“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”-Matthew 28:19-20
Arktos sat on the expanse of stone, his balcony to the world that opened below. High on the mountain range above the Germanesca Valley, he sat watching the clouds gather in the depths of the void below. The air blew steadily up here. He closed his eyes and tilted his face toward heavens. The warmth of the sun caressed his aged face, blending the deep ravines of time into one of wisdom. His long gray hair, speckled with white wafted against his shoulders. The white beard gave him an air of intellect. Beneath it, his tanned skin, taut against his chiseled chin, gave the look of, “You will pay if you cross me,” which belied his true gentle nature; the tender heart beneath the façade of an ancient warrior. This was his place of repose, his solitary corner of earth where he could commune with God. To obtain this height, one must have the strength of a bear and the agility of the mountain goat. Up here, the world below seemed so distant, so unimportant compared with what lay ahead.
Here there was no sound of humanity. There was nothing but the sound of the distant waterfalls cascading into the abyss below. Their voices echoed off the granite walls of God’s fortress of granite that surrounded him.
He was lost in thought, one with the Father as the words came to mind, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”-Phil. 4:7
As life and time march onward, the realization of himself becoming the one that others looked to for guidance bothered him. True, he studied the Word relentlessly, but he never seemed to rise above who he saw in those crystal-clear pools from which he supped his handfuls of water. There beyond those sky-blue eyes, was the same man he had seen for all his life. Much of the world around him had changed, loved ones had gone on, and now, he was nearly alone save for the few that were left.
Earlier that morning, he and the others had met once more to study and worship. There was no set plan, just the Word to guide them. They were the remnants of their kind. Many had been lost; as many had perished from the mountain as had those who had died from the sword. They were the keepers of the Word, the bearers of Christ’s ministry. They had no name as of their own, but rather, were given only the name from whence they came, the Vaudois. These were the Vaudoisians, the Children of the Light, as they had also become known.
As they slowly gathered, one, then another, in that small but ancient stone building that had created so many before them, each one was welcomed with brotherly love. They were united as one centuries before, longer than even their elders could remember. The words they used to describe their beginning were simply, “Since time Immorium.” As they prepared to begin, each lit a candle or lamp from which to read. The ancient structure barely allowed the slightest amount of light to enter. While light was hard to find, in the deepest recesses of winter, the sturdy, meter-thick walls also kept the freezing cold without; thus, serving as the perfect sabbatical from the outer world during the long dark winter months. Yet, even in the early summer, as now, they met to refresh their scriptures before departing for their summer missions beyond these peaks.
Today had been especially rewarding. There was the initial joking and sharing of mental challenges, but eventually, as was usually the case, someone said something that yielded to a lesson from within the pages of that precious text, the one they had guarded with a millennium of lives. Immediately, they dove within the leaves of that ancient book seeking the trail upon which they felt obliged to follow. Their questions led to further searches, all following a path only their Lord would know. The older students merely closed their eyes and quoted the scripture from memory, so intense was their learning.
Sitting back and watching their education come to fruition, Arktos had been blessed beyond measure. He knew in time, they would be gone, leaving for their journeys.
Many would never return.
Time after time he had seen them grow, become one with the Word, then leave to serve their commission. Those that returned had a renewed vigor that only experience and life could teach. Each time, he saw the youth that had been present in the spring of life be torn away, leaving behind the shell of reality forced upon their tender souls. Those that never came back left a hole in his heart that could never be replaced. He felt so inadequate for what he was there to do. There was so much he needed to learn himself, so much more he could share, if only there were more time.
He returned to the present when the cry of the raptor that pulled him back. Before he opened his eyes, he whispered softly, “God give me the strength, and the wisdom to do your will until I no longer have the breath left to live another day.”
Blinking to the light of day, he tilted his head forward. There soaring upon the currents before him was a beautiful Golden Eagle. Below, them both, the sun had broken through the clouds and the expanse of meadow falling away to the sharp blue-gray edges of the valley below opened up. The view was breathtaking, as the wild bird was in its grandeur; man and beast as one, above the spectacle of creation only few can imagine. The old man felt the presence of God as the bird remained in place, gliding along with little to no effort. Its piercing eyes sought him, and from within he could feel a voice resonate through his soul.
“You are not alone, for I am with you always, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
Arktos could not move. He tried to nod in agreement, but nothing would work; his head could not shake, his fingers could not even curl to feel the stone beneath where he sat. He was spellbound by those penetrating eyes and the omnipotent voice within.
Another searing cry from the eagle echoed off the nearby snow-covered peak, and immediately, the roar of the waterfalls returned. He blinked, and the beautiful bird was gone.
Had he dreamt the scene?
Had it been just another vision?
He reached for his weathered walking stick to prepare for the journey back down the mountain when he noticed it. There beneath its handle lay the reminder of the moment; a tail feather from a Golden Eagle.
He smiled, as he tucked away the keepsake into his backpack, and begin his slow descent into the world that awaited below.
He had nearly disappeared from that summit when the call of the great eagle echoed from a distant valley, and he smiled once more, for God was with him. Yes, God would be with him always.
Thanks be to God.