opinion. I often wish the Bible had been a magazine rather than a book - it'd be a blog by now I suppose. The letters section would certainly have made more sense if it had been a magazine. The psalms could have been detachable... Hmm. I'm getting off topic, what I mean is it would have helped so much with keeping things up to date."
"So it's not set in stone?"
"Well, except the Commandments. Really, how hard is it for you lot to follow? The bits that are set in stone we literally set in stone. We just thought that was foolproof."
"I guess now I think about it. Yeah."
"So, back to the point. You proposed to Sarah?"
"And she said...?"
"She hadn't said anything. You know, when the world stopped. She hadn't said anything yet."
"How long had it been?"
"Since I asked?"
"I don't know... a few seconds?" Hamish felt squirmy, unsure where all this was going. He knew that his and Sarah's relationship had brought Jesus was here but he felt distinctly uncomfortable now he was actually having to discuss it.
"Were you expecting her to wait a few seconds before replying?" Jesus asked. Hamish faltered.
"Um, no. No, I wasn't really." He paused but Jesus remained silent so Hamish sallied forth into the conversation. "It's not like I was expecting her to leap into my arms and be overcome with excitement, Sarah's lower key than that. But, I did think she'd say yes instantly. I know she was going to say yes - I know she was. But, I suppose the pause was unexpected. But then the Apocalypse happened and that really messed with things. Maybe she wasn't going to say yes at all."
"She was." said Jesus, simply and swiftly. "You can tell. No, it's the pause I'm interested in."
"Right." Hamish sipped the foam on the top of his beer.
"Why do you think she paused?"
"Waiting for a better offer?" Joked Hamish. Jesus frowned. "I think it would have to do with her father. Has she told you about Frank? Her Dad?"
Jesus shook his head. Even this miniscule, so whiter than white it was bordering on transparent lie made his stomach churn.
"Frank, Sarah's father, doesn't seem to really approve of me. He, well, I think he doesn't like that I am black."
"I'm black - you know, coloured skin?"
"I thought you were Scottish." Jesus looked puzzled.
"I am. I was born and raised in Scotland, it's my mother - she's from Jamaica. How she swapped Jamaica for Edinburgh I don't know but she did and she met my Dad, who is Scottish, and white, and they had a family." Hamish felt like he was narrating a very poorly thought through children's book about the birds and the bees.
"Right." said Jesus, thoughtfully. "And that makes you black?"
"What? Well, yes, I mean - look at the colour of my skin... it's darker than everyone else here? Except you, obviously. Yes?" Hamish confusedly held out his forearm to show it to Jesus.
"Right. OK. That is good information. Put your arm away, no use showing it to me - I don't see colour. Don't look at me like that, I mean that literally. It turned out to be a side effect of squashing a God into a human body - you lose some strange things. I can't sneeze either but that is less helpful to a peace loving spectre than the inability to see race." Jesus giggled to himself conspiratorially and leant in towards Hamish, "Sometimes I daydream about being like one of those Apple geniuses, and downloading an upgrade into you lot where you can't see colour either! Wouldn't that be smart! Steve Jobs is my idol."
Hamish felt his spine chill - you got half a pint into Jesus and the all powerful thing really showed new dimensions. Hardly surprising, given he'd stopped the world over a moment's hesitation. What would have happened if she'd said no? Or, had he stopped it because she was going to and he didn't want to deal with that. Hamish swallowed.
"Yeah, that'd be useful!" he was far from convincing.
"So, you think Sarah paused because her father doesn't like you?"
"I don't know that he doesn't like me... I just think he has a slight issue with me, not that he's ever been rude or awful, but he's clearly not sold on me and, and Sarah picks up on that. She knows something is wrong. He just doesn't think of me as one of them." Getting these words and thoughts out was like trying to hold 50 pomegranate seeds in your mouth and recite Richard III backwards with a different regional accent for each character. Hamish picked his way awkwardly through the staccato sentences, his eyes fixed on Jesus; trying to mitigate the impact of his words.
