Spiritual Vanity

by MW Cook

As I walked through the world I happened upon a great bazaar. I had heard of this famous place long before I saw it with my eyes. Its name is Vanity Fair. In ages past many good men have written of it. The fair is massive and glorious. Every good and service imaginable is sold there. An observant man once wrote that one could purchase

houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts – as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not. And, moreover, at this fair there are at all times to be seen jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.

In a word, the Fair contains everything you could ever want to amaze, distract and tickle you, though it seemed to lack bread, meat and wine. This was of little discouragement to the patrons, of course, for the necessities of life are easily forgone so long as one has the luxuries.

I wandered for a while in the fair, careful not to attract the attention of the merchants, for they were eager to make a sale and I did not have the will to pay the high price for the wares they sold. I would have wished to not pass through that fair at all, but me destination lay beyond it and there was no way around. Seeing that I was not very interested in the wares they offered, the merchants directed me to a very large shop that I had not read about before. Indeed, I had never expected the merchant I was presently introduced to.

She was obviously a woman of wealth and high birth. Her many jewels and golden chains shimmered in the light. I noticed that while this was the best-lit shop, it also seemed to house the most shadows. The woman smiled at me, much like a lioness sneers at her next meal. She bid me enter the shop and inspect her wares.

“Come in, come in.” She said to me as she took me by the hand. “I promise I have the finest things, the best in all the land. Here in this town I’m sure you’ve found that many things are foul. But in this place I sell cheap grace and feelings for the soul. I am the Church, and I sell the wares of God.”

Her introduction piqued my interest, and I consented to being given a tour. The first room she took me into was full of color and light, as dazzling as a casino strip. I heard voices and musics and tongues of every kind running to and fro aimlessly throughout the room, all of them trying to entice me. I could tell that my hostess was a master saleswoman.

“This is the room of emotion.” She told me. “It is our biggest seller. I’m sure you’ll find something here to your liking.”

I browsed for a while, half-wondering if there would be anything here for me. I saw products fit for every disposition you could think of. There was a display called mindless prayer. In it I saw two men praying. Walking closer I noticed that their skulls were open and their brains were actually sitting outside their bodies in jars attached to them by copper wires. It was disturbing to say the least. The first man was on his knees, his eyes toward the ground and his mouth moving slowly and reverently. I crept up close to hear him speak.

“Great God and heavenly Father.” He said in a tone monotonous enough to kill a tortoise. “I thank you for the great joy in my life. For the amazing ecstasy and happiness with which you have blessed me. I thank you I am the only one who seems to be privy to this amazing, mind-blowing joy. Thank you.”

I walked to his brain jar to examine the contents. It seemed asleep, as no alpha waves were being produced as far as I could tell. His jar read the name of his product. “Foolish Reverence.”

“That’s not much of a big seller these days.” My guide informed me. “But you should have seen the sales we’ve made in the past! We still keep it in stock for those who prefer vintage brands.”

The second was on his feet, hands stretched out toward heaven. His mouth moved rapidly, spitting words I could not understand. His brain was a world of difference from the first man. It seemed to pulsate and sparkle with a sort of sugary energy in its jar. I thought for sure this was a useful product. As I looked closer I saw the display screen report that, like the first man, there were no Alpha waves involved in this brain’s experience. There were many wires going into the brain, they seemed to be the source of the pulsating and the sparkles. I traced the wires and saw that they led back out into Vanity Fair. Interesting. The label read, “Distracted Devotion.”

“This is our biggest seller in many places. Shall I box one up for you?”

I told her I was just browsing for now, but I’d let her know if I found anything I wanted. I happened upon a section of the room marked “Theologies”. Boxes of equal size lined the walls. They were clearly labeled with product names, pictures and price. I examined a few.

On box of yellow and pink color was labeled, “The Anthrocentric God.” The picture was of a small man on a throne while a being of radiant light knelt before him. It promised to give the purchaser the whole world. The price was a mere soul.

A translucent box held something called “The God of the Possible.” It promised to preserve self and free will. The price was servitude to hopelessness.

The green box held “The God of a Thousand Cattle.” It gave a life of health and wealth and a very upbeat crowd. The price was an intellect and all your possessions, payable upon death.

Another box was offered in a package deal with “Distracted Devotion.” It was “The God of Fun”. Also known as “Buddy Jesus”. The price of that one wasn’t listed, so I assumed it to be pretty steep.

The last one I saw was a white box labeled “The Enlightened God.” The subtitle was called “The Wisdom of Men.” This one promised to give you the best of both worlds. Respect from the world and religious feelings from the church. I noticed that many people had purchased this one and all became quite prominent in the Fair. I would have queried about the price, but then I remembered that I had already purchased “The Foolishness of God” back at the Wicket Gate on Someone else’s account. I also remembered the saying that the foolishness of God is wiser that the wisdom of men. So I passed on.

