Christ willed himself free of the cross and spread havoc among the frightened soldiers guarding its base. He hurled a centurion against the foot of the cross, trumpeted imprecations at the jeering throng come to extol his suffering, dug clods of earth with his hands and heaved them at the backs of the now fleeing figures. Behind him, the battered centurion raised his spear to hurl at him. Christ raised his hand to smite, then turned it softly and instead spread forgetfulness across the legionnaire’s mind.
Where were his disciples? They had cringed and hidden away. He looked at the holes in his hands and feet and bid them heal. They healed but stung, a prickling reminder. He wore only a loincloth, stained with blood from the wound in his side. He bid the wound heal. The wound healed, the blood fled his loincloth. The few remainders of the crowd separated like Moses’ sea as he walked forward, head down, toward the streets of Jerusalem. Stragglers followed. Most stayed behind to watch the bracketed thieves curse existence and breathe their last.
Dust welled over him from the hot wind. Those following dissipated one by one or family by family to their homes, shaking their heads at the viewed unlikelihood. Others who passed in the street stared in confusion at his bloodstained body and his loincloth. He saw that he should wear a burnous such as theirs to cover their concerns. He willed one into existence and as quickly obliterated it. No! He must live like them now, become them to see why they might be worth saving. “I can save no one if I’m dead,” he called to his father. His father answered nothing.
He passed a stall where fruit well past its prime warred in odor with ointments claiming to heal all manner of illness. “Just stink it to oblivion,” Christ muttered. He stopped at a table heaped with clothing. “I want a garment.” The merchant, short, stocky, showed little immediate interest in making a sale. He spread his hands, ”I have many garments, what form would you prefer?” “A standard covering, what anyone of no concern would wear.” The merchant pointed to a a grayed bedraggle of cloth. “This.”
“I’ll take it.” “Fifteen shekels.” Christ willed the coins into his hand and held them out. The merchant refused the offer. “What is the problem?” “You did not haggle, and now you perform magic for payment. Your coins will disappear once you leave.” “They are real coins, solid metal, take them and give me the cloth.” The merchant registered the fury in Christ’s eyes and exchanged the garment for the coins, which lay heavy and familiar in his hand. As Christ turned away, he tested one with his teeth.
Along a side street where no one walked, the undoored openings of the houses registered despair. “They don’t know how to live, to build.” He felt a mental tug… his father wielding a bolt of remonstration? Christ waves his hand at the sky. ”You’re up there, I’m down here. You sent me. Don’t berate me.”
A low wail floated from one of the house openings. It registered not as a response to death, but to some lesser evil. He stopped at the low, rounded doorway. “What help do you need?” “Go away.” “Gladly.” But he stayed. “You block the sunlight.” “Is that all you were calling for, more sunlight?” “I want to sweep the thoughts from my head.” “You need a brain broom.” “That is a good way to say it.” Well, thought Christ, I’m working some good.
He stepped tentatively inside, bending his head to enter. The sun reached, barely, to where the woman sat crosslegged on the dirt floor. She was not pretty, likely had never been pretty, certainly now was not pretty. The years had used her, as they did all the poor and wretched of the earth. There was no one for him to save here, because she had not strayed, she had been strayed upon. “I don’t sell brooms.” “Do you sell new thoughts to replace old?” “I sell nothing. I have been sent to… give something away, but lately I can no longer recognize what it is I can give.” “Nothing is easy, whatever the task.” “That’s simplistic. Generalizations do not recognize individual circumstance.” “Why do you come into my home to argue?” “We call it debate.”
Christ sat on the floor, not near the woman, and vigorously scratched his head. “This city gives me welts.” “They crucified three more today.” “I was there.” “Why do they choose such a slow and painful way to kill? They could just split his head with an ax and have it over. All forms of death share the same end.” “It’s supposed to set an example for evildoers – ‘this could happen to you, pisshead.’ It doesn’t work. Evildoers do not think that way.” “You know this?” “I do.”
The woman stood and moved to a small, low table pushed against the rear wall. “We know this as well. Do you have any new thoughts?” Christ remained hunkered in the dust, resisting the urge to create a seat. “You have lived here all your life?” “So far.” “Humor.” Perhaps she smiled, now, in the shadow. “The gift of the gods.” Christ barked a raucous laugh. “That is most definitely funny.” “I don’t know why you came in here.” “Nor do I, but I’m almost… enjoying myself.” “Please give me an original thought – any thought not evil. Just one.”
Christ put his mind to the task but felt drained of ability. He could will anything of substance into existence, but the coruscations of his brain produced nothing. “You can make new thoughts of your own. If nothing else, take an old thought and turn it over, see what lies underneath.” “Well, that is a new thought!” “A circular one. In a sense.” “You demean yourself.” “I’m trying to be one with humanity, but I can’t even comprehend where I came from.”