"And you think it must be because you're black?" Jesus continued his questioning.
"What else could it be?"
"That you're Scottish?"
"Easy! Well, I suppose it might be..." Hamish laughed, "No, they have Scottish family. No, it's not that. He just... well, he says odd things sometimes. He once asked me what 'my sort of people' do for weddings, when Sarah and I had been together a few years. He says things about my upbringing and I overheard him ask Sarah once if the school I'd gone to had 'covered even the basics'. I mean... that's rude, isn't it? Maybe it's just ignorance... I suppose it usually is with this sort of thing. But, I think it's influenced Sarah. I suppose she just had to weigh up what marrying me would do to her relationship with her Dad."
Jesus was thoughtful. It certainly sounded as though Frank Gilmore might have something to do with the problem.
"Surely," Jesus countered, "By marrying you, Sarah is leaving her family behind? Shouldn't she have been making up her own mind?"
"Well, yes..." responded Hamish slowly, "But she's still going to see them every year and she's very close to her parents. Listen, I don't think she was going to say no. Do you? Are you supposed to make sure we get married? If she wasn't going to say yes then why would she be staying here now?"
"I'm here because there shouldn't have been a hesitation. This should have been the simplest situation in the world. I happened to have been paying attention, something felt wrong, I looked a little closer and I saw a problem that seemed ludicrous. If you two had a hesitation, then someone else would have had a screaming row and if something as perfect as your love wasn't flawless then the worst problems have no chance. If I can't make this village work, then everywhere else is doomed."
A crack of lightning and roll of thunder wouldn't have seemed out of place to Hamish in the pause that followed. If Hugh Grant had been playing his role then he'd have had an awkward quip on the tip of his tongue ready to go, but unfortunately the weather wasn't on the payroll and neither was Hugh.
"Right." Said Hamish, wondering if 'What Would Hugh Do?' bracelets could catch on amongst men left floundering by the recent migration to metrosexuality. "Where do we go from here then?"
"I've invited Frank and Katherine down to Norton Fitzwarren." Jesus polished off the rest of his beer and swung his legs round the stool to go and fetch another.
"How does that work? With the pausing?" Asked Hamish, "There's no electricity or anything... is the whole country stuck like we are? Does everyone know the world's paused?"
"Yes." Said Jesus, pointing to the Doombar pump and winking at a delighted Derek. Some landlords decorated their pubs with the C-Listers who'd deigned to sip a Chardonnay, the Ring of Bells would have a real star on the wall. "I've paused everyone, I thought it would be simpler, but, everyone else is a little more relaxed about it. I've let a peace settle on most places."
"Yes. There's a rather lovely little trick that I have at my disposal where I can lay a peace across a place. It has a beautiful effect on humans - it makes you so serene and clear about things. I use it quite a lot over Christmasses for groups of people, I try to get it to the 3rd or 4th hour after a new baby has been born, it once worked absolutely heart breakingly during what you refer to as the 2nd World War, it's one of my favourite parts of the job. As it is, I'm using it over the rest of the world to keep things in a state of happiness until I decide what we're doing here."
"Right. And, Frank and Katherine... what do they know?"
"They just have a desire to get to their little girl. It's quite natural. I left them out of the peace to see what they would do and I am just delighted that this was their inclination. It means we're off to a great start."
"But they don't know that it's anything to do with Sarah and me?"
"No. Not as yet. Human parents can struggle a little with their children being involved in saving the human race. Mary was alright but Joseph really struggled sometimes, personally I always felt he had a rough old ride of it. Solid chap."
"Wow, so, when they get here... what then? Are you planning for us to have it out with them face to face?"
"Not quite," replied Jesus, "I've planned a series of elaborate physical and mental tasks for you all to participate in. You'll be working in teams, in the specially built arena I've had created called the Diamond Labyrinth. And the shell suits should be arriving tomorrow."
Hamish blinked three times in rapid succession. Jesus looked disappointed.
