ALIVE Chapter 16 - Stopped

The ark wandered aimlessly for 150 days.

The tenth month of being in the ark was not much different than the second month or the seventh. The 40th-day celebration not only marked the end of the rains, a very joyous event, but the beginning of a protracted time at sea. With neither a date of arrival, nor an end in sight Noah and his family had to adjust their minds and hearts to accept a monotonous present. For all they knew, they would be hostage in the ark for years. God had told Noah about the 40 days, but said nothing about how much longer they would have to live in the smelly congested houseboat. It seemed impossible that the earth could ever absorb the bottomless ocean they were floating on. What they needed was steady, unswerving faith. The kind of blind but hearty faith that comes without any encouragement at all, for no one knew what to expect except more drifting around the oceanic earth. In these days God never spoke, not even to Noah.

Nevertheless every morning at sunrise the family gathered to talk and chant to God, hoping that their melodious voices would draw His attention and He would tell them what to expect. After prayer and worship-time, they did their chores, cooked and cleaned, and tended the animals. The routine was vital to their mental health and to the stability of their community.

Every night the skies were illuminated by millions of stars and one bright moon that changed its shape from round to crescent to help them mark time. The beautiful skies that replaced the 40 days of thick clouds was a gift that helped the family endure the long months after the rains ended. Japheth was the time keeper; every morning he placed his hash mark on the wall and every evening he drew the shape of the moon.

Following the party of the fortieth day, the food rations were cut so that they only ate a little once a day, just enough to keep them alive. After the party, they stopped the fourth and sixth day fasts because there was so little eating that to skip a day seemed suicidal, and the last thing any of them wanted was to court death. Even the animals grew bony and lethargic. Besides, the fast had accomplished its purpose of helping to transform each of them into children of God. Contrary to normal human relations, these eight persons never fought or bickered with each other. Was it because they were too weak to argue, or that it seemed too futile? Or was it because God has gifted them with the spirit of peace, to compensate them for all the physical and emotional suffering He knew they would have to endure. The phrase, 'they were in this boat together' probably started on the ark. I imagine Noah being the first to say that to his family to remind them that the miserable conditions, the growing poverty as they used up their resources, and everything each of them felt and thought, the fright, the loneliness, the despair and boredom was shared alike by all.

All of the animals and all of the people were somber with an emptiness that all the water in the world could not fill. The boredom was so heavy that even the blazing sunshine could only lift their spirits a meter high and only for a few moments every now and then.

During those hollow weeks God drifted away from the ark. We know this because in Genesis 8 we read that He came back from wherever He went. It says, “God ‘remembered’ Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained and the waters gradually receded from the earth. At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.”

The ark rested on Ararat in the seventh month.

Without warning there was a thunderous sound of the wood of the ark clashing with rock. Man and beast alike fell to the ground and sat there in fear, waiting for the imagined break into the floor to open the way for the entire ocean to enter their home, their world, and swallow it up. In reality the landing was fairly smooth and without trauma, as if the entire ark found its docking station and clipped itself in.

“We stopped!” exclaimed Japheth to make sure that everyone knew the obvious, as if they couldn’t know unless Japheth told them.

“I know,” replied Coochie who had fallen by his side. She stood up and dusted herself off and then gave Japheth a big hug saying, “Isn’t this terrific!”

Soon everyone, from wherever they were and from whatever they had been doing to pass the dull time, scurried up to the deck to see what happened, and saw nothing. The ark was perched on something, but they could not see what. All they saw for miles and miles around was ocean, but something was different. They were not moving.

“It’s windy up here; I’m cold.” said Aurelia shivering with teeth clicking rapidly “Can we go inside now? We have seen enough.”

“Of course my dear,” replied Noah. “Come family.”

Everyone descended to the dark gathering room. The window hadn't been opened for a very long time as the blowing cold winds were not at all welcome. Nevertheless, without the ability to see that they were still, and even though waves were incessantly hitting the sides and jarring the ark, they could sense that they were no longer traveling.

The new sensation of stillness was odd. Despite the slamming waves that shook the ark, it continued to remain firmly in place.

“Let’s sit in a circle.” suggested Lazaria who took Shem’s hand and sat on the floor cross-legged. Sha-me walked over to Noah and took his hand and together they sat down next to Lazaria. Soon the circle was complete.

