With a rod or with a smile?

by MW Cook

Ariel sat up in bed. She stretched and rubbed her eyes. A new day. A new, glorious day, filled with countless opportunities and chances to do wonderful things. She lay back for a while, as there was no hurry to get out of bed. Sure, had her husband been home she’d leap out of bed to make him breakfast and do other wifely duties, but she obviously wasn’t expected to do that while he was away. He was expected any day now, that much was true, but he’d been away for almost two thousand years now, and what were the odds of him coming back today? Besides, she’d surely see him coming and have plenty of time to get ready for him. That thought excited her. One day. One day her husband would be back.

She knew exactly how that meeting would take place. He’d walk up the porch and she’d be standing there to meet him. He’d gaze upon her with his deep, gentle eyes and smile at her, his beautiful bride. He wouldn’t be upset that she’d put a few extra pounds on since he’d left. He surely wouldn’t mind the other ‘friends’ she’d made while he was gone. There would be nothing in his eyes but love and joy. What a wonderful day that would be.

She hopped out of bed and slipped her feet into her pink bunny slippers. It was Saturday, so she didn’t bother changing or grabbing a shower. That was for Sundays. She didn’t find it at all odd that it had been Saturday every day for the last couple decades. Down the massive flight of stairs to the kitchen she flew, hungry to start the day. Her husband’s house was certainly a neat place. It was always stocked with the best foods and choicest wines. She opened the cupboards and stared at the loaves and fish. She searched for some Fruit Loops. None to be found. She frowned and shut the cupboard. There were a few hundred empty Fruit Loop boxes around the kitchen, but all were empty. Strange that she would run out today. She would certainly need her Fruit Loops today, as it was to be a full day. She found her iPhone, BlackBerry and Palm Pilot underneath a pile of boxes and tissues and checked the day’s agenda. Sure enough, it was packed with profitable things.

· 9:00am – Wake up
· 9:45am – Get out of bed
· 10:00am – Eat Fruit Loops
· 11:00am – Watch sitcoms and TV dramas
· 3:30pm – Run around and house
· 4:00pm – Watch TV dramas and sitcoms
· 8:00pm – Meet friends for dinner, laughs, etcetera.
· 11:00pm – Visit Beelzebub’s Brothel for the night, try to be home before morning.

If there was one thing she knew her husband loved, it was hard work and activity. Idle hands, after all, are the devil’s workshop, and Ariel knew much about resisting the devil. She’d had great success over that in the past few hundred years. She smiled as she thought back at the woman she used to be. So uptight. So conservative. So puritanical. Her new easygoing, fun-loving character was much more appealing to her husband, of this she was sure. It was a shame, however, that the third item on her list seemed impossible at the moment.

A thought struck her. Saturday! That was the day her supplies came in. She ran outside to check the mailbox. She had arrangements with many different businesses in town. Sure enough the box was jammed full. She filled her arms and ran back into the house with her many boxes, parcels and envelopes. She started to sort them.

In one pile she put the letters from her husband. She smiled when she thought of how faithful he was to write to her every day. If only she had more time to read them. Oh well, there would be plenty of time to catch up when he returned. The other packages, however, had expiry dates so it was much more logical to deal with them first. She placed the letters in the pile of all the other unopened ones on her desk, promising to read them when she got a spare moment. With glee she sorted through her other packages, finding toys, gadgets, books, feelings, emotions, fads, ministries, causes, money and, of course, Fruit Loops. It was like Christmas morning. For a while she just sat on the floor and reveled in the blessings that had been showered over her. How wonderful.

A knock at the door woke her from her daydream. She jumped up and ran to the door, always excited to have a visitor.

An intense flash of light greeted her when she opened the door. It stabbed at her eyes and made her horribly uncomfortable. When she regained her sight she looked upon her guest. He stood in the midst of countless golden lampstands, though many seemed to be flickering or just smoldering. He was clothed with a long robe and a golden sash around his chest. His hair was white like wool, like snow. His bare feet were like burnished bronze and his eyes stung her. They were alive and burning with a flame of fire. They did not seem gentle.

“Ariel.” The figure spoke, though without moving his lips. His voice was like the roar of many waters. His face glowed as he spoke, brighter than the sun. “Ariel. What have you done?”

