Dancing in the Light

The gleam in my father’s eyes had been a distant memory.  That is, until on one autumn morning, 1913.  I found him prancing about our kitchen.  Hustling and bustling amongst what seemed to be a rather disorganised troop of baking equipment and ingredients, he shined with enthusiasm as his conductor-like hands distributed most of the ingredients on the kitchen table as opposed to in the containers.  A multitude of spoons, bowls, measuring cups, biscuit cutters and baking trays were scattered about the kitchen table.  Accompanying them were various spilt powdered ingredients, which formed a patchy blanket of snow.  I had not seen the kitchen look so busy and colourful since Mother was alive.  What a splendid spectacle!  What baking creation of Father’s was filling the house with these cheery, sweet aromas?  Such potent creativity; this was a sensory experience in all its richness.  He was simply baking shortbread, yet he had become the spirit of life itself.   His busy enjoyment filled me with awe.  I felt my sixteen-year-old eyes sparkle, reflecting the magic I watched unfolding in that room.  Sunshine beamed through the kitchen windows, which was a rarity in our humble little house.  Normally, our house was dark and gloomy, since it sat within the Scottish highlands.

As my Father baked, he reminded me of the Biblical passage “Let there be light,” in Genesis.  Father was someone enthusiastically creating something, knowing and believing it would be good.  It was almost as if in the initial stages of baking, one could sense that he felt a God-like power from within.  The reality was Father was only a Minister of God.

My father was a strict Calvinist, a serious man of many morals and principles, not one for practicalities.  After Mother’s death, my father had become more pious and serious until this morning of baking.  When my mother died, she took a part of his spirit with her.  Yet today, he was reborn.

The uniqueness of the situation had absorbed my attention to such an extent that I had failed to notice that my father was performing the domestic duties of a woman.   A vast amount of shortbread, surely could not be just for the two of us?

“Why are you baking, Father?”

“Grandmother has been taken ill for a couple of days and I promised the prisoners Grandmother’s shortbread on my visit today.  I cannot not break my word, so I must bake them with Grandmother’s recipe.”  Father would visit them daily to teach them the word of the Lord.  How kind of him to give sustenance to the damned.

“Let me help you, Father,” I chuckled to myself, imagining how likely it would be for the shortbread to make it out of the oven in one piece.

To my dismay, he elbowed me out the way, continuing to mix his batter.

“Is it not the female’s role to perform domestic duties?” I enquired.

“Is not God ruler over everything? The role of the Minister is to perform the duties of God.”

“Yes; He is Omnipotent,” I said submissively.

“Then you have no right to question what I am doing or try to take my place.  Besides, God has given me the mission of giving this shortbread to the prisoners, which gives me a special authority in this regard.  The very fact you are my daughter means you must obey your father, as it says in Exodus. My authority is not to be questioned.” He paused momentarily.  Then, moving his face towards mine, almost too close for comfort, he glared at me, rage ablaze in his piercing green eyes, before demanding sternly, “Do you understand?”  He seemed to accentuate every one of those five syllables.

Feeling my hands start to tremble at the force of his voice, I nodded.  In spite of my submission, my enquiring mind could not help but wonder why Father was so wrathful about what seemed such an insignificant matter.  My Father was usually more calm and patient than most other Ministers I knew.

“This shortbread is only for the prisoners to taste; you must not go near them.  Run along now – I am sure you have something to do.” Father made a shooing motion with hands, his voice stern and submissive.

In fear of provoking him further, I hurriedly left the room, but Father’s strange, possessive behaviour puzzled me.  Thus, I spied on him, just my eyes peering behind the kitchen door.  Father produced a key from somewhere, using it to open a kitchen drawer.  He took out a container of mysterious powder, and carefully added spoonfuls of this substance to the dry ingredients.  I was mystified as to why my father would not let me taste any of the delicious shortbread.  Could the unknown added substance be the reason?  Was Father harming the prisoners in some way with this substance? Worse, was he helping the prisoners by punishing them? Surely, it could not be poison.  I dismissed my trail of thought to be ridiculous and one that was under the influence of the devil.  Dare I question the morality of my Father, whom claims to have the authority of God as a minister?

The next day, I ventured into the kitchen to see Father baking again.  I considered to myself that it would make sense that from now on, Father will be baking every day.  After all, he will be visiting the prisoners every day.

I enquired worriedly, “Is Grandmother still sick, Father?”

“Yes, unfortunately she is.  If you want to join me in the kitchen, please sit down on the seat over there, otherwise you will be in my way.”

I sat down and spoke quietly. “So you said God spoke to you yesterday and gave you a mission?”

“This is a mission between God and I.  All concerning matters must remain between us.” His manner was so cool and detached, which was unlike him, yet a repeat of his manner the day before.

“What does this mission entail?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

“You need not know.  All I will say is that my mission, by God’s grace, will hasten the second coming.”

