Thursday, January 04, 2007

Holy California -- the Story of Broken Wing

What follows may appear to be a satire, but it's not!

Furthermore, just because the picture is of Abraham with firewood getting ready to prepare a roast for the Almighty using the body of his murdered son as the main dish, this rather long piece has nothing to do with either the Binding of Issac or Eid al Adha.

A long time ago, in a parallel universe not as far removed from our own as you might think, in a land called Holy California, there once lived a man known as "Broken-Wing".

Although a nomad, by the standards of his time, he was a wealthy man.

He had large flocks of cattle, sheep and goats and many men and women worked for him -- in fact, in the stories told and later written about him and his progeny, he is sometimes be referred to as a "king". However, with no disrespect intended for native Americans of our universe, he was, at most, what we would think of as a sort of indian chief.

Broken-Wing was not originally from Holy California. His was born and raised in the land of Tyme, further to the north and east. In his middle age he left both his father and the land of his birth because of the "God" business.

"God" was a big business in those days and there were many "Gods" to choose from. In fact, "Gods R Us" was the name of the store run by Broken-Wing's father in the walled city where he had lived since childhood. They had gold gods, silver gods, stone gods, clay gods -- gods for every occasion, pocket book, inclination and purpose. They even had cut-rate, out-of-season, bargain-basement gods, you could get a half-dozen of for three silver coins...

Broken-Wing, however, was the sort of fellow who thought deep thoughts -- in fact some of his thoughts were the kind of thoughts so deep and so wide that you can fall down in them and hurt yourself. He thought about "what-is" and "what-ain't", about "what-makes-it-stop" and "what-makes-it-go".

In particular, Broken-Wing thought about "God" -- that is, not "Gods", but "God" as both a Reality and an Abstract, that is to say God not associated with any concrete object or restricted to a particular purpose, time or place...

For example: take the popular god Uuhhh-Ahhh!, which many of his contemporaries had in their outhouses to make sure everything came out okay and as protection from the feared demon "Ring-Uv-Phyre" who could strike one with painful hemorrhoids...

Besides the fact that Broken-Wing could neither see the sense nor use of a "god" you could accidentally flush down the toilet or couldn't find when you needed it most because it had rolled under the bed -- besides the inconvenience of having to find the right god to worship or call upon in a particular situation, Broken-Wing was disturbed by the idea that people only worshiped their gods when they had some spare time or specific need.

Broken-Wing figured that this was what we today might call "idle-worship"...

Broken-Wing wanted to find a God he could worship all the time -- a sort of full-time general-purpose God that was always there, a God nobody could steal and melt down for the gold, or your wife couldn't accidentally throw out while spring cleaning...

That's a pretty big thought Broken-Wing had caught and he kept thinking it until it got so big and wide that he fell into it and a god started talking to him -- not just any god, but "God" god. That's what the God told Broken-Wing, anyway. Together they made this deal that if Broken-Wing did everything God told him to do, God would be Broken-Wing's God and protect him and bless him and make Broken-Wing rich and famous.

Broken-Wing accepted the deal, not realizing that it would eventually turn into a Deal and then a Very Big Deal and have far reaching consequences for both himself and Holy California. God started telling him what to do and he did the things his God told him to do. Why? Perhaps he was afraid that his God would stop talking to him if he didn't do what he was told. But then there was the fact that, as part of the Deal, God told Broken-Wing his Name, so that, when he had something special in mind, he could butcher an animal and burn it while calling out God's Name.

Now that's not a trick just anybody can do -- in fact, nobody can do it anymore in Holy California because they have forgotten the Name and don't even know how to pronounce it anymore. This can be a bitch because, if you want to call on Somebody Important, it's not so smart to shout "HeyYou, WhuzUrName!".

Today, some people say that God's name is "Idaho!", or "Holy Idaho!" and the discussion is a bit too complicated to take up here. Let it suffice to note that most people in Holy California refer to the God of Broken-Wing as, "The Great Potato"

The Great Potato told him to give up working in his father's "God's R Us" store, which he did. He was told to leave his home and travel to a strange land where he had never been before -- and he did that.

