I would like to tell you that I rushed right to the Highlands. I did not. Once in the oasis, I fell down in a field of tall grass and slept. My body was exhausted. My brain hurt. My spirit was stretched. I slept. I do not know how long I slept, but when I awoke, I was still the only person around and it was still light. The tall grass was blowing gently in the breeze. Each blade of grass seemed to greet me with a wave as I struggled to my feet. The blades of grassed hurt the sores on my arms as I got up.
I walked through the oasis away from the entrance. In front of me were the cliffs that separated the world that I knew from the Highlands. They stretched into the sky into the clouds. I could not see the top. I could not imagine the top. How would I scale them? How would I reach the top? I did not know, but I walked forward believing that the answer would present itself.
Once I got through tall grass and made my way through some unmanicured trees. Some of the branches whipped and caught my back and made my sores hurt. I found a path made of triangle stones. All of the stones pointed in one direction so I followed them like arrows. I followed the path to the cliffs. I walked up to the cliffs and there before me was a ladder. The ladder was made of sturdy rope and wooden slats. I looked up. The ladder went from the ground all the way up the cliffs. The ladder went into the low hanging clouds. I could not see the top. What was the ladder affixed to? I yanked on the ladder, and it was quite sturdy.
“How am I supposed to climb when I can’t see where I am going?” I said this aloud to no one in particular as I was the only person standing there. I felt my coat pocket. Brother Pede’s Map had been in my coat and not in my pack. I pulled out the Map and found the oasis on the map. The oasis was the basecamp of getting to the Highlands. There were many words scrawled all over this part of the Map.
Written in the oasis on the ground were written these words among others:
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”
Another part of the Map, written in the hand of Brother Pede (I assume) said:
“The amount of faith need only be small.”
I looked at the Map. I read those words. I looked up at this ladder which went into the sky to an unknown location. I knew. I would just have to believe. I could not see the destination, but I must still go. I must trust. I must be certain that this was the path the Ancient of Days had set for me. I folded the Map and put it back in my coat as I was sure I would need it again. Probably sooner than later.
I put one hand on the first rung and started up the ladder. Yes, up I went. Up and then up some more. I am embarrassed to say I stopped a few times. I stopped right before the clouds as they hung above me like a fluffy white barrier. I had climbed and worked up a bit of a sweat. The sweat was also hurting my sores as it slid down my skin and sort of stung them. I remembered the words “certain of what we do not see.”
“I believe,” I said out loud pushing the uncomfortable stinging aside.
With that, I pulled myself up more rungs and entered the clouds. It was not a long climb through the clouds. The ladder reached the top. Where I pulled myself onto a landing. It was a large ledge. Sort of like a huge step on a massive set of stairs. To be honest, I had to rub my eyes because I was not sure what I was looking at.
Before myself were three large statues. They were well worn by weather and such. I could tell that they were in the form of people. They were a little taller than me and looked quite heavy. All three of the statues were facing away from the rock face out towards the cliff. I walked around the massive step in the rock face. There did not seem to be any way up. This was clearly man-made, but why?
I remembered the map in my pocket. I unfolded it to the area that showed the oasis. I looked up from the base area. There I saw more words were written:
“Should the Ancient of Days reward you on your terms, when you refuse to repent?”
“If you repent, the Ancient of Days will restore you that you may serve Him.”
I noticed in the writing of Brother Pede it said, “Repentance is the turning from sin towards the Ancient of Days.”
I thought, well, what do I do with any of that? I am here sitting half-way up to the top of the world with three huge statues looking out over where I came. They are looking in the direction I came. I want to go the other way.
Wait… I want to go the other way.
Repentance is turning towards the Ancient of Days.
I walked up to the first statue. I placed my hands on it. I tried to swivel the statue so that it faced the cliff and it did so with ease. It barely took any effort at all. The statue swiveled and was now facing the cliff face. I walked to the next statue and grabbed it to swivel it. The statue was not as easy to move as the first. It took only minor effort and then it too was facing the cliff. I walked to the third statue and expected to be able to move it. I could not.
It would not budge. I pushed and pulled. It would not budge. I strained and began to sweat and it would not budge. I knew in my heart of hearts that all three statues had to be swiveled towards the cliff face for me to advance wherever I was supposed to go. This last one would not move. Not. At. All. I slumped down and sat next to the statue. I panted. I was sweating. I steeled my heart and my resolve. I grabbed the base of the statue and heaved with all my might. It moved ever so slightly. I strained as hard as I could, and it moved some more. I pressed my legs into the ground, and it moved some more. I pushed and pushed, and it moved little by little. Repentance was not as easy as it appeared. I pushed with all my might and finally heard a snap sound once the statue was facing the cliff.