My curiosity was increasing.  What was Father up to?  My suspicion converted into physical questions.  “Surely, a just cause does not entail such secrecy?  Those who are secretive are deceiving the deceived, themselves or God. “You should not bear false witness against your neighbour,” (Exodus 20:16.) Are you not sinning?” My voice quivered slightly with righteous concern. “Surely, if God has given you a just mission, you would be proud? As Jesus said, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19.) We want to do justice in God’s name, proclaiming our love for God to the world.”

“Justice does not always happen conventionally, my precious Agnes.”

“What do you mean?”

“You will find out,” Father said bluntly, “Have you not something else you could be doing?   Have you advertised for a governess position, yet?”

“No, I have not.”

“Well, run along then.”

It was as if time had repeated itself, for as I stood hiding behind the doorway, I watched Father take a container from the drawer and add a mysterious substance to the recipe, just like yesterday.  In that moment, I realised that whatever Father was creating, it was far removed from that of God in Genesis.

The more the days passed, the more I worried what Father was up to.  Every day, Father would journey to the prisons with shortbread and return with an empty basket.  I felt rather as if I was dancing in the dark: a high likelihood of many false moves with only a vague inkling of the situation in which I would be making them.  As sure as I was Father was poisoning the prisoners in some way, I needed evidence.  It seemed as if whatever decision I made, our fates were doomed to sin.  Whilst Father revelled in the light of the kitchen, I was aimlessly dancing in the unknowability of the dark.  “Our days on Earth are only a shadow… where even light is darkness,” Job 8:9-10:23.  Father would not reveal anything more; neither would he listen to my reasoning, being the physical and emotional void to which he was reducing himself.  I was sure the effect of mother’s death had some part to play in his scheme.

When a man thinks he has the power of God on his side, he starts to think he is invincible.  Before you know it, his interior world – his will to power – becomes his external reality.  He is on a quest to fulfil his sensory desires, his idealistic yet twisted dreams, at whatever cost and beyond any sense of reason.  Only he can accept and reciprocate God’s love.  Paradoxically in the case of Father, however, underneath this buffer of darkness, simply lay a grief-stricken man, unknowingly in desperate need of God’s love.  This was what was so tragic and yet so frustrating.

A week passed by where the impossibility of the situation seemed to slow time – for me at least.  Father, in contrast, must have felt like quite the time traveller on his daily journeys to the prisons, hastening the second coming in so doing.  He was travelling to the future in a sense.  At least, that was what he believed.  I could not wait any longer suspended between one decision and another.  I just had to do something.

Thus, one day, I followed Father to the prisons.  I crept behind him for what seemed like a very long and tedious journey, careful to keep myself at a considerable distance.  Our house was isolated from the town so the walk was at least half an hour long.  Father walked carelessly and briskly, his cloak masterfully swaying in the wind, not looking back.  Since we crossed endlessly green, vast and beautiful landscapes, it was relatively easy for me to remain hidden from him, with grand trees, low and foggy clouds as well as highlands at my constant disposal.  On a normal day, I would have easily tired, yet I felt inspired to remain resilient in the spirit of God and His justice.  Whilst I indulged in the free-spirited beauty of God’s nature, Father just walked the narrow-minded path of his own ‘divine’ mission.  Finally, we reached the prisons and after waiting five minutes, like a delayed shadow, I followed his path inside.  All was going to plan so far.  I hoped that meant God was with me.  The moment I entered, I noticed a receptionist peering at me suspiciously over his glasses, which were halfway down his nose.

“Minister Murray, my father, forgot to bring his Bible with him today,” I gestured to the Bible I held in my hand, which was actually mine, “Can you tell me where I could find him?”

“Oh yes, he did mention he had a daughter your age,” the man answered, his voice warm and kind, “You are quite the spitting image of your father!  Take the turning on the right, and then turn left again; he will be 3 cells down on the left-hand side.”

“Thank you so much!” I smiled, quietly sighing with relief.

Following his directions, I proceeded to turn right and after explaining my situation to the prison guards, they let me through.  How smoothly my plan was being actuated!  I now walked through rows of prison cells on either side of me.  Forgetting myself for a few moments, I could not resist smiling ever so slightly, which was quickly reversed once a few bitter prisoners glared at me as I passed by, one by one.

How guilty I felt for walking so freely and happily!  I wondered what sins the prisoners had committed to end up where they were.  Had not I sinned just as much in different ways?  In a strange sense, meeting some of the prisoner’s bitter glares, I saw myself.  I saw people who had made mistakes just like I had, and were guilty and bitter as a result.  The only difference between us was that my long-term punishment remained the guilt in my head, whereas theirs was on public display.  Nevertheless, on a practical level, if the prisoners were to be released, I wondered how similar to me they would actually be.

On that line of thought, the bitter glares of the prisoners provoked me to quicken my pace.  Then noticing a key on the floor, I retrieved it, in the hope that it might just be the key Father had been using to lock the drawer, which contained that secret ingredient for his shortbread.  For safekeeping, I placed it in my coat pocket.  As I continued to walk, I finally found myself leisurely about to take the next turning when I heard Father’s voice, and in blind panic of discovery, I reversed my steps and swerved behind the wall behind which I just had been walking.  Leaning my body against the icy wall, I cooled my red-hot palms of my hands, listening as carefully as I could muster.  This was it.

