Because of my quest to live on the future planet of immortality my Boss, in His infinite wisdom, thought it best to fling me over to the site of ancient Greece, the intellectual icon of the pre-Judeo-Christian world. I knew better than to complain about being sent to the past instead of the future but I mumbled something about needing a little more than three days notice next time. He heard me (of course) and reminded me that the trip to the new planet will occur with NO notice at all, so if I was a serious candidate, I’d better figure out how to prepare faster. “Practice,” He said, “was exactly what I needed.” I smiled while mentally checking off my to-do list.
I promised that I would tell you why I was sent to Greece when I found out. Apparently I was sent to represent a man’s father and uncle at his wedding, to climb a mountain for him and his future children, and to thank an old woman for something she told me twenty-five years ago.
Being visible is not everything. Even invisible immortals those whose first flesh ceases to encase them still live among us, help us and use us. Together we wait for the land of immortality to be ready, each of us in his or her realm. I have a group of about one hundred invisible aspiring immortals for whom I regularly ask God to bless. I know these people are alive and they know I’m alive. Two of them have the same name, my grandfather is one and his nephew is the other. They both wanted to be seen at the wedding and so I suspect that they asked God to send me in their stead.
On the day of the wedding, I was lead to the foot of a hill that is the highest point in Athens to make a pilgrimage to the hilltop church for the couple and for their children. A pilgrimage is more than a hike in that during the pilgrimage the hiker connects with God for a particular purpose. I hoped that my fear of heights, by adding to the sacrifice of this vertical trek, would empower my prayers to break through hostile celestial territory.
When I finally reached the top I passed an open door on my way to the front of the Church of Saint George, which just happens to be the groom’s name. My joy of arrival turned sour when I found the church doors locked so I walked back to the opening to see if someone would let me in. A very competent guard dog rushed over to me followed by a beautiful old woman with heavenly blue eyes. I asked if I could light a candle and she replied that the church would reopen in about an hour. I explained that my mission was urgent and couldn’t wait. So she lead me to the front door of the church and with her magic key let me in. A gaggle of tourists followed close behind us. Inside, I explained more to her about the urgency of my mission as the older couple were desperate to produce children (the male of which would be given the same name as the men who sent me on this mission.) She was clearly a woman who could appreciate a good challenge and enthusiastically volleyed with her own recent miracle. About to die with a high fever, she beseeched Saint George to intercede for her life. Her prayers were followed by a gushing vomit, and then her health was totally restored. Still reveling in our like mindedness, the old woman asked if I wanted a large candle and I assured her that this mission called for extreme measures because the couple was so old. In agreement, she fetched a 5 foot high candle, the likes of which I had never seen! I wondered how I would get that candle in the small sandbox. Together our hands guided the candle in multiple gyrations and we finally set the tall candle in its place.
A candle sacrifices wax to illuminate even as a soul sacrifices its own substance to overcome darkness. To light a candle with purpose is to transfer the sacrifice (i.e. wax) and love (i.e. light which overcomes darkness) of the candle to a prayer. Sacrifice and love make things happen. I am convinced that on that mountain top church of Saint George two new children were conceived in the mind of God.
Two days later my long-time dream to return to our ancestral village came true. Twenty five years ago when I was last there my family went to the village church one Sunday morning. Immediately after the liturgy some women approached and asked if we would come to their homes for lunch. We went to the home of Mrs. Z where her children and grandchildren were gathered. Mrs. Z was clearly an aspiring immortal. She took my young hand, lead me to her iconostasis and with a piercing look Z commanded me to recite the 51st psalm daily. Then we went back to the parlor for tripe soup and a group picture.
I have proudly displayed that picture all of these eventful years next to photos of my family and friends. This picture of young me between my baby boy in the arms of Irene, my little girl held by her husband, surrounded by one big loving Greek family always represented the ideal family to me. The photo has been especially comforting since so much of my own family is deceased or childless and isolated. But more than that, in reciting the 51st Psalm daily I have connected through the life of David to God in a very real and holy way. “Have mercy upon me O God...Thou shall sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean, Thou shall wash me and I shall be whiter than snow... The bones which Thou hast broken shall rejoice...Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and steady me with a guiding spirit. Then I shall teach transgressors Thy ways and the impious shall be converted unto Thee... Thou hast loved truth, the unclear and hidden things of Thy wisdom Thou hast made clear to me... Create in me a clean heart o God and renew a right spirit within me”. I believe that the command of Lady Z lead me to landing this job as God's writer-friend. I wanted to thank her.
So before the trip I took the photo and Xeroxed it. In the village I showed the photo to the woman manning the handicrafts store who sent me to the geological museum. From there another woman lead me into a narrow alley way. When we stopped she looked up to a window and shouted at the top of her lungs for someone to come down. I suppose another ethnic group invented the doorbell. Once inside and settled the family-of-the-picture one by one emerged. I kept asking for the old woman and they repeatedly assured me that she was still alive and would come to see me. They called Irene in Athens and we chatted away trying to close the gap of these many years. Irene too had a copy of the original picture and looked at it often. It was so good to be reconnected.
Finally the moment I awaited arrived when the old woman emerged. I was so relieved to see her that I thanked her before another moment passed for the command about the 51st Psalm. She didn’t know what I was talking about, couldn’t remember telling me that, but was determined to continue her role as my apparent spiritual guide by instructing me to make the sign of the cross as widely as possible across my body to ward away any possible evil spirit that may try to enter my heart and soul. I smiled and wondered if that could possibly be as effective as the psalm and figured I’d give it a try. After more exchanges of love, I went on my way grateful that Lady Z was still alive and suspecting that she always will be.
Having gone from the present deep into history, then forward to the recent past, then back to the present, then onto the future, only to quickly return to the near past and present has truly been a dizzying experience, but one well worth the rides. An aspiring immortal can only focus on the future just so much!