"You're not very good at getting jokes, are you?" sulked the deity. "Yes, you'll be having a chat. But if that doesn't achieve the results I'm looking for then I really can source shell suits."
"I'm not joking."
This was, what Frank termed, ‘a bloody long walk’ and he and Katherine were feeling the strain of the worry and the miles beneath their feet. They’d not spoken for the last 8 miles and neither of them had noticed.
Katherine walked a little way ahead of Frank, twisting the cuff of her coat up in her right hand and letting it fall loose again. She was humming a tune that alternated between Fleetwood Mac’s Gypsy and something from an advert she didn’t like. Every time the advert crept back in she vehemently forced Gypsy back onto her lips in an effort to prove to herself that advertising execs weren’t that clever and she could certainly best them if she put her mind to it.
Frank was about 4 steps behind her and his mind was vaguely chewing over the question of which advert the tune was from. He was also singing the lyrics to an Alison Krauss song over the top of Katherine’s rendition of Gypsy, but it was keeping him happy. He was pretty sure it was a DFS advert. To Frank, it felt like roughly 75% of the adverts he saw were for DFS which was a surprise given that most people had a maximum of 2 sofas and rarely changed them. He would have thought it much more likely that you’d see shoe adverts at a greater frequency. But that hadn’t been his experience with advertising prior to the apocalypse and he didn’t have the capacity to challenge his data now that the electricity had finished.
The apocalypse had been very surreal so far for Frank and Katherine. Every one in their village had taken it pretty well and seemed to be confident it would play itself out like an unseasonal weather system if they gave it enough time and board games. Frank and Katherine had been privately unsure. After a week of nodding and smiling and pretending to the outside world that they were enjoying the cessation of the daily grind, they’d sat down on their only sofa and decided they needed to get to Sarah.
“I feel a very powerful urge to be near her.” Said Katherine, “I feel very maternal.”
“Righto.” replied Frank.
“Do you?” Said Katherine.
“Feel maternal?” asked Frank, “Certainly not.”
“No… feel like we should go to her?”
“Well, yes. Yes, I suppose I do.”
“I certainly do,” said Katherine, dreamily. “I feel like a lioness. I feel like Meryl Streep or Glenn Close in one of their films. They’d have to play me, if this was a film, given the way I’m feeling at the moment.”
Frank sighed and let Katherine’s tendency for melodrama wash over him. He’d agreed to leave they’d take a day to pack up, get ready and prepared, and they’d head off for Norton Fitzwarren. He was very pleased to be going. It didn’t do for him to look too enthusiastic, it wasn’t how men were supposed to be, but he was very glad to be heading for his daughter. He felt confident in his heart that she was safe, but he wanted to be there… just in case.
He had not coped well with ageing as a father. As a husband, it had felt right; he’d aged with Katherine. As a father, he’d felt panicked and unsettled by his advancing years. He didn’t like being a Dad who was weakening; Dads were supposed to be invincible, a constant source of comfort and security. He felt outdated, nervous, superfluous. Sarah had always been so clever and thoughtful, he’d watched cautiously as she’d passed by his level of intellect and continued travelling. He was thrilled that she’d become such a woman; but it left him unsure of what else he could do for her besides be a source of worry and embarrassment.
Of course, he’d never mentioned any of this to anyone; Frank thanked God every day that no one expected a man of his generation to be able to locate his emotions, let alone elaborate on them. When she’d met Hamish he’d been relieved, to a certain extent, that she had someone to take care of her. But he couldn’t help the pangs of disappointment that Hamish wasn’t, well, a little more like himself. He’d tried not to interfere but it baffled him that Sarah could see a future for the two of them given their different backgrounds. Was she in denial?
He ploughed on behind Katherine, step after step, mile after mile, Gypsy after sofa theme, hill after hill. They walked on in comfortable silence until Katherine suddenly stopped in the middle of a roundabout.
“Wait a minute… how will we know when we get there?”