He left his father's store, he left his home and the land of his birth. He became a wandering nomad and, when he finally found the strange land he had never seen before he was more than a wandering nomad -- he was a wealthy nomad.

The Great Potato had blessed him during his wanderings and great were the size of his flocks of cattle, sheep and goats. He knew that was because he did what Great Potato told him to do and that was why God continued to speak to him.

One starry night during his wanderings, Great Potato called upon Broken-Wing and bade him to look up at the sky. He saw the countless points of light, without number, like grains of sand...

The Great Potato told him that He had not only made all the glory he could see, but glories beyond glories that Broken-Wing could not see or even begin to imagine.

Great Potato then raised the Ante on The Deal and made a Promise that the descendants of Broken-Wing one day would outnumber the stars. He told him that he was being led to a land which would become his inheritance and the inheritance of his descendants forevermore, until the end of time...

That Broken-Wing could believe these things required a certain suspension of disbelief. He was already an old man, full of years, and his wife nearly as old as he. As yet, they had no children and, even more critical in that society, no sons.

Broken-Wing wasn't stoopid, he knew that it was hard to have descendants without children and, especially, sons. But he willed himself to believe what God told him.

As was the custom those days when having dealings with a "Great God", he built a pile of stones upon the top of the highest hill in those parts, selected a fine animal from his flocks, slit its throat and sprinkled the blood upon the rocks and the ground round about. He placed dry wood and the flesh and the fat of the beast's flesh upon the rocks. Taking his firetools, he lit the fire.

The flesh and the fat of the flesh burned in the flames and the smoke rose up into the sky, a sweet smell of thanks to The Great Potato for the Promise and The Deal as proof that he believed the Promise and would keep his part of The Deal.

Finally, he came to a land -- a wonderful, fruitful land which lay between dry deserts and barren mountains on the one side and deep blue sea on the other. The Great Potato told him that this was his inheritance and that its name was Holy California.

Broken-Wing was then told to do something which may seem very strange -- his God told him that in order to make sure that Broken-Wing had understood the Promise and would really keep the Deal, he had to cut off the skin at the end of his external genital organ, that is the foreskin of his penis.

Believe it or not, but Broken-Wing did this -- not only that, but he made every man who was working for him to have the same thing done to them.

One could wonder if this says more about his faith in God or more about the exact nature of the relationship between employer and employee in those days...

Amazingly, about a year later, the wife of Broken-Wing gave birth to a son. Amazing, partly because Broken-Wing was a hundred years old -- but he got a lot of fresh air and ate a lot of organic food -- but also because his wife had entered menopause some decades before...

Whatever the facts, a male child was born, he was named "Laughing-Boy" and they cut the end of his penis off to make sure the Great Potato would bless him.
The boy recieved his name not because of a good-humored nature but because the Great Potato had told Broken Wing that was to be his name. They also, cut the end of the boy's penis off, as that was part of "The Big Deal".

Broken-Wing also changed his name to Broken-Wingh, again because Great Potato told him to do that also -- it may seem like a small thing, but The Great Potato has always been a stickler for detail...

There are many other tales from the time before the birth of Laughing-Boy, but we leave them to another day of telling.

Laughing-Boy was his pride and joy, the very "apple of his eye", not to mention the key to the fulfillment of the Promise -- that his descendants would one day number more than the stars in the sky and that Holy California would be their inheritance.

Then a very strange, odd, in fact something both sick, terrible, wonderful and awful happened...

One agonizing night it seemed to Broken-Wingh that The Great Potato came to him and asked for the life of his son, Laughing-Boy!

Trembling with the terror of the horrible vision as it unfolded before his inner-eye, he saw himself murdering his beloved son and precious heir -- he saw himself slitting the boy's throat, sprinkling blood and burning his flesh upon a fire. He saw smoke rising and knowing it was a pleasant odor to God, The Great Potato!

This is hard for us to understand, here, today, in another universe. But the fact is, in Holy California, in those days -- although not common -- it was neither unknown nor rare for a "Great God" to demand the highest sacrifice of all -- a human life...

