Sunday, November 8, 2015

Listening for the Voice of God: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem
The courtyard of the church was full of people, but they parted for him, a whisper of awe running through the crowd from those who recognized him to those who did not. He passed through the portal into the church itself. This was lit by candles, and the air was heavy with incense. Immediately ahead of him, against the back side of the choir, were the tombs of the Kings of Jerusalem. Balian paused to kneel before Baldwin IV’s tomb.

“You were lucky to go when you did,” he told his former pupil silently.

“But if I’d lived longer, maybe I would have found a way to get rid of Guy,” Baldwin seemed to answer.

“Guy and Ridefort together lost Jerusalem,” Balian told his dead friend.

“Jerusalem?” Baldwin asked back. “Guy and Ridefort lost Hattin. Jerusalem is still Christian.”

“Am I to defend it with just two knights?”

“How many knights did you have at Ascalon?”

“You brought me 376 knights.”

“I issued the arrière-ban. Do not underestimate the power of people imbued with faith.”

Balian looked up at the effigy on the tomb. It was calm and beautiful, unmarked by the ravages of leprosy; it was not a portrait but a symbol. It was the way Baldwin would have liked to be remembered. “What would you have done if you had survived?” Balian asked silently.

“How can you even ask?” Baldwin reproached him. “When did I ever fail to defend my Kingdom? I would do so from the grave if I could. And you are still my knight, Balian. You were always my lance and my sword. Do not fail me now.”

Balian stood and proceeded to the rotunda. Here the crowds were thicker than ever; many people knelt on the flagstone floor, praying fervently. Others were lighting candles before the Grave Chapel, while in the choir several hundred people stood pressed together, following the Mass being read by the canons of the Holy Sepulcher. All twelve canons who had accompanied the True Cross to Hattin had been killed. There could not be more than a dozen left, Balian reckoned. But two of these stood as usual at the entrance to the Grave Chapel, controlling access. They recognized the Baron of Ibelin as he approached, and parted without a word; one even bowed his head.

“I wish to be alone,” Ibelin told them as he passed into the chapel. They did not answer, but took up their position before the entrance again, ensuring no one could follow.

Balian descended the steep stairs to the grave itself. The grave was cool, almost chilly, lit only by candles. Balian went down on his knees and bowed his head. He recited the Lord’s Prayer. Then he sat back on his heels and considered the grave.

“Thy will be done.” It was so easy to say, but he was expected to make decisions and take actions.

Balian did not doubt the divinity of Christ even for an instant—but he knew, too, with what conviction and fervor the Muslims too believed that they were doing God’s will. Did they not shout “God is great” every time they won a victory over the armies of Christ? He had even been told that they shouted “God is great” while executing the unarmed and bound Templar and Hospitaller prisoners after Hattin.

Balian did not believe it was God’s will for helpless men to be gruesomely tortured to death, as had happened in Damascus. He did not believe it was God’s will that the Kingdom of Jerusalem had been squandered on a single battlefield because of the poor decisions of a usurper. He did not believe it was God’s will that Guy was King of Jerusalem at all. And that was his problem. Men made decisions and took actions that were—all too often—not in accordance with His will.


Balian laid himself face down on the cold surface of the grave beside the ledge on which Christ’s mortal remains had lain more than a thousand years before. The space was too narrow for him to stretch out his arms to either side, so he cradled his head on them instead, and tried to empty his brain entirely. He was not here to plead, beg, or even ask for anything. He was here to receive the Will of God. 


An excerpt from:





                                                                                             

No comments:

Post a Comment