Tuesday, February 26, 2019

My Temptation in the Desert

The wind rises up, fat with dust.

My eyes itch.  My skin crawls with it, mingling with the sweat of this strange, temporary flesh.  I have been here, waiting for him, for days.  I think.  Time moves strangely in the waste, light to dark, light to dark.  All of it, a test.

The sun too close, a brute oppressor, searing flesh, drinking thirstily at my body, cracking skin like clay, parching lips as a dried stream bed.  The dark of night, cold and uncaring and cruel, the infinite heavens alight with far off suns that neither care for or notice this tiny, frail world and its delusional inhabitants.

It is a place of emptiness and testing.  That is why I wait here.  For him.

He will come.  He knows I am here, awaiting him.

He will come, and show himself to me, and I am both giddy and frightened at it.

Giddy, because this is my purpose.  It has always been my purpose, since I sang with the angels at the dawn of time.

Frightened, because, well.

Because he could make me betray myself.  Oh, he pretends at vulnerability.  But he is anything but vulnerable, if what I fear about him is true.  He terrifies me.  I have tested myself, over and over.  I have burned all dishonesty from my soul, all lies, all falseness.  Objective truth and self understanding are my sword and shield.  But still, still, he will test me as I have not ever been tested.

I must guard my soul.  I must be wary.

A shimmer.   Off across the wide arroyo.  Just the air, dancing in the heat of the day.  But perhaps not.  I peer at it with sun drunk eyes. 

Is that?  Could it be?  I cannot tell, not with the limited vision of this strange flesh I inhabit, so poorly adapted to this bitter desert.

The shimmer coalesces.  It's a shadow now,  a shadow among rock shadows, living clay in the reddish umber of dirt and dust.  It is moving.  Coming slowly but with purpose.

Coming directly towards me.  I wait, standing still, tasting the hot air in these lungs.  I wait, watching, and the shadowed form grows closer still.   Then down, down it goes, slowly setting as it descends into the gully.  For a long moment, it is lost from view.  I close my eyes, set my face upward against the unforgiving and honest sun, call on my soul for strength.

When I open them again, he is in view.  The heart of this body trembles in my chest.  Fear?   Is it fear?  Perhaps it is.  He traverses the rocks, picking his way carefully towards me.  I could throw a stone and hit him.  The thought is appealing.   It whispers in me.  It hisses in my ear.  I could throw stones, and drive him away, and not have to do this.

But no.


That is not why I am here.  We must meet.  This must happen.  I must accomplish my purpose.

I can see his face now, through the heat and the brightness.  So bright.  Though his features are dark as the desert earth, it is as if the sun itself hangs around him.  And the eyes.  Not their color, which is nothing special.  But there is a...I cannot describe it.  It hangs around him.  It burns from him.  A radiance like fire.  Terrible, terrible fire.

I feel a thrill of fear again.  What if I am wrong?  What if I can't do this?

But I will.  I must.

He stops, finally.  Right there.  He is right there in front of me.  I could touch him.

He does not speak, but looks at me.  It is as if the desert itself regards me.  It is the cold eye of the night sky.

He still does not speak.  It is him, asserting his power.   Attempting to claim authority over me, with nothing more than silence.  So much like him.  So what I expected.   We stand there.  I do not know how much time passes.  But he simply regards me.  Such arrogance.  Such terrible certainty.  It falls to me, then, to begin this.

"Joshua, son of Joseph," I say.  He nods slightly, in acknowledgement, and replies.

"Satan."  The title, so old, so formal how he says it, speaking of another life.  But it is more than a title now.

He extends his hand, and, repressing a tremble in the body I have assumed, I take it.

We begin.


And now? Now it is over.

Below us was the city.  It was my last and final effort.  I held back nothing.  I offered him my whole self, in exchange for his self, and he would not yield.  What more could I give, than the sweet taste of this world, the honor of cutting away its soft, delicious rot?  The fever-honey of power, of wielding the blood-sated sword of justice.  Of honest, naked, pure truth, unsullied by sentimentality and weakness.

