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Set Your House in Order

By Tracy Leddy

(from The Song of Everything)

   Partway up the mountainside, the Pilgrim lay sprawled in the rubble. Trembling, miserable, unable to go any further, he was too exhausted even to move his face in the dirt. He lay there, trying with all his might to dispel the shadows before his eyes which had caused his fall. But the shadows would not go away. They cIung to his eyes, to the space behind his eyes; they held him fast. At length the Pilgrim groaned and cried aloud, "Lord, what is to become of me? I am besieged -- I cannot move!"

   Suddenly there was a great stillness around him and a great warmth. Something touched his outstretched hand. The Pilgrim slowly roused himself and looked up, squinting through the ceaseless flow of shadows around his head. His Lord stood before him, a man like any other man, except for the great stillness, except for the great warmth which surrounded him. On His face was a look of such profound understanding and compassion, the Pilgrim wept anew to see it.

   "I wanted so much to come to You," he sobbed. " I started out so boldly, with such zeal... "

   "What of your house?" asked the Lord.

   "Oh, that place! I left it long ago." The Pilgrim shuddered at the memory of it. "It was too dark and gloomy and cold."

   The look of compassion deepened on the Lord's face. "Dear friend," He murmured, . "obviously it hasn't left you. Matters are not at rest there or you would not be beset by shadows now. You must set your house in order before you can come to me."

   "Oh no!" moaned the Pilgrim. "I don't want to go all the way back down there! It's so far behind me now and--and--there are rooms in it I have never entered ... Please help me to continue on my way up the mountain; don't send me back down there!"

   "Beloved friend, there is no other way," replied the Lord. "Your house must be in order, completely in order, before you can come to me. Look what a paltry self you bring me--a weak and fearful creature who stumbles at shadows! Is it not said, Thou shalt love thy Lord with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength? Come to me in fullness--not in fear! Go and open all those doors, one by one; fill the place with light; sweep out every corner until there is no darkness anywhere. When the task is done, I myself will come and get you."

   The Pilgrim wept and stormed and begged and wrung his hands, to no avail. His Lord's words were hard, the very last words he had wanted to hear. But instead of sympathizing, the figure before him grew stern and commanded him: "I tell you, set your house in order or journey not toward me." And with this final pronouncement, He was gone.

   Teeth chattering and limbs shaking, but fire burning in his heart, the Pilgrim made his way slowly back down the mountainside. The air around him became increasingly dense with shadows until he found himself flailing his arms continuously to keep any open vision as he retraced his steps toward home.

   Wearily he turned out the key from its hiding place in an old flowerpot, unlocked the front door, went in and sat down. Fresh tears fell as he looked around him at the dust, the cobwebs, the cold hearth. But, "Lo! I am with you always!" sang to him suddenly out of the fire in his heart and the Pilgrim knew, even though at the moment he hated being here, that he had come to the right place and that somehow everything would be all right.

   It took months for the Pilgrim to do even the most superficial cleaning. He had always thought he kept a decent house but closer examination revealed many unexpected messes he had never noticed before.

   And it took nearly a year before the Pilgrim had gained enough courage to stand in front of the first of the four unopened doors, knowing now that he was strong enongh to open it and enter the room and face and conquer, nay, even befriend whatever awaited him there.

   Shadows crowded around him, in front of his eyes, in the space behind his eyes, and suddenly he was seized with terror, shaking and choking with it; and from the depths of his heart came the cry, "I'm scared! I'm so scared!" And with the strength of this cry he opened the door and rushed inside. Instantly all the shadows vanished and he saw to his amazement a shadowy figure, very like himself, cowering and quaking and sniveling in the middle of a dismal empty room. The Pilgrim's heart went out to the poor creature. "Come," he said, "you shall sup with me tonight." And he took it by the hand and led it back along the corridor into the central chamber in the house where there was a long table set in front of a blazing fire.

   And then he went back to the first room and opened all the windows and lit all the lamps and washed and scrubbed and scoured until there wasn't the shadow of a shadow of the fear that had lived in there so long.

   The Pilgrim lived with fear for some time and they became intimate friends, until there was nothing the Pilgrim did not know about fear. But strangely enough, the longer their friendship continued, the fainter the shadowy figure became until one day, in the bright sunlight which came through the huge skylight in the central chamber, fear was not there at all. And the Pilgrim set his jaw and turned his attention and his footsteps toward the second door.

