If you open my book to the opening scripture, you’ll see this:
There was a time when being a Christian meant I had to go to church every Sunday and Wednesday and every other day church was open. It meant I wore skirts. It meant I bowed my head and closed my eyes when I prayed. It meant reciting the sinner’s prayer every time I heard it and asking for forgiveness for all the things I had already repented.
To me, being a Christian was a bunch of rules and regulations. It was filled with the how tos and the how not tos.
Remember the Samaritan woman at the well? She came to draw water from the well and met Jesus. We all know how the story goes. Jesus asks her for a drink of water, which was akin to him asking for water from a leper. It just wasn’t done. And then, if that wasn’t enough, Jesus tells her that she should be asking him for a drink of water. Whoa! This poor woman, no doubt, about fell over. But it gets better. Jesus informs her of her indiscretions, as if she didn’t know. Surely this women is in awe. Who wouldn’t be?
But she realizes Jesus is a prophet, and maybe if she allowed herself to hope a little, he was the Messiah. But she couldn’t hope, because if he was then that meant she could never drink from the cup he offered. Not only is she a Samaritan, but…
Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and you say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
In essence, your rules, your laws will not allow me to worship you, Lord because I must worship here, while you are in Zion.
No, she didn’t say that, but I quite imagine her line of thought followed in a similar vein. I can also imagine:
Jesus dipped his chin to hide a smile. My dear, dear woman, do you not understand? “Believe me, the hour comes, when you shall neither in this mountain, nor at Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you know not,: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.”
Her cheeks turned rosy with shame. Disappointment burdened her heart.
“But an hour will come, even now, when true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Gathering courage to speak, she inhaled a shuddering breath. “I know that Messiah will come, who is called Christ: when he comes, he will tell us all things.”
Jesus squeezed the tassels of his tallit in his hand. Father, thank you for times such as this. “I am he.” (Based off John 4)
Ari, the hero in The Guardian’s Promise, was raised a Levite. Much of his life was dedicated to studying the law. It was filled with rituals and rules, but then Athaliah came into power and destroyed the temple. Altars all over Judah were destroyed. His way of life changed. The loss of the temple represented losing God. Ari struggles with the loss and often wonders if God forgot about him.
A soft breeze rustled his garments, bringing with it the sweet smell of the henna blossoms hedged around the vineyards. He saw Mira, pure and innocent, in his mind’s eye, leaning over one of the small flowers inhaling the scent just as she had earlier in the day. His life’s blood quickened with the need to touch her fingertips. To press his lips to her brow. If only for a second.
Ari gripped the neck of his tunic in anguish and threatened to rend the garment in two. Even when Jehoiada sent word of his imminent freedom, Ari knew he could never return to the temple and the duties he’d held before Athaliah’s murderous rampage. Life as he had known it had ceased to exist when he had left the gates of Jerusalem. And as hard as it had been to abandon his beloved city with all haste in her time of trouble, it would be even more difficult to leave this village and the friends he’d made.
Blowing out a breath of air, Ari released the fabric and prayed for peace to settle his anxious heart. Although he had not forgotten even one day to meditate on the Lord’s law, at times he doubted whether God had remembered him. Had the Lord abandoned him altogether? Had the Lord forgotten Joash? Had the Lord forgotten His covenant with King David?
“Do you remember your promise to David, Lord? ‘Your house and your kingship shall ever be secure before you, your throne shall be established for evermore.’” He shook his fist at the heavens before bowing his head in remorse.
Questioning God’s faithfulness did not set well in his soul. He knew once the questioning began, it would soon fester and eat away at his heart. Ari fought the urge to bury his face into his hands. Instead, he stared into the great void and waited for some sort of reprimand from God Himself.
The quiet was only interrupted by the bleating of a goat. Still, he waited, for God’s peace to cloak him. Just as he was about to give up and seek his sleep, a star streaked across his vision and faded into the dark night. He recalled a psalm memorized from childhood.
If the Most High, in all of His greatness, cared to name even the stars and knew their number, would He not remember Ari?
“Forgive me. The unknown is like torment.” He paused. “If You hear me, O Lord,” his voice a mere whisper to his own ears, “grant me Thy guidance. Thy wisdom. Courage. I am Your servant, Most High, humbled before You.” Whether bound to another man’s house or in freedom. He inhaled the warm, henna-scented night air. An ache throbbed in his chest at the fragrance so much a part of Mira. Could he love her? Could she love him? Of course, it did not matter if God did not will it. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head. “I will go where You lead.”
God spoke to Ari in such a clear, yet gentle manner. How like God. In what seemed liked Ari’s most trying time, when God seemed so far away, He was showing Ari that worship wasn’t about burnt offerings and sacrifice, it about a relationship in truth and in spirit.