“Who are you?” Ariel asked, very worried.

The stranger’s eyes quivered with a complex emotion that dwelled between desperate sadness and utter rage. “I am your husband.”

Ariel fell backward. Now?! He came now? Why did he look so angry with her? This was not what she had expected. Her husband pushed himself into the house he had built with his own hands and looked at the wife he had purchased with his own blood. He saw the mess of the house, still left incomplete. He saw the Fruit Loop boxes and toys strewn about the floor while the bread, fish and wine remained in the cupboards untouched. He looked at his wife and saw her sickly form. Her body was bloated with sugars and saturated fats. Her immune system destroyed by venereal diseases and sedentary living. She was a shadow of the beautiful bride she once was. A mockery of the woman he bled for. Almost worthless, but not quite.

He walked to the desk that held the many letters he had sent over the years. Ariel watched on in terror. He opened one and read it to himself. He shook his head and a tear rolled down his glorious cheek. He placed it back on the table and faced his bride, the timid, sickly Ariel. He walked to her and she backed away into the living room. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen her spouse and this was not the meeting she expected. Perhaps he didn’t understand. Maybe he couldn’t see the good in what she was doing or in what she had become. She tried to explain.

“You don’t understand.” She said. “I was all alone, I needed company.”

“I was your company, my letters were your guides.”

“I know I’ve let myself go a little, but you should see how I look when I dress up and put on my jewelry. Do you want me to run upstairs and change now?

“The outer clothing is almost irrelevant. When I last left you there was nothing outward to attract me, but the inner beauty ravished my heart. That beauty is all but gone and all you are is a white washed tomb.”

“I can understand that you’re a little upset about the state of your house, but you don’t know how busy I’ve been with other duties.”

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice. You have failed to follow me fully. You have not built my house. You have not cared about me enough to pick up your cross and follow me.”

“But the cross you gave me left so many splinters in my back from long ago. I thought I had carried it long enough.”

“Ariel, you need to understand something,” he said as his eyes welled up. “Those whom I love I also chasten.” He reached under his robe and pulled out something. Ariel went pale when she realized what it was. A rod! There was nowhere to run. Immanuel fell upon her. He stripped her of her dirty and stained sleeping clothes and beat her. He actually beat her. It seemed to go on forever. Blow after blow landed on Ariel’s tender back, causing her to cry out. The cries attracted the attention of the neighbors, who peeked in through the windows to watch the trouble. She was put to open shame. Her tears flowed and became a pulled at her feet. She didn’t notice the larger puddle at her husband’s feet. On her desk nearby sat the last letter her husband had sent, the one she had thrown there having never opened it. It read:

How the faithful bride
has become a slut,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
Your shepherds are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.

Therefore the Lord declares,
Yahweh of hosts,
the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
and avenge myself on my foes.
I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with potassium hydroxide
and remove your alloy.
And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the woman of righteousness,
the faithful bride.

After much time and many tears it was over. For a moment Ariel was left weeping on the ground. For a moment her neighbors and patrons stared at her broken form sprawled on the floor. For a moment Immanuel seemed far away. For a moment.
But he returned. He knelt beside her and covered her with the edge of his robe. She clung tight to him. He lifted her out of her bloody puddle and brought her into the bathroom. There he bathed her in his own blood and pure water. He rubbed ointment over her wounds and healed the bones that he had broken. He cleaned her face and combed her hair. He clothed her in glorious raiment and placed a ring in her nose. He smiled at her. She smiled back. She looked at herself in the mirror. She seemed to be a new woman.

She was no longer of pale skin. She was dark, but beautiful. No longer was her hair blonde, but raven black. Her eyes were not blue anymore, but they shined with brown brilliance. Her body, too, had changed. She was slender, but not thin. She was delicate, but pulsed with strength. She stood with the wisdom of ages, yet her figure was young as a child. She was made new, but entirely of the same stuff she had been formed with thousands of years before.

She turned and her husband was gone again. He had not really returned for her yet. She mused in sober reflection. He had come back to change her path, to sanctify her and cleanse her from the sin and whoredom she had been living in. She wiped a tear from her beautiful cheek. She went into the kitchen, ate and drank, read some mail and set her house in order. As she cleaned she sang:

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for her is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
The Lord has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!”