...here is the God who breaks through the confines of my imagination – an Unknown God – who shows me that what I believe and don’t believe are of little consequence. What does matter is my capacity for love, and welcoming in the grace offered to me in each moment. Christine Valters Paintner Abby of the ArtsIn the village of Awe, tucked into a corner of the Land of Wonder there stood a dark house. It was the only blemish in a land of glory, a land where crops thrived, birds twittered joyfully in forest glens and fish leapt in the clean, clear waters of the land's many rivers. It was a land where all was bathed in sunlight. Where all things flourished. Except for this little corner of the land where the house stood, dark and gloomy and the lands struggled to make ends meet from soil to table.
Villagers gave the dark house a wide berth. No one ever went to call. Everyone was too afraid of the man who tilled the soils, a dark cloud of anger constantly surrounding him. The crack of his whip could be heard for miles and the sound of his voice caused little children to scurry behind their mother's skirts, their bodies trembling with fear.
Except for the young woman who lived inside the house. She was not afraid of the man of the dark moods. She was blind and could not see the terror of his ways. She was deaf and could not hear the whip crack or the anger of his voice. She loved him for he had given her life. He had saved her long ago when her mother passed from this world to the next and she was left behind to fend for herself. This man had taken care of her. As best he could. And she was grateful for the gift of her life.
And so, the man and his daughter lived alone in the house. She swept the floors and dusted the mantle. She stoked the fire in the hearth. She baked bread and made stew. She sewed his clothes and did his laundry. All of this she had learned alone for with her mother's death, long ago, she had had to find the way to thank her father for all that he had given her. And though she had never felt her mother's loving arms. Never heard her sweet song. All she'd known was the father she could not see, the anger she could not hear. And so, she lived with the joy of knowing life was as it was. She lived with a song of joy in her heart.
It was a simple life. The only life she knew. She went through her days singing silently to herself, her voice sweet and melodious in her own mind, but not so sweet had she been able to hear her father's words. She never met any of her neighbours. They were too afraid to come calling. She never went to school and no one came to report her truancy to her father. It didn't matter to him. She had no time for school. She had work to do at home. No time to frolic in school yards and learn useless information. And who would have taken her there anyway? She was blind and could not have found her way. She didn't know any different. She didn't know of school or other children. Running through fields or lazing in grass in hot summer's days. Her world within her mind was rich and golden. Life was as she lived it. Silently. Doing her best to always please her father.
And so they lived. The father cracking his whip and toiling his soils in anger. The daughter caring for his needs, her world a silent space where rainbows arced or birds flew and the internal song of her heart lifted her spirit gently throughout her days.
One day, a man was passing through the village and stopped at the door of the blind girl's home. She didn't know he was there. She was busy sweeping the floor, carefully touching each space to ensure she hadn't missed any crumbs. She knew her father didn't like to feel crumbs beneath his feet for when he did he'd force her to her knees, put her hands upon the offending crumb and step on her fingers. She didn't like it when he stepped on her fingers. It hurt. And so she was careful to remove all crumbs before he came home at night.
On this day, she was carrying a dustpan of crumbs to shake outside when she opened the door and walked right into the man who stood at that very moment with one arm raised to rap a final time at the door. As the door fell open, the man stumbled forward and fell into the outstretched arm of the young woman. He hit the dustpan, it flew from her hands and dust scattered all across the floor.
He watched, surprised, as she quickly fell to her knees and began to pick up the pieces of dirt, one by one, her hands frantically searching all around her for offending pieces.
He gasped. The sun streaked in through the door, casting light upon the young woman's bowed head. It hit the floor upon which she knelt and reflected back at him. His mouth fell open in awe. The floor was gold. Pure solid gold. He stepped into the room to look more closely. The walls were gold. Pure solid gold. The dishes. The wine goblets. Everything was gold.
The man turned to the young woman who continued to pick up pieces of dirt. He watched a tear fall from her eye, drop to the floor and land on a piece of dirt. And where it touched the dust mote, the dirt turned to gold.
The girl, intent upon cleaning up all the dirt, was oblivious to the man standing in the centre of the room. She kept crying and dust kept turning to gold. The man walked to the kitchen table which was laid out for dinner. A gold plate, knife, fork, were carefully laid out. A water pitcher stood beside a golden goblet. On the hearth, in a golden pot, a stew burbled quietly. All was in place. All was prepared for dinner. And all was gold.
The man could not believe his eyes. He was surrounded by a room of gold. A room of wonder. He picked up the goblet. Felt its weight in his hands. He glanced at the girl, her head bowed as she still continued to frantically look for bits of dirt. Furtively he glanced around the room searching for signs of someone else. The room was empty. He tucked the goblet and then the plate and for good measure the knife and fork into his pocket. He picked up the water jug and placed it into the sack he carried on his back.
