I spent months with the People of Grace and Mercy. Salve, Sal, Assa, and a few others that I met and talked deeply with could see that I was anxious to explore the Highlands that were stretched out before me.
On the day I was to depart (early in the morning), as I packed up a few things in my open-air hut, a man approached. As he got closer, I realized he was not of the Peoples of Grace and Mercy. He was dressed simply in only a white tunic and a vivid green vine belt. The belt had fresh prune marks with a few colorful leaves of yellow and yellow-green. He also had a walking stick in hand. The walking stick was made of some kind of wood that looked to be twisted together with a living vine. The vine embraced the walking stick.
“Greetings,” he said when he noticed I saw his approach. “I am Ducit I am here to walk with you if you want. I have heard today you venture out.”
“I do,” I said agreeing with him. “I would love that.”
A few minutes later, Salve and Assa saw me to the edge of the village and bid me farewell. The whole time Salve kept offering words of praise to the Ancient of Days that I would not be a dweller. The smile on his face reached from ear to ear.
We had not gotten far from the village on the path when I started to talk to Ducit. “I noticed you are not from the village.”
“What gave me away?” Ducit asked in good cheer.
“Uh, the lack of vines and leaves all about your person.” Ducit was perhaps the simplest dressed person I had ever seen in Receding or in the Highlands. “Plus,” I added, “no one in the village has a staff that looks like that.” I indicated his walking stick.
“All true,” Ducit confirmed. “My people are a little different. I am from the People of Ancient’s Rule. We do not have a village exactly, like the others.” He looked back to the village which was becoming more distant behind us. “My people travel the Land of Hashem simply helping anyone who has need. I find it comforting to help those who are new to Hashem.”
“What does that mean… People of Ancient’s Rule?”
“Well,” Ducit said in a lively tone with a hint of humor, “that is sometimes hard to explain. I will do my best for we are a peculiar people. We believe with our whole hearts that the Ancient of Days is our sovereign source and we follow the Host who welcomes us to walk in the mist of Hashem. Understand, there are no wells in Hashem, but only the river that flows from the Royal Falls.”
He then looked intently at me as we were trodding along and said, “The Name is One. We of the People of Ancient’s Rule are taught this Truth from birth or as soon as we become part of our peoples. When I say ‘The Name,’ I speak of all those I just mentioned because they Who are Three are of the same essence. They are One. We all serve from Whom the water flows. We accept. We serve. He leads.”
He lost me with the “Three are One” talk, but I continued to listen. I wanted to listen more.
I looked around us as we were walking along the path. Beside the path were tall, strong trees. As we passed one of them, the bulging knots of the roots were visible from the path. I pointed at the roots of the trees. “So, you are saying that you believe that the Ancient of Days is the root of everything. All the branches and fruit and leaves and bark and everything of the tree flows from the root.”
Ducit nodded, “In a way. That likeness is not without merit. Still, it is much more than that. The Ancient of Days is the One being to whom all authority rest now and forever. We believe with our whole hearts that the Ancient of Days is complete in His person and is the Creator of all things. Therefore, His way becomes our way.”
I nodded. I understood where my root analogy had merit and where it fell short. “So you believe the Ancient of Days has commanded you to be a guide for newcomers to Hashem?”
“So, you do it simply because it is His will?”
“Indeed. In fact, there is another tenant among my people. We have a saying in fact. We have a saying and a song. The saying is: ‘Die to Self to image the Host.’”
“Die to Self to image the Host,” I repeated.
“Yes. You see the most important thing to my people… the People of Ancient’s Rule… is that we put to death whatever we want and bring to ourselves only what He wants. He is the Ancient of Days and therefore rules us. We travel Hashem in His Name and at His command. In this way, we die to self and image Him.” Ducit then talked about a few other things about his people. He mentioned a walking festival. He mentioned the ceremony when individuals of the People of Ancient’s Rule receive their walking sticks.
Ducit seemed to me to be a pure soul. I liked him instantly. I felt like I could trust him. I felt like I wanted to trust him… does that sound weird? As we walked, I felt a kinship and a closeness to him. I felt like we had a relationship of trust and loyalty from the first few moments of our time together. I soon found out my intuition about Ducit was common to all that knew him. Many people we passed on our walk called him “friend.” They would say, “Ducit my friend” or “my friend Ducit” or “So good to see you, my friend.” Everyone who greeted him did so with big smiles and great appearances of joy. Ducit’s friendship with the people only encouraged my confidence in wanting to trust him.