As Broken-Wingh regarded his God not only as a Great God, but Greatest God -- in fact as The God, he could comprehend that Great Potato would ask for a sacrifice higher than the highest -- his only son.

Perhaps he had even feared that this might be asked of him from the day Laughing-Boy had been born...

Seeing his vision as a direct command from God, although heartbroken and anguished, he set himself with iron determination to do the will of The Great Potato -- a man's got to do what a man's got to do...

He told his servants to gather firewood. He checked his firebox and sharpened his holy knives. He called the boy to him who was now eight years old.

Together, they set upon the winding path which lead up to the tallest hill around those parts.

His wife and servants apprehended what was about to happen. It could be seen it in the anguished determination which covered Broken-Wingh's face like a mask -- but what could they do? You can't interfere in the business between a man and his God.

Even Laughing-Boy understood something of what was about to happen, halfway up the mountain, he asked his father, "...where is the sacrifice, Father?"

"God will provide..." is all that Broken-Wingh replied.

They stopped to rest near a precipice at noon and had their meal: a loaf of bread, a little cheese, some wine. Finished, he threw the bottle over -- it hit the bottom half a minute later...

They reached the top and they gathered stones together. They arranged the fire wood on top of the stones.

Broken-Wingh took leather thongs from his pack and bound his only son hand and foot.

The boy did not resist.

The time had come for murder...


...the knife is in his hand and the blade glints in the sunshine...with his other hand he grabs the boy by the hair and pulls his head back, exposing the tender skin of the throat...the jugulars in the boy's neck are throbbing -- the veins on Broken-Wingh's forehead and neck stand out like ropes...

Broken-Wingh's teeth bare in terrible grimace, he raises his eyes and sees -- a bird!(?)

An eagle? A vulture?

We cannot know because, in the language which Broken-Wingh spoke, the same word was used for both "eagle" and "vulture". In any case, your average eagle is not above a bit of tasty carrion, provided the flesh is fresh and perhaps somewhat roasted...

Exactly what happens next we'll never know for sure, except that something happened between Broken-Wingh and his God. Or, perhaps, he saw the enormity of the awful deed his demon was tempting him to commit?

When he later told the story (and we know he told it!) he said that the arm and the hand holding the knife became rigid, as if someone (or thing!) of great strength was holding it in a vise -- with all his will and might he could not move his hand...

Broken-Wingh again raises his eyes to the sky and sees the eagle (or vulture!). He then looks down and sees, not far away, a wild bull, caught and trapped by its horns in a tangle of undergrowth...

The words Broken-Wingh had spoken to Laughing-Boy come back to him:

"God will provide..."

...had that been prophecy?(!)

In that very moment of realization, Broken-Wingh regains the use of his arm which he slowly lowers and lovingly, tenderly -- carefully! -- he cuts the boy's bonds, releases him...tears streaming down his face he embraces him and covers him with kisses...

They take the bull, kill it and sprinkle the blood. The fat and flesh soon sputter upon the fire, the smoke ascends to the heavens. It is a sweet smell in the nostrils of his God...

But that is afterthought -- the high point of intense understanding has been reached and passed. There will go a long time before anything even begins to match the intensity of this event and the realization which accompanied it.
You have certainly noticed that the story of Broken-Wingh in some ways resembles a tale we tell in our universe. This is scarcely odd, for parallel universes are, well, parallel, and parallel things happen in them!

However, in Holy California, unlike our world, which stresses the fiction that God actually asked for the sacrifice, "as a test of faith", in Holy California, they ask many obvious questions, among which are:

Why was Broken-Wingh unable to move his arm?

If a bull had not been entangled in the bushes -- what would have happened?

Had he gone through with the ritual murder, would his "God" then become a Demon?

And what of Laughing-boy, the one who actually lay upon the altar with his father's knife raised above him, what is his side of the story?

These are the sort of questions to which no answer is found -- except in life itself. However, as Holy California in many ways is a happier place than any we ever will find in our world, perhaps when the Great Potato sends his Only Begotten Spud into the vegetable patch, he will not be rejected, peeled and sliced and french fried, as he was in ours.

Perhaps, perhaps not -- but then, as with all things, only time will tell...

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