"How long have we been in here Coochie?" asked Aurelia in a slow lethargic manner.
"Truly, I don't know Aurelia. It seems that the rain has washed away time along with everything we ever knew. Come, we will be late for the prayer. I don't want Father Noah to scold us again."
The young ladies hurried to the prayer room. They arrived to find everyone else there. Sha-me, Ham, and Japheth were huddled around the window gazing at the scene outside through sheets of rain. The window was not on the same side as the door so they could not see the small crowd trying to break in, nor did they hear their desperate shouts over the sounds of animals and of rainfall. What brought gasps of shock and sorrow were dead babies and small animals floating on what appeared to be one meter of water and getting deeper by the minute.
"Come," shouted Noah. "The ladies are here now. Get away from the window. Let us not allow our eyes to deceive our hearts."
One by one Sha-me and her sons turned away from the window to face Noah. Noah wondered if he should move their gatherings to another room to avoid the scenes of horror that were going to get worse. He could see the distress on their faces and a few tears. He would have to remember to ask God what he should do or say to protect his family from overwhelming grief.
"Children, Sha-me." began Noah, "Let us be reminded that the Lord God is delivering us from death to love and serve Him." Then, realizing that he had to address their grief head on, he added, "The sins of the fathers were visited on their children. Had the children lived in that wretched world they too would become evil and wicked, for they would have been trained in the ways of their world. God is without time. He sees the future as clearly as we see the present. These infants floating by our window are being spared from that evil world as much as we are. This is not a problem for us to solve. Trust Him. Let us begin with praise. Lazaria, lead us in your Alleluia."
Tears streamed down lady-eyes as the family chanted. Over the course of the last few days their harmony had gotten better and better. The men and ladies composed an Alleluia chant with base, tenor, alto and soprano pitches that seemed to resonate throughout the room somehow masking the loud sounds of animals and the incessant drone of beating rainfall so that all they heard was the worshipful chant of their lonely family.
When the Alleluias died down, Noah asked his small congregation to share moments of thanksgiving that they experienced since the day before.
Ham was the first to speak up, "Father, yesterday on the strict fast day, I didn't become as ravenously hungry as I had last week, and I am grateful for that."
Lazaria reported, "Early this morning a red bird managed to find its way in here through the rooftop stairwell. I led it into the bird room and was filled with joy that it could be saved. What a mighty bird it must be to survive the torrential rains! I hope you are not displeased Father."
"That's fine Lazaria, but no more. I'm sure we cannot host one more being."
Lazaria nodded her head in acceptance. Noah looked around the room for more expressions of gratitude.
Shem raised his hand and said, "I am grateful that my wife and I are in here, but I don't know why I am being saved. I feel so unworthy." Then Shem hung his head low. Noah looked over at Japheth to see if he had anything to add.
Japheth seemed overwhelmed with emotion and speechless. He simply nodded his head to confirm Shem's feeling of unworthiness. Noah did not force him to speak. He simply moved on to the next part. "Who would like to make a confession this morning?" Noah looked around the room and honed in on Japheth who was trying to pull himself together, as closed-mouth as ever. Japheth was not yet ready to confess his crime, but thought that perhaps he should think of something to say as practice.
Noah continued to scan his clan and stopped at Sha-me. Perhaps, he thought, if the matriarch confessed something the youngsters would open up. "Sha-me, do I sense that you have something say?" he asked to elicit a response. Sha-me thought hard and finally said, "Noah, I have questioned God, why He would kill everyone. I confess that even as we prepared for this great and awful day, I never believed it would happen as you said."
Coochie and Aurelia nodded in agreement, the others who felt that way, didn't dare admit it.
Noah accepted the confession without comment for he thought that it wasn't his place to speak for God. He scanned the small room some more and when he had given everyone a chance to bravely step forward, he moved on. "Now that we have come to the Lord with thankfulness and contrition, we are prepared to ask for His favor."
Lazaria was the first to speak again as she blurted out, "Lord, let them know in their hearts why this destruction is happening to them. Let them see how much their actions have offended You, and let them die with sorrow and not with anger. Please Lord, hear my prayer."
Coochie added thinking still about a dead child she saw floating by, "Lord, I pray for my nephew, that he may die in peace, and for my brother. Let him know that I forgive him for his criticism of us."