In the same cell as Father, it sounded like a man was reciting The Lord’s prayer, who I assumed to be the prisoner:

“Our Father *cough * in heaven,

hallowed be *cough cough* thy…”

Clearly not in a fit enough state to continue, I heard this man spluttering, the heaviness of his cough increasing by each waking breath.

Then I heard Father’s voice, bizarrely calm and majestic in the face of such suffering: “You are dying as punishment for the sins you have committed.  Repent now and God will forgive you.”

Submissively, the prisoner replied, “Lord God *cough*, Jesus Christ, *cough cough* I have wronged you – forgive me…”  A sudden silence swept through the corridors.  All I could hear was my heartbeat pulsating through my body at an ever-increasing rapidity, so much so that I heard its echo.  Was the prisoner dead?  I thought.  Adrenaline sent me racing down the corridor to find Father holding the prisoner in his arms, his head on Father’s lap, the prisoner’s eyes a-glaze and staring up at the ceiling, a bloodied tissue in hand.  Smears of scarlet-red blood spoiled his deathly white skin, trickling down his chin.  Is not coughing up blood a symptom of poisoning? Next to the prisoner, I noticed Father’s half empty basket of shortbread.  There was evidence that the prisoner had eaten some, embodied in the crumbs scattered about the floor nearby.  Father was too absorbed in his ‘mission’ to notice my arrival and that I was watching his crime unfold through the prison bars.

Father spoke to the prisoner, his voice mellowed in gentle reassurance, “I am sure He has.” Father placed a cross necklace in the prisoner’s hand and wrapped the prisoner’s heavy fingers around the cross, concealing it: a mark of his possession of the body.  Father then placed the prisoner’s arm across their chest.  These two actions must have been the ritual he performed after every murder.

Finally making full sense of the scene before me, I gasped.  I was horrified, ashamed even.  My own Father – a Minister – a murderer! A hypocrite!

Jumping slightly at my gasp, Father turned around, facing me.

“You – are – a MURDERER! How many more must be dead by your hand? ” I whispered through gritted teeth, tears streaming down my face, which I felt beginning to burn with fury.

Wide-eyed and anxious, Father began to explain himself in a tone of justification, saying, “Agnes, I-“

Before he could, I ran.  I knew not where I was going.  I just ran, overtaken by blind panic.   I ran, until my movement gathered some direction so that I managed to turn left, right past the prison guards who I heard calling after me, genuinely concerned.  Ignoring them, I turned right at full speed, making an exit of the building, gasping in the fresh air, as if I had just been released from captivity.  Everything surrounding me seemed a blur.  There only were these thoughts chaotically pounding around my head and I.  After pausing a moment to process my sheer shock, I ran straight home.  I could not even look at Father, let alone listen to him.  He had betrayed me and he had betrayed God.

Upon returning home, I stormed into the kitchen and succeeded in unlocking the drawer with the key I had found on the prison floor.  As I suspected, the drawer stored a container of poison.  The label on the container read, Arsenic.  Eating Father’s lethal shortbread for a few days in a row would easily be enough to kill someone.  This is what had happened to the prisoners.  What sickened me the most is that the prisoner I heard did not seem to suspect Father, so he must have groomed them all, only to abuse their trust.

Shortly afterwards, Father returned home.  God knows how he had not been imprisoned or hung by now.  Surely, my rushed exit from the prison must have created suspicion and alarm, not that it was ever my intention.  I was simply in shock.

“Agnes, I-”

“No!” My hands were up in defense.

“Let me explain!”

“There’s no need – I saw everything!” I backed away from him, slowly.

“Only God can see everything, Agnes!”

“Do not even mention his name-“ I snapped.

“I heard God’s voice, asking me to murder!”

I was stunned to silence.  That was his religious experience he was talking about.

Realising he had captured my attention, Father began to explain, “God possesses everything.  When Jesus said, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Mark 12:17), in reality, Caesar is owed nothing.  That is what Jesus meant.  Authority by human invention is irrelevant as far as God is concerned.  As a Minister, I represent God’s word on Earth.  It does not surprise me that God asks me to act in a way that is contrary to our human institutions, since such institutions do not apply to the people of God.  Man-invented authority means nothing when you feel the joy and justice achieved by God’s will.  As Calvinists, we believe that once one believes in God, one is saved.  Only grace matters.  That is because everything He wills is good.  Christians endure a world of falsities, evil and ungodliness until heaven.  That is why the worst, unrepentant sinners – whose sin is the most painful to God – must be stopped in their tracks.  God has informed me those sinners are the criminals that occupy prison and it is my mission to stop them sinning any further.  It is more effective for me – as one who God has already saved – to increase the suffering of the world through committing murders, than to let the unsaved prisoners to keep sinning.  Through my murders, the suffering of the world will be increased, as God wills, and the second coming of Jesus, hastened.”