“What?” Frank caught up with her.
“How will we know when we get there?”
“There’ll be a sign, of course.”
“No, not Norton Fitzwarren,” Katherine tutted, “Sarah’s house. We’ve never been there. We won’t know what it looks like.”
“We’ll ask someone.”
“What if there isn’t anyone to ask? They might be dead.”
“Why would they be dead?” Frank quizzed.
“Because it’s the end of the world.”
“No one was dead at our place.”
“True. But we can’t ask for directions to our own daughter’s house. What would people think?”
“They’d think it was our first visit… because it is.” Frank was beginning to realise what was panicking Katherine and he didn’t really want to deal with it until he’d had time to chew the problem over.
“But it shouldn’t be. They’ve lived there for 4 years.”
“Well, the person we ask isn’t to know that. It’ll be fine.” Frank tried to start walking again but Katherine pulled his arm back.
“I expect they might. It’s not a big village, is it? I expect they’ll know and wonder why we’ve never visited.”
“Katherine, really, love, it doesn’t matter that we’ve not visited. It’s not like we haven’t seen her for 4 years, it’s just that we’ve not been to the house. Let’s keep walking.”
“What are we going to tell them? I don’t even know why we haven’t been. Seems silly now I’m thinking about it.” Katherine’s tummy felt acidic and turbulent. “Why haven’t we been, Frank?”
“I don’t know, Katherine, we just haven’t. Not had an occasion for it just yet. But we’re going now and that’s the main thing. When it comes down to it, we’re doing what we need to. Come on Katherine, we need to keep moving.”
“Oh I am glad there are no wolves in England.” Said Katherine and Frank heaved a sigh of relief that his wife’s ever flighty attention span had moved on. They walked on, still thinking, still humming, still worried.
The Vicar felt like he was meeting up with a long lost ex from a relationship that had ended rather acrimoniously. He sat on Dorothy Pewter’s Memorial Bench (Because She Loved It Here) on the village green and twiddled his thumbs nervously.
Jesus crunched along the path on his way to the green to meet the vicar, with a frown on his face. He had decided to be very forthcoming with the full story to the vicar and it was still troubling him as to whether this was a good decision.
The bench offered a lovely view of the village green, which sat just to the south of the village’s main stay of residences. It was reasonably bare but that seemed to be how the villager’s had liked it over the years. Various proposals had gone in at different times for slides, swings and aerobics machines that could happily rust away beneath a lacklustre veneer of graffiti. They had all been rejected as people realised that actually what they liked was the space. Dogs much older than Mr Baxter’s Rufus had scarred the face of the green across the years with temporary unspeakable blemishes. The blankness of the green was it’s strength as far as the imaginations of Norton Fitzwarren were concerned. The youths of a century had transformed it in the blink of an eye from a green to Lords, to the moon, to the space shuttle yard that launched the intrepid explorers to the moon it was about to become. That green had held castles, forts, ramshackle hamlets, science laboratories and cattle ranches. It had seen greater battles than the town of Hastings and more complicated plots than some reality television shows. It was about to see something else.
It wasn’t that Jesus had lied to anyone or deliberately evaded any conversations, it was just that there were certain parts of certain things that he hadn’t volunteered and therefore hadn’t really had to explain. He decided that if anyone deserved to know, and hopefully comprehend, it was the vicar. A man who had given his entire life over to trusting Jesus, to the point where he had even foresaken his own name, almost unnoticeably becoming the only person in this entire book whose name you don’t know. Even Mr Baxter’s dog is known as Rufus, and yet the vicar… It was a curious thing. If you chose to label any other character by their profession it would be an interesting device you had selected to spice things up or say something about them as a person. Let’s pretend there are no obvious legal problems with having a character called The Doctor who was never named, it would be a device that the author was using to put up boundaries between The Doctor and the reader. But call the Vicar “the Vicar” and no one blinks an eye, you are just making use of boundaries well established by the life they already lead.