“Would you like something to drink?” “I would like to… understand my own existence. I am eternal, eternally begotten, which means that I was always. Therefore, I was there before I was? That rattles the mind. I was there before time. We, the three persons, invented time. But how could time ‘begin’? If there was no time before the start, there was nothing to begin from. You see? How and from what did my father generate the idea of creation? If there was no time before creation, there could be no action to take, only stasis, no thought, no idea, no way of planning – of ‘beginning.’ There was nothing or there was everything, but immobile. I have no memory of a beginning, of a ‘before,’ because without time, how can there be memory? Memory is action through time. I started to have memory when I came to earth, when I became human within time. Did my father or he and I and the Holy Spirit create the universe? If so, what was, before the universe and time? It was all god? Well.”
The woman looked neither fearful nor confused, only piqued. ”Are you completely certain you are in your right mind?” “I cannot say what my right or wrong mind would be, since I cannot, could not, remember. I have been sent here to save… to save whom? Some or all of mankind? I didn’t plan to be here, yet god planned it and I’m a person of god. A segment.” “There is no one, true god? There are many? That is blasphemy, we are told.” “The three are one together – god in three persons. Each of us is an… aspect? of god. The Holy Spirit shows little activity, most times, but he must have been planning with my father and me, even when it was impossible for us to plan, before time.”
“I don’t understand.” “Exactly.” The woman smiled. “These are surely new thoughts, if silly ones. They sweep some of the sad thoughts from my head. But not all.” “And most will come back. They’re insidious.” “Why is that?” “Something we did when we created you, all of you, or allowed you to create within yourselves from the muck we laid down.” “You believe yourself god. Part of god?” “All of god through part. I know that much, beyond belief, but it leaves me with nothing that I can impart.” “You are god.” “Yes.” “You are a man?” “Yes.” “You are hungry, you get urges, you suffer hurts?” “I suffer hurts such as you cannot imagine.” “How can god suffer hurts, even as a man?” “We should talk of something more comprehensible.”
The woman brought Christ a cup of a cool beverage, slightly sweet, with an herbal tang. It tasted good and it relieved the thirst he had forgotten, the drying out and draining of fluids from his hours on the cross. Was he fully man if he could ignore his ravenous thirst? “Thank you, this is refreshing.” “It is my mother’s recipe.” “Does you mother live here with you?” “Mother is dead. No one lives with me.” “Would you want someone to live with you?” “God should know this.” “The man does not.” “Consider it from what you see. I don’t need a man.”
Christ rose, preparing to leave. The woman turned her back to him. Christ stood still. “I was not offering myself. I was asking a question to bring clarity to myself. The answer might help me realize some of what I don’t understand.” “They say you know much, more than any other man.” “So you know who I am?” “I have seen you on the streets a-time and know who you are said to be. Why are you here in this room, not dying on that cross they promised?” “Because I do not yet know what I would need to know to take success back to my father.” “He sent you to find out?” “I don’t fully know why he sent me, or what it means for me to have sent myself in consort with him. I was prepared to die, to play my father’s game, but it is equally my game, since we are equal and in sense the same. I grew angry – mad as hell, some would say it. I had not been taken into my own confidence in this decision. Is that possible? If so, is it a correct thing to ask of me, my death, when I am so intimately concerned? Thus I withdrew from the cross, which I could by will, just as I could have made these clothes, as I could destroy this house you live in, with the lift of a finger.” Christ looked embarrassed. “I would not do such.”
“You should leave.” “Yes. Would you accompany me for a bit? I have had only three days in which to see Jerusalem, and I barely know its ways.” “It’s your burden, not mine, this business of saving people that you know so little about.” She gestured at the sparseness surrounding her. “What do I have that I should be saved from? I’m alone by choice, I bide my time. And you tell me you come from before time. Can you save me from time? Can you harvest time for others to use in better ways?” “I told you, I don’t know who or why I’ve been sent to save – or have sent myself to save. If we searched together, you and I, I might learn somewhat.” “It seems unlikely.” “Is it more unlikely than my being here?” “That would depend on whether I believe you.”
Christ did not ask the obvious question, instead, “Who are your neighbors?” “There is an old cripple next door. I feed him supper.” “And breakfast?” “No, he wants to do that for himself, but sometimes I put leftover food by his door. Too often the dogs eat it.” “Why not knock and tell him you have left it?” “It would disturb him.” “So he is undisturbed and the food goes to feed the dogs.” “Only sometimes.” “I do not understand food.” “How is that?” “Why is it necessary, why would my father with my help or equally decided, have created the need for nourishment? Why should people not simply endure?” “Why should we be born in the first place?” “That too.” The woman began to laugh and shake her head. “God is a ninny.”