“Your philosophy sounds paradoxical to me,” I observed.  With honesty tranquilising the angry atmosphere in which we stood, we both sat down on armchairs, either side of the fireplace.  Rain pattered on the rooftop of our house and it was a bitterly cold evening.

Then Father calmly replied.  “That’s why it works well.  God’s ways are paradoxical to our humble minds.  For instance, do you recall the painting on the parlour wall?  I have never told you what it is.”

I realised that he had not.

“A friend of mine – who happens to be an artist – offered to paint a picture of your mother on her death bed.  God knows why I said yes.  She contracted a fever after giving birth to your sister, dying within a couple of days of her birth. When I see that painting, I see the suffering world.  I remember Jesus gave us salvation through his sacrifice.  God obviously wants me to be the one who breaks this cycle of doom and suffering.  Retaliation is not a sin if it is done in God’s name.”

His words sounded just as beautiful as the painting looked, but both their substance was fatally flawed.  I used to admire the painting but from that moment forward, I looked at it with disdain.  The colours were so rich and vivid that I failed to notice what the colours created together: evil and suffering in its darkest form.  These rich colours almost glorified Mother’s suffering.  Similarly, Father’s perception of his religious duty had become worryingly dark, glossed over with elaborate and eloquent justification.  He wore a Geneva robe to show he was a representative of God’s will on Earth and yet he was contradicting God’s teachings of loving our neighbours even if they unrepentant sinners.  At least, I believed it was Father, when this situation could easily be the work of the devil, but was it not Father’s responsibility – as a Minister – to resist the devil’s influence? Ultimately, was I to disdain Father for the suffering he caused as I disdained that painting for the suffering it represented?

“How can you be sure that you heard God’s voice?”

“Abraham did not doubt God’s voice while he nearly murdered his own son!” he exclaimed.

“Nevertheless, did Abraham actually commit murder?”

He paused, thinking carefully, “No.”

“God was testing Abraham’s faith.  Nevertheless, God did not abuse His power. God could have let Abraham kill his own son but he chose not to.  God does not make us sin for His own pleasure, like a puppeteer dangling us on the end of a string.  Why would God love every sinning soul, only to command someone like you to destroy them?  Jesus is our sacrifice so we no longer need to sacrifice others.  In grief for your wife, bitterness for the suffering world and taking God’s grace for granted with your ministerial authority, you imagined God’s voice.  You did not hear God’s voice Father.  I can only think you were tempted by the influence of the devil in your grieved state.”

“So despite being a minister, I have sinned gravely, Agnes?” The fortitude with which he walked in the house was faltering, the colour draining from his face, acting as a defining contrast to his ebony black hair.

“Yes, you have.”

Father gulped, “You sound so much like your mother, I can almost imagine it is her speaking to me rather than you.  She normally talked sense into me with her powers of reasoning and understanding of the Bible, and you are all I have left of her.  I can feel the disappointed glares of both of you, looking through your eyes alone.  Nothing can take away the shame I feel to have disappointed both of you.”

“Father…” My eyes were a-glaze with pity for him.

Father then proceeded to interupt me in conducting a perfect sermon on his own behavior.  “In my grief for my wife, I confused God’s word for my own.   I interpreted a grief-struck hallucination as a religious experience.  I idolised my selfish desires above God.  I projected my suffering as God’s will that I was to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus in increasing the suffering of the world.  I believed suffering stole my wife from me, but I have stolen the lives of the prisoners from God.  I have fallen for my own deception.”

“Yes!”

He paused, evidently processing the past couple of minutes before the full gravitas of the situation seemed to implode within his spirit.  That was when his voice cracked in grief and despair: “God will never forgive me!”

I then leapt over to him and sat at his feet.  Putting my hands on his lap to reassure him, I preached with as much conviction as I could muster, “As long as you repent, and truly regret what you did, God will always forgive you.  God’s mercy is boundless.”

“Believing myself to be one of God’s elect, I abused God’s grace.  Oh, God, forgive me; I have sinned against you!” he cried.

Getting up to perch on the arm of the chair on which he sat, I hugged Father reassuringly, whispering repetitively, “God will forgive you.”

We must have fallen asleep like this, because I woke up the next morning, shivering from the body against mine: Father was deathly cold.  He was holding a tissue full of blood, and an empty plate of crumbs lay beside him.  Smears of scarlet-red blood spoiled his deathly white skin, trickling down his chin, his glazed eyes staring at the ceiling.  In his despair, he must have committed suicide, dying by the sin that he committed.  Of course, I cried and cried for what could have been.  After his death, he could have been in the hands of the Father, reunited with my mother, utterly blissful.  In his last words to me, it was evident he felt God’s light.  I wish he could have danced in the heavenly light.   His last actions, however, meant this could never be.

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If you read on, I have done an analysis of the Theological themes of my story.

Let There Be Light Analysis
Introduction
I used the form of a murder mystery.  Throughout the tale, I explore many themes and take elements from the Gothic stories we have read.