The woman showing me around took me by the hand and speedily showed me the rest of her wares. She offered every kind of emotion (that was her specialty). Some, she said, enjoyed ecstasy while others delighted in solemnity. Some loved peace and others loved Rock n’ Roll. She catered to all. She also sold causes and ministries and many ends to which her religion could be a means. She sold clothes and foods and teachings to match every palette under the sun. Some were intellectual while others killed the mind. Some stirred the emotions and others dulled the heart. It was a good experience to see all these things, I was sure. When I had my fill I decided to take my leave. I bid my hostess good day and made my way to the door.

“Leaving so soon?” She said with crookedly sweet smile. “But you have not yet made a purchase.”

“I know,” I replied. “But you see I haven’t the money to pay your fees.”

“Oh that is no problem!” She exclaimed. “We can work out a payment program. You could even do a little work around the shop to help pay for whatever it is you need. I’m always open to negotiate.”

“You’re very kind.” I said. “But I really have no need for the wares you sell. And I think that even if I worked a payment plan out with you I would still end up paying more than I could afford. Besides, my Master has bid me be wary of the merchants in this Fair, and I think it would do him dishonor to deal with you.”

“But good sir! Your master is also mine! Perhaps you did not catch my name. I am Ariel, the very bride of the Master you serve. Immanuel has put me here to be a shining light to the sinful stalls all around. I blend in among them and dispense the spiritual light my husband has given me.”

“I find that hard to believe. I see all the electrical cables in your shop come from the Fair, so it would seem that you draw your power, not from the Celestial City, but from the Vain Fair itself. I have also noticed that the things you sell can be easily purchased at a hundred other stores in this fair, only in different boxes. Your emotions can be found in drugs, music and fun. Your causes and ministries can be found in thousands of other forms with only wrapping as the difference. And your theologies can be easily made at home. I see nothing unique at all about your wares. The only thing unique is that while the other shops fully claim to be of the world you claim to be of heaven. Only your selling tactic is different.”

At this my hostess took offence. Her nostrils flared and she shouted out at me. “Heretic! Judgmental fool! Begone from here! You don’t belong in this place. Do not criticize what God has anointed and blessed. Get out and take your uptight, narrow-minded, puritanical ways with you!” And she drove me out of her presence.

I continued my walk through the world and passed through the fair. As I walked the path I came upon a grave man with the best of books in his hand. His eyes were turned towards heaven and his back was to the fair. He addressed me when I caught up to him.

“Good day, my dear son.” He said. “I have been waiting for you.”

“How is that? For we have never met.” I asked.

“I have been sent with a word of warning and encouragement. I also come with a gift, if you will accept it. My name is Teacher.”

“I stand in need of both. Please tell me what it is you were sent to say.”

“I know that you came across a woman claiming to be Ariel in the Fair just a short while ago.”

“This is true. She tried to sell me delights of every kind, but I perceived that though they were packed in heavenly boxes they were only worldly things that would perish along with those who delighted in them.”

“You perceived correctly. Many are taken in by that woman. She is not, as she claims, Ariel, the wife of our Lord. Her true name is Gomer and she is a prostitute by trade. Her skills lie in seductive and deceit. Many have fallen greatly by her and there are few pilgrims today who do not carry at least a few trinkets from her store in their pockets. She has been the fall of many and will be the fall of many more, ere this age comes to an end.”

“But why,” I asked, “does the Master allow her to use His name and claim His relation if she be but a prostitute.”

“There are several reasons for that. Some we cannot enter into until we cross the river. One is that the Master does indeed love her and offers to heal her faithlessness. He sends messages to her daily, inviting her to come out of the fair and be separate. She gets few of them, however, as the other shopkeepers intercept them and destroy or pervert them. The few she does receive she herself changes and sells them in her shop.”

“Praise be to God that I escaped her.”

“Praise indeed! For many do not realize that a part of the payment for any ware in her store is to be blinded and sent among the tombs to wander until death. Most of her customers are satisfied, however, because they love the feelings she grants more than the sight and wisdom available at the Wicket Gate.”

I mused on this for a good while and praise the God who kept my foot from slipping into her net.

“And now for the gift I mentioned.” At this point a simple but beautiful woman stepped out from behind him. “This is Wisdom. A wife for you on your pilgrimage that the Master has prepared for you and all who ask. Treat her well and heed her counsel. Lean not on your own understanding, but seek the Lord in all you do. Fare thee well.”

I rejoiced in this and set my face toward the City of my calling. As I walked I embraced my new wife and sang out.

“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious that jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.”