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Afflicted and Forsaken: I continue my discussion at the site of Perpetua and Felicity's martyrdom
Posted by Douglas, Jun 21, 2008. 2206 views. ID = 1399

Afflicted and Forsaken

Posted by Douglas, Jun 21, 2008. 2206 views. ID = 1399
This post was written in 16 minutes.
All that remains after this is my epilogue, which I hope to write tomorrow.
This post has been awarded 31 stars by 7 readers.
This post is Part 10 of a writing series titled The Bovine Man.

The bovine man was walking toward the center of the amphitheater now, toward the solitary column with its graffiti valentine, and toward the stairs leading down to the cavern where Perpetua and Felicity were honored. I followed behind him and came to a stop at his side when he paused at the limestone pillar.

Standing there in the middle of the arena, I imagined myself as one of the gladiatorial combatants - or, to be more precise - one of the martyred victims; these North African women were given no swords, no armor, not a single weapon of any sort with which to defend themselves against the raging bull that attacked them while hundreds of sadistic fans jeered and laughed. "It must have been a quite a sight," I said.

"It was," Molech replied, then turned away furtively, as though he had said more than he intended.


"You were here?"

"Yes."

"Is it true that they sang hymns as they entered the arena?"

His reply was nothing more than a grunt.

I imagined myself, a martyr, singing songs of praise and adoration to God while a wild bull bore down on me, snorting, tossing its horns, the red fire of rage in its eyes. I doubted that I could have that kind of courage, yet I imagined myself singing right up to the end, when the bull pierced me through with his long curved horns and tossed me into the air to land, broken and twisted on the ground ten feet away. Except, as I imagined the scene, I realized that I was not imagining a bull at all, but a man with a bull's face - or perhaps a bull with a man's body. Either way, in my imagination it was a beast that was neither one nor the other.

"What did the audience see?" I asked, as I connected the dots mentally.


"What?"

"Did they see a wild bull? Or a man with a bull's head? Or something else entirely?"

The bovine man turned away again, looked out toward the seating, as though he too was imagining those seats filled with spectators. "They saw what they wanted to see. Most saw a bull. A handful - those who stilled followed the ancient cult of Apis - they saw something more."

"So you had worshipers in this place," I said, not questioning, but realizing.

"Yes."

I remembered the story of Perpetua and Felicity, how the wild bull tossed them on its horns again and again, battering and tearing and gouging their bodies, yet unable to deliver a fatal blow. "Why couldn't you kill them?" I asked.

Molech laughed, a self deprecating sort of laugh - the kind of laugh you don't expect to hear from a god - and said, "If I knew that, I wouldn't need to keep coming back here."

I was sure the self-deprecation was a lie, and because I suspected a lie there, I also suspected that his words were not true either. He knew the answer to my question - he knew the truth of his own weakness. And then, with a bit of thought, I knew it too.

"They weren't helpless. That's what you said you want in a sacrifice, isn't it? Helplessness. The destruction of people who are unable to prevent their own death. But Perpetua and Felicity - they weren't helpless, were they? You said it yourself: they could have stopped it, put an end to the whole thing. They could have recanted. They could have promised not to proselytize. Perpetua had wealth to bribe her captors. Any number of ways out. They chose this. You said they wanted to die, but I don't think that's exactly right; they may not have wanted to die, but they were content to die. They were like lambs to the slaughter, except..."

Then, with my unthinking repetition of that often quoted phrase, more of my puzzle fell into place. "That's the difference," I said. I laughed, a loud and mocking laugh - wondering even as I did so whether it was right to mock a god, no matter how evil - and continued, "The sacrifices of God are willing sacrifices. You take your power from an unwilling, helpless sacrifice, but the power of God, the power of forgiveness, that is the power of a sacrifice that walks willingly, knowingly to the altar and lays down its life. No greater love than this," I quoted, "that a man would lay down his life for his friends."

As I spoke, I thought - and perhaps I imagined it - that the bovine man became even smaller, less bestial, perhaps even frightened. "What about the firstborn of Egypt? Were they willing?" he demanded.

But here, in this place of great sacrifice and great power, I had both the courage and strength to press my advantage. "That had nothing to do with sacrifice, and you know it." I laughed again. "No wonder I never saw you in Jerusalem. I visited Gethsemane, and you were not there. I visited Golgotha, and you were nowhere to be seen. What is Jerusalem like for you? I'll bet you can't get within miles of the city without being reduced to crawling on your hands and knees, gasping for air. You were there, weren't you, on that wonderful, terrible day? Just as you were here, hoping for your pound of flesh..."

Then, though I could not imagine how or why I could recall the verses to memory, I began quoting from the Old Testament Psalms: "Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." Then, with words that were an accusation, I said, "You were there."

Cruel Molech said nothing, and by his silence I was sure I was correct. More confident now, more sure of my conclusions, I pointed at the pillar. "When I first walked into this amphitheater, I was disgusted by that crudely painted heart on the pillar. It seemed to me a reprehensible act to desecrate this monument. It was an act of vandalism and irreverence. But I realize now the irony of it - that even this act of immaturity and disrespect is a testament to the power of this place."

What a supreme irony that was; even in attempting to desecrate this place, the vandals had only served to express, in its simplest, most familiar form, the power behind the sacrifice of the saints - it was the power of a God who neither disdained nor despised the suffering of His children. It was the power of sacrificial love, the love that surrendered all for another. And Molech could neither comprehend nor tap into that power. I thought of how Molech had despised and desecrated the graves of the infants in the Necropolis, I remembered the disdain with which he had spoken of even his followers, and I finally understood that the power of this false god was doomed, eventually, to implode, cannibalizing itself with desperate and ravenous hunger until it was utterly consumed.

I spoke again, and my quiet words were the answer to Molech's hunger for a new worshiper. "You walk among the corpses of your sacrifices, trampling them underfoot, but your disrespect for their sacrifice can do nothing to harm them now, so it is a meaningless gesture, satisfying nothing but your own hate. But here, in this place, there can be no meaningless gestures; both honor and dishonor give power to the sacrifice. Spit on the graves of the saints, if you will, but your disdain only serves to bring them greater honor. For they, both in life and in death, were loved by the one they served."

I looked again at the pillar, crumbling at the edges, stained with a clumsy and careless symbol of love. I stared, unblinking at that heart-shaped graffiti as I spoke, having no desire to look any more on the face of the bovine god. My words were, once again, a quotation from the psalm of the afflicted and forsaken. "You who fear the LORD, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, honor him. Revere him, all you descendants of Israel, for He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one."

Without another word, without waiting for or listening for a reply, I turned and walked away.

Copyright 2008 Douglas. All rights reserved. FifteenMinutesOfFiction.com has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.
 


   
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This post has been awarded 31 stars by 7 readers.
This post is Part 10 of a writing series titled The Bovine Man. The next part of this series can be found here: Ten Years Later.
This is a revised version of a post. Click here to view the original version

Comments


Josiah T.
Jun 21, 2008
Wow... :-| Is this the end?
   ~Posted by Josiah T., Jun 21, 2008

Douglas
Jun 21, 2008
No, not quite. There's an epilogue - and then I'll do my "after word" to make comments on the story.
   ~Posted by Douglas, Jun 21, 2008



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