 

Context

 

My tale is set in Scotland, like Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, but in the early twentieth century, not the seventeenth.

 

Furthermore, from the perspective of enlightenment rational Christianity, Agnes is the proper Christian.  She is compassionate to her Father, assuring him “God will forgive you,” as long as he repents for his sin at the end.  She is not only inwardly aware of her Biblically based morals, but also porous to her external world too, as she pieces together the evidence of her father’s murder.  Her Father, in contrast, bases his belief on what is beyond reason and empirical proof in selecting specific Biblical passages such as Mark 12:17.  He praises his “philosophy,” despite Agnes criticising it as “paradoxical” and values his own perception unquestionably above all others, evidenced in his announcement: “I heard God’s voice, asking me to murder!”  Conversely, Agnes questions whether he actually heard God at all, accounting for the other situational factors, which led her Father to agree that in fact he was grieving for his wife.

 

The Sublime

 

One of the themes I explore from Wieland is that of the sublime.  At the sound of Carwin saying “for charity’s sweet sake,” Clara felt an “emotion altogether involuntary.”[1] In my story, the opening “sensory experience,” the daughter seems to reacts to what Longinus calls an “imperious and irresistible force,”[2] of her father’s happy and creative energy as he bakes shortbread, leaving her in “awe.” Moreover, the natural world and supernatural world merge in this scene through my linguistic technique of magical realism.  I exemplify this by the “(magical)” nature of the scene, which acts as a contrast to the physical objects such as “spoons,” and “bowls.” She is so overwhelmed with her Father’s changed mood that she does not instantly realise that a male should not be baking, as the roles of men and women were clearly defined during that time.  I evidence her father’s positive energy by my choice of adjectives and emphatic verbs such as describing his eyes as having a “gleam,” my alliteration in the syllables of “ustling” in the phrase “hustling and bustling,” as well as the metaphor of spilt powdered ingredients as being “a patchy blanket of snow.”  Furthermore, I use frequent caesura in phrases such as “such potent creativity; this was a sensory experience in all its richness,” contributing to the multifaceted layers of this otherworldly experience for Agnes.  Thus, my linguistic techniques create a lively scene.  Contrarily, it is greatly ironic that she would have better represented her experience as anti-sublime and the gravitas of sin; her father’s creation of shortbread is what will murder people.  I symbolically exemplify Agnes’ nature being more attuned to the sublime than Minister Murray through the way they choose to walk as she follows her Father through the highlands to the prison: whilst she “indulged in the free-spirited beauty of nature, Father just walked the narrow-minded path of his own ‘divine mission.’” Agnes is open to God’s mysterious ways whilst her Father is assertive, believing he can know God, taking God’s grace for granted.

 

Furthermore, through his energy in the opening scene, her Father conveys a kind of creative potence, which she likens to “God-like power.”  This links with the sense of creating life is not only the tale’s title, based on “Let there be light,” (Genesis 1:3), but in the busyness atmosphere and direct references to “the spirit of life itself,” such as her father being “reborn.”  In a sense, he represents God, who would normally be at the source of a sublime experience, coinciding with him prioritising his needs in his life, not God.

 

When Agnes references Minister Murray’s ‘will to power’, I am talking about it in the sense that Nietzsche did.  Nietzsche implies that through constant renewal and bettering, one can achieve the power of God and even exceed it.  Arguably, Minister Murray believes he is has the role of God in choosing who lives and dies.

 

Calvinism

 

Minister Murray misinterprets Calvinism to which he claims to belong in not understanding the intricacies of the concept of grace in that denomination.  He opposes what is called “the knowledge of ourselves in Calvin’s Theology,”[3] exemplified by him justifying his authority to his daughter purely based on his belief that because he is representative of God, his salvation is certain, no matter how he sins, whereas her soul is not.  He falsely claims to know God’s will.  He asks, “Does God not rule everything?” adding, “It is the role of the Minister is to perform the duties of God.”  This contradicts Calvin because he believed the church should have a “ministerial rather than priestly character.”[4]  This means that religious authority such as Minister Murray should focus on serving God rather than his limited personal authority.  Furthermore, Calvin – a leading figure in Calvinist Theology – said Christ does not let anyone “’off the hook’ once we get faith in” Him, otherwise we fall into the trap of “blind self-love.”[5]  This means that if one claims their own salvation like Minister Murray, they are effectively undermining God’s omnipotence and the love God deserves from us.

 

In contrast, Agnes realizes that no-one’s salvation is certain when we are all sinners and therefore of no position of authority.  When Agnes says, “In a strange sense, meeting some of the prisoner’s bitter glares, I saw myself,” I am referring to, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye , but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)  She is insinuating the idea that all humans are sinners and it is hypocritical for a human, such as Minister Murray, to claim a sinner to be worse than other sinners.  Although we sin in different ways, every sin is painful to God.