The vicar had come plain clothed to his rendez-vous with Jesus. As he’d dressed that morning, humming to himself in a way that suggested his motor functions were not entirely linked to his passage of thought, he’d got dressed to the point of shoes when he’d caught sight of himself in the mirror and stopped to stand up straight and take a better look. The usual comfort he found in his dog collar was missing and his chosen black jumper looked sombre and costume like. Was there really any need to be dressing up like a vicar to go and see Jesus? He usually felt like his attire was as much for the benefit of his villagers as himself - it was far easier to talk about awkward subjects or ask for advice to someone who didn’t look regular; someone who was clad for moral authority. His collar was the desk he would have sat behind had he been a bank manager. It provided distance, and clarity as to his motives. The vicar stood looking at his reflection and realised he didn’t want to be the vicar today. He looked himself in the glassy eyes and pulled the collar out, then crossed his arms over himself and tugged his jumper up using both arms over his head. It came off inside out and he turned it back the right way and folded it up. He unhooked the belt on his black trousers and loosened it off, allowing him access to the fly which he undid and shook his trousers down to his feet. He sat on the edge of his bed and pulled the trousers entirely off. His reflection was sitting in a white v neck tshirt and boxer shorts looking at his socked feet on the carpet.
The walk from Sarah and Hamish’s to the village green was by no means a long walk but it was one of the longer ones you could make whilst remaining in Norton Fitzwarren. Jesus was eking it out as much as possible so that he could have his mind ready for meeting the vicar. He knew things had so far been awkward and he felt sad and a little ashamed about that. He wanted to make it up to the vicar if he could.
Jeans, the vicar decided, he wanted to wear jeans. He wanted to go as himself. All of the teachings about not needing idols and symbols, churches and clothing seemed a lot more understandable when Jesus was here. All you needed was Jesus. He felt a small pang of failure in himself that it had taken Jesus physically arriving to make the vicar certain that Jesus was actually here. Shouldn’t he have always felt this way? This sure and connected. He opened his chest of drawers for his sole pair of jeans as the failure turned to anger… how could he have remained this sure when there had never been anything concrete? Nothing at all. Nothing in exchange for all these years of praise and service and total adoration.
“It has to be about faith” said Jesus, looking earnestly at Ben. “If it’s not about faith then I truly believe there’s no point.”
Ben thought silently and carefully, “I understand, I think. But, I don’t always. Sometimes I don’t understand why you have to make it so hard.”
“Because…” Jesus summoned every ounce of eloquence in his body to do justice to Ben’s eager eyes, “Because my hope for you all was that you would want to be the best you could be. If I am a certainty then you’re no longer doing it because you believe in what I mean; you’re doing it because of fear.”
“Yes. You’re right. As ever.”
“Why does that make you sad?”
“Because it has lead to a steady decline in people who follow you… it’s lead to misappropriation of your teachings, anger at you for your absence, mockery of your children and it’s been a slow tread towards religious apathy.” Ben sighed.
“But, do you think humans have got worse, overall?” Jesus countered gently.
“Do they murder more? Are they becoming degenerates? Has hedonism won?”
“I wouldn’t say so…” Said Ben, thoughtfully, “I don’t think we’re perfect but I don’t think things are getting worse. Generally...” he trod carefully, “I’d say we’re doing better.” His face almost seemed to be asking Jesus for confirmation that he was right.
“I agree.” said Jesus, his mouth wearing a solemn smile.
“So?” asked Ben.
“So, that’s a good thing. Isn’t it?” said Jesus.
“What does it matter to me if they’re doing it my name or because they just want to do it? I’m no egomaniac. I have said it a hundred times and I will say it a hundred more if I have to - you are all my children and I take pride in your achievements whether you credit me or not. The earth was my creation and I gave it over to mankind to have as their own. It’s not a loan. To dictate the way you ran it would be a huge hypocrisy and would make the whole thing irrelevant. If you believe in me, it has to be about faith. I won’t be a dictator.”