Anyway, Ducit and I arrived later that day at another village. It was similar but different from the one I had already seen. There were still open-air huts, but they were a different shape and had a different type of thatching. I say it was different thatching because unlike the roofs in the other village, this village used plants full of color. Each roof was woven with plants with blue, red, green, lavender, and orange stalks. It made for a colorful horizon. In addition to colorful thatch, flowers were sprouting from the roofs which made them seem more like gardens than roofs of buildings.
“Here are the People of Gentleness and Patience,” Ducit said as we arrived at the outskirts of the village. “They will take care of you.”
I looked at the village and again the multi-colored thatched roofs caught my eye against the backdrop of the evergreen trees. A river was one side of the village. On the other three sides was a thick forest of evergreen trees. I also noticed that the whole village was set right on the banks of a slow-moving river. The water flowed for I could see it, but it was gently flowing with hardly a ripple. I turned to ask Ducit about the river, but he was gone. Where had he gone? I stopped. I called out. I saw no one. He simply was not there. I turned back to the village and a few people were coming out to meet me.
Two men and two women from the village came out to greet me:
“Greetings,” said the first man, “I am Mitis. I am one of the Seniors of the Peoples of Gentleness and Patience.” Mitis was a short fat man with gray balding hair and reminded me of several of the merchants in Receding’s Market.
“Greetings,” said the second man, “I am Clemens. I am one of the Seniors of the Peoples of Gentleness and Patience.” Clemens was taller than all the others, short cropped brown hair, and actually seemed young compared to the others.
“Greetings,” said the first woman, “I am Lito. I am one of the Seniors of the Peoples of Gentleness and Patience.” Lito reminded me of my mother. She seemed to have the same eyes and the same care in her voice.
“Greetings,” said the second woman, “I am Longan. I am one of the Seniors of the Peoples of Gentleness and Patience.” Longan looked very similar to Lito, and before I knew anything about them, I guessed that they were sisters.
Mitis, Clemens, Lito, and Longan were the Seniors of the Village and would be my guides during my stay. Each of them was dressed alike but did not dress the same as Ducit or any of the people I had met previously. Each of them from the tops of their heads to the bottoms of their feet was dressed in colors. Their heads were adorned with laurels of colorful leaves and flowers. The leaves and flowers were living on them uncut and looked to be in perfect bloom. Each of them, over the white tunic all people in the Highlands seemed to wear. Also wore sashes and vests made of colorful vines. They looked like a cheery bunch.
I spent the balance of the day just piddling around the village and not really doing much. I wanted to jump in and learn all about these people, but they just kind of left me alone. None of them were unfriendly, please do not think that, but rather they let me walk around, explore, and rest.
The next morning, I was met by Mitis outside the open-air hut in where I had slept. “We will start down by the river,” he said to me. He indicated the direction we would go with his hand pointing towards the slow-moving river which bordered the village. Then we made our way to the river. We did not hurry. We kept a slow, steady pace to the river. Once we got to the area of the river we were going, I noticed there raised natural rocks which littered the riverbank. Each rock was flat and big enough to sit on. Mitis indicated I should choose a rock and sit. I did so. I picked a frock closest to the river, and Mitis sat on a rock near me.
It had been a few minutes, and I looked over at Mitis. He had closed his eyes and was just sitting there. He opened one eye and looked at me.
“Should we begin?” he asked me.
“Uh… sure,” I said in a very unsure voice.
“Our people,” he said as he closed his eye again, “are those who have deeply experienced the Gentleness and Patience of the Ancient of Days. We are drawn to this part of Him. We know there is much to the Ancient of Days, but we see His Gentleness and Patience in everything.”
“In what way?” I asked. “I have to tell you that where I am from, there is not a whole lot of Gentleness or Patience. We don’t see that from the Ancient of Days. Can you give me some kind of example?”
Mitis again opened one eye and looked at me. He breathed in and out slowly. “Long ago people cast the Ancient of Days aside as they moved further from Him. People cast His way of life aside. Surely you know this for you were born in Receding?”
“You see, for many years and many generations of people the Ancient of Days was Gentle and Patient with all people. And then He wasn’t. He allowed the Great Quake. After the Great Quake, He sent the Host to Receding to bring them the Words of Life. They paid no attention to Him and they killed Him. Yet, the Ancient of Days continued to show Patience and Gentleness by allowing His message to be told. The Monks are an extension of His Gentleness and Patience. The fact that you are here is a testament to His Gentleness and Patience.”