“Come with me, show me the town, the parts that I would not notice.” “To what purpose? How could that do you good, and how could doing you good do me good? You have galloping arrogance beneath your assumed simplicity.” Christ showed anger for the first time. “I do not pretend to simplicity. God is complex. I, as god and man both, am still more complex.” The woman twirled, flaring the hem of her single garment. Its passage lifted dust from the floor. “You are simply arrogant. You escaped pain and torture, you say, shucked it aside by the mere waving of your godly hand, yet you feel badly used. You see no shame in that?”
Christ retreated to the doorway and beckoned. “Show me the city.” “Do you know how I exist with no man to care for me?” “Tell me.” “I weave magic baskets.” She reached into a recess and retrieved an unadorned basket of flat woven strands. She pointed to its open surface. ”Make a wish.” “I have no need to make wishes. I will my desire and it becomes.” “Then wish for something for someone else who’s wish you do not read.” “I could read it. God can read all.” The woman threw the basket on the floor. “Then know Jerusalem with your all-encompassing mind and do no ask me to be your guide.” “I must experience it as a man. I could have seen it all even on the cross, but the knowledge would be empty.” The woman picked up the basket. “Then I wish you not to be shattered by your arrogance.”
Christ felt a warmth flow into him that he had not known in three yeas of preaching and dispensing useful hints on mountainsides. It pushed against his breastbone and drove out distance, breached the divide between his godhead and his humanity. Pictures, new memories flooded him, assumptions became fact, fact became innocent completion. The divine no longer had need to master the human. They nestled like litter-mates.
“How did you do that, through a wish?”he asked. She laughed. “God knows all.” Christ felt shock that he did not, as god, know the answer. “Come,” he said. “Is that a command?” “It is a request.” They passed into the street, no longer empty, as the remnants of the crowd returning from the crucifixions melted back to their homes. No one recognized Christ, no longer dressed as they had seen him, his wounds healed, yet they eyed him suspiciously. The woman spoke quietly. ”You are too clean, they don’t know what to make of you.” Christ willed dirt onto his garment. “Better.” An approaching couple flinched. “Better still not to do that as they watch.”
The city quickly bored Christ with its tawdry sameness, one hovel following another, slapdash constructions of dried mud, bits of stone and last season’s waste heaved together without order. “Why not take the time to build their houses carefully?” “Why waste time on that when there are so many easier paths to waste it? They have no way to make a living, nothing to live for. Most die young.” “They don’t weave magic baskets?” “They weave despair.” A form sprawled in a doorway, its arms and legs twisted unnaturally. Christ stopped and raised his hand to affect a cure. The drama of the gesture was unnecessary, but he had found it effective in performing public miracles. “Stop showboating. He’s only drunk, like every other day.” Christ lowered his arm. “What keeps him alive?” “Nothing. He just goes on, continues happening. Tomorrow he will wake up, then one day he won’t.”
“Will you tell me your name?” “You don’t know it by will?” “Your wish changed me. Do I seem less arrogant?” “More settled, perhaps. Less concerned about what you don’t know.” “Look out!” A loose stone rattled from a rooftop, narrowly avoiding the woman’s shoulder. “Do not do that! If it was meant to hit me, let it hit. You have no business changing what is intended. You destroy the order of things.” “I did nothing, it simply missed you.” “Truly?” “Yes. I don’t lie.” He looked puzzled. “I can’t lie, and it feels like a lack.” “Truly, it is.”
Christ remained silent for several minutes. “You have not told me your name.” “Look into your godness.” “I will not. Cannot.” “How do you pick and choose what you can and cannot know or do? How do you choose between god and man?” “That is yet another mystery.” “I think you make up these distinctions – these seeming-distinctions.” “I am here to try to find a path through all the distinctions. I’m hoping that you are a signpost on that path.” “Your explanations stink of donkey poo.”
Turning a corner, they entered a small market square filled with mini-tents erected over tables of unmatched items. Stones on the tables held down cloth next to wilted flowers and shoddy toys – lumpy constructions of wood intended for children or pets. Some items had no clear form, as though grown in dark corners. Christ picked up a hemisphere of poorly polished stone and turned it so the baking sun reflected from its warring facets. The vendor smiled crookedly and quoted a price. Christ shook his head. The vendor named a lower price. Christ placed the stone back on the table, where it shattered to dust. The vendor looked in awe, then squealed vituperation at Christ. Christ stared at the vendor’s hand. It began to smoke and the vendor withdrew it in terror.