That supplication was accentuated by more nodding heads.
Ham was quick to add, "Lord, please make sure we have enough to eat, and enough food for the animals too."
Japheth looked over at Ham and snapped, "Ham, you asked that yesterday, and the day before. Do you think God forgot?"
""Shut-up Japheth, I don't remember Father telling us what we could not ask. You think of something else."
Taking the challenge Japheth said, "Lord, help me to become a better man, to be able to hear you speak to me as Father does, and not to be like Ham who only thinks about his stomach!"
Noah stepped in. "Japheth! May I remind you that you are both in this ark together! You will rise and sink as one. Become a better man by realizing that you and your brother must face each other. You must turn your heart for that to happen." Japheth heard his father's words and decided to think about their meaning later.
At that Sha-me beseeched the almighty God to give them peace. "Lord, we are full to the brim with conflicts, with bickering and anger. Please Lord, if you can, instill in our hearts patience and calm. Let us do whatever each, with his own will can to avoid offending the other. Lord, I don't know what makes us want to show ourselves better than our brother or sister, but whatever that is, can You please make it go away so we eight can create a peaceful new world?"
Noah smiled proudly to his wife and added, "Can any of us ask for more?"
It wasn't that they had no supplications that Shem and Aurelia didn't speak up; it was because they wanted to get on with their day. There were animals to feed and washing to be done.
Noah ended the service exalting God as Lord over them and over all of nature, letting Him know that they were grateful to be in the ark, and that indeed they all wanted to evolve into true children of His. They glorified God together saying every nice thing they could think of to say to Him.
Shem was the first to leave the prayer room. On his way out he glanced over at the window and saw a stream of small dead bodies of babies and little furry animals floating by. He averted his eyes away quickly, but the tragic sight had already burrowed itself deep in his soul. Shem headed straight for the farm animal room to feed the lambs, cows, and goats and to clean out their stalls. When he entered the room, the animals were all glad to see him. They walked up close to greet Shem, each voicing their greeting in their own way according to their kind. Shem patted on its head as many as he could reach. He had grown very fond of these animals with a particular fondness for a few of the happier and funnier characters. While the animals were busy feasting on the food Shem brought them, he went about with his cleaning chores.
Shem liked the mindless cleaning work for the opportunity it afforded him to contemplate without interruption. On this morning he reflected on how suddenly the waters ended the lives of so many, how abruptly it ceased their joys and sorrows, their love for each other, especially the babies with their mothers and fathers. To be spared that sudden end of all that he knew and loved was a gift from God. To be alive in the midst of pervasive death united Shem with the source and essence of life as nothing else could. It seemed to him that the deadly rain removed Shem's own alienation from God. This salvation from the waters of death that everyone else on earth suffered somehow purged within Shem his own selfishness, his own hubris. It was as if the waters of death remitted his sin once and for all. He mysteriously felt that God pardoned him from all that he had done to displease Him before this awesome day.
Shem could feel himself changing; he sensed the process by which God was making him into a different person with a new perspective, a gentler person, a more patient person than he had ever been before. He thought about his mother's prayer. 'What was it that made one person want to outshine the other?' He no longer wanted to outshine anyone, he wanted to merge in love with everyone, to be distinct but similar and complementary. Had God answered his mother's prayer? Was he actually losing whatever it was that created in him conflict with others? No longer did Shem care only about himself, but he was beginning to sense a closeness with God and with his family, a unity with them, that he had never experienced before and didn't know was possible. Shem's eyes filled with tears as he wished that those dead infants he saw could have been transformed as he was, instead of being killed. He wished that he had been thus transformed as an infant, instead of after so many years of flailing around as part of such a broken world.
Shem looked forward to sharing what he felt to be his revelations with Lazaria that evening before they fell asleep.
Meanwhile, Lazaria had gone directly to her favorite bird room to check in on the new guest, to make sure the little red bird had been well received by all the others. Coochie entered surprising Lazaria who was accustomed to being alone.
"Is it okay if I come in?" asked Coochie.
"Of course it is." replied Lazaria unconvincingly. "I was just about to sweep, do you want to help?"
"Okay, but can we talk?"
"Sure. What about?"