I heard a sliding grinding sound, and then a part of the cliff behind me started sliding down. As the solid piece of rock slid, the ground under my feet rumbled slightly. The opening led to a passageway. Beyond the wall, as it was sliding down, I could see stairs. A staircase was cut into the rock and led up. This was the way I should go. I knew it. As I got to the staircase, I looked back and saw all three statues facing the direction of the Ancient of Days. I put my foot on the first step, and the wall began to rise. I jumped up a few stairs in shock. As the wall rose and rumbled, the three statues shifted back to their original placing.
I began my trek up the stairs. I would like to tell you that my way up the stairs was easy, but it seemed to be stair after stair. I climbed until I could climb no more. I slept on a stair. I woke up some hours later (I am not sure how long) and my back ached. My legs Tached. My knees called out for relief. The sores on my legs seemed agitated the most and started to swell with fluid. Not fun I know, but it did happen to me. I put one foot in front of another and climbed the stairs.
It was not long after I slept that I reached another landing up the cliffs. I looked out over the edge and peered down. I saw down to the layer of clouds which were well below me. I looked out and thought I could see Receding in the distance, but I am pretty sure it was my imagination looking for something familiar. Everything here was new. Nothing was familiar.
I turned around from the edge and looked to the wall of the cliff before me. Before e was a cavern hewn into the rock. In the cave, I found a ledge that held candle after candle. Just above the candles, carved into the wall were the words: “Through the Gifts of the Host is Found Freedom.” All the candles were the same off-white color. None of them were lit except for one candle on the end. It dripped wax and was burnt down to a third the size compared to a fresh candle.
Suddenly I got the sense that there were eyes on me. That made sense. How could this candle already be lit? Was there someone here? I yelled out, “Is someone here?” No answer, but clearly someone had set this up for me. If not for me, then for anyone making this journey. I took that one pre-lit candle and lit each candle down the row one after another. I was surprised as I lit each candle because each of the flames on each candle was slightly different.
Each candle lit the cave with a different hue.
Each one was a different color wick.
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.
To be honest, this all seemed a bit theatrical, but whoever put this all together gave the impression of helping me. It was obvious what I was being directed to do. I did it. I had quickly lit each of the candles. The carved room was illuminated in an overcast the colors of a rainbow. At this point, I noticed that words were etched beneath each of the candle holders. All of which were the names of sins. Yes, whoever put this together, knew I wanted to get to the Highlands. They also knew the state-of-mind I needed to be in when I got there. I was being told I needed to deal with all my mistakes and shortcomings. Ever since the desert, I was heavy with a sense of guilt, but I tried not to think about it. Now, however, it appeared that someone was directing me to do just that.
I looked to each word on the cave wall under the candle holders. I did not want to put a spotlight on my sins. I agonized there alone for a brief moment but then forced my mind to the task at hand.
What was I to do here?
I got out the Map and looked on the part of the Map where I was. This part of the Map had many lines of words and phrases. Some of them were in Brother Pede’s hand, but some of them seemed to be from others. I found these words:
“When anyone is guilty in any wrongdoing ways, they must confess in what way they have sinned.”
That sentence reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad when I was much younger. I had not thought of it for quite some time. My dad told me once, “When you pray to the Ancient of Days, never be afraid to confess what’s in your heart good or bad.” I find that memory strange since I know that my parents both have left spiritual things behind. He must have picked that up from someone along the way.
My mind was now full of thoughts and memories. I walked back and forth in front of the ledge of candles. My eyes passed each of the candles. Memories of my misdeeds filled my mind. Misdeeds. Errors. Wrongness. Missing the mark. Sin.
I put the Map away and continued down the line of multi-colored flames. I found a place with ink and parchment. The parchment pieces were small. To be honest, as soon as I saw the little pieces of paper I knew exactly what to do. I was to put my thoughts into the flames. I grabbed the quill and ink and wrote in one word each of the misdeeds that burden my soul.
“Theft” I then went to the candle with an orange flame on which the word “Theft” was etched on the wall. I put the paper in the flame. The paper burned up immediately in a puff of orange smoke.
“Idolatry” was the next word that met my eyes. I knew I had lived with myself in mind most the time and had statues of Sophia all in my home. I wrote “idolatry” and burned it up in the red flame.
Then the word “Lust” came to my mind. I wrote the word. I put it in the flame, and it burned. Violet smoke was all that remained.
“Hate” was next and I burned up in the green flame.
I stepped down the line and went to the dull yellow flamed candle. When I saw the word “Covet,” my memory flashed to my time at the Pond. I quickly put the paper to fire. It burned up immediately in a puff of yellow smoke.
“Lie” I had more untruth burdening me than anything else. The word “lie” covered more than my fibs. I also wrote on the parchment “all of it.” I went to the candle flickering blue, and I put it in the flame. The paper burned up immediately in a billow of blue smoke.
