Canaan


#1
        On his way to Canaan, Abram paused at a modest strip mall (7x7 stores) just outside Babylon. He met an Indian there, over lunch at the food court. They shared a table. Abram settled on the spicy Thai salad with pork dumplings, and the Indian, a little frail from excessive fasting, invoked a platter of fries and a burger.

        Abram sat tall, grand, bearded, wrapped in thick woollen robes, and with a will so huge and powerful that centuries & oceans disappeared inside its pores. His will, he knew, would one day be the will of everyone. No other will would ever stand against it, except it be his own will by some other name.

        The frail Indian was bald, clean-shaven and dressed only in a dhoti, though the desert wind chafed his bare skin. He gave off the air of a distant relation. The Indian’s will was also great but had slipped inside the pores of the world, or floated somewhere beyond. For the Indian, there was always another beyond. He never despaired. He sat up very straight at table.

        The Indian was a world-class siddhi who through long fasts and many other austerities had earned powers of precognition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, the ability to walk on water and to pass through the earth as if it were water, to become many beings from one, from one many, and the capacity to remember past lives through countless eons and innumerable expansions and contractions of the cosmos. Or so it was said.

Abram inclined his head in respect. He told the Indian how he had been called to journey to Canaan, on a small matter of land, bringing with him his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, along with all his other relations, she-asses, camels & tents. Abram was always happy to announce his plans & history to anyone who would listen. He never wrote these things down, and he hoped that someone else would, if only on a napkin. But the Indian, like Abram, was no writer. Sound & speech were everything for both, although issuing in different ways and from different places.

        For the Indian, sound arose universally from the throat of the rose-apple Earth and was articulated through world organs. He charted it phonetically from vibrating chords, through glottal stops, from back to front vowels, from the dome of the sounding cave to the shaping rituals of the lips. For Abram, sound boomed behind his eyes like a steel drum, and could not be broken down or analyzed as sound but only as mighty sign, and would only echo yet more loudly when once written down. In this sound Abram heard the only God speak. Among other things, the only God said: Go on to Canaan.

#2

The Indian brought his hands together in honour of Abram’s God. But he said that the only God was only God speaking, and there was always prior speech and speech beyond. And he began his analogies on the scale of what had already passed and what was to come. For if every grain of sand of the River Ganga was a world system, and if each world system had its own Ganga and each grain of sand in each of these myriad Gangas was itself a world system and if you counted all these grains of sand in all these rivers in all these world systems, that number would be incalculably great. But that number would fall immeasurably short of the number of Gods, speeches & weeping that will be and already have been heard.

        And the Indian would have chanted on to endless further analogies. And he would have chanted on in sad & sweet ragas through the afternoon and through the night, and he would have chanted...but Abram cut him short, sternly. He leaned over the table, one hand gripping his diet orange soda. His eyes were like coals, but he tried to be gentle. You’re a good guy. You mean well. But you must remember the Kingdom, he said, and all it demands. You don’t get the politics. This is a serious place, and you’re just a tourist. I have to live here. The Indian agreed with a sideways tilt to his head. And Abram said, this is not your forest but my one-sound desert. And out of this one-sound weighty books will grow, and each one will be worth a shelf of your sutras because every book will form a beginning, middle & end and so will the world.

        The Indian tilted his head rapidly side to side, as Indians do, and agreed that his India with its Yoga, its Lotus, would drift with sounds & stories, would be light on gravitas as well as closure, and would scarcely reach to commands & books. Yet this was only real & just because the world was also light. And it had neither beginning nor end.

        Abram shook his drink until it flooded over the sides of the cup. But the ice had melted so it made no sound. There was a beginning, in the Kingdom. And there would be an end – in the Kingdom. That was the steel drum sounding in Abram, the sound of his will. And the Kingdoms & children of Abram would multiply like the stars in the heavens & the dust on the ground.

#3

Neti, neti – not that, not that, said the Indian, with that quibbling back-and-forth tilting of his head. He too would conjure countless descendents, but sired by semen sprinkled on lotus petals and taken up by river spirits. Our populations will grow, he said. But your promised land will always be settled by others, no matter Sarai’s plot bought from the Hittites, and your coming will always ripen in slaughters & further exiles, and your dominions brief, and your returns will bring always more slaughters and your Canaan will be plagued always by others. And it will be the same for everyone who speaks with your will. Thus was the Indian’s sutra on that day.

        And the thread of the Indian’s words found a needle in Abram’s heart, and he felt a gnawing there deeper than he would later feel from pimping his wife to Pharaoh, from sharing secret pleasures with Hagar, from sending his son Ishmael into exile, or from holding the blade over Isaac, because he knew that anything would be better than going on to Canaan. It would be better to turn east with the Indian – his tour of Iraq was just about over – and maybe help him put some order and spine into his sutras, improve his methods of time-keeping and help with the breeding of cattle & goats. It would be better to retreat to the noble desert, avoiding all oracles & prophets, all further revelations and their jihads; or just head downtown, open a shop and enjoy the markets & cafes of Babylon. It would be better to stay with a normal lifespan, die en route, and leave his descendents, however numerous, go where they will.

        But none of this would satisfy the steel drum sounding of his will, and with his heart still penetrated by the Indian’s sutra, he saw more: the later northern tribes falling onto empires gone pale, and saw that after the sweet if perfunctory rapes, killings, lootings & burnings the barbarians would feel bereft of any distinct further impulse and would go fat with depleted will, with the old Greek reason too weak and the Indian too weird to help them, and would drop, collapse like mudslides down shaken hills. And they would lie there, like golems, without his re-animating will. They would need Abram for their descendents and his to multiply like the dust on the ground & the stars in the heavens. Or so it was thought.

        So the Indian & Abram embraced, with tears, though tears were against the calling of the one and the will of the other. And Abram continued west to Canaan, though he knew that going on to Canaan would only make it the world. And the Indian returned east with Canaan rising in his mind whenever he thought of suffering.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.