"I have been thinking about those babies we saw this morning, and about all the others who will soon die. I wonder how they grew so horrid, and how Noah came to be so different from them. Why didn't Noah argue with them as they did with each other, surely he was provoked to fight more than anyone else. What do you think Lazaria? Let me ask, does God talk to you when you are alone?"
Lazaria was surprised by Coochie's visit and her questions. She had to stop to think about how to reply. Fortunately Coochie was silent and patient. "Coochie, take this broom and sweep starting over there in that corner. We will talk later; okay?"
As the young ladies swept the birds flew all around them making it difficult to follow a train of thought without being bombarded by a bluejay or a chickadee. Lazaria knew that she didn't have to think, but only pray to the Lord and He would tell her what to say.
When the ladies finished their sweeping, and fresh worms were strewn around Lazaria and Coochie meandered through the makeshift forest the menfolk had constructed with tree limbs until they reached the door. Lazaria said, "Come, I know a perfect place to talk."
Lazaria led Coochie to the landing beneath the rooftop level where they could breath in the fresh wet air. The rain slapped their faces gently after ricocheting off the partial ceiling that covered the stairwell.
When they settled into their niche Coochie gave Lazaria a look of great anticipation for what she could learn from this quiet solitary sister. Lazaria asked God again what to say.
Finally some words came to her mouth. "Coochie, do you remember Father Noah telling us about the two first people God created?"
"Yes, Lazaria, Adam and Eve."
"They were made to be like God in their intelligence and creativity, in their emotions and in their faces. Humans unlike any animal reflect the face of God, His image. By face I mean they reflect the sight of God Who sees His whole creation from a long wide faraway vantage point as well as from up close to see all the details. With His ears God is able to hear our prayers, and hear how we relate to each other. The face of God and man also houses the tongue of God that discerns bitter and sweet, tough and tender. The face of God and man smells fragrant flowers as well as noxious fumes that harm and kill. With our godly faces we discern tangible good and evil. Our faces link us to the powers of God. But there is another aspect of being human, of our grandparents Adam and Eve that is much less objective and straightforward, less innocent than the senses of our faces. There is an enemy of God and man. This enemy seeks the destruction of God, and consequently the enemy of everyone made in His image, that is all of humanity. This enemy created a barrier that damaged the link between human and God with distrust.
God warned them not to taste of the enemy's fruit. But they disobeyed because they believed the lie that it would make them as wise as God.
"I'm confused." Said Coochie. "Did you not say that they were already like God, couldn't they tell?"
Lazaria replied, "They were poisoned by the enemy in a way that separated them from God. That separation was the death that God warned them would occur. He didn't kill them; they killed themselves by alienating themselves with distrust from Him who is the fountain of life. For these last ten generations God waited for mankind to see for themselves if knowing good and evil would really make them wiser. The problem is that being alienated from God, they stopped caring."
Coochie said, "Oh Lazaria, it really was horrible. Man just became more and more corrupt, more evil."
Lazaria replied, "The image of God in man, the face of God, became disfigured so they could no longer taste or see, or hear without the echoes of self centered distrust obscuring everything."
"What can be done?"
"See the rain fall and the animals and even babies dying all around us."
With tears welling up in her eyes Coochie nodded.
"My dear, God is annihilating the death of separation from Him, with death. By this watery death, God hopes to close the breach, He hopes to reunite us eight people to Himself, to restore our faces to look like His again. We have only to unite ourselves with His life giving power and we will be born anew. Our faces can become purely like His again. Every generation after us will also be able to enter into our baptism to reverse the effects of the enemy's lie."
Hearing herself speak thus Lazaria knew that God was speaking through her, for she had never thought those thoughts before. In fact she thought that once she could be alone again she too could contemplate their meaning.
"Lazaria! Can we un-know good and evil?"
"No, Coochie," Lazaria replied authoritatively, "I am afraid we cannot ignore the knowledge of good and evil, but as God wanted, we should be aware and alert enough to not to eat of its fruit. I mean, we should take our focus off ourselves, and choose to be as trusting of God as possible. That way you and I can let Him take care of good and evil, we aren't letting all those matters into our hearts to disfigure us from His image and likeness."
Coochie thought for a moment and replied, "You mean I don't have to fret about these people drowning all around us, even my little nephew?" Lazaria shot Coochie a peaceful and loving smile, and replied, "Above all things, what is happening to our world is all of God's concern. It is only for us to trust Him and worship Him."