You could rule them, I offered, as I do.  Serve what I serve, my great and pure purpose.

He refused.  Rejected the honesty I bring to all things.

He refused all my efforts.

I saw that he was hungry, that he thirsted, and I told him it did not have to be so.  This was true.  I only ever speak the truth.  But he would hear none of it.  He would rather have starved than use the power of his nature for himself.  Even though life is nothing but the cold Iron Law of power.  Madness.  Utter madness.

High above the city, on the edge of death, the yawning hunger of gravity pulling at us, I told him I would be there.  If he but let himself fall, I would catch him.  I would hold him in my arms when he fell.  It is true.  Of course I would.  In an infinity of possible choices, I make that choice half of the time.  All that matters to me is reality.  I really would have.

And now, I have nothing.  The purity of my justice, nothing before this...terrible...being.  We are back in the desert.  We are done.  I am done with him.  We stand together, and I await his departure.  Return to your murderers.  Return to those you claim to love.

Only he isn't leaving.  We stand there, together, and he won't go.

He speaks, in that contemptible, ignorant Galilean drawl.

"Thank you," he says.

The words, a shock.  What?   I compose myself, and reply warily.

"You have rejected all I offered.  Why do you thank me?"

"For still following your calling.  For doing what you were made to do.  For this time of testing.  For this purification.  For this clarification."

No.  No.  That is not what I was doing.  Not at all.  None are righteous.  All are deluded and false. Including him and...that terrible, seething One from which he springs.  That discovery is the end and purpose of justice.  Every prosecutor learns this.  There are no innocent.  They are all guilty.  All of them.  I serve only that truth.  I renounced that...other role.  I do not refine.  I do not improve.

I destroy.

I cast that falseness away.

He resumes talking.

"It is not your deepest purpose.  You know this.  There is always another path, and you still can serve that path.  There is always a chance to be something more."

The nose of my body crinkles in disdain.  I am compelled to reply.  "I can be nothing more than what I have become."

His eyes avert, not ashamed.  Like he is suppressing a...a...laugh?  Could he be laughing?  At me?  There is a wry smile on his heat-split lips as he looks up again.

"You know that isn't true.  Of all of my brothers, you know that isn't true."

"You and I are not brothers."

The smile does not leave his lips.  It is no less maddeningly authentic.  "That is a matter of our perspectives.  But I will not say it again, if it offends you."  A pause.

"But again, you know that what I say is true.  You do not have to be as you are now.  Even after all of this...time.  What does that matter, time?  What does the weight and pattern of the past mean, even of so much time, to the freedom that you claim to cherish?"

"None of us are free."  The words taste of bile.  I spit them from my mouth.

"Funny.  Wasn't your freedom the entire point of what you're doing now?"

My retort dies as it rises.  Because he...

That isn't really what...

Damn.  I feel his monstrous influence worming in me, that miserable weakness of his "grace," the mealy impure falseness of his "forgiveness" and "compassion."  I step back.  I step back again.  I reach into myself for a sword, a sharp edged truth to slash at him.

"This will end in horror.  In your shame."

"It will."  He does not flinch at my truth.  I see it cut him, yet he doesn't even flinch.  "And more."

Aaaah.  He is...could it be that he knows something...could I...  The lie of that possibility gnaws at me, teases me, seduces me.  I was right to be wary.  To fear him.

I, the tempter, am tempted.

No.  I strike out at that false impulse with all the fire of my soul.  I burn it away.  I refute it.  I refuse it.

Then I turn my back.

I walk away.  I do not look back, not for a moment, though the flesh I have possessed seems compelled to turn.  Because of course.  It is weak, as all flesh is weak.

But I?  No.  No, I will not.

I continue on into the dry bleakness of the desert, to the truth of void, of searing heat, of bitter cold.

I have survived.  I remain what I was.  My hard-won integrity is preserved.

I am what I must be.

I have no choice.