 

The Bible

 

Reverend Murray falsely represents Christianity through the Bible.  He idolises his own ‘capital punishment’ for criminals above the compassionate principles of God presented in the New Testament through Jesus Christ.  For instance, Jesus says to react passively to injustice, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also,” (Matthew 5:39), promoting kindness: “Love your enemies.”  (Matthew 5:44) I highlight his hypocrisy further through Agnes’ analogy with the painting, like the Pharisees who “clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25.)  They give a pious impression, and like Minister Murray, are not truly pious, failing to attempt to demonstrate the ways of Jesus.

 

The Nature of Evil

 

I illustrate the ambiguous nature of evil through dancing between darkness and light.  I base it on these two sources: a Bible quote -“Our days on Earth are only a shadow… where even light is darkness,” Job 8:9-10:23 and Yeats’ words, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” from the Among School Children[6] poem.  Between the parallels of “light” and “(dark)” and “dancer,” and the “dance,” I emphasise the ambivalence between good and evil, and between the sin and the sinner.  We “dance” aimlessly in patches of light and darkness, hoping that somehow we will dance towards the light.  Minister Murray may be father to “precious Agnes,” and an idealistic Minister, but he is also a serial killer.

 

Throughout the story, I think raised the question of responsibility.  Who was ultimately responsible for Minister Murray’s downfall?  Was it Minister Murray, fate, the situation or the devil?

 

Moreover, I make the title intentionally ironic.  The title implies that God will be creating light, yet instead, we have someone poorly attempting to imitate God’s power in deciding who lives and who dies.  In actuality, Minister Murray was attempting to hasten the second coming, that is, the darkness and the end of the world, through his murders.  He did not create the light of life, but destroyed it.  His daughter wanted him to “dance in the heavenly light,” but she believes his suicide marked his damnation.  Nevertheless, we do not know if God actually damned him.  It is entirely possible that he was not damned.  This relates to a theory in relation to Judas from then Bible, who betrayed Jesus and in regret, committed suicide.  This theory postulates that Judas might have committed suicide, but in his last moments, it is possible he saw the light of God and he could have repented.  This could apply to Minister Murray.  Nevertheless, given the time that Agnes came from, anyone would have assumed God sent Minister Murray to hell because suicide was perceived as a grave sin.  The answer, however, is not certain either way.

 

Bibliography

 

Baldick, Chris.  In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity and Nineteenth-century Writing.  The University of Michigan: Clarendon Press, 1987.

Brown, Charles Brockden.  Weiland.  USA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

Butler Yeats, William. Among School Children. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43293.  Accessed 05 June 2016.

Goodwin, William.  Enquiry Concerning Political Justice.  UK: Penguin Classics, 1985.

Trans. Havell, H.L.. Longinus on the Sublime.  ,London and New York: Macmillan and co., 1890), https://archive.org/stream/LonginusOnTheSublime_376/LonginusSublime_Havell_136pgs51175735_djvu.txt, Accessed 3/5/16.

Helm, Paul. Calvin: A Guide for The Perplexed.  T&T International, 2008.

Hogg, James.  The Private Memoirs and Confessions of Justified Sinner.  UK: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1999.

McGrath, Alister E.  Reformation Thought: An Introduction.  Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1999.

Rae, Murray.  Matheson, Peter.  Knowles, Brett.  Calvin The Man and Legacy.  Australia: ATF Press, 2014.

Sage, Victor.  Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition.  London:  Macmillan and Co., 1998.

Sheridan Le Fanu, Joseph.  Uncle Silas, A Tale of Bartram Haugh. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1899.

The Holy Bible.  New Revised Standard Version.  London: HarperCollins, 1997.

Warfel, Harry.  Charles Brockden Brown – American Gothic Novelist, 1974. New York: Octagon Books, 1974.

Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew. Charles Brockden Brown.  Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011.

Footnotes

[1] Charles Brockden Brown, Weiland, (USA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform,  2014,) 21.

[2] Trans. H.L. Havell, Longinus on the Sublime, (London and New York, Macmillan and co., 1890), https://archive.org/stream/LonginusOnTheSublime_376/LonginusSublime_Havell_136pgs51175735_djvu.txt, Accessed 3/5/16.

[3] Rae Murray, Peter Matheson, Brett Knowles. Calvin, The Man and Legacy, (Australia, ATF Press, 2014), 41.

[4] Paul Helm, Calvin: A Guide For The Perplexed, (T&T International, 2008), 115.

[5] Murray, Legacy, 42.

[6] William Butler Yeats, Among School Children, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43293, accessed 05 June 2016.

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A Light on My Path by Zakiya Genders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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The Master of Fire

 

The shadows of the night danced about the landscape surrounding his mansion; its master’s heart as devious and gloomy as the thunder that bellowed like evil spirits from the very depths of those dark, dark skies.   The origins of these thunderous echoes are not known, nor the reason for his inner darkness; some said he was possessed by the devil, others said it was just in his nature.  He was possessed with a need to be loved although there was not much in his character worth loving, for he was selfish and impulsive.  Whatever the causes are for the both of these burdens, one could be certain he was consumed and corrupted by the jealousy for a certain handsome Prince; there are rumours implying that this emotion will eventually be his bane, that is, the very end of his miserable existence.   For no-one could avoid hinting how much the Master wanted the princess for his wife; oh, how he wished more than anything to trade lives with that handsome Prince so that his dreams could come true!  How impossible it seemed to reach his perfect standard externally!