Hand in hand, feeling the subtle vibrations of one another the family sat quietly with each pair of eyes sometimes open, sometimes closed, rhythmically alternating sips of light and darkness, and of visual and inner contemplation making a moving picture of humanity absorbing the new sensation of being in a fixed location. This sense of location, so new and fresh was appreciated as man had never before and never since appreciated being fixed in place. No one even wanted to get up and walk, or yet cared to know where (s)he was. An hour, maybe two hours passed in pure inactivity and quiet contemplation.

Ham was the first to pull himself up to his feet. “I hear the cows calling to be milked. Aurelia, come gather the eggs.”

“Alright, Ham.” She replied softly, hating to break the silence. 'How Ham loved his eggs' she thought to herself.

In ones and twos the family soon resumed their normal activities, and within a week they were all accustomed to the stationary ark, however, the wind that was causing the waters to subside continued to blow hard. The still ark enveloped by winds and choppy seas presented the family with yet another weird and threatening environment. Going on deck to survey the scene was not for the especially slight, lest the wind scoop him or her up and throw him or her into the sea. The women learned fast to stay below. The men were forced out of necessity to bring down fresh water from the rapidly diminishing cisterns.

The three brothers started to enjoy being together away from the others to talk about their plans for the future. They would certainly go their separate ways hoping to find enough land to divide for each family. They wondered when the land would be arable enough to farm. They wondered about the condition of the seeds they had brought on board.They also had to divide the animals. After being in such close quarters for so long, the whole concept of dividing was equally frightening and welcome. With the same enthusiasm that they had to build the ark, each brother wanted to plan what needed to be done to begin life anew on the earth. Homes needed to be built, or carved out of caves, gardens planted. But first they needed to find food for the animals that they needed to help them. Horses for traveling, the cows and chickens needed to be strengthened as their production had fallen way off. There was so much to be done once they landed, whenever that would be. Yet, there were so many unknowns about what they would find, it was difficult to make plans. How would they all get down from this mountain, and how far would they have to travel to find flatlands? The brothers were brimming questions, but also with hope and anticipation.

In the tenth month mountaintops appear.

After three long monotonous months, the stability eventually grew old too. The waters were being absorbed so slowly, and the winds so fierce that rarely did anyone venture on deck, and the window was never opened in a futile attempt to retain whatever heat they could muster inside the ark. Change was so gradual that no one was immediately aware of the growing appearance of land beneath them, or the appearance of other mountaintops.

When the first mountaintop was spotted in the distance (by Shem) everyone else became self-appointed watchmen stealing away to the deck for a quick look around. As it turned out the ark had landed on a wide and flat area, obviously designed by God for this purpose. It wasn’t long before they noticed that there was a growing ring of earth beneath them. But more exciting was the evolving skyline. More and more mountaintops soon popped up here and there. Every morning presented the family with a brand new view and a spectacular sunrise. The brothers worried that land suitable for farming or ranching could be a long journey away.

For the following five months, morning, noon and night the chatter was only about the future. The women who surprisingly did not conceive during the entire ordeal on the ark were ready to bear children, many many children would be needed to begin the world again.

40 days after spotting other mountains Noah sent out a raven.

“What are you doing here father?” asked Lazaria who was visiting the birds when Noah came in.

“I am looking for a raven. Do you know where they are?”

“Yes, of course father.” she replied and led him there. A raven flew over and perched on her shoulder. Lazaria looked at Noah and smiled proudly with her sparkling green eyes.

“Excellent,” said Noah. You two come with me.” He led them out of the bird room and into the gathering room, the raven glued to Lazaria's shoulder. When they arrived, they were greeted by Sha-me and Shem. With Shem's help Noah opened the window. Lazaria and the raven watched quietly. As the window slowly opened, because of the force of the wind and Noah's diminished strength, a fresh and fragrant breeze rushed in to envelope the humans. Faces looked away in protection, but the fresh air smelled divine.

Noah reached over to Lazaria’s shoulder and held out his arm. The raven instinctively fluttered over. Then Noah extended his raven-laden arm out the window and said, “Mr. Raven go and find us some land. The raven flew away. Noah and Lazaria watched until the bird was only a speck of black in the distance.

“I wonder what he will find.” said Lazaria wistfully while Noah and Shem closed the window.

At that moment Ham and Japheth walked in. “There you are father, we have been looking for you. Do you suppose there is a way we can pull some water from the sea into the cisterns? We are getting mighty low.” Listening to themselves ask for water sounded absurd, but the truth was that they found themselves surrounded by ocean in the distance with very little in their reach as the waters were rapidly subsiding. The menfolk had a real puzzle on their hands. The narrow strip of land surrounding the ark created a barrier between them and the water they needed.