And oddly the last word was “Neglect.” I took that this candle and its flame was meant to cover anything I missed or times that I was unaware of doing wrong. Sure, I had neglected in my life. I simply offered my last piece of parchment with the word “yes.” The indigo smoke went up and vanished into the illuminated cavern walls.
All my thoughts were being burned up in a rainbow of color!
My confessions soaked in guilt were being consumed.
I looked around and nothing immediately happened. I sat down in the middle of this carved room. This didn’t make sense! Had I done something wrong? Was I so bad that I could not be forgiven? Was this all for others and not for me?
My mind then became faint under the weight of my wrongs. The words on the wall glared out at me in the rainbow light. My heart felt like it was on fire with guilt. That whole exercise I just performed was a primer for what was about to happen. I felt like I was the one being consumed by fire. Not physically, but in my spirit and emotions.
Then words just started spilling out of me as I sat in that room! It just all poured out!
“Ancient of Days forgive me and show me Your way.”
“I believe you are there.”
In the next moment, something at my core was transformed. It was like a new thought conceived in my heart. It was living water to my dry soul. The Ancient of Days engraved Himself on my heart and budded a new spirit within me. I could not neglect to add my voice to what was happening under the rainbow of illumination.
I said: “Forgive me, I believe You, You are my God.”
I felt like I was taking a first breath. I cannot emphasize it enough. Something was new within me. Something new was birthing inside me somewhere between the words. I said it again, “Forgive me, I believe You, You are my God.” I spent the next few moments guilt-free and in amazement.
Lost to what I must do next, I reached again for my trusted Map. I was re-reading the Map in the light of the multi-colored flames, and I could see new words due to the illumination of the room… or maybe the illumination now within me… or both. On the bottom of the Map it read: “Follow the water.” What did that mean?
It was only a moment and then a cool breeze thick with mist blew into the cave from the far side of the candle shelf. I had been over there lighting candles and not seen anything. I felt the breeze blow. I felt the wetness on my skin. The damp air quenched all of the multi-colored flames I had lit, and all of them puffed out at once. The colored smoke wafted in the air in front of me to the far side of the candle ledge and seemed to be flowing out. I walked to the direction of the breeze and escaping the smoke. I noticed a passage that led deeper into the cave. Had that been there the whole time?
Why had I not seen it?
I had not walked for too long up the passage when I heard the sound of rushing waters ahead of me roared as if it had a voice and a message. I followed the rushing sound and came to a large opening. The opening was in the side of a sheer cliff. Flowing in front of the opening was a wall of water like I had never seen. The wall of water was falling down into a vast trench below. That was all I could see… the waterfall and the trench.
How was I to follow the water?
Was I supposed to jump?
“Follow the water.” Those were all the words I had to go on. I peered over the ledge again and looked all the way down. I had no idea how far it was, but I didn’t think I could survive the jump. It was straight down! There was no path! It was just me and the water before me. My eyes followed the steam from above falling down into the trench. I wasn’t about to turn back. The way forward was clear. I just took a deep breath and leapt.
As I leapt, I noticed that I was not falling as fast as I should. It was amazing. The mist of the waterfall was supporting my decent. The mist was like divine hands in the sky supporting me down. The mist guided me all the way into the water’s full immersive embrace.
I was all the way under the water, and it felt like my dream from so long ago in Receding. My whole body was under and being soaked by the pure water. I swam up to the surface of the water, through the bubbles, and took a huge breath. Oh, how my lungs felt new! In front of me, I spotted a raft. I made the short swim to it. Not well mind you, because no one from Receding got to be in this much water… ever. I climbed aboard the wooden raft and saw some writing etched on the wood. It was etched over and over all over the little craft: “Freedom.”
Yes, someone was definitely helping me and leading me along the way. The raft was attached to a pulley with a rope. I took the rope in my hands and pulled myself easily straight into the waterfall. All around me water was pouring into the trench. Once under the waterfall, I found a ladder leading up. This I had seen before.
My heart swelled with joy. My stomach turned with anticipation. I grabbed the first rung of the ladder and pulled myself from the raft. As soon as I did so, I began to hear some kind of music above me. No, not music. Bells. I heard bells above me with each rung. Lots and lots of bells. The bells were attached to the ladder somewhere, and I rung the bells as I made my ascent. The bells got louder the higher I climbed. If anyone was up there, they knew I was coming! A little further up I could make out the sound of joyful voices. Was this joy on my account? As I got higher, I heard the voices were singing.
Bells on my account?
Joy on my account?
Singing on my account?
As I climbed, I also felt a tug, and then I was moving up faster. The people were pulling me up! I had a way still to rise, but I knew I was no longer alone. I had the sense I would never be alone again. So, I just held on ascending to those voices of grace.