 

As always, Master sat before the fireplace on this particular night, his ebony eyes captivated by its burgundy and amber tongues darting amongst each other with as much enthusiasm as life itself.  He could not help feel envious of the humble existence of the fire – how its purpose is to continue to burn, its luxury of never having to feel such powerful emotions as a human ever would, how it would never feel jealousy towards other fires due to their great beauty.  Oh, how he wished, prayed, hoped and dreamed that he was not as ugly as he looked! Then again, the fire is never able to enjoy this existence because it can never feel; a thought of his that sent an army of other ideas to counteract it.  Three booming knocks at his large oak front door accompanied the thunderous echoes in chorus, interrupting his deep thoughts.  Master had not had a guest in his miserable and crumbling abode for as long as could remember.  In contrast to himself, the mansion appeared grandly majestic in its exterior whilst its interior living space was decaying and neglected, with thick dust invading any nook or cranny which once might have possessed some beauty.

 

Master opened the door to an elderly widow – her form so frail, crooked and impotent in comparison to his strong build.  Within that moment, he indulged in this sense of power, overwhelmed with such pride for owning his mighty mansion.  The witch would not be able to see inside the mansion with his giant and unforgiving figure blocking her view.  She would not know, he thought.

“What do you want?” Master demanded.

The lady stance remained steady, apparently an unfazed Medusa by his unwelcoming reaction.  “I ask to use your mansion as shelter from this stormy night in return for the most beautiful rose of the deepest red ever to be seen.”

She outstretched her hand to reveal a rose as beautiful as she had described.   Master recognised the beauty before him and without a second thought, he greedily snatched it from the widow, failing to realise that as he did so, his snatching motion caused the widow’s remaining layers of pale, decrepit skin to spill blood from the thorned stem.  Master’s gaze was elsewhere; he rotated the rose in his hand, his gaze absorbed in each angle of the petals in thoughtful admiration for a moment.  When his gaze returned to the elderly widow, what used to be blood, now appeared in the form of red ringlets on her hand, which mysteriously appeared like paint to the human eye.  Even Master, absorbed in his own vanity, considered it strange that the widow should have paint on her hand.

Still, his bemusement did not lessen the fortitude of his booming response: “How dare you ask such an unreserved kindness, from a stranger, no less!”  It was almost as if he was looking at the widow, he lost sight of what was before him: a roar and fragile being yearning for one simple act of kindness.

 

The momentous moment came as he pushed the door with great force, the intention of this action being to slam the door in this elderly widow’s face, reminding her of her place.  Fancy being asked such a question at this hour; does she not know of his tragic character?  Surely, her age would allow experience for her to know that these traits of his were set in boulders, unchanged, unmoved by emotions of others?  Suddenly, her hand stopped the door in its motion, for Master was to be punished for such immorality.

 

The old widow was indeed a witch, who cast a dooming spell:

“The Master of Fire, that is what you are,

Your existence is solitary, it is others you char.

Trade someone’s love for the reddest, beauteous rose

Within good time, or choose to die unloved if you suppose!”

At the flick of her wand, the witch disappeared into a poof of smoke, in chorus with Master’s sigh of relief at her departure.  His sigh did not last long, for the witch’s laughter continued in spite of her absence.  It was the kind that transmitted a sense of impending doom everywhere in the firmament, serving as a reminder of how ironically impotent Master truly was.

 

Master’s fortitude seemed to annihilate as precipitously as fire by rain.  The Master of Fire, she said? Perhaps he was more similar to the fire than he ever thought he was.  As irritated as he originally felt by the witch’s intrusion, he realised she had a valid point.  In his attempt to protect himself from rejection, he had burned any hope of connection with those who could love him, as ugly as he was.  Unlike the fire, however, he realised he would not live forever.  It was time to change, to discontinue this routine of self-pity and monotony.  To live with no regrets.  It was time to do something with his life.  There were romantic dreams of his yet to be fulfilled.   In his dying moments, did Master really want his head to race with pictures of his lonely past whilst he compares them with imaginings of what his life could have been?  Oh, to be loved! Is that not the greatest achievement in life of all?  It was settled.  The witch had given him the motivation he needed to win the princess’ love.  He would rather die trying than alone.

 

 

The very next morning, he rose early, dressed in his finest clothing, his lion-like mane never seen so finely groomed, teeth never witnessed to be of such a gleaming white. His complexion as candescent as the promising sunrise and freshly polished boots marching nobly upon the cobbled stones, he journeyed to the princess’ castle.   Nothing could stop him.  Not even the searing pain he felt as the thorns that pierced his hand as he held the witch’s rose.  His hands drew blood which he watched quickly transformed into ringlets of red paint, as if by magic.  Just like the hand of the witch. He reminded himself of his purpose and continued to march on. After all, today was not the day to be distracted.  Careless as he felt, he was unaware of the guilt that marked his hands like that of the morality of Cain.  At last, her castle stood majestically before him, an army of roses stretched to the top of the tower obstructing a clear climbing path.  Not even nature’s intervention would not have the potency to break his progression from reality into his fairytale land and therefore, he felt he would rise positively to the occasion.

