Florence was a pilgrim. She was as brilliant, as she was aimless. She loved God but struggled to understand him. She was like so many of us. Not long ago, quite by accident, Florence found herself trying to fight upstream against a great river. Why would a good Christian partake in such a thing? The simple answer, “terrible luck”. The more complex but fascinating answer goes like this: a series of seemly disconnected events over an imperceivably amount of time and space led Florence to a particular place, at a particular time, for a particular reason. Please don’t ask me for a more detailed version of this answer. I am not up to the task of trying to trace the inner workings of the saint’s internal world, all the while trying to explain how her circumstances affected her decisions, not to mention what role her emotions played. If you need something less abstract, just call all that, providence and be done with it. Oh shoot, darn it, not again…did I forget to introduce myself? I am sorry about that, a faux pas of the worst order but not irredeemable in such good company. Lucas Bernard, at your service or maybe you are at mine. Maybe we all serve the Lord? Or does he serve us? Maybe all are true…. Get on with it. Yes, you are quite right, enough of this fooling around. So, where were we? Ah, my disclaimer, a very important part of a performance… I will ask something of you my noble listener, please pay close attention as we will have to go back, to go forward. I would have saved you the trouble if it were possible, but alas, if you want to learn anything this day, then we must go to the true beginning of Florence’s adventure. Plus, I only know one way to tell this tale, so settle in and open your heart.
Once upon a time, our Pilgrim’s path had lost her. I know what you are thinking, Mr. Bard, you are far to careless with your words to listen to. A person can lose their way, but their way can’t lose them. Yes, paths may end but they rarely disappear but when they do one must assume God had something to do with it. So, reader, I humbly suggest you suspend your disbelief and wait until the end of our tale before you call me a fool. You see, Florence had managed to follow the Lord’s path all her life with great diligence and faithfulness. All she had experienced both good and bad had been the soil, in which her faith had blossomed. Like a flower, she was both beautiful and delicate. She, for lack of better poetry, was perfumed with grace. Regardless of all that, she was in for a shock. One fateful day, I believe it was a Tuesday or maybe a Wednesday. It doesn’t matter you say! Yes of course. Our pilgrim was happily walking along her path, when right beneath her feet the entirety of her guiding compass simply vanished. As one would expect, she was stunned. For a very long time she refused to believe her eyes. She pinched herself but it was no dream. She rubbed her eyes but all that accomplished was the ability to see tiny stars in the bright blue sky. Finally, as a last resort, her befuddled mind began to pray. The conversation as you will soon see was a fairly one sided one.
Florence with the skill of an ambassador began, “Sovereign King, you promised never to leave me nor forsake me. Show me once more the path in which you wish me to go.”
After 5 minutes of waiting patiently and expectantly, God responded with silence. To hide her fear, her annoyance and her frustration in being ignored Florence began to pace back and forth. Then with the cleverness of a fox an idea sprung to her mind, he can’t refuse a reasonable argument.
“Father, have I not been faithful? Have I not kept myself from sin? Have I not loved those you have placed in my path? Have I not been your hands and feet? Is this my reward for my efforts? I was lost for so long and am I to be lost yet again? Be kind, be just.”
After 3 minutes, Florence could have sworn it had been hours but regardless of how much time had elapsed, God answered her with silence. It was at this point that her usual calm and personable facade transformed in a tempest of emotions.
“Come on, Father!” Florence spouted, “Be fair! If I did something wrong tell me but enough of this cat and mouse game. Why hide your face? Why treat your daughter like a leper? You dishonour your bride.” Florence had got the rock of self-pity and anger to the top of the hill and didn’t hesitate to give it a great push. Her lament took on its own momentum and it rolled onward for much too long. I will spare you the details because such things should be left between lovers. I do have it on good authority that by the end of this tantrum our pilgrim had vowed, had decreed, had threaten, had argued, had pleaded, had begged but nothing had persuaded God to speak or help.
God was still silent. Florence had used every manipulative trick in her book to get her way and had failed. This realization brought to her to a place of humility. It was there that the truth returned, that she was the created and he the creator. She either trusted or she didn’t. She spoke these last words with a hint of defiance and reverence.
“Father, you have taken away something that was most precious to me. I know not what to do or where to go. So be it.”
With this declaration, Florence took her first steps forward in blind faith. For several years this was the case, as Florence still the embodiment of grace, let the tides of time wash her to and fro. Until happenstance, fortune or some greater power deposited her on distance shores far from the place she last heard from her Father. It is here, my dear reader, that we will pick up from where we first began in a place where only the brave or foolish dare go. A place where strange rivers reside.
The streets were absolute chaos, filled with all forms of debauchery and careless living as thousands of people flooded into the town. As far as Florence was concerned the place was a breeding grown for vice. The sooner, she was rid of these heathens the better. A thing easier said than done, for try as she might to escape her ill fortune, she continued to lose ground to the masses. It was only a matter of time before she would be trampled or killed or drowned by the great river she fought against. She had no choice; the decision was made for her. A short prayer, a quick turn of the heels and she allowed the current to carry her. She looked as helpless a rudderless boat on a great and angry river, but one is rarely helpless in any situation, are they? She may have been forced to surrender to the communal movement of the crowd, but her wits were still her own and so she employed them. As she looked around, she was greeted by a mirror. She like the heathens around her could put a smile on her face but couldn’t hide the deep pain behind her eyes. She thought they all looked hungry and thirsty, much like herself. A silly idea, a fantasy, she thought to herself. I know God. They don’t. It is as simple as that. Although she was fascinated by her thoughts, she wasn’t given the opportunity to explore her feelings to sort out the truth as the river of hopefuls thundered and smashed into the heart of the city. The large town square was filling up with people like a great basin and all attention was focus on a singular point. An otherworldly carving of a horrible and gruesome god, that looked to Florence like a mix of all the animals that no man or women would consider worthy of eating let alone worshiping. Now, I know, I am using words like heathens and foreign gods, and all that, but please don’t take too much offense by my broad strokes, as this painting is a big picture thing and it would take years to add all the finery to it. Okay, okay.