After he spoke these words, Mitis again closed his eye, but before he did so, he pointed at the river and nodded. I looked at the slow flowing stream. It wandered past the village in a manner that was mesmerizing. The surface of the river barely moved. The water was pure. I could see clearly to the bottom of the river in which large fish were swimming. The fish were as colorful as the man sitting next to me. The fish were striped with many colors. They too just slowly made their way through the river.
I turned to ask a question, and Mitis said:
“Be still before the Ancient of Days and wait patiently for Him.”
I turned back to the river and stared at it. It had been many moments. Then another question occurred to me. I turned to ask Mitis the question, opened my mouth, but he spoke first:
“patience and gentleness can break bones.”
Break bones? There is no way that gentleness can break bones. Patience had never seemed to me to be all that important. So apparently this was not a time for my questions. I was supposed to just sit and look at the river. So, I did. I looked. I noticed that the slow-moving water made its way past the village in a natural winding manner. I could tell that the river had worn away the rocks in certain parts of the riverbank on either side of the river. The slow stream had probably formed the shape of the rock I was sitting on. Time and the gentleness of the river indeed had power.
“I can see,” I said to Mitis, “that gentleness does indeed have power. The gentle water has eroded away the soil at some parts of the river. Would you please help me see how Gentleness and Patience relate to the Ancient of Days?”
As I spoke, a grin widened on Mitis’ face. “Oh, my friend,” he said, “Gentleness and Patience are essential parts of who the Ancient of Days is to us. His Gentleness and Patience allows us to even be here. Think about it! The First Ones moved further and further away from the Ancient of Days both physically and spiritually. Did He smite them right away? No. Did He remove his provision for them as it was happening? No. Did He give up on us at any point? No. It was many generations of distance before the Great Quake happened. He sent the Host to Receding that we might find Him again. He allows us to find Him still.”
I looked at the gentle river and then looked back to Mitis. “So you are saying that the Gentleness and Patience of the Ancient of Days provide us a chance to find Him. Gentleness and Patience from the Ancient of Days is an outgrowth of His love?”
As I watched the river, I noticed the brightly colored fish meandering their way through the current. Some were going upstream towards the Royal Falls (as I would soon discover) and some were going downstream. I suddenly felt the need to join them. I got off the rock that I was sitting on, and Mitis made no sound or motion of protest. I went to the riverbank and stood there. A school of fish went by. I went into the river. The feeling of the water on my skin was like something from a dream. The water was so pure and clear. It refreshed every part of my skin. I went to the river and got waist deep and just let my feet go. I lifted off the bottom, and the current slowly moved me.
“You will find,” Mitis said without moving a muscle from his rock, “that if you let the current guide you with patience that you will end up exactly where you need to be.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant. I then went limp in the water. I let the slow-moving current guide me. Then I had a flash of what all of this meant. I saw my recent past rush into my mind, and I saw how the Ancient of Days had been gently guiding me the whole time. From the Market to the Pond Lords to exploration of wells to even finding my Uncle Kalo… all of it led me to this place where I could find the Ancient of Days. My life, if I let Him direct it, would be guided where I need to go. I let the slow-moving current guide me, and it moved me downstream a little to a small dock where I got out of the water and walked back to Mitis.
I spent the next few weeks with the People of Gentleness and Patience. They asked me to stay that long because they had a festival coming up. All of them were excited about the monthly Pruning Festival. The day of the Pruning Festival everyone was getting ready, and I had the morning to wander around. As I wandered around, I made my way along the river along the same path as my first walk. My attention was rapt on the green-ness of all the trees around the village. I reached the edge of the valley and looked down into the valley. I noticed some little ways down a home off to the side. I had nothing else to do so I headed off in that direction.
Upon reaching the home, I saw a man working in a garden that was in full bloom. He had a square chin and broad shoulders. He wore a colorful sash that boasted as many colors as I had seen on one person. He looked up.
“Your garden is most beautiful!” I said to him with a wave.
The man stopped his digging and wiped his brow with his dirty hands. “Oh, thank you,” he said with labored breath, “Thank you so much. It feels good to hear that. I have to say though; I learned long ago that real beauty is from within and is completed by hard work. It takes time to develop such things. I am working this little garden so I can work up the stamina for deeper beauty that comes to us from the Royal Falls at the Palace of the Host. Soon I will do good works stewarding the Emunah Valley Farm of Hashem.”
“I heard a man the other day say that it is hard to breathe down there. Is that true?” I asked. I thought of the Dweller I met some weeks ago who was raging about the Emunah Valley Farm and the inability to breathe there.