"You should tell the family this tomorrow morning at our prayer time. Do you suppose that father Noah understands this too? "
Lazaria smiled wistfully and replied, "I am certain that father Noah knows this. He has maintained the face of God. That is why he among all of mankind was selected for this grand mission. It is we, Noah's family who are beneficiaries of his faithfulness. Don't you see how lucky we are?!"
"But why us, Lazaria? Do you think God selected each of us?"
"I don't know Coochie and it doesn't matter. Come, let's get out of the rain and help mother Sha-me prepare the evening meal."
The ladies descended the stairs drenched and dripping. As they went to change their clothes, both ladies were mulling over new thoughts as if each young lady in her own way fundamentally changed inwardly and with that scene a stronger bond developed joining them to each other.
Outside the ark pandemonium was taking over. The rains pelted the earth day and night, relentlessly battering everything on it. Never had anyone known such constancy, such fortitude. Neither anger nor hatred nor quest for power could have matched this barrage of water for its ability to destroy unceasingly day after day, week after week. Only Noah and his family knew that the waters would cease falling after forty days. The besieged and beleaguered slowly came to believe that the rains would never end. Gone was their hope that on the next day the sun would shine bright through clear dry skies again. They had nothing to cling to. Hope was washing away with everything they owned and every aspect of their beings. The quest for power was turned inside out. Nothing was left inside, neither thoughts nor dreams nor aspirations. Everyone who could, fled to the mountaintops for whatever days or hours more of air they could steal. Everyone else drowned.
Inside, Noah quietly marked the midway of the days of rain. He too felt weakened physically by the fast days, but mysteriously spiritually-stronger by them too. He allowed the youngsters to tend to the feeding and cleaning while he spent most of his days seeking the Lord's guidance, and planning for the new world. Noah could have never imagined the emptiness he would feel at this time. Whether it was fatigue from the lack of nourishment or a reaction to the stark contrast between the death that surrounded them and the ark teaming with life, Noah felt completely subdued. He wondered how God felt watching the destruction of His creation from above the watery firmament. He knew not what to expect when the rains ceased, but he knew enough not to question that now. In each of his 600 years on earth Noah came to trust God more and more, not depending on earthly sights and sounds, but rather interpreting everything through a different lens that God had gradually given him over the years. In the midst of his contemplating Noah felt a sudden jarring of the boat.
He heard Aurelia scream, "Father Noah come quick, we are moving! Help!!! Are we too going to drown? Help; help!! Everyone rushed to the prayer room. Creaking sounds resounded throughout the ark. The brothers who were working together looked at each other and their father as if to say, "What did we do wrong? Will this building of ours hold up?" Everyone, even Noah, had panic smeared all over their faces. The women sobbed begging God for forgiveness and mercy.
Each of the eight hearts and minds screamed silently, but in unison something to the effect of, 'We aren't spared after-all. Now we will know how all the doomed people were feeling these weeks. Lord, I don't want to die, please save me! I promise to be better!'
The truth is that the ark was simply lifting off the ground to begin its floating journey. Everything was just as God had planned it. The ark was well built and there was no danger to the inhabitants. The buoyancy of the heavy boat along with the undertow of the deepening waters loosed and then freed the boat from its wooden crutches. Their fear was infectious though, even affecting Noah, but it was foundless. Within an hour the ark was well on its way around the world being tugged to and fro by the magnetism of the moon and its own rotation around the stable sun leaving behind the place of Noah's birth, the land of his fathers and forefathers back to Adam and Eve. Gone were the sights of people desperately climbing mountains, of dead babies and small children floating face down. Gone was everything Noah and his family ever knew of life, save for their relationship with each other and their faith in the invisible God.
The loosened ark started moving more and more quickly in search of the ocean for which it was built. The rains were still pouring down heavily causing it to rise higher and higher, especially when the ark reached the deep turbulent ocean.
Japheth, Coochie, Sha-me, and Ham vomited all over the prayer room. Aurelia and Lazeria started to clean it up, but the stench was overwhelming and they fled to the rooftop for fresh air. Noah and Shem had gone to check on the animals who were howling as never before.
"Lazeria" shouted Noah from the bottom deck. "Lazeria where are you, come down here!"