The woman turned back toward her home. “Wait.” “For what? For more assault on people who have offered you no harm?” “I meant nothing by that.” “So much the worse.” Christ stared at the roadway. The woman stopped. Christ spoke, perhaps to the roadway.
“I was sent by my father but also by myself, as one though different persons. We know all, we know the same all or knew it all before I came here. Now I know almost nothing. In surges I do things that the man of me sees as magic, beyond magic, the realm of all-control. If I released myself from the dampening of those surges I could wield immense evil – what any man, most men, would view as evil. Yet as god, anything I do, however motivated, is good, because good is greater than evil and absorbs it. As god I know this absolutely, yet as man I do not believe it. I left the cross because the man of me could not believe that the death of god at the hands of man was a good greater than its clear evil. If I cannot remedy this conflict, I cannot allow my death. To reconcile this I would have to be only god and drive out man, which would negate what motive my father and I had in sending me here. On the cross I asked my father why he had forsaken me, and he did not answer. He left it thus because to speak with me would negate my purpose – a purpose I can never fully comprehend while I remain man. It ties my being into a huge knot made of a thousand smaller knots. As man, I see no way these knots can be undone. As god, I know they can and must be undone so I can become complete.”
“Your death would make you complete?” “Are you not listening? What I say is that I cannot die, cannot be killed until I am complete. I must bite the knots loose with my teeth, because my hands are still nailed to the cross.” “Do not sneer at me because you fail to make your quandary clear.” “Forgive me.” “Forgive god?” “Forgive god who put you here. And the man who harasses you.” “If you were flavored dough and I was kneading you, how would I separate the spices from the rat turds? God from man?”
Massive clouds reared up on the horizon and flew toward Jerusalem with the speed of an invading army. As they reared overhead, the ground began to shake, the road to heave. Fury filled Christ’s face and he raised his hand at the sky. “I will not go back to the cross. I will stay until tomorrow and the next day and the day after. I will stay until I understand and can reconcile. And if I cannot reconcile I will die of old age, forgotten. Why should mankind be saved? From what and for what? Explain!” The father made no answer and Christ lowered his pleading hand.
The woman had fallen to her knees, whether in awe or because the upheaved paving had thrown her down. She arose. ”You argue with your father, with yourself, with all of creation. Be man and be content. Throw god away.” “I have a duty that will not leave. What I was sent to do is incomplete. I rail to my father that I have changed my mind, but I could not change my mind if I would. Or so it feels to me as man. Free will is the greatest of God’s gifts, leaving mankind free to defy even god, but is god free to defy himself?” “If we are free to defy god, why should we be sent to hellfire for employing that gift?” “Something else I must discuss with my father. When I return to him.” “You always have an answer, but your answers lead nowhere.”
The tempest had stilled as they walked back to her home. The roadway was now filled with the crowd from the crucifixions. Some turned their heads as they passed, nudged each other, made signals, but if they recognized Christ, they did not accost him. He stuck out his tongue at them and made faces.
They stopped at her doorway and stood silent. Christ swung his head to left and right like a camel. The woman patted the dried earth of the doorframe. “I will not invite you in.” “I would not accept.” “I have never spoken with god before. It doesn’t seem like a two-way street. We beg, he says nothing.” “So you believe me, what I’ve said?” “I think you believe in yourself, and that could be enough. Where would you have gone, if you chose not to return to the cross?” Christ scratched his head, his most human gesture. “I would wander, I think, and wait for word from my father.” “Who I suspect would then be angry with you. And what of your disciples? How would they deal with being left alone, whether by your death or by your earthly abandonment?” “Either way, they have learned enough to spread the word, and the word will become distorted and debased, then… who knows what follows? My father knows, and I will know, when I return. Or is that only an assumption? It is how I, the man, believe godhood should work.”
“If you choose to die, will your teachings too die, regardless of your disciples? I don’t see what dying will add.” “Nor do I, clearly. I simply assume, again, that it is necessary. You must weary of my rambling. God should be precise. Instead, I dither.” She laughed. “Life has dithered you.” “Something to place on god’s mortal tombstone, ‘Dithered by Life.'” Christ turned away. “Goodbye,” he said, not facing her. He did not tell her that he had showered on her a blessing, because that knowledge might lead her to resist the free will to defy God. ”Good journey,” she returned, “wherever it leads. Tell your father you made a friend.” “Tell him yourself. He hears, even when he does not answer.”
The woman melted into the shadow of the room. Christ spoke to the sky. “What is her name? She never told me.” His father did not answer. But on the 40th day following, he called his son back home.