Sunday, June 2, 2024

The arrow through the window

I found this in my Drafts folder, last modified September 20, 2021, with the title “The second baptism.” I post it now, unfinished, for synchromystic reasons.

My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!

Elijah said unto Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee."

And Elisha said, "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me."

And he said, "Thou hast asked a hard thing."

-- 2 Kings 2:9-10

But Jesus said unto them, "Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

And they said unto him, "We can."

And Jesus said unto them, "Ye shall indeed." 

-- Mark 10:38-39

John answered, saying unto them all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable."

-- Luke 3:16-17

The prophet John promised a baptism "with the Holy Ghost and with fire" and implicitly identified Jesus as the one who would perform it. I suppose orthodox opinion would connect this prophecy with the extraordinary manifestations that took place at the feast of Pentecost six months after Jesus' death, when "there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:3-4).

What did John have in mind, though? What could "Holy Ghost" even have meant to a pre-Christian? Well, ghost, spirit, and wind are all the same word in the original Greek, and the very next thing John says is "whose fan is in his hand." A holy wind to separate the wheat from the chaff, and then a fire to burn up the latter. (For what it's worth, a "rushing mighty wind" also figures in the Pentecost story.)

Wind and fire call to mind Elijah, carried away in a whirlwind of flame, and in fact John, in promising a fire to come after him, may have been thinking of his role (denied by himself but affirmed by Jesus) as the apocalyptic second coming of Elijah.

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings . . . . Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:1-2, 5).

As John has it, the fire is only for the "chaff," but Malachi and Acts tell a different story. For Malachi, the same fiery Sun that burns up the wicked will heal the righteous. The Christians at Pentecost were engulfed in flames but not consumed. The fire is universal; what differs is how people are affected by it.

"Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you. . . .Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly" (Isa. 33:11, 14-15). Breath, in Hebrew as in Greek, is the same word as wind or spirit. For Isaiah, too, the righteous are not spared the fire but are able to live in it. As some old writer cited only as J. Spencer once put it, "Such is the condition of all God's children, . . . true salamanders, that live best in the furnace." (Fellow Mormons can likely guess how I happen to know that quote!)

*

When Elisha was on his deathbed (2 Kgs. 13), the king of Israel came to him and, through streaming tears and with trembling voice, repeated the words Elisha had uttered long before, at the assumption of Elijah: "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." Did he think this magic formula would call down the flaming whirlwind of God? Did he see something Elisha didn't? At any rate, no manifestation was forthcoming.

Elisha did not immediately respond, but then -- "Take bow and arrows," he said. "Put thine hand upon the bow, open the window eastward, and shoot."

The king did so.

"The arrow of the Lord's deliverance," breathed Elisha -- and though later writers were to embellish the scene, those were his last words.

They buried him. No whirlwind, no chariot of fire, no flaming horsemen. Another generation passes, and a little more magic passes from the world. "Man is in love and loves what vanishes, / What more is there to say?"

*

Jehanne Darc's surname evolved, after her death, into d'Arc -- "of Arc," that is, "of the Bow." A friend sent me the section on Joan of Arc from The Saint Book by Mary Reed Newland. It ends thus:

The pyre, unusually high so all could see, prevented the executioner from giving the customary coup de grâce to shorten her suffering and as the flames rose she cried, "Jesus, Jesus." An English soldier swore that he saw a white bird rise up out of the flames. He stood transfixed until his companions led him away.

What did the white bird mean? Was it her spirit leaving her body, in bird form like an Egyptian ba? No, it was the Dove, and its meaning was that here was another baptism like that of Jesus, but this time by fire. Its implicit message, delivered in the age-old language of signa ex avibus, was, "This is my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name." (Does that parallel strike you as blasphemous? But why should it? Do you really think Jesus never intended for anyone to follow him?)

The original Dove that flew over Jesus' baptismal waters echoed the dove of Noah flying over the flooded earth. After the Flood, the rainbow -- l'arc-en-ciel, the arc in heaven -- was given as a sign that the earth would never again be flooded. Because, according to later tradition, the next Deluge would not be water but fire. What can survive a deluge? Only an ark. Is it a coincidence that Jeanne d'Arc


And there the draft ends. I would complete it now, but the thing is gone from me.

2 comments:

Lucas said...

Most of your syncs fly by me, but I do really enjoy any Joan of Arc syncs.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Well, you’ve come to the right place. This is the number one site on the Internet for Joan of Arc syncs!

Go to the window; it’s dark but clear

In a period of just a few days, the following things happened: On May 30, William Wright proposed that the beings I know as Joan of Arc (Je...