After the men went off to solve their new engineering challenge, Sha-me went to see if the cows or goats had any more milk to give her family. Lazaria stayed and tidied up the gathering room. She thought more about the raven and where he had gone. How she longed to follow him. That evening while the family was gathered for their meager supper, they talked about why the raven had not returned.

"It probably froze to death." said Ham.

"Like we may soon." added Coochie.

It was true; the family noticed a rapid decrease in temperature since they landed. The window stay closed all the time. Inside everyone had on nearly every article of clothing they owned to try to stay warm. Even hands were wrapped in cloth. The fingers and toes, especially of the women were excruciatingly painful. Noah and his sons rigged up an indoor fire pit to keep them warm. Fortunately there was plenty of dung they could use for fuel, but controlling the fire and removing the smoke were the biggest challenges. They could no longer empty the latrine into the sea because of the narrow ring of land that surrounded them, so they left it inside.

The anticipation of leaving the ark was mounting to a frenzied level. How they wanted to be out of this prolonged confinement. It had been so much longer than anyone expected. And so much more difficult. Only Sha-me and sometimes Noah felt nostalgic with thoughts of losing the closeness of their family.

Seven nights had gone by and still no sign of the raven's return. Throughout each day someone ventured up on deck to look around for new mountains and the raven, finding one, but not the other.

One afternoon Lazaria approached Noah in his compartment and asked, "Father, why don't you send out this dove?" Lazaria held out a pure white dove that nested in the palm of her hands. "I know he will return if he can." she added with a smile of assurance.

"Alright my dear, let's give him a try." replied Noah and he got up and lead them to the gathering room window. Japheth and Ham were also in the room and watched while Noah opened the window. The dove immediately flew out of Lazaria's hand as if in a desperate escape.

The winds weren't so harsh that day so they left the window open to air out the room.

The family went about their work, some hopeful, some doubtful that the dove would return.

At the end of the day, while gathered at the supper table, the dove surprised them all when it flew in through the window with a fresh olive leaf in his beak.

"I knew he would come back to me!" exclaimed Lazaria gleefully.

"Hallelujah!" shouted everyone else in unison.

"Look, it has something something in his beak! What is it?" asked Aurelia.

The dove landed on Lazaria's shoulder as if to present her with his gift. She reached up and took the dove in her hands and then pulled out the gift.

"It looks like a leaf from an olive tree!" announced Lazaria.

"I wonder where on earth an olive tree could have grown?" said Aurelia.

"Or survived the flood," added Shem.

"The Lord is merciful." stated Noah. "He has heard our cries, and is showing us that the end is near."

"It has been so long since we had any olive oil for light." said Sha-me.

"Or for food," added Ham.

Sha-me echoed Noah when she said, "Kyrie *Eleison, the Lord's mercy is great and He is greatly to be praised. [*elei is the Greek word for olive. Eleison meaning mercy, also means olive. Mercy and olive leaf are interchangeable because of this moment in history when the dove showed them God's mercy with an olive leaf.] Forevermore the olive oil will be a symbol of God's light arising out of deep darkness to be merciful to us who sit in desperation and want. This dove has given us hope. This dove was sent back to us from our God with the message that life will return to our land. One little olive leaf, just one little olive leaf has shown us that our relief is nigh. God, who sees our suffering is giving us mercy and hope."

The family rejoiced again that evening, perhaps not to the degree of the 40th day celebration because of their severe weakness. After all, they had been in the ark seven times forty days. The ark had taken them from the depths of evil and wickedness to the heights of spiritual unity with their God and maker back down to the very brink of physical life. Each man and his wife were holding on to breath and heartbeat by a thin red thread.

"Please, may we get out now father and see if we can find that olive tree?" begged Shem.

"No!" replied Noah surprised to hear himself say that so forcefully.

"Why not?!" cried Coochie sobbing.

"Patience family. If the dove could have found a place to nest he would have not come back."

"But the raven didn't return father!" begged Coochie.

"Besides," responded Noah, "the Lord has not given me the sign yet. We must trust Him. Let us wait for the waters to subside even more. Please keep in mind my children, that when we leave, it will be forever and perhaps harsher conditions than we are experiencing in here will confront us. Let us spend one more week, one holy week, seven days, in prayer and preparation for our departure from this ark of our salvation. Sha-me, My dear, let us take inventory of all the food we have left. We will need some when we get out."

Ham said, "I can tell you now that it isn't very much father. I will help you mother."