It was strange because Lazeria knew it would have been impossible to hear Noah call her with the sounds of animals as loud as they were, but she did hear Noah call and told Aurelia to come with her and see what he wanted.
When the ladies arrived at the bottom deck they found most of the wildest animals howling and growling. Noah shouted to Lazaria and Aurelia to start chanting as loud as they could.
The melody and particularly the harmony of sound from the two ladies with Noah and Shem chanting an octave lower gradually soothed the frightened beasts. It didn't slow down the rocking back and forth of the ship, but suddenly deep in their souls man and beast were transported far back to their mother's wombs where in the beginning they were formed amidst similar rocking motions to and from with the steps of their busy mothers. From the very first moments of consciousness until the day of birth when suddenly the stationary earth replaced the rocking womb and with it their sense of balance man and beast existed in a moving environment similar to the rocking ark when it lifted off solid ground and floated on the oceanic earth.
Thus Noah, Shem, Lazaria and Aurelia spent the first long dark night at sea with the large beasts on the floor of their house turned boat. At sunrise the quartet ventured upstairs to find out how the rest of the troupe had faired. They went to the prayer room and thanked God that the room had a window to diffuse the stench of vomit that lingered there.
There they found Sha-me, Coochie, Ham and Japheth awake and cleaning the room to prepare it for the prayer service.
Sha-me rushed up to Noah weeping, "Where have you been?! We were so worried about you, but we just couldn't walk around this awful ark to look for you. Oh, Noah, this is horrible! How can we survive! I am so afraid."
Noah hugged his wife tightly in silence, soothing her with the beat of his heart and the stability of his muscular arms. When he felt her racing heart slow down, Noah said, "My dear, the large animals were as fearful as you and needed our help. Lazaria and Aurelia, Shem and I were down there soothing them all night. We will be fine. If this boat did not break apart last night, it never will. Be at peace. We have left the horrors of the dead and dying behind us. Let us praise the Lord with full and grateful hearts lest our fear offend Him who is delivering us from evil."
Sha-me reduced her fear to tears and simply wept in Noah's comforting embrace. When finally she calmed down Noah released himself and gathered his small clan.
"Come children, thank you for cleaning. Let us pour out our full and heavy hearts to our Lord."
Everyone came together each couple holding hands to stabilize themselves. Without asking permission they sat in a large circle on the floor on pelts they had laid in piles. There was no chattering this morning as was usually the case. A rare quiet surrounded Noah as he listened deep within his heart for the message that he was to relay from the Lord God to the survivors of last night's launching.
He began, "My children, this is the midway point of the forty days of rain that the Lord is sending to wash this earth of the filth of evil and wickedness, to return to the beginning of creation when there was only water. Know that through our fasting and prayer we have been preparing for this time. Let the weakness and fatigue of your bodies yield spiritual alertness. With the same determination with which you controlled your appetite, God asks you to control your emotions. Fear and doubt will weaken you. These unique days require strength. Strength and faith.
Let us refrain from looking back, neither for those we left behind, nor at our struggles to master ourselves. Now is the time to begin to look forward to the second half of our forty days for the culmination of the rain that will herald a new life for us. I remind you that we are the remnants of humankind. Our faith and fortitude will form the foundation for generations that come after us."
Noah paused to allow God's message to penetrate their minds and hearts.
"In these days we are being asked to sacrifice our old selves. What appears so devastating to our psyches now will grow into new and beautiful lives of gratitude and wonder. As a seed planted deep within the cold dark soil must die before it can sprout and blossom into a flower or even a mighty tree, so must these deadly days become days of sprouting of new life in us who are the seeds of a purified world.
I ask you to accept your suffering, even your natural fears, as the condition through which you will grow into a resurrected world. Follow God who leads us there. He sees us, keeps us safe, and knows where we are going. Allow Him to comfort you in your heart, open a path through the fear and discomfort of these days, through the hunger and the stench, open a path to your golden hearts where the Lord will rest in you. Realize that He too suffers the destruction of His creation. Let's be sad for our God whose will was for the life and happiness of humanity to companion Him.
Refreshed and reassured let us proceed to the second half of our journey with vigor and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. "
With that message as his homily Noah proceeded to ask for expressions of contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. This morning's doxology was clearly the most heartfelt this gradually unifying troupe had ever expressed.