“Tis true,” he said as he swung his garden tool back into the soil. “You know what we do with the little we will do with the much. Knowing that, I work my little home garden here with all my soul to develop the lungs to be about the good works of the Emunah Valley Farm down there in the wet air.”
I responded with a series of questions, “You mean you have to produce your own ability to get there? You can earn it? You can deserve it?”
He replied without even taking a break from molding the soil to his will, “No, you must trust in the Host and His working of His Name in you. It is all about Him. We must be patient with ourselves as we work ourselves to be more like Him because it is because of His faithful nature that we can learn to image Him. In this way, when we are ready, we can go and breathe down there.” He struck the ground again with his tool and unearthed a rock.
“If it is so hard to breathe down there, why do you want to go?”
The square-jawed man looked at me with compassion. He stuck his tool in the ground and came over to where I was standing. He motioned for me to sit on a nearby barrel and he did the same. He grabbed a flask of water and took a long large gulp. “Well, you heard we cannot naturally breathe down in the Emunah Valley. The air is thick with the mist from the Royal Falls and extremely wet. All of us long to go there in the presence of the mist. Being there in the mist means we will be among the abundant life there and share in the stewardship of the land. I call it gardening! We don’t do this in our own strength but in the strength of the Host. He provides for us as we trust in Him.”
“If it is hard to breathe, has anyone ever died?”
“Good question,” he said as he took the last drink from his flask. “No one has ever died in the Emunah Valley, but many have left the Valley ill because of distrust. They say only loyally to the Name can bring maturity to endure in the Emunah Valley Farm, in the deep parts of Hashem. It is there where the water is purest.”
The man put his hands on his knees to get up, and I put my hand on his. “Can I ask just one more question, and then I will let you get back to work?”
“You keep calling the valley ‘Emunah.’”
“What does that mean?”
“That word is a treasured word,” the man said with a large smile that stretched from ear to ear. He got up and went over to his garden tool. He yanked it from the ground and gripped it with both hands. “’Emunah’ is a word from the First Ones that means ‘faithfulness or more simply put, trust.’ It means to choose faith ourselves rather than just having it handed to us. It means it is my own conviction, it has been tested, and I chose to trust. It means to have faith ‘in’ rather than just faith ‘that.’”
Then quickly, gathering his thoughts the man went on, “I think of Emunah in gardening terms. It is like a seed that naturally has what it takes to root down to form a tree. Still, the seed must be in the earth and more importantly have continual light and water and then of course growth will come. In the same way, when we place our belief in the land of Hashem. The Ancient of Days provides of himself in the living water, and we grow from the inside out.”
With that, the man went back to tending his garden, and I wandered back to the central part of the village.
I sat there for a little while trying to understand the difference between having faith ‘in’ and having faith ‘that.’ It hit me as I was getting up to leave the hard-working gardener. True faith in the Ancient of Days must move past just that He is, but rather a belief in His ways and in His faithfulness and in Him as a Person who loves me. I moved from just faith ‘that He is’ to faith ‘in’ Him the moment I left the Encampment because I believed in His path. I nodded to myself in understanding as I walked back to the village.
I got back to the village just as the Pruning Festival was beginning. Villagers were in pairs or threes all over the village. Some were sitting on small stools. Some were standing. All of them had small cutters in their hands and were looking to the four Seniors of the Peoples of Gentleness and Patience who were on a raised platform in the middle of them all.
Lito spoke first.
“It was said of our people long ago, ‘Follow the mist in the wind till you reach the Banks of Solitude. There you will find the Gentle Ones wearing colorful leaf crowns. They live among the scent that brings rest to the soul.’”
Longan spoke next.
“We live in harmony here with the mist. We abide patiently and gently in it. Thus, our vines and flowers grow much and we must trim them often. We do that this day!”
All the people cheered.
They began to trim the laurels on their heads and the vests and sashes around them. As they did so, a sweet fragrance filled the air. Every time one of them snipped or clipped a flower or vine, the scent filled the air. They loved to help one another and keep their garments lively and growing. The people began to sing songs to the Ancient of Days.
Just then, Ducit came up behind me and patted me on the shoulder.
“Well, I left you for a while… are you ready to head out to another village?”
We walked for a while as I talked all about the people I had met and my time in the river. Ducit just listened and asked questions. He was supportive and helped me think through my conversation with the man with the garden whose goal was the Emunah Valley.
After a little while, my new friend, my genuine new friend, pointed out some landmarks along our way so I would know where I was and where we were going. He said that I might want to come this way again and I should know my way around. It was his focus and his goal to lead me around Hashem, and he was doing an excellent job.