“Princess, princess, open your window

And cast your eyes to the man below,

It is he who love you forever more –

Not the handsome prince, arrogant to the core!” Master declared proudly.

An angry yet angelic face emerged from an opened window, not to declare a mutual affection: but outrage at the idea he could consider himself superior to the morality of the Prince!

He threw the rose up to the window; the girl caught its thorny stem  without her hands oozing so much as a trickle of blood.  Brushing his bemusement aside, and out of sheer desperation, Master stammered a reply, “I, can – I can prove my love to you!”

“How?”

Flustered brain searching resulted in irrational answer: “I will compete with the Prince in the tournament tomorrow!”

The Princess sniggered, and with that, he jumped at the sound of the window abruptly snapping shut.  Had she so little faith?  He was sure of his capability to prove her wrong!

 

And how, Master wondered as he paced back and forth before his Mansion’s fire that evening, was he to gain the best sword fighting skills over night?  He had no family, no friends, and no-one willing to help him, although years and years ago, his father taught him to fight like a real man.  Oh, how he handled that weapon so naturally and innovatively, striking the enemy at times when least expected.  Unfortunately, there was no chance Master could remember everything now – it had been so long!  The air surrounding him was pungent with trepidation – what messy weight of expectation had he fallen into?  Ahah – what about the witch? Surely, she can help him.  He was not entirely sure if he could trust her, but he was desperate.  He simply could not die alone and unloved. To have such regrets is the worst failure of all.  He cried out for her help numerously, until her presence appeared before him with a magical poof.

“I need your help so that I can compete in the tournament.”

“I know!  This is why I used my enchanted spinning wheel to make you a magical suit of armour, which when worn, will transform you into a talented sword-fighter.”

 

At the one glance of this silver treasure, Master snatched it from the witch to wear.  Had he learnt nothing? The witch did not respond his arrogance, but who knew what she was thinking. Rather, they both commenced a practice sword-fight.  Master experienced a surreal burst of energy travelling throughout his body; his muscles were no longer weak, throbbing or congealing: he believed he could conquer the world only given an ounce of this suit’s power!  Fighting against the witch became superlatively ruthless with his sword, constantly defending himself due to superior reaction time, even though her sword skills were as equally astonishing for an elderly widow.  And as he winningly suppressed his sword over hers, he saw the reflection of his face in the newly polished sword, this time not alone, but a head adorned with a crown, smothered in the brightest jewels ever to be seen.  For the first time, he had felt the most handsome of all men, since any lady would willingly marry a prosperous man, despite an ugly appearance.  Instinctively, he touched his head only to be disappointed with finding no such thing!  Was the Master of the mansion to be king after all?  Was he self-deluded; were those hallucinations before his eyes or was he gifted with being able to tell the future?  One thing struck him as certain: if he was to succeed in battle the following day, he could not let these uncultivated visions distract him.

 

At midday, the battle commenced. Pressure echoed loudly in the battleground.  People booed Master and yet still cheered the Prince.  The humiliation was just as unbearable as the dust that drifted from the dilapidated ground into his unsteady eyes, almost forcing his once courageous soul out of his suit of armour in haste for the exit.  Nevertheless, something within him persisted, forcing him to face the challenges ahead – he had much to prove, and it had to be done to fulfil his romantic dreams.  When would of an opportunity of a similar nature arise again?  His opponent launched his sword at Master, causing a persistent blood-curdling battle: to choose a winner would be impossible at this stage.  The sword clanked together in a death-reminding musicality again and again, so close, so close to their very deaths.  The audience expressed their shock with screams and support with shouts, until Master was leading the battle so masterfully, that he was seconds away from slicing open the Prince’s throat.  Even the audience were shocked.

A female cry erupted from the audience, imploring to “Stop!”  Everyone turned to see the Princess make an announcement.  Master observed that she had never looked more beautiful to him, almost in his possession, she embodied near perfection. Her blue eyes beamed with an innocence that could not be refused. “I always thought that Master was superior in his morality, and you sir, are about to prove me wrong.  Bu if you should choose to show compassion and let this Prince free, you will be the man I marry!  Such compassion is far superior to any attractive appearance!”

No more thought on the matter necessary, her wish was his command.  Master drew his sword away from the Prince’s neck.  A  moment passed and this was all it took.  Craftily leaping at the chance of Master’s moment of weakness, the Prince pulled his Master’s head back, ripe for gashing his throat whilst a devious witch cackle reverberated in the battlegrounds…

(Yet to be continued)

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A variety of fictional stories and poetry accompanied by photography, which I hope to expand to articles about topics within cultural and political sociology in the future.

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