He didn't know of the man with the cracking whip and thunderous voice and felt no fear. What could a young girl who was obviously blind do to stop him?
He took as much as he could carry and turned back towards the young woman girl who had stopped searching for dirt and was now standing in the open doorway.
She could feel his presence in the room but she couldn't hear his footsteps. She could sense his warmth somewhere near her and held up a hand as if to say, "Stop."
The man laughed. A hollow sound in the room of gold. "You cannot stop me," he said brandishing the golden fork in front of him. "You are just a girl and I am a man. You cannot stop me."
He stepped towards her as if to push her out of the way.
But the girl was afraid. She knew the man had picked up the dishes from the table. She had felt the weight of the room shift as he'd done so. It was that shift in energy in the room that had alerted her to the man's intentions. She didn't dare the wrath of her father should he come home and find his dishes not on the table. She had to stop the man. She shook her hand in front of her. Again and again. Stop. Stop. Stop.
The man ignored her once again and moved closer to where she stood in the doorway. Just then, a cloud passed in front of the sun and the light disappeared from the room. The gold no longer glittered. The room no longer shone so brightly.
The man blinked his eyes adjusting to the sudden dark. The girl felt the change in the air. Felt the coolness, the shift in light and quickly darted to where she sensed the man standing. She grabbed the fork from his hand, the goblet and knife from his pocket, the plate from sack he carried on his back. Quickly, before he could move, she pushed him out the door and slammed it shut behind him.
He stood on the porch, hesitant. Surprised. How had she moved so quickly. He debated whether he could force the door open but just then the farmer arrived back from the fields, his whip cracking in the air around him.
"Who are you?" he thundered at the man standing in front of his door.
"Sir," the man said, a tremble in his voice. "I am a traveller seeking aid. I am lost."
The man's eyes examined him carefully. Head to toe. Toe to head. He looked at the sac on the man's back. "What do you carry?"
The man spread his hands wide to show they were empty. "Nothing but the clothes on my back and a fresh pair of shoes in my sack."
The man walked to the door. The stranger quickly stepped aside to give him room. He eagerly waited as the man opened the front door. "It has been a long while since I have had the company of men," said the man. "You may dine with me this evening and then you must be on your way."
The man opened the door and the stranger eagerly walked in behind him. All was dark. The young woman sat by the hearth tending the stew which cooked in an iron pot. On the table, a place was set for one. An earthen plate. Tin fork and knife. A goblet and water pitcher of clay.
The stranger was astounded. Where had all the gold gone? He knew he'd seen it. He knew it was there.
The man strode to his daughter where she sat by the fire. He touched her shoulder. Not too gently. Not too rough. He picked up one of her hands and motioned for her to set another setting at the table. She obeyed.
And all the while the stranger stood in awe. Her golden hair glistened in the firelight. Her skin was alabaster white. Her unseeing eyes cornflower blue. He had never before seen a woman so beautiful.
The father invited him to sit at the table and share the meal. The stew was perfectly flavoured. A tasty blend of meat and potatoes and spices and gravy. The bread light as air. Warm from the oven. Butter melted on its surface.
Throughout dinner the man asked questions of the world beyond the farm's enclosure. He asked for news. For conversation. And the stranger obliged but all the while his eyes kept straying to the girl where she sat by the fire sewing a shirt of soft cotton. All the while his eyes wandered around the room, searching for signs of gold. And all the while, the father sat talking, oblivious to the strangers intent staring at the goblet in his hand, the plate from which he ate.
Dinner was finished. The man thanked the stranger for his visit and ushered him to the door. He bit the stranger adieu and shepherded out into the night. "You may bed down in the barn for the night," he said. "Here is food for breakfast." And passed him a bag of bread and cheese. "In the morning, you must be gone."
And so, the stranger left. He wasn't sure he'd seen what he'd seen. Wasn't sure he'd witnessed the room of gold.
The next day he was gone. He went to the village and asked the villagers about the man and girl in the dark house on the other side of the hill, just beyond village end. No one said much. They warned him not to go there. It is too dark, they told him. Too much anger in that house. It is sad, they said. His wife died giving birth to his daughter and nothing has ever been the same. Once he was a joyful man. He loved his wife and lost all hope when she passed away.
The stranger listened to the stories and shook his head. He must have been wrong. It must have been a trick of the sunlight. And as was his habit, he carried on his way. He was a traveller and did not have time to stay in one place for very long.
And in the dark house on the other side of the hill, just beyond village end, the young woman tended her hearth. The father tended his fields beneath a dark cloud.
And all was as it always was. The young woman swept the floor, baked bread and sewed her father's clothes. She did it all with love in her heart for he was the only one she knew. The only one she could be thankful for the gift of her life. And through her work she shed unseen tears for the father was blind to her sadness. His world was dark and in its darkness, no one else ever witnessed the wonder of her tears turning dust to gold.