Silence fell on the bench. Easy silence, though, not the jagged silence that had reigned when Jesus had first paced up to the bench and sat down beside the vicar.
“Good morning.” Jesus had said. “Lovely spot”
Somewhere, unseen, Dorothy Pewter beamed.
“Good morning, I wonder if I could invite you to call me Ben?” asked the vicar.
Jesus was sensing a pattern with his one on one meetings with the villagers.
“Of course,” he replied, “Ben. A fine name. I see you have dispensed with your collar? I hope I’m not going to have to request a P45 for you after this morning?” he chuckled a little to show Ben he was joking.
“Ha!” said Ben, and he very much did say it - let me make it clear it was a man saying ‘Ha!’ rather than a man laughing. Ben was far too uncomfortable to be laughing at anything, let alone that. “Not in the slightest. I hope you’ll understand what I mean if I say I wanted to meet you today as myself. Rather than as my job. I rather think my job has become a little redundant since you arrived.”
“I was afraid you might feel like that.”
Ben smiled sadly.
“I won’t be here forever.” Jesus said.
“Really?” Ben looked up at him.
“Don’t sound too pleased!” Joked Jesus.
“No, no… I’m not at all. Where will you be going? When?”
“I’ll be going… back. Back to being my usual self. As to when, I’m not sure… not long. A week? Maybe more, maybe less. That depends on others.” He eyed Ben to see how much he had sussed out, waited to hear if he would take the bait.
“Sarah and Hamish?” he said, chomping down on the hook and waiting.
“Yes,” replied Jesus. “Yes, and Sarah’s parents.”
“I’ve never met them. I hear they live a little way from here?”
“They do indeed. They are coming here, though. To help Sarah and Hamish straighten out a few personal issues.”
Ben didn’t want to pry into Sarah and Hamish’s relationship but he felt like that might be where Jesus was prompting him to go. Sarah had certainly never mentioned to him in his role as vicar that she might need advice or a shoulder to, well not cry on - that wasn’t very Sarah, but a shoulder to talk to perhaps.
“I do hope they’ll be ok.” Ben decided on as an appropriate response that didn’t entirely close up the thread of conversation should Jesus want to continue down that route.
“I have faith that they will. Before I leave I need there to be no barriers between them and a happy marriage.”
Ben’s face lit up, “Is there a wedding on the cards between them? Oh what wonderful news.” He felt a pang of sadness that he hadn’t been one of the first to know, and then tried to remind himself that he wasn’t competing with Jesus. However much it might feel that way. Jesus was his reason, not his equal.
“The night the world paused,” Jesus began, and stopped to let the word ‘pause’ sink in for Ben - he could come back to that later if necessary, “Hamish had just proposed to Sarah. She hesitated. The tiniest moment of uncertainty crossed her mind about whether she could marry him. I felt it and I thought I had to do something. So, I created this current condition in which I can visit the earth and put things right between them.”
“May I ask why she hesitated? I’m assuming you know?”
“I do indeed know. She hesitated a moment wondering whether her parents could ever truly approve of their marriage, and as a consequence of that uncertainty, could her marriage ever be truly perfect.”
Ben let it sink in. “Do Sarah’s parents have an issue with Hamish’s, er, race?”
“All the evidence seems to point that way.” was Jesus’ downcast response, “It’s ever so disappointing. They are the perfect Christians in many, many ways - they rarely miss a service. They truly live to worship. But I wonder how they could have come so far astray on this point. How does it keep happening?”
Ben knew exactly what he meant. It was a hard job to teach the rules of the church and keep everyone firmly on the right path without straying down terrifying avenues. It was the conundrum of his life that the really very simple set of religious instructions he followed were so easily confused with what seemed to him the polar opposite teachings. How did ‘Love thy neighbour’ become ‘Fear Islam’? How did ‘Honour your father and your mother’ become ‘Women are worse’?
“I can see why that would make Sarah pull up short. She is a very faithful woman - how does one choose between a husband and a parent?”