Florence thought to herself, as those around her jousted to get a better view of the lifeless idol that now stood before the crowds, “Providence, you are a complete rotter. I rested my weary bones for a single night in the comfort of an inn and I wake to the Devil’s playground. I have no doubt, you find my situation amusing. The saint becomes a heathen or is killed! have your laughs but the Father knows your mischief. In fact, I will make sure of it”. Florence had grown accustomed to the Father’s silence but that didn’t stop her from talking to him. She knew that he was listening. That he cared for her. More importantly she knew she was not alone, even if it almost always felt that way. So even in this disparate situation, she hoped against hope and shared her life with her Father.
As she did so, the high priest raised his arms and a hush fell over the multitudes. Florence with the rest of crowd watch in dreadful anticipation, as the High priest began some strange ancient rite long forgotten by even the greatest historians. The high priest stood still with his eyes closed. Several minutes pasted and the crowd became restless like the ceremony had failed, then it happened. The High priest in Florence’s eyes was abruptly possessed by some demonic spirit, as foam dripped from his mouth and his movements became more and more erratic. Soon he was screaming in his foreign tongue and pounding on his chest violently. The sight was incredibly unnerving, especially when a great base drum started to emulate his strikes in perfect time. The rhythm was slow at first, then began to build in intensity sending the crowd into a frenzy. It took Florence all her strength just to hold her position as people smashed into each other, crying out to the lifeless idol with a passion rarely seen. Without warning the priest dropped to the ground of his platform and the drumbeat went silent.
The crowd like a great wave all bowed to the statue in reverence and fear. Florence remained standing. To her great surprise, her initial response was not to save her own life but to serve the God she loved. For the first time since her path had disappeared, tears of joy ran down her checks. She found herself full of purpose. She could feel her God coursing through her veins. Finally, the truth she knew in her head, dropped down to her heart. He is love.
It wasn’t until several moments had pasted that a nearby man noticed the stranger with a cross that dangling from her neck standing like a light on a hill. He looked over in wonder, puzzled that his God hadn’t killed her outright for her disobedience. He thought to himself, “She has no fear, in fact she looks overjoyed to be where she is.” He himself had been seeking peace and truth all his life but it had always seemed just outside his grasp. Unconsciously he reached out to our pilgrim as his heart desired what she had. Gently she placed her hand in his and raised him to his feet. He too felt the love of the Father. Then another stood and another, they were being drawn by the light that radiated from Florence. The idol of wood and iron was powerless against such grace and mercy. It didn’t take long until the multitudes were standing in defiance of the false deity.
Everyone likes to see the villain die some terrible death. One must get what they deserve, right? I could tell you that the High Priest died some terribly ironic death like the idol was pushed on him by the crowd crushing him under its great weight or maybe that his soul was so evil all that love simply destroyed him outright. No, such lies are beneath this tale. Not that I am against telling lies, but in this case it serves me not and it would misresprent someone I would rather stay friends with. Who you ask? the hero of our tale. Anyway, this is what happened. The High Priest stood in awe as he witnessed the great silence fall over the unruly crowds. His erratic behaviour, his yelling, his fear, disappeared as he stood as still as the idol behind him. His eyes fixed on the happenings before him and within him. His yearning for more, his desired to be loved, his hope to be understood, the pain of his past, the harsh judgements he had given, all the lies he told, they all fell away and God’s kingdom broke in. He tasted deeply of this new thing. He loved this new thing. All his occult powers, his position of power, his religion, he now counted as nothing as he basked in the glory of the Father. His soul was healed through and through. It was he who destroyed the idol that day, it was he that felt God’s love the deepest. What stop looking at me like that? If you must lie to yourself, go with the first option I suggested but don’t judge me unless you are willing to judge the original story teller. Regardless, shall I wrap it up. I think so.
Florence smiled as she looked into the eyes of those she had been forced to walk with but now loved. Their pain had been replaced with joy and satisfaction. She could not help but let it happened. It? Yes, it. For the first time in years, she thanked God with a full heart. All the pain, doubt, confusion and silence she had endured had some how led others to God and she felt the vindication of the Father’s approval. From that day on, these “heathens” were her people. Her tribe. She loved them and they her. Florence became known as the pathless and she spent her days showing others the beauty of God’s silence and what it is to trust.
I know, I know, I may have misled you with my metaphors earlier on. The tale had little to do with an actual river or a saint bucking the tide but at the same time it had everything to do with both. Hopefully you can forgive me for my double talk and my strange way of speaking. I may love the love of words too much or as Florence said to me in that foreign town, “Lucas, you are a very silly man, but even very silly men are very much needed in this world. I implore you that if you have to talk in circles, please for the love of others always circle around the truth.” So, my good and noble friends, I believe I have honoured the saint’s wishes. I have danced around and sung a song, that tells one, one thing and another, another but in the end is for all. So, may all be blessed who have stuck with me this far, for you have exhibited the very faith that God is looking for. Until we meet again, tell your tales, sing your songs and if they are a bit bizarre, all the better.