   He stood in front of this one, knowing that he now had the strength to open it and enter the room and face and conquer, yes, even befriend whatever awaited him there. But again shadows crowded around him, in front of his eyes, in the space behind his eyes, and suddenly he was filled with pain, every muscle, every nerve, every organ in his body was shrieking, "I hurt! Oh, I hurt!" and with the strength of this cry, he opened the door and rushed inside. Immediately all the shadows vanished and he found to his surprise a shadowy figure, very like himself, doubled up and writhing on the bare floor. It was clutching its stomach as though it had a spear or an arrow in it which it was struggling to remove. "Oh you poor thing!" gasped the Pilgrim, "come along out of here and let me try to help you." He put his arms gently around the creature and led it into the light and warmth of the great central chamber in which he spent most of his time.

   Then the Pilgrim went back to the second room and opened all the windows and lit all the lamps and dusted and swept and polished until there wasn’t the shadow of a shadow of the pain that had lived in there so long.

   Pain and the Pilgrim spent much time together. They too became intimate friends until there was no more sorrow, no anguish in this world the Pilgrim did not know. But strangely enough, the longer their friendship continued, the fainter the shadowy figure became until one day, as evening light shone through the sparkling window on the western side of the fireplace, pain was not there at alI. And the Pilgrim took a deep breath and made his way toward the third door.

   This time the shadows assailed him in the corridor and raged around his head until he almost lost his courage, thought he was going mad, and turned into the safe familiarity of the chamber. But---"Stop!" sang the voice in the depths of his burning heart, “have you forgotten I am with you always? Who do you think, Beloved, is doing all this work?" Both ashamed and heartened, the Pilgrim reset his steps grimly toward the third door. The heat was overpowering, and it was nothing like the warmth of the Lord. It was a red-hot blast, a passionate fury which engulfed him as he stood there. From his fingertips, his toes, his bowels, his entire being, he felt the violence boiling up and, opening his throat and roaring with total anger, he threw the door open and strode inside. The heat stopped abruptly. The shadowy leonine figure which looked just like him snarling and pacing the floor in the dimly lighted room did not surprise the Pilgrim. “Come on,” he said bravely, taking a firm grip on the creature’s arms, “you and I will have much to talk about.”

   Well, it took a longer time than either fear or pain did, but the Pilgrim eventually made friends with anger, too. And at last the shadowy figure that was the Pilgrim’s anger disappeared from his house in much the same way as fear and pain.

   This left only one more unopened door, but it was many years before the Pilgrim could bring himself to face it. One day he was thinking of his Lord and remembering that He had said the house must be completely in order before--before anything really good could happen and, as the fire in his heart burned particularly brightly that day, he found himself stiffening his shoulders for this last, most difficult foray.

   The shadows were more than shadows which clung to his eyes, to the space behind the eyes, this time: shapes, moving, sinuous, twining shapes, like temple reliefs, like old frescoes and paintings, like words from books given bodies; and he felt his skin prickle and go hot and the rest of his body throbbed with delicious, delightful sensations. "Oh," he groaned, "I want it, I need it, I love it!" and he threw himself into the room. A shadowy figure, half male, half female, opened its arms to him from an enormous bed. "Yes," he said, gazing at the figure with infinite pity, "finally you and I will become friends too." And he drew the amorous creature forth from the shadows and into the clear light of the great central chamber.

   No one knows how long the Pilgrim's friendship with physical desire lasted; but let it be known that he learned all that he needed to learn. And when shadowy creature that was the Pilgrim’s own sensuality finally disappeared into the bright air as the others had before it and the house had no darkness in it anywhere at all, the Pilgrim was at peace and thought his task was done.

   It was not so. The Pilgrim lay in front of the hearth one night and in a dream he saw a small door opening and a long bony hand reaching around to grasp his hand. In this dream the Pilgrim tried to close that door but there had been no lock on it and the bony hand had reached for him again.

   The Pilgrim awakened in a cold sweat with his heart pounding. "It was Death," he said to himself. "Fool that I am, I have not yet made a friend of Death!" And without a moment's hesitation, he scrambled up into an old forgotten attic on one end of the house and opened the fifth and very last door ...

   But instead of bony fingers and the dampness of the tomb, there was a familiar stillness and a singing light. "It is I, Beloved," said the Lord. " I promised I would come for you when your house was completely in order and so I have."

   His face radiant with the fullness of his understanding and his heart filled with love and trust, the Pilgrim went back up the mountainside in the company of his Lord.