“So you have come down to fix them… that’s a huge intervention for a minor point.”
“Why minor?” Jesus quizzed.
“Well, it’s one relationship out of millions… unless, is there something special about Sarah and Hamish’s unity?” Visions of carpenters and donkeys flashed before his eyes.
“No more special than any other relationship.” said Jesus, “I need to know that this one can be ironed out. I think, in many ways, this little family is a microcosm of some enormous issues plaguing my earth, and if I can’t fix them here then I fear I’m not going to win overall.”
“But why not fix the whole thing while you’re at it? Why not appear in a blaze of light and shock and awe the world into listening?” asked Ben eagerly, feeling the adrenaline pump through him at the thought of being involved in a biblical experience of old. He fervently wished he’d already started growing his beard for the occasion.
“No, that’s not how I want to play it… I don’t mind revealing myself here and now where I know I can erase myself again easily. But, overall, I can’t keep manhandling man into position.”
Ben thought, “But why not? You are God. We are your vessels, we’re yours to do with as you wish… why not get the best from us?”
“It has to be about faith” said Jesus, looking earnestly at Ben. “If it’s not about faith then I truly believe there’s no point.”
And then you know the next bit, right up until Jesus says “Blah blah blah… If you believe in me, it has to be about faith. I won’t be a dictator.”
And at that point Ben asked a question supremely helpful to plot development, which was:
“Well what does this intervention count as then? How are you going to fix Sarah and Hamish without dictating and celestially overruling the way their human intentions were leading them?”
Jesus grinned, really enjoying Ben’s company. “Yes, it’s going to be delicate, isn’t it? I think I’ve decided I don’t mind playing a part as long as the part I play is a human one.” He looked triumphant.
“Keep going…” said Ben, “I’m afraid I’ll need a little more than that!”
“Well, I have justified my intervention on two counts: 1) Whilst I am here I have limited my abilities to purely human ones. I cannot read minds, I cannot change your behaviours and I have only the 6 senses that humans are permitted.”
“Oh! 6? Really? Well you really called that one didn’t you Bruce…” Ben muttered, but Jesus cannoned on,
“I have reasoned with myself that intervening as a human is a justifiable interaction. It’s what I started to do last time and then found myself going down a slippery slope with miracles and things.” He shuddered as his eyes flicked to the cross pendant around Ben’s neck. Morbid things.
“But then why come back as you at all? Why not come back anonymous and do it as a proper person? Not that you’re not a proper person, just, you know… you’re you.”
“Well, partly because of count number two, and partly because it is practically impossible for people not to know it’s me. Who and what I am is more than a physical form… I cannot disguise myself in the traditional sense because the reality of who and what I am is bigger than flesh and blood. Even having given myself a human body to inhabit, I am still not bound by the limitations that mankind are in their skins. My, er, appearance is totally unique to… to each and every one of you.”
Ben nodded. He was the only person in the village to have guessed that so far. When Jesus had turned up and been the spitting image of the older brother Ben had lost at the age of 14, he’d had a lot to contend with. First he’d had to accept within himself that he really had done that to Michael’s memory, and secondly he’d earned peace knowing Jesus was not angry. It was quite natural, perhaps.
“So what is count number two?” asked Ben.
“After I leave here this time, I will leave no memory or trace of my visit. When I go, I am gone and whatever state your belief in me is in, it will have no proof of my existence to sustain it once I am gone. The last thing I need is for an entire village to have boundless, undeniable enthusiasm for the truth of my existence and for that to catalyst into some kind of cult once other people find a way to harness that energy. I’ve been there before. So, when I go - I am gone. If you truly want to believe in me then you will be able to, but there will be those among the village who have remained sceptical within my presence and will therefore forget within minutes that I was real and go back to the way they were. It’s more natural that way.”
“And you’re happy with that?”
“Oh, I’d love to have you all on board. But it has to be about faith.”
“So, you’re human and I’ll lose you?”
“I always have been and you never will.”