There Is No Rock in You
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. (Mark 14:32-40)
Gethsemane: Peter’s Nightmare
Dwelling as he did upon human things, Peter understood the nonnegotiable physics of drowning. As a child in his father’s boat he saw a boy flung overboard and now, hearing the call of his Siren Lord crying Come, the boy’s face was before him, an astonished flag of alarm. The small boat was enshrouded by the breath of green ghosts and there were monsters in the water, their ancient jewel-encrusted bodies vast and slow as continents moving just beneath the molten surface. Peter glanced at the rooster beside him. The rooster looked concerned.
Knowing he must keep the bird quiet he tied a bit of thread around its beak before putting it on his shoulder and climbing out of the boat. The water held his weight. Peter knew from experience that this was only temporary. He could not see his way through the fog, these cobweb ghosts that clung to his skin and refracted his Lord’s voice so it was both in front of him and behind him crying Come, Come, until it was sound without sense, the inarticulate protest of a prehistoric bird who’d lost its way. The kaleidoscopic cry of the Lord was to the left and to the right of him and Peter mapped the surface of the water with his feet, a blind cartographer charting the complicated geography of this alien planet’s fathomless sorrow, this planet that existed only as the evil thought of one bent on doing harm.
The Lord’s voice fell silent. Once again, Peter was getting it wrong. He sank until he was neck-deep in the mire and though he could not find him he knew his Lord was here too, caught like the others in the quicksand lie of a quicksand god. If this was love, Peter thought, to hell with it. The rooster, who could read his thoughts, began to peck at his eyes. From deep in the well of its throat the words surfaced, Get up, the choked sound of disaster that rent Peter from top to bottom, proclaiming as it did Peter’s new name:
You are the one who sinks, it said. There is no rock in you.
Gethsemane: The Dream of James
Nearsighted since birth, James had always taken pleasure in his dreams, where the sharp edges of things seemed to him as miraculous as the rabbi’s talitha kum. James dreamt of common beauties, the bright smear of the lyre-voiced woman who passed him each morning on her way to the cistern, a school of fish flashing metal as it turned toward open waters. Now he sat on the shore, hands folded and resting upon his belly, held close in the red thought of a sentient dawn, talking of everyday things with one who was dead. And James, too, was dead, and it was fine, he thought, fine to be dead if you can see the sun marking its hallucinatory path upon the lake and can talk with one’s friend about nothing more extraordinary than quirks of the weather, the price of fish, finding a wife—there had never been one less a Son of Thunder than he. It was what the rabbi had christened them, Boanerges, a small joke to make himself smile. Perhaps it suited his dragon-souled brother, brimming as he was with stentorian fire, but James craved quiet like a hungry child craves bread, lost his hair early, wasn’t crazy about crowds. As a boy James found he preferred trees to people and took up lutherie as a way to make the wood sing the pain of its thickening. Often the young rabbi grew troubled by the multitude, too many hands clutching at his cloak, and James would speak to him softly of cedar and terebinth, mortise and tenon, until the rabbi felt the weight of the adze in his palm.
They sat silently now, watching the gutted sunrise, the wide gash of light on the lacerated sea. James wondered whether it were possible, when one was dead, to walk upon a road of light across water. He thought he might suggest this to his companion, as it seemed suddenly advisable to leave this shore. But his friend says, Get up, and James hears a voice stripped of all but the violent pulse of a child’s stubborn wrongheaded love and feels the quick edge of the blade already buried in his throat.
Gethsemane: The Agony of John
There are some things that will never be written. Stretched beneath the blue mind of the olive trees his Beloved stood over him smelling of sweat and damp earth and bread. John pretended sleep. At supper, resting his smooth cheek on the chest of his Beloved he had found that the heart of the Alpha and Omega did not sound like a God-heart or even a human one but a sparrow-heart, scared and fast. Now in the blue swamp between wine and waking he closed his eyes and heard only the frantic march of that quickened bird-heart casting about for a flicker of light, finding only a soft prison of muscle, blood, bone. This was the betrayal that pierced the side. This was the denial never written down. His curse a long life, old age, the yoke of a haunted mother who wept in her sleep.
From the moment he left his father, the boat, his unmended nets, he was the one whom Jesus loved. His face a boy’s face, his feet a boy’s, his hands—their love was that of brother, daughter, mother, lover. While the others slept they would clasp hands and wade into the fire-dark sea, and there in the water he learned to pray with his body. His Beloved would slide his thumb along the back of his hand as if feeling the grain of wood and whisper to him the secrets of the kingdom. Prostrate on the mountain, buffeted by the earthquake voice that was at once one voice and many voices, shofar and thunder and void and light on jeweled waters, he was terrified by the possibility that his Beloved would go where he could not follow until he felt a hand on his shoulder, heard the scorched voice say, Get up.
One day soon, he’ll kiss the soft hollow of a paralytic’s inner thigh, feel the cord of muscle go suddenly taut beneath his mouth, feel the paralytic’s hand tighten its surprised grip in his hair. He’ll heal hundreds, lepers and lunatics, the blind and the damned. He’ll know which ones by the smell of bread laying heavy upon them. He will always heal with a kiss. This is another thing that will be left unwritten.
In the cerulean hush of the garden the footsteps draw near a third time. This time, he will force himself to look. Instead he hears his Beloved, his voice a collapsing mine, saying, Get up. In the voice he detects a hint of thunder, the throb of a distant shofar, the sounds of many waters.
Lisa Levy has a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from Syracuse University and a Master of Divinity from Yale. In the fall 2012, she begins work as a chaplain at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Ultimately, she plans to start a companionship house for people living with severe mental illness. She lives in